The Essence of a Superhero, and the Genuine Thing: “Sensationalism is Degenerate Singing”

Sensationalism is Degenerate Singing


A superhero is also the genuine thing, a hero, but now I must ask the reader to make two acknowledgments.

First, superheroes attract sensationalism.  From their superhuman powers to their colorful costumes; from their cover copy to the narrator’s voice-over at the cliffhanger; from their thematic names to their melodramatic dialogue, which Jack “King” Kirby often punctuates with two!! or three!!! exclamation points and sometimes bold print, they attract sensationalism.  Considering also their limitless earnestness, they are even more parodiable than the chivalrous knights of medieval romances.  Infinitely parodiable.

The villainous Steppenwolf and his Dog Cavalry in Kirby’s “New Gods” #7

Second, sensationalism is a degenerate form of singing.  To sing a hero is first to be inspired by the hero’s deeds and then to let the song take its own form, using such artistic skill and whimsy as is accessory to the process.  Although, with some heroes, the fictional deeds have to be created first.  However the singer goes about that, the song that takes form is a sort of further effect of the deeds and may inspire others to heroic deeds, or moral or impressive ones, of their own.

To sensationalize something is to fill the mind with empty expectations, and its effect expires very quickly.  It less of a singer’s than a marketer’s ploy and suggests a lack of confidence or interest in what he or she markets.  Sensationalism cannot account for the power of superheroes to stay in the culture at large or their power, on an intimate scale, to inspire a person to endure hardship.  Singing can, and then who knows what might happen.

Bruce Wayne catches his first glimpse of superheroes on a trip to Metropolis as a young boy in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s “Batman: Hush.”

The reader can see a slight degeneration from the iconic first appearance of Superman on the cover of Action Comics #1 above to the “most sensational” final panel in the same issue below.  The wordless cover image sings a deed that speaks for itself, but the final panel, with a fine image, adds words on top of words.  Much more has been said about that cover  and the story inside, and much more can be said, but that will have to wait.

Without these two acknowledgments, the casual reader might have difficulty seeing superheroes as heroes.

Now, I will say, if a superhero is not a definable something (a hero) with the addition of certain conventional traits or nothing but an assemblage of conventional traits, perhaps like film noir, then a superhero must be distinguishable from a hero in some other way.



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