True Superheroes Should be Replaceable
The final cuts from Marvel’s Infinity War reveal devastating losses. Thanos has gained control of all six Infinity stones and enacts his horrific plan to randomly disintegrate half of the world’s population. This random number includes superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy and more. Despite the anticipation of most of the fans that Marvel will surely reverse some, if not all, of these deaths (due to previously released movie titles), the audience is left wondering what is next. With most of the superhero family gone, there aren’t many heroes left to whom the world can turn to for help. This leads us to ask–why did the Avengers leave the world so dependent on them?
Obviously, most superheroes are super in every way, like Thor or Captain America who seem downright indestructible. But others, like Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hulk, are just human beings with exceptional talents. We assume that like every other mortal they could die of natural causes leaving not much behind except a world that has become used to their abilities to save the day. Wouldn’t true heroes be thinking ahead, planning on how to both replicate themselves or find others with giftings to train?
Preparing for the Future
The idea of preparing for the future can be seen to some extent in the Marvel universe. Both Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and Shield take an intentional approach to finding new recruits and training them. However, in the case of the X-Men their focus is more on the protection of their gifted students, rather than training them to be protectors of the world. The school is eventually destroyed, and the students go into hiding. Shield fares no better. Their issues revolve around political bureaucracy and corruption which eventually leads to its downfall and the conflict between Captain America and Ironman (Captain America: Civil War). People are left not knowing whom they can trust and without clear leadership. The fact that both of these organizations ultimately fail at their goals leads the viewers to wonder how important it was to the overall Marvel theme in the first place. In both of these situations, people became dependent on something bigger than themselves, making them weaker as a result.
Making the World Better
Also important to consider is how the gifts they do have are used to better the world. Black Panther explores this theme by making it a main focus of the conflict. Wakanda is an ideal civilization with advanced technology set in the heart of Africa. Though they have the means to cure diseases and develop fascinating tech, they keep their gifts hidden from the world. The conflict emerges when an unknown Wakandan (child of exiled royalty) returns with a vision to use Wakandan technology to help oppressed African-Americans through violent means. He is thwarted, however, and dies by his own hand after taking one last look at the city. Nevertheless, his aim is at least partially accomplished–he gets Wakanda to become involved in the struggles of the world, namely of those of African descent. The final scene of Black Panther shows T’Challa deciding to use what they have learned to help those in need instead of selfishly keeping it to themselves.
Though his particular view was limited to a particular race, his idea of using the technology and giftings of the superheroes is an idea that could be developed more in the Marvel Universe. With the combined abilities and knowledge of the all the superheroes, amazing things could be accomplished. Would it be ridiculous for the superheroes to use their abilities to end world hunger or design sustainable living environments for those who live in poverty? This principle applied to all of the superheroes makes their exploits, while beneficial in protecting the fate of all humankind, fall short of an ideal to which superheroes should aspire. Though they work hard to protect Earth, they often leave a trail of destruction, rather than hope.
It could be argued that we can’t assume that more could be going on behind the scenes than the producers reveal. There are hints in the movies of Ironman’s green technology and some evidence of training of new superheroes. However, the fact that each movie focuses on the present danger and not a future reality reveals a flaw in the superhero genre. It is a flaw we do well to consider. We can also be caught up in the crises of the moment instead of working ahead, creating a future that is better for us having been in it. Superheroes often seem like they are deciding things in the spur of the moment, rather than developing a plan that would truly enrich the world. Though Ironman is probably the closest to this, his contributions still seem limited in scope. They are also quite dependent on him and his genius in order to be utilized.
In fact, in the recently released Incredibles 2, this claim of the dependence on superheroes fuels the villain’s plans. Screenslaver (the villain) is disgusted with the superheroes because she blames her parents’ over-reliance on them as the cause of their death. They had direct lines to two different superheroes in their home. One night, there is a break-in and the father goes straight to these phones to get help. Unfortunately, due to the now illegal status of the superheroes, neither is available, and the father is shot and killed and the mother dies a few months later from grief. Screenslaver, in antithesis to her brother who blames the law, blames their parents for not going to the safe room or defending themselves. She claims that depending on superheroes makes people weak and unable to take care of themselves. She equates this with the general desire to make life as easy as possible through technology instead of doing the hard work of living.
Good Leaders are Replaceable
True superheroes, of the mortal or immortal kind, should make themselves replaceable. Any true leader knows that making others dependent on them creates a situation that is not feasible for leader or follower. Instead, good leadership focuses on investing in those with whom he or she works, helping others reach their potential. The goal is that the grander vision, which is bigger than any one person, can be accomplished should anything happen to the leader. This is humble leadership. This is also very difficult. It is much easier to micromanage and to be in control, but this is stifling and unproductive. This is a view that does not think of what is most important but is concerned only with what is urgent. This seems to be a theme of our Marvel superheroes and a warning to those in leadership in our real lives.
Imagine how the battle with Thanos could have gone if the population of the world had been prepared. Imagine also this tiny planet, armed and equipped with not just a handful of superheroes, but with the belief that they could collectively defend themselves. The true gift of the superheroes would be more than just their individual talents but in their ability to inspire and prepare an entire people to become super themselves instead of dependent on others to save the day. Now that would be a story!
What do you think? Leave a comment.