Superheroes, monsters, and romance. Not, thank goodness, all at the same time… Although that might make for an interesting story line: superhero falls in love with monster? Talk about conflicted. Nah, I’m sure it’s been done many times over, but still… it does have a certain je n’est sais quoi, doesn’t it? *pulls out pencil, scribbles notes*
However, this is less about star-crossed lovers and more about trends in modern literature and cinema, and possible reasons behind them. Of course we’ve always had superheroes and monsters and romance, going all the way back to Odysseus. But I think right now we need them (and thus are getting them) more than ever.
Monsters. The things that go bump in the night. The things that try to eat us in the night. Or, if you’re a Scooby Doo aficionado, the things with bad costumes that try to outwit a bunch of meddling kids (in the night). And they would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those... Uh, sorry. But is the raison d’etre behind horror films and books that we use those monsters as a stand-in for the things in this world that terrify us? I think this likely. There are so many frightening things out there right now—terrorism, genocide, politicians—and we need to know while some of us may be eaten, there's a chance that if we’re clever enough, run fast enough, or can wield a mean enough sword/axe/machine gun, we might just survive. Our monsters sublimate for the horrors seen and imagined in this world. We in America are often insulated from the monsters out there in the rest of the world (see: Paris; Brussels; pretty much any place in the middle-East; Africa). Although, I have to admit, it seems our monsters are gathering. But those monsters in cinema and literature are our way of experiencing the horrors of the world in a more vicariously personal manner than just watching CNN (which can be pretty horrifying in and of itself).
Superheroes. Those (generally) masked and caped crusaders for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. These are the guys and gals we hope will save our collective bacon from the monsters that haunt us (see Monsters, above). They may be conflicted, brooding, and angst-ridden—but when the chips are down, they get the job done. And that’s what we need to see. That’s what many of us secretly wish we could be, in our own little way. That we had the power to save our neighbors from the monsters. Superheroes give us hope—that fleeting hope that there actually is someone out there who’ll step in and save the day from terrorists, random shooters, or presidential candidates. Superheroes kick that collective ass we know needs to be kicked. There may be a lot of wrecked buses and monster-guts splattered all over the place, along with body parts of those who weren’t fast enough or clever enough to keep out of the way (see Monsters, above), but in general, WE’RE safe. Rescued by those brooding caped crusaders who nod once, and then vanish off into the night, waiting for the trumpet call to duty yet again.
Romance. The third part of the equation. Arguably the most important part of the equation. We may not admit it, and some of us may never get it. But almost all of us hope, in our heart of hearts, that we’ll have a little romance in our lives. And romantic books and films show us how it’s done. They give us a blueprint towards that Happy-Ever-After. Or, conversely, they show us what not to do. But, like superhero movies and books, romances give us hope that there is that special someone waiting out there, the soulmate whose heart beats only in time with our own. And it’s that romance—that love, if you will—that prompts us to strive to be superheroes and banish the monsters, to keep our beloved safe.
So in the final analysis, all three of these genres deal in hope. Hope that we’ll defeat the monsters. Hope that we’ll either be a superhero, or that one will swoop down in the nick of time and rescue the careening bus of our lives before it goes over the cliff. Hope that we’ll find that spark of romance.
And that’s what makes them important. Because often, hope is all we’ve got. Especially right now. And often, hope is enough. It’s what keeps up getting up out of bed every day, to face a world populated with monsters, superheroes, and romance.