From Encyclopedia Superheroica -the Encyclopedia of Superheroes

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A superhero is a character possessed of extraordinary power and disposed to acts of bravery. Of course, most modern-day superheroes trace their lineage back to the iconic Superman of 1938. It was immediately understood that these beyond-normal people needed paranormal wardrobes as well. -For protecting their civilian identities, for protecting them from hostile environments, and for helping to establish a suitably heroic stature. Their outfits became part of who they were. (Thus, synonyms for the word superheroes include "capes" and "masks".) With the coming of scores of other supers over the next generation, including Captain America (1941) and the X-Men (1963), the era of the costumed hero was assured. Everyone knows what a superhero is and, by the year 2000, almost everyone wanted to be one.

The most common inherent “powers” for superheroes include the following: superstrength, phenomenal intelligence, flight, projected energy blasts, regeneration, and psychic abilities. There are innumerable others. And otherwise-average superheroes will often gear-up with armor, high-tech gadgets, or become supremely proficient in the martial arts. Somehow, someway, a superhero must be able to do what most ordinary people cannot. It should be noted that every superhero, no matter how powerful, has a weakness -some achilles heel which can be exploited by evildoers who discover it. Regardless of the situation though, a superhero is expected to possess indomitable will and persevere until the end (however bitter).

Superheroes must be powerful and they must also be committed to protecting their fellow citizens. While this commitment can be expressed simply by saving people from runaway trains or fire-engulfed buildings, most superheroes are compelled to fight societal evils as well. Masked avengers thwart common criminals every day, but must occasionally step up against superpowered supervillains. If a superhero is particularly fortunate, there will even be an arch villain -a personal nemesis that, by antithesis, gives deeper meaning to the mission of the superhero and challenges that hero to the ultimate fulfillment of their potential.

The diverse array of superheroes reflects the society in which they live, so no individual adjective or simple phrase can accurately describe them all. Some are paragons of good and some are misanthropic vigilantes living on the edge of popular tolerance. Many are actually resented by the conventional law enforcement whose burden they seek to share. However, as long as their perceived intentions are good and they are at least moderately effective, they will continue to fit the commonly held cultural definition.

While most superheroes have been fictional, there are many Real Life superheroes as well. These “Reals” have recently grown in prominence and, if you look around, can be found almost anywhere. Some patrol neighborhoods with the intention of establishing a watchful presence, discouraging the shady figures that might otherwise prey upon public apathy. Some deliberately help those less fortunate, showing them charity and respect. Still others go out looking for the one big bust that will establish them on crime-fighting par with Spider-Man or Wonder Woman or a thousand other role models.

Superheroes and their deeds are usually portrayed in comic strips, comic books, or graphic novels. They have also made the transition into more sophisticated media like animation, motion pictures, television, blogs, and machinima. They have become ubiquitous in modern society to the point of appearing in commercials and billboards advertising almost every product imaginable. Superheroes are, literally, everywhere.

Honorable Mentions

There are some who would insist that perhaps Gilgamesh (2700 BCE) was instead the first documented superhero. That ancient Babylonian did not, however, have a costume or secret identity or any of the other contemporary accoutremonts that make the essential distinction between demigod and superhero. The same goes for Hercules, Xena, etc. Then again, in the Marvel pantheon, Hercules was actually a member of the Avengers (and the Champions, and the Defenders) for awhile, wasn't he? And, we're compelled to include characters like Thor, aren't we? Apparently, it's a thin line between mythology and superheroica.

As has been stated elsewhere, even without the capes or the masks, it is well known that there are heroes among us. Soldiers, firefighters, law-enforcement, medical professionals, and teachers. Their bravery and commitment serve as an example to us all. Never-the-less, they are not, by definition, superheroes.

There is yet another school of thought that suggests that everyone can be a superhero. Every seemingly-average person has extraordinary potential based not on superpowers or troubleseeking, but on their willingness to give their all for others. People who donate blood... save lives. People who organize neighborhood watches... fight crime. Learning CPR, ladling out food at a soup kitchen, and even donating money to charity can have a profound effect upon individuals and the society in which we live. These seemingly boring people deserve our respect even if they are not as interesting as the flamboyant ones in comic books.

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