RBTR – Superheroes

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between the Ropes. This summer has seen the return of the ‘Man of Steel’, Superman. Last summer saw the return of the ‘Dark Knight’, Batman. Next summer will see the next installment of the updated Spiderman series. The film industry has gone super-hero crazy, and with such mega draws at the box office for these types of films, who can blame them?

Yet, the movie industry is merely continuing an institution started just before the second World War, when action comics published its first issue in 1938, featuring the first recognized superhero – Superman. Many comics and conventions later, these superheroes have evolved and stood the test of time. So, what gives them such longevity? What makes us continuously fascinated by them, longing for their next adventure?

It’s simple. Everybody needs a hero.

On the cover of the first issue of Captain America he was pictured punching Hitler in the face. Then there’s Peter Parker, who lives with his Aunt May, running errands and looking after her in her old age. Not to mention the fact that he also juggles this with a healthy dose of crime fighting. Look after the old. Hate crime. Smack Hitler in the jaw. All valuable lessons for our youth.

Even the darkest of superheroes, Spawn, denounced his devil-origins and used his powers to fight crime and protect his wife. Even in the world of superheroes, family matters. It seems superheroes are a beacon of hope, and a bearer of many kinds of messages. Studyworld describes as superhero “as some one who is genuinely good, someone to look up to, a hero.” They also identify the fact that “all superheroes are human, one way or another, and that’s what makes them all the more spectacular as well as inspiring.”

So, what of wrestlers?

Can we feasibly look at a wrestler as a superhero? They’re human, they fight evil, and they’re worshipped by millions. The babyface wrestler ticks many boxes that could define him as a superhero. One has to only look back at the Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior magazines that stacked shelves in the early 90s. There was also a WWF cartoon that depicted Hogan, Warrior, Piper and others fighting the evil enemies of Sgt. Slaughter and Earthquake. It was a simple message; wrestlers can be superheroes, fighting the evil enemy for the good of the people.

Just like superhero paraphernalia, wrestling merchandise flies off the shelf in all forms. T-shirts, bandanas, caps, hats, accessories, books – you name it, it sells. Just as millions flock to the box office to watch the latest superhero movie, fans flock to the turnstiles to pay their hard-earned cash and watch their favourite stars wrestle.

Today wrestlers and superheroes seem evermore long-lost brothers trying to find their way back to one another and rekindle the friendship they created in the late 80s and early 90s. Rob van Dam’s comic book store helps make the original bastion of superheroes overtly connected to the wrestling industry. Much like our flying cape crusaders and mutant friends with human feelings have crossed over on to the big screen, wrestlers have done the same. Back when our brothers were attached at the hip, films like Suburban Commando, Mr. Nanny and No Holds Barred saw the biggest superhero-like wrestler of them all, Hulk Hogan, transcend from the ring on to the big screen. With today’s re-forage in to that market, men like John Cena and The Rock are doing their best to reconcile that relationship.

But one thing seems to stand between wrestlers and their general acceptance as superheroes. The mainstream media.

Forever a sceptic of the wrestling industry, the mainstream media continues to balk at the thought of a wrestler ever being recognized as a superhero in contemporary society. Sure, Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior had a cup of coffee with the idea, but that was just a passing fad, much like Power Rangers and Tamagochis. Unlike Superman and Spiderman, they never evolved with such longevity.

So, if wrestling had a brief dance with the fair lady of Superherodom, what made her leave the floor? Hulk Hogan is still around today, still fighting for a good cause and preaching morality. Hulk Hogan is a name that the, then, WWF had to purchase the rights to from marvel, since they owned a ‘Hulk’ brand of their own, ‘The Incredicble Hulk’. While our green friend made a successful return to the box office recently (successful in numbers, though not so much in reviews) what has stopped Hogan from gaining the same kind of response from the mainstream media today as he did in the past?

Perhaps the attitude era went places and extremes so far that there was forever a severed bond between wrestling and the masses. Even after the attitude era, wrestling still comes with its fair share of warning. Live sex shows, blood, increased violence – they all still feature heavily on wrestling shows today. Perhaps there was no turning back after wrestling went ‘alternative’ in an attempt to reinvent itself after its commercial and mainstream acceptance waned. Ironically, in an attempt to stop wrestling being labeled as merely a passing fad in the mainstream, it only served to ensure its place next to Zordan and Pikachu.

Or are we simply ‘too cool’ to call a wrestler our hero today? Superheroes still get away with fighting crime and bringing villains to justice, much like they did decades ago. However, are we still willing to accept someone telling us to say our prayers and eat our vitamins? It seems we’d rather see the middle finger. Superheroes of the past may have evolved in many ways, but they still stand for truth and justice, and everybody loves them for it. Imagine a wrestler standing up for truth and justice today? Somehow, I don’t see another Big Bossman locking up criminals and getting away with it on Raw anytime soon.

Superman, Captain America, Spiderman, X-Men – they all began as comic book heroes; men drawn from imagination, and later released in a real-life action format. Yet, even in the movies they are helped by CGI, harness equipment, special effects and the like. Brandon Routh can’t actually fly. Toby McGuire can’t actually leap from building to building. Yet John Cena can lift over 500 pounds across his back. Paul London can perform a shooting star press, and RVD can sore from one turnbuckle to the next. And still, these men aren’t generally accepted as superheroes by the mainstream.

So, maybe slamming someone through a table, setting someone on fire, and lying, cheating and stealing your way to a win may not be viewed by the mainstream media as typical role-model behaviour. Perhaps flying around the city and putting criminals to justice is a little more the norm. However, while wrestling may no longer be about locking away criminals, saying your prayers and eating your vitamins, to me, wrestlers will always be superheroes.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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