Ever since we discussed Pete Coogen’s definition of a superhero in class I have been very annoyed. Read, super annoyed. Coogen’s definition might have held true up until 1989, but the revitalization of comics during 1990’s basically killed it, and considering he wrote his piece during this time period I find it exceptionally annoying that his definition is so rigid.
I think we are all by now more than familiar with said definition, so I won’t rehash it, instead, let’s jump into four heroes that totally rebut his frankly garbage definition.
1) John Constantine of Hellblazer.
I don’t even know what to say to this one… John Constantine was created as a sort of sidekick to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and later got his own title. He has no costume, save maybe his trench coat. He possesses a vast knowledge of magical arcana but rarely uses it, preferring to outwit his enemies. His social mission? Save his ass and those of his friends, if its convenient, and if he can dick over Hell, or Heaven, or the government all the better. He smokes constantly, curses constantly, and is an overall asshole. Case andpoint in his first story arc, one of his close friends unleashes a hunger spirit that ravages New York City. Constantine’s solution? Use a ritual to lure the spirit into possessing said friend, then sealing the two in and concrete cell. Yet the during Hellblazer’s run, Constantine averted the apocalypse a number of times, and saved many people, especially children. That’s superhero material right there.
2) The Phantom Stranger, appearing in various titles.
I’ll freely admit that the Stranger might be a bit of a stretch in this list. As his name implies, details on the character are scant. In his latest incarnation the Stranger is all but identified by name as Judas Iscariot, but prior to the New 52, speculation about his origins varied wildly, possible origins included his being a fallen angel, the Wandering Jew, and a powerful sorcerer who tricked Lovecraftian entities into giving him crazy powers. Said powers also vary wildly, the only two consistent ones are that he is omniscient, or nearly so, and can travel backwards through time, and possess vast supernatural knowledge. He dresses in a cloak and fedora, which is not really a costume in my personal opinion. His mission? Save humanity… Sometimes? Its difficult to say, in over ninety percent of his appearances he appears to others and employs them to assist him in some quest, and while they usually save the day… The Stranger has numerous times abandoned or out right led people to their deaths in order to further plans that are obscure to both protagonists and readers, notable examples include his orchestrating the creation of The Spectre (he deliberately leads Jim Corrigan into the shootout that kills him), in his latest incarnation he betrayed Jesus, and in the fantastic Books of Magic he allows a young boy to go on a journey into the future with the homicidal Mr. E, who the Stranger later implies knew would try to kill the boy, seriously, what the hell was that? Yet, the Stranger’s actions, plus his magical abilities have unquestionably saved the world numerous times, which makes him a superhero in my book.
3) Thor from Thor and The Avengers.
This one is so obvious that I’m tempted to just say, Thor, case closed, and be done with it. First off Thor really only has two characteristics that are consistent throughout is 50 plus year run of titles is his hammer, and Scandinavian appearance. Everything else about his appearance has changed or been re-imagined in someway which leads me to suspect that nothing about his red cape, winged helmet, or any of Thor’s other costume elements were essential to his mission, defend humanity from evil. He is exceptionally strong (he is a god after all) but most of his powers come from his hammer, without which he is really nothing to brag home about. I recognize that of all the people on this list Thor is probably the weakest of my arguments, I more wished to point out that some characters fit Coogen’s definition awkwardly. Plus I figured for fairness I ought to include a Marvel character.
4) Swamp Thing from Swamp Thing.
I will concede that minus the costume, the original Swamp Thing as created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, more or less fits Coogen’s definition. Alan Moore’s run on the character however was radically different. For starter’s, he was not actually a person but a plant organism. His powers are that he is linked to all plant life everywhere, called the Green in continuity. His social mission is to preserve the biosphere… even at humanity’s expense, at the end of Alan Moore’s run Swamp Thing explicitly says he would not rejuvenate the Earth with his powers to save humanity because they inflicted their own extinction, and the planet could and would carry on with out us.