What Is It About Superheroes

My friend, Ande who writes LINK>The Adoption Files wants to explore the topic of adoption and superhero origin stories. Not being familiar with comic book history, I’ll leave it to others but her question intrigued me and led me down a rabbit hole of sorts via google.

Here is a list – Superman (we used to have a costume Superman shirt with the big S for my son Simeon), Spider-Man, Supergirl, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Loki, Black Widow, Perhaps the strangest is the Ninja Turtles (these crime-fighting turtle superheroes. Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo are adopted – as baby turtles – by a Japanese rat who discovers they are dripping with a strange ooze before they mutate into human-like turtles. The history of these unique superheroes is about as complex as adoption itself. They’re being raised by a single dad who isn’t even the same species as they are.)

Finally, Iron Man (Tony Stark – my maternal grandmother’s family name !! Yay), So I’ll take Iron Man – Superhero Tony Stark is adopted. Many kids love to dress up as the iconic Marvel superhero, but may not know about his complex family history. Tony’s brother, Arno, is the biological son of Howard and Maria Stark. As Tony later learned, the Starks adopted him as a cover after Arno’s health deteriorated as a baby. The identities of Tony’s birth parents were not revealed for many years. Tony’s birth mother, British Radio DJ Amanda Armstrong, was finally revealed to fans in 2016. The following issue revealed that his birth father was a SHIELD agent code-named Jude. Jude turned out to be a Hydra mole, forcing Amanda to place her baby for adoption.

My list comes from Adoptions with Love – LINK>9 Adopted Superheroes by Nancy Rosenhaus. Which confirms my suspicion that adoptive parents love to take their kids to see these movies as an affirmation of their own personal hero status. I don’t mean to be cruel or cynical but too many stories to confirm that kind of behavior causes me to say this.

Salon had a good article about what appeals to us in these personas titled LINK>We are all superheroes! by Robin S Rosenberg. So, I’ll finish this blog off with a few words about superheroes from that article.

A superhero is challenged by a moral dilemma, physical trial, or both. The superhero triumphs, sometimes learning and growing in the process. The stories generally follow the standard basic plots with which we are familiar. In fact, we may know the form of the story arc even before the story begins. This is especially true of origin stories, which form the bread and butter of superhero films and typically conform to some version of the hero’s journey in which the protagonist is, after some challenges and setbacks, transformed and dedicates his or her life to an altruistic purpose.

People generally enjoy simpler stories more than complex ones. We may prefer our superhero stories to be relatively simple. Their predictable, formulaic tales can also be reassuring: We can allow ourselves to become anxious on behalf of the story’s characters because we know that all will turn out right in the end. A story’s tension is cathartic. We don’t have to worry about getting too devastated.

Good fiction, and good storytelling of any kind, allows us to become immersed in someone else’s world and in doing so provides us with both an escape and emotional engagement. We can lose ourselves and temporarily forget our worries and woes, fears and foes. We also get drawn in to the characters’ world and issues. Stories’ core themes of right versus wrong, personal choice, sacrifice for the greater good, finding purpose and meaning, resonate. I will add – with good reason in a complicated world.

The Adoptee’s Hero’s Journey

I’ve been aware of Joseph Campbell’s concept known as The Hero’s Journey for a long time and have seen it referenced in a variety of situations. As I was reading yet another perspective on this, an insight came to me. An adoptee’s search for their original parents (and if successful, even a reunion) is actually a kind of Hero’s Journey. Duh.

The hero’s journey is one of separation, initiation and return. It is a healing descent into the underworld (the unknown outcome) to recover something missing or lost, to restore a vital balance.

Its theme is that when faced with a kind of death struggle against titanic supernatural forces, the self can be triumphant. The self is reborn into a higher level of consciousness, maintaining access to the lower lever when appropriate. Because this lower level is transcended, a more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below.

So from my perspective, the titanic supernatural forces are the standard adoption narrative. When one comes out of the adoption fog (a belief in the story that separating mothers from their babies is somehow better for the baby than allowing the mother to raise her own child, bonded to her in the womb and wanting only her love), the woke person somehow touched by adoption somewhere in their life (not necessarily an adoptee themselves, as in my case), finds it is no longer possible to go back to the old perspective. It is possible however to go back to or continue to have an appreciation of the family one acquired by adoption, even though it would be unrealistic to expect those person’s acquired as “relatives” due to adoption to understand the new, higher level of understanding one has gained during their own journey.

“A more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below,” or even to someone such as myself, who accomplished identifying my own 4 original grandparents in only one year’s time and making new family genetic connections to an aunt and some cousins. Sometimes, I can hardly believe I did this. My own parents lived almost 80 years without accomplishing that for themselves (though my mom gave it a good, hard try). My parents died clueless and knowing what I know now, more’s the pity that they were robbed of the knowledge. I can only hope there is an afterlife and that both of my parents have reunited with their own natural parents there.

For me, a little success and the encouragement to go further from family and friends certainly helped to motivate me to stay on a determined course that did succeed.

You can read more about The Hero’s (or Heroine’s) Journey in this link.