America loves superheroes. Britain, not so much. Nick Harkaway at the British magazine Prospect points out that “John Constantine, the brutal magus anti-hero of DC Comics’ Hellblazer, once observed that Britain is a country where no one would have the nerve to wear a cape in public, even if they did have powers far beyond those of mortal men.”
Meanwhile, Americans, having flocked to films about Iron Man, Spiderman, and the Hulk, will likely do the same this spring and summer for movies featuring Thor (May), the X-Men (June), and Captain America (July).
What’s the attraction? Harkaway suggests America’s fascination with firearms plays a key role in our love for caped crusaders:
The gun, of course, is the elephant in the room in all superhero stories. Despite—and because of—the central position occupied by guns in American culture, superheroes exist in a space where conventional firearms are the tool of lesser men. Superman simply ignores them—in the latest movie, a bullet impacts with the lens of his eye and shatters—and Batman is so adept in his control of situations and martial artistry that he is immune. Iron Man’s armour is impervious, likewise Captain America’s shield, Green Lantern’s ring, the car in Green Hornet. X-Men’s Wolverine heals instantly and has an indestructible skeleton. Their refusal to take up the gun shows their superhuman natures, and sanctions their non-lethal actions. If Batman is going to disadvantage himself in this way, it’s only fair that he break a few arms and legs. Mundane concerns melt away, leaving only extraordinary ones, which are vehicles for questions of identity and about what such power means.
Image by anarchosyn, licensed under Creative Commons.