It’s a bird, it’s a plane… and it could be you, too

Super-human strength, telekinesis, the ability to fly – it’s a safe bet we’ve all been captivated by the stories and heroes of comic book folklore at some point in our lives. This fascination hits especially hard in our youth, when imaginations are the most vivid and free to run wild. We dream of ourselves as our favorite heroes, defeating the forces of evil and using our abilities only for the good of mankind.

Although as college students we may (or may not) be too old to wear pajamas with a cape attached, those memories and dreams never fade. If you need proof, look no further than Hollywood’s top 10 highest grossing films of all time. Of the 10, three that belong to comic book franchises were released in the past couple years and have each earned over a billion worldwide.

So, why is it that even now these fictional supermen and women continue to tingle our senses and inspire our imaginations? No, it’s not some form of telepathic mind control infringed by the executives in Hollywood or Professor X. It’s because these extraordinary characters are a distant reflection of our ordinary selves.

Superheroes and their awe-inspiring abilities were created and written for an audience that lives in the non-fictional world. They’re characters of great power cursed with equally great responsibility. By connecting these traits to their readers, comic books such as DC and Marvel have effectively cashed in on our imaginations. They’ve used these heroes to strike chords inside us that we’ve yearned to hear and produce fantasies we’ve never had the words to write.

Sure, we can’t all get bitten by genetically mutated spiders and turn into web-slinging, masked crusaders. However, we can relate to Peter Parker’s struggles as a high school student searching for his place among the world. From being bullied to experiencing the awkwardness of adolescent social interaction, Spiderman’s claim-to-fame came not from a lab experiment gone wrong but from the natural, lifelike persona he possessed.

In a sense, reading comic books and indulging in their blockbuster film adaptations provides a therapeutic remedy to the tribulations of regular life. We flock to the theaters to watch a couple hours of action and CGI effects but end up leaving with our thoughts inspired and firing on all cylinders, celebrating the successes of our favorite heroes while pretending for a brief moment that we performed all of their miraculous feats ourselves. Superheroes give us the means to extend our imaginations as far as our childhood counterparts used to. They offer a vessel that allows us to experience and do spectacular accomplishments that aren’t possible in real life (at least until the government finishes work on an Iron Man suit).

The day may never come when we witness real-life people firing lasers from their eyes, but there are heroes among us. Though our abilities may not be as breathtaking or our lives as action-packed, traits like strength, courage and humility don’t need to originate from a super-soldier serum or genetic mutation.

So go ahead and be your favorite superhero and let your imagination roam free. In the end it’s not supermen or powers that inspire us: it’s ourselves.

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