PROULX: Why we're obsessed with superheroes

Shaun Proulx asks -- and answers -- why we're so obsessed with superheroes like Captain America. MARVEL

Shaun Proulx asks -- and answers -- why we're so obsessed with superheroes like Captain America. MARVEL


When I was a little boy, I'd twirl around as hard as I could. I waited for a golden burst to fill the TV screen I imagined I was on which would transform me into a beautiful, powerful, raven-haired superhero who wore bracelets of submission and a lasso of truth.

Obviously an invisible plane would be waiting for me to whisk me away too. "Most of us know - or want to believe - that deep down inside ourselves lives the hero within," Lynda Carter told me years ago in a radio interview, when I shared with her how I spent time on summer days when no one was looking.

And while Carter - who headlined the CBS version of Wonder Woman - added she felt that LGBTQ people are exceptionally attracted to superheroes because of the "hiding of our true identities" theme that threads through many comic book theologies, it's certainly not just queers who gave Wonder Woman its recent $100.5 million box office debut or Man of Steel ($291 million total) or Iron Man ($321 million in box office receipts) and legions of other superhero flicks before that.

The universal appeal of caped crusaders crosses all genders and sexual orientations and has endured for a reason. Our innate desire to understand or even right all the wrongs, tragedies and disasters in our world has for nearly a century triggered a yearning for someone bigger than ourselves to swoop in and save the day. In Superman's first appearances in the 1930's, he fought the Nazis and avenged the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the rebellious 1960s - when the likes of the Vietnam War and Watergate scandals prevented a cynical public from taking a hero in tights remotely seriously - a campier, ironic take on superheroes came into play (think the "Ka-POW!" style Batman portrayed by Adam West, who died just last weekend).

Though it's notable that the idea of a hero never disappeared, even then. A superhero renaissance took place after the 9/11 attacks, when the illusion of "us and them" /"good versus evil" was re-introduced powerfully into the zeitgeist. It was especially marked by a tangled web of Spider-Man offerings, Thor, Captain America and a series of X-Men prequels. Now, 16 years later, when the face representing evil for so many is now orange, it's safe to say one reason for society's current love affair with the superhero is the hope we find a bright light in a dark nightmare from which many feel they can't awaken.

Last Tuesday, Oliver Willis - a senior writer at, a site publishing "factual content to delegitimize Trump, embolden opposition and empower Americans" - tweeted an image of former President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that included a caption suggesting Obama was calling them to assemble, Avengers-style.

As Willis' tweet was - faster than a speeding bullet - retweeted 20,000 times and liked more than 50,000 times, Willis added images of more "superheroes" to a thread: the presidents of Mexico, France and Michelle Obama (whose White House code name was Renaissance - it doesn't get more superhero than that).

Willis concluded his fun with one final image - from "Villain HQ" - of a smug arch-nemesis Donald Trump, a modern villain if ever there was one. With his sunkist skin, mumbling voice and adventurously unnatural hair, Trump is a Lex Luthor and Joker combo representing fully the p--grabbing "man's world" bad guy that Wonder Woman especially abhors - all in one no-assembly-required package.

We will likely always remain fascinated by the notion of a superhero. It's almost part of our DNA. Ancient Greek society worshiped gods to help explain the world around them. Today's superheroes are arguably the Greek gods of our secular modern life. They never grow old but just change with our times. They can tackle the seemingly undefeatable problems of our human world and, although otherworldly, they remain also deeply flawed - just like the gods of Greek mythology. Which is perhaps the greatest part of their appeal. We relate to the superhero as flawed people, yet still want to be them.

Heck, recently, French climber Alain Robert climbed a 29-storey Barcelona hotel with his bare hands in 20 minutes - putting Spider-Man to shame! And let's not forget those urban justice vigilantes who come out at night in caped costumes to catch criminals. Just like the naïve little boy did, twirling away in rural Ontario in the 1970s, who had no business wearing bracelets of submission, until the day came, many years later, after his Lynda Carter interview aired live, when a box lovingly decoupaged with images of Wonder Woman arrived at the radio station he was broadcasting from. Inside, there they were two Wonder Woman bracelets, just for him. A gift from a listener and a reminder forever of how true it is what Carter said: We are all bigger than we think we are, or appear to be - no matter how big our problems - and deep down inside we know it.

The Shaun Proulx Show airs on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167. He is the publisher of TheGayGuide and leads a #Thought Revolution about busting through personal limits on