the Heroes panel
Gail Martin, Stuart Jaffe and myself at the Awesome Con panel “Are Heroes Getting Smaller?”

The Awesome Con gig went well yesterday.  The panel subject, “Are Heroes Getting Smaller?” was moderated by Gail Z. Martin, fantasy author and originator of the panel’s subject.  We were also joined by fantasy author Stuart Jaffe, with whom I’ve communicated before (on Facebook, I think).  Yes, as the sci-fi author, I was pretty much the odd man out.

It’s a wonderful subject, and not just for the comic-book superhero crowd, as we demonstrated when we discussed.  Heroes are products of their times.  As times have changed, heroes have grown from the objects of childhood morality tales to influence (or, at least, entertain) adults as well.  And since an adult’s world is much more complicated than a child’s—encompassing more grey areas of morality, as opposed to the more black and white world of a child’s morality—heroes have had to grow and develop to take that more complex world into consideration.

Also, heroes are products of culture.  The cultures of old tended to be built around rather monolithic nations, where the majority of the public lived and died, were taught the same things, saw the same things and believed in the same things.  Today’s cultures are more and more built around people from disparate cultures moving from place to place, creating a local mixture of beliefs, teachings and attitudes.  This makes for a moral landscape that is much more complicated, forcing a hero to find solutions that distill as many of those beliefs as possible into a coherent form that most cultures will accept.

So heroes have had to adapt to this ever-more-complicated world in order to find relevance and still be able to lead us.  They have also found themselves more closely compared to the world’s non-fictional heroes, the soldiers, police and emergency personnel we see every day, and who demonstrate their humanity even as they put themselves in harm’s way for us.

I had a chance to mention Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a very apt reference since Captain America, a World War II hero brought forward to the present day, was forced to deal with a time when values were very different from those of The Greatest Generation, and figure out how well he fit into that new world… at the same time that his comic book peers, and indeed his comic-reading audience, had to make the same determination for themselves.

Other comics heroes were discussed in relation to the subject, including the alien Superman, the “probable headcase” Batman, and the killer Wolverine… as well as the pulp detectives that brought the “shades of grey” hero to the fore in literature, and all the way back to the classic heroes, Hercules, Achilles, even Gilgamesh, whom, it bore reminding by an astute audience member, were just as flawed as today’s heroes, which made their deeds greater, and which is why we remember them at all.

Questions were asked after the panel, probably the best of which involved a long-running storyline in the Spider-Man comics, in which old enemy Otto “Dr. Octopus” Octavius has essentially taken over Spider-Man’s body, and believes he can be a superior Spider-Man, better than Peter Parker ever was.  (SPOILER ALERT) In the end of the story arc, Octavius must shamefully accept that he is not as great a hero as Peter Parker; and when the time comes for a heroic deed that Octavius knows is beyond his ability, he returns to Peter control of his body, essentially, killing the last of himself, so a real hero can come forth.(/ALERT)

Personally, I was glad that one of us was familiar enough with the story arc to address it (namely, me… Gail and Stuart weren’t familiar with it), because the storyline overall was a great study on what it means to be a hero; especially the final lessons of the arc, including sacrifice for the greater good, and knowing your limitations, when it’s time to step out of the much-desired spotlight and let the professionals do their job.

I also mentioned the fact that I’ve written two books related to superheroes, including one that is presently out of circulation pending a much-needed update by myself.  Midgard’s Militia‘s premise fascinated some of the audience, as I explained the premise: “The world’s superheroes have just been killed trying to stop a monster before it could reach the Earth; what do regular people do now, with a monster still approaching and no superheroes to save them?”  The story examined the efforts regular people would go to to protect their homes, prove them as great as any super-powered hero, and ultimately save the day.  Judging by the response, I think I need to fast-track that book back into circulation.  For the sake of the fans, of course.

Probably the only thing that I didn’t get to say was that heroes have indeed gotten smaller… just because, thanks to our culture’s love of heroes and our entertainment industry’s desire to provide more products for our enjoyment… there are so damned many of them…

At the end of the panel, we received applause, a few fleeting comments at the end, and business cards magically disappeared from the table.  I spoke to a friend of mine who sat in on the panel, and when I asked, “How do you think I did?” she beamed and responded to me: “You didn’t embarrass us!”

Although I would’ve preferred a more science fiction venue (Awesome Con is primarily a comic book convention), I was happy with the way things worked out.