The question of what brings me back to comics time and time again was posed to me, and honestly, it kind of halted my brain when I first read it: What wouldn’t keep bringing me back to comics?! I love comics! I have always loved comics! I can’t actually remember being a person who wasn’t a huge comic book nerd. My closest friends are all also comic book fans. I turned my younger siblings into comic fans without even meaning to, because these characters and stories were just such a big part of my life that it was automatic to share it with them.
So to actually sit down and think about this was interesting, to say the least. It was a good opportunity for introspection.
And what I discovered with this mental exercise wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but it was raw and real: Within these fantastical and outlandish stories of superhumans, aliens, gods among men, and global, galactic, or universal catastrophe, we get to explore the most extreme and honest human emotions. We get to see people at their highest, and at their lowest. We get to see people make mistakes, suffer, fall from grace, and triumph. We get to see both what it is to fail and what it is to succeed against all odds.
I love psychology. I love knowing how people work, and why. I love seeing the best and worst of people. I, personally, have never understood “people” very well. I have always felt a little bit “outside” of humanity, and have never been quite sure if how I am or how I act is correct.
And comics, of course, offer quite the respite from this. Almost all my favorite heroes felt like the “other” at one point or another. Either because of conditions of their birth (Superman, Princess Diana of Themyscira, and all the mutants) or because of the powers they ended up with (Peter Parker, Deadpool, the Fantastic Four), there’s a very obvious “outsider” feeling associated with most comic book heroes.
And the best part is, this doesn’t stop these characters from interacting with others. It doesn’t prevent them from pursuing their dreams, saving the day, or forging strong relationships with others. It just takes a closer look at the processes behind each of these tasks. It shows how the best relationships—be they family, found family, friends, or romantic—come from being true to yourself and finding others who think and believe like you, who understand you, and respect your needs, even if they’re very different form you.
So in a weird way, what has kept me coming back to comics all these years—on top of the exciting and creative stories, the interesting characters, and the inspiration for my own suspenseful and thrilling tales—is simply the human interaction. The insecurity that is overcome to do even small, normal things like apply for a job you want or go on a date. They act almost as a guidebook and inspiration for me to find my own ways to connect to people, to interact, and to find my way in this confusing and sometimes treacherous world.
Superheroes also always face adversity, and since every person will also face hardship in their life, it can be comforting to watch the heroes you admire and sometimes emulate face challenges. It’s relatable to watch them struggle, to fall from grace, to fail and mess up and handle things poorly, which is necessary when we feel at our lowest and need to know that we aren’t the only ones who’ve ever screwed up and hit rock bottom.
But it’s inspiring to watch them succeed. To climb out of the darkness, fight against their demons, ignore the naysayers, and triumph over whatever it was they thought they couldn’t defeat.
We may not be battling invading hordes of aliens, or ancient cosmic entities bent on destroying our world, but we can still draw strength from our heroes to do something like face down a difficult family member or rude customers or a bullying boss.
The human connection, the examination of what it is to be a person and what it takes to succeed, is what draws me back time and time again. And perhaps it’s silly for someone who will be thirty in a couple months to say that she still learns about herself and other from comics, and that she still gets strength from fictional characters, but I really don’t care. We all find whatever helps us get through this crazy thing we call life, and we utilize it. This works for me. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone. Maybe it isn’t necessary for anyone else. Maybe someone will read this and think I’m weak or ridiculous for needing Bucky Barnes’ strength to get me through hardship, but to me, it’s no different than getting inspiration from anything else in life.
Comics help me be a better person, and at the end of the day, that’s what I’m really working towards. If I can enjoy reading a good comic while working towards that, all the better.
From my standpoint, I’m winning. And I hope everyone else can find something that makes them feel like that, too.