“The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.”
The word “hero” means many things to many people. When Joss Whedon, the author of the above quote and the writer and director of Marvel’s The Avengers, imagines a hero, he probably pictures a star-spangled shield or some red and gold armor. After all, Iron Man and Captain America are two of the most well known superheroes in popular culture, with movie franchises and action figures making them household names.
But it isn’t just the explosions and the flashy costumes that draw us into the fray and cause us to be invested in the stories of these heroes. Take away the shield, the suit, the super-soldier serum, the gamma radiation, the mythical hammer, the KGB training, and the bow, viewers are left with complex, flawed characters who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, albeit with more aliens and secret government agency involvement than most of us experience. They aren’t like us, because they’re superheroes, blessed or cursed with the capacity to do far more than any normal person ever could. At the same time, however, we have to see something of ourselves in them, otherwise why would we watch the movies or read the comics?
While we may not be able to identify with superheroes in the same way we can identify with other, less “super” characters, we can aspire to their defining features as heroes. Who hasn’t at some point wished that they had leadership skills like Captain America or the selflessness disguised as bravado of Tony Stark? These traits, along with others like loyalty, honor and determination, aren’t restricted to fictional characters and can be found in the real life heroes around us.
Of all these traits, determination might be the most important. There is no use for loyalty or leadership if an individual has the potential to be great but not the determination to act on that potential. Determination is the force that transforms the possible to the actual. Without it, real, practical heroism would falter. Heroes don’t give up when things look bleak. Firefighters, police officers, and soldiers don’t stop trying to save lives and enforce order when it gets difficult. Teachers put off their own lives and stay after school with the kids who need that extra push to succeed. A random person jumps into a freezing pond to save a drowning animal. These people aren’t the Avengers, saving the world from aliens or corrupted agencies, but they share a determination that allows them to struggle on against obstacles and be real heroes to real people.