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Why I Love Superheroes: An Autistic Perspective

Why I Love Superheroes: An Autistic Perspective

By Jacinto Morales

Nowadays, it’s impossible not to know superheroes, and why wouldn’t you want to know? There is no other genre where talking raccoons, walking trees, and raging green monsters can occupy the same space. Superheroes do not just defy frigid logic and frozen sterility; it burns them, blows them to smithereens, and spit in their eyes. Superheroes are some of the most lively creations of pop culture. My interest in these characters stems from reading Michael Chabon’s enlightening “Kavalier And Clay.” Costumed vigilantes are now my preferred flavor of genre fiction, but, some have called superheroes juvenile and ridiculous, presuming they are worthless as stories. But these individuals are guilty of prejudice toward the genre and label these costumed characters in much the same way people with Autism are labeled. While not all, many Autistic people, including myself, love superheroes cause they can relate to their experiences. In this essay, I present the similarities between the superhero and Autistic experiences.

The first thing to understand is that superheroes are inherently optimistic. Optimism has led people to consider the genre is blind to the world’s darkness and offers no real challenge, but optimism is challenging. It is far too simple to tell stories where the characters fail once, and have their whole life decided by that failure. As an Autistic I’ve had to remember, loss is only one part of life; finding friends and a job is even more challenging because of my Autism. Superheroes agonize over being crime fighters because of the limit their responsibilities places on their lives. It forces them to give up time with family and friends to carry out their responsibilities. I too have depression and anxiety, which has sometimes made me wonder if my Autism is a problem. Superheroes sometimes wonder if their powers are hindering their lives, to the point they try to get rid of them. This usually comes with disastrous consequences and the realization that their powers are important to them and the world. I have realized that my Autism, “my superpower,” is important to who I am and what I offer to the world.

Another part of superheroes is the secret identity; this secret forces the hero to live in isolation, something that I relate to as an Autistic. Lacking the knowledge of how to socialize isolates us from our peers. We hide our emotions beneath the surface, just as the hero hides their identity underneath the costume. Even heroes who don’t have a secret identity struggle with isolation, as it forces them to put on a persona of someone who cannot be destroyed; similarly, people view autistics as emotionless because of our silence and wrongly think they can’t hurt us. The heroes must always keep their cover; otherwise, people stop believing in them.

Similarly, people don’t want to deal with the idiosyncrasies of Autistic and reject them when they become vulnerable. Like Autistics, superheroes are despised and feared for being different. We can chalk the struggle between the hero and the civilian up to trouble communicating correctly. Struggling to communicate is part of the Autistic experience; this struggle often leads to mistrust and xenophobia towards Autistics and heroes. The X-Men being mutants are considered an abnormality that should be eradicated; Autistics are too despised for their genetic abnormality. The attempts to cure mutants call to mind the attempts to explain Autism as a disease that can be fixed or blamed on trivial objects such as ice cream—nothing like a scapegoat to simplify a problem. X-Men being mutants are often considered being part of human evolution and autism is part of our evolution as human beings.

Superhero costumes are another staple of the genre. The masks, cowls, and capes the dashing mystery men sported are incredibly colorful. They put their personalities on display with this theatricality. For this essayist, on a personal level, the costumes offer much-needed individuality. In other fantasy or sci-fi stories, the costumes worn by the characters often conform to the species or organization to which they belong. While the costumes may look wonderful and work with the world-building, after a while, I find them repetitive and utilitarian because of the lack of personalization. I’ve found that superhero costumes are unique in how they look so ridiculous but are key to informing the readers of the character’s personality. I find these costumes are valuable by helping us understand how we appear to others and being comfortable with our looks.

In conclusion, experiencing superheroes has helped this autistic writer connect with their inventive side. While the Autistic experience may differ from superhero stories, there’s a part of them that can make Autistic people think about their place in the world. Just as all Autistic experiences are unique, so are the stories of costumed adventurers, so the benefits of the characters are possibly infinite. There may even soon be an Autistic artist behind those characters. There is always a place for heroes in the world of Autistics.

Jacinto Morales is a young writer living Maryland he studied writing at Frederick Community College. He enjoys writing about pop culture and how Autism relates to the subject.

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