Who Are Your Heroes?

By - June 1, 2012

Batman star Adam West discusses role models. Photo by Alex Langley.

Who are your heroes?

I’ve asked many people this question. Some name fictional characters. Others pick family members, celebrities, colleagues, historical figures.

Lou Ferrigno, the Hulk himself, grew up as a hearing-impaired boy dreaming of Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. Hercules star Kevin Sorbo told me his heroes were his “parents, Abe Lincoln, and Marilyn Monroe,” although he then made sure I knew he was kidding about that last one. Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back’s Lando Calrissian) named his mother, his grandmother, “my sister and then my children and now my grandchildren. There’s an awful lot of people I’ve admired throughout the years, and I’ve had the opportunity of working with the most extraordinary people.” 1960s Batman star Adam West worries about what kind of heroes kids have these days. Who are their role models in this cynical age?

Actors who’ve played heroes aren’t the only ones I ask. I’ve posed this question to their fans, my students, comics scholars, online acquaintances, and other people from many walks of life. Prison inmates my students and I surveyed held Batman in high regard, which seemed ironic. He is a crimefighter, after all. I want to ask living heroes themselves, but where do I find them? How do I discuss heroism with them when the individuals many of us consider to be true heroes tend not to know they are? “We’re not heroes,” retired New York police officer Mike Bruen said of himself and his fellow emergency service providers, people doing their jobs, when he joined me and some colleagues on a New York Comic Con panel. To him, an old woman who came to her door wielding a frying pan, ready to stand up to a local drug dealer, “now she’s the real hero.” Who’s her hero, I wonder?

I’m going to explore this for a while. If you keep coming here, you can watch – but let’s start with that question: Who are your heroes?

And why?

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