Saturday, April 23, 2011

Super-Hero Leaders

Being a leader means making tough choices. But it also means much more. Good leaders inspire others to follow their lead, know their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, and serve as role models for the entire team.

If you’re the leader of a super-hero team, you must do all of that and call the shots in battle, knowing that every decision you make may cost lives or even destroy the world.

I began thinking about comic book leaders because of a recent discussion on the Legion World message board. In my novel, my 11-year-old protagonist, Damon, has recently been elected leader of The Power Club. Of course, they aren’t heroes—yet. But Damon wants them to become heroes. If he succeeds, what will be in store for him? Will his greatest challenges come from “villains” or from within the team itself?

Probably both.

Here are my thoughts on two comic book leaders, their personalities, and the tough choices they made:

Mr. Fantastic (The Fantastic Four)

Reed Richards is the classic workaholic who is so devoted to his research (or to saving the world from Doctor Doom) that he often ignores his physical needs and his relationships. In the real world, this obsession is not a good sign for a leader, and, even in the comic book world, Reed often pays a price for his single-mindedness.

In Fantastic Four # 112, Reed’s teammate and best friend, Ben Grimm (The Thing) is locked in deadly battle with The Hulk. Reed refuses to join the battle because he is working on a doohickey that will cure The Thing of a condition that has altered his personality, making him more aggressive. Even when The Human Torch tries to fly to Ben’s aid, Reed -- who needs Johnny's help to build the device -- stops him by dousing the Torch’s flame with a fire extinguisher!

Reed completes his doohickey, but too late. He and Johnny arrive on the field of battle just after The Hulk delivers a death blow to the Thing.

(Of course, this being comic books, Ben eventually gets better.)

Did Reed do the right thing? He thought he did. He weighed the options and determined the best path to help his friend. His gambit failed miserably, but that’s the risk of being a leader.

Invisible Kid (The Legion of Super-Heroes)

Unlike super-teams that have permanent leaders, the Legion elects a new leader every year. Invisible Kid (Lyle Norg) was, as his name implies, one of the least visible Legionnaires – a second stringer on a team that included powerhouses such as Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. So, it came as a surprise when he was elected leader for one term back in the 1960s. How much of a surprise? Even one of his own teammates didn’t take him seriously.

In Adventure Comics # 350-351, when the Legion admits two masked members, Sir Prize and Miss Terious, Invisible Kid promises that the team will respect their anonymity. However, some Legionnaires suspect that the newcomers are really villains, so Ultra Boy defies Invisible Kid’s order and starts to use his penetra-vision to see through Sir Prize’s lead mask.

What does Invisible Kid do? He asserts his authority by punching Ultra Boy in the jaw.

In the real world, Lyle would probably be brought up on all kinds of charges or even impeached. But it took chutzpah to go up against one of the most powerful Legionnaires. More, Invisible Kid established that, as leader, he was the supreme authority of the Legion and, when he made a promise for the entire team, everyone better keep it!

But what if Lyle had been wrong? What if Sir Prize and Miss Terious actually were villains? That’s the risk the leader must take. Leaders, as Lyle showed, must stand for something – an ideal that rises above unfounded fears and suspicions. In other words, Lyle had the moral authority to decide what was best for the Legion and the integrity to enforce that authority.

Being a leader is not easy in the real world. In the comic book world it’s even harder. But, at their best, real and fictional leaders make the choices we don’t want to make and inspire us to better ourselves.

Leave a comment: Who do you think are the best super-hero leaders and why?


Kristi's Book Nook said...

I have always admired Superman as a great leader.Wasn't he the leader of The Justice League?

Greg Gildersleeve said...

The JLA had a rotating chairmanship, so most of its members chaired meetings at one point or another.

During missions, it seemed that no one was really in charge. In fact, in the early stories by Gardner Fox, the formula called for the JLA to split up into smaller teams to deal with various aspects of the menace, then to regroup and deal with the master villain en masse.

Superman, however, certainly embodies the best qualities of a leader. He was always looked upon by the other DC heroes as an inspiration and role model.

Mike Sullivan said...

Wow. I had typed about five paragraphs and Blogger failed to accept them, erasing them. I guess I won't try that again.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

Too bad, Mike! :(

I had that problem when I was typing in an earlier post. I learned the hard way to write my stuff on Word first, then copy and paste.

Dennis Young said...

Nice job, Greg. Yes, I remember what a pain Mr. Fantastic was at times. Still can't understand what TIG saw in him (no pun intended)!

Greg Gildersleeve said...

Thanks for posting, Denny.

When you consider that Sue's other choice was the arrogant and surface world-hating Sub-Mariner, I guess Reed was the better catch.

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