The New Supermen

June 29, 2005

Anthony Oliver Bondioli (

What is it about Superman? Why does this fictional hero, this impossible figure of modern mythology, inspire me so? I suppose it goes back to my very early childhood, and an imaginary friend/secret identity called Superblund. I cannot clearly recall his origins, but between the ages of 3 and 11, Superblund was the most enduring and reliable fantasy I entertained, fabricated (or perhaps "recognized") by that part of my then-uncluttered subconscious mind that I call the "I am." He was a big, powerful man, very similar in appearance to Superman, with powers identical to the Kryptonian's, though a bit shorter (about 6 feet tall), and with slightly longer hair. Actually, I think it was kind of a mullet... hey, it was the 80's! The only surviving image of this great hero is a photograph of a birthday cake my mother made for me when I was four. Sometimes I pretended to adventure with him. Most of the time, though, I was Superblund, an alien being sent to Earth as an infant, sworn to fight evil and right wrongs in a most exciting and dramatic fashion. I was even fortunate enough to have a birthmark on my left bicep, which I thought surely must be a map of an extraterrestrial kingdom to which I, its star-crossed prince, was destined to one day return. Proudly did I don my Underoos on the outside, bath towel cape safety-pinned securely around my neck, leaping off of structures a bit too tall to be entirely safe. The escapades of Superblund were many and varied but, as is often the case with imaginary friends/secret identities, adolescence brought an end to his adventures.

My love of mythic heroes, however, managed to survive the scythes of age and social pressure. More than just survive, in fact. Sure, there were many elements about the Superman character that I could identify with. Clark Kent was a mild-mannered, bespectacled farm boy from Kansas. I was one from Wisconsin. Clark Kent was often perceived as somewhat "nerdy" by his peers. I was nerdy to a fault. He had trouble talking to girls. Me too. Clark Kent had a secret. He was different from everybody else. He would never quite fit in. I know, so far it doesn't sound too good, does it? But here's the thing: Clark Kent knew there was a greatness to him that most people would never understand, and it was his duty to use that greatness to help others. The proclivity for hero-lore that I perceived as a child to be just fun and fascination, I now understand is - and always was - a sense of personal identification. In keeping with Jung's theory of archetypes, the hero - or, as I see it, the Superhero - is what defines my true character, my "I am."

Don't get me wrong. I don't expect to ever experience self-powered flight (not in this life, anyway). I know I'm not bulletproof. I can't bench press planets, see through walls, or hear a person's heart beat a mile away. I am a human being, both in body and spirit. The archetypal identification is a matter of mankind's collective consciousness, of personality and character and, perhaps, a matter of destiny-through-choice. It must be something greater than chance that has me constantly surrounded with reminders of what it means to be a hero. From action figures to comic books, from favorite movies to treasured daydreams, and my perpetual struggle to achieve physical excellence and warrior prowess, all driven by the overwhelming thought that someday, someone may need my help. I know that, at the core of whom and what I am, there resides the archetype: Super-hero. Now that I'm "all grown up," a father, and married to the girl I was afraid to talk to in high school, the drive to be a super man is stronger than ever.

And now, for a few thoughts on spirituality, morality, and religion: Though raised as a protestant Christian, I no longer consider myself to be a follower of any religion. As Harlan Ellison put it, "religion is the last vestige of human barbarism." I believe that in order for mankind to not only survive into the foreseeable future, but to truly prosper and continue evolving, personal spirituality must replace the archaic model of religion on a global scale. We must all move beyond the tendency to feel that "God-as-I-see-it" is the way others must see it, as well. Perception is reality, and the only real truth is that which we experience, ourselves.

Following my break from organized, dogmatic religion, my personal, spiritual evolution has been largely a journey of intuition and introspection and, above all else, a search for truth. It is a road I still travel, and probably always will. Though it has its share of twists, turns, and obstacles to negotiate, I have found the fruits and flowers that grow along the way to be by far the sweetest. It has taken me through far off lands and far out philosophies, and of late, seems to have wound its way back to a place I often visited in my youth. When I look inward through closed eyes, I think I recognize this place. It is the extraterrestrial kingdom to which I was destined to return. Perhaps its name is Understanding. In a sense, Superman is the closest thing I have to religion. "There is a right and a wrong in the universe, and that distinction is not hard to make. Do right by all." (Superman, The Kingdom). "The virtuous spirit has no need for thanks or approval, only the certain conviction that what has been done is right. Develop such conviction in yourself." (Jor-El, from the unreleased Superman II script). I take these two simple statements as my code, my commandments, to be as Superman as I can.