Unmasked: A super-sized love affair

(Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century, 1976)

“Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names.” Those were words May Parker uttered to her superhero nephew Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s iconic Spider-Man 2.

Those words, however, push past Peter, and resonate with an audience grounded in the real world; a world full of little boys who tie red towels around their necks and dream of saving the world, by romantics who crave to be swept off their feet (literally) by an enchanting masked stranger for a night among the stars.

May Parker’s statement was right:

Everybody loves a hero.

While the nation’s love affair with superheroes dates back to 1938, when Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1, the passion for men in tights remains just as strong today.

2012 could be dubbed “Year of the Superhero,” as several major super flicks–sequels, prequels and reboots–have exploded onto a movie screen nearest you. The AvengersThe Amazing-Spider Man. The Dark Knight Rises.

More interesting than the stack of superhero flicks released this year, though, is how much money and popularity they’re garnering. According to Box Office Mojo, Marvel’s The Avengers smashed attendance records by swallowing a whopping $200.3 million its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $611,127,884 domestically. The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, is predicted to collect $500 million in U.S. theaters during its run, according to Box Office Mojo.

So why the fascination that draws millions to watch a man donning spandex save the world?  Students who attended the National Student Leadership Conference at American University July 2-11 have the answers.

“[Superheroes] can do things we can’t and can change the world in ways we could never dream of,” said NSLC professional newswriting student Evan Berkowitz of  Sudbury, Mass.

“Spider-man and all of the other superheroes out there represent hope and bravery and courage in a crazy world,” said Kelly Mayid of Fort Lee, N.J. “We’re all so fascinated with superheroes just because we wished they actually existed.”

Or maybe we’re just fascinated by superheroes because we wish we could be them. We wish we obtained the strength, the integrity, the dedication demonstrated by heroes like the web-slinger or man of steel.

And maybe we don’t have to look too far for our wishes to come true.

Enter again the wisdom of Peter Parker’s Aunt May: “I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most.”

Some Hollywood lines live up to the real-live billing.