Superheroes have for many years fought for causes and faced up to threats that are too large, too complicated or too politically sensitive for us to stand up to in real life. This way they provide a great sense of escapism, of wish fulfillment and of inspiration, and they provide a great influence in some cases on how we live our lives. In these moments superheroes transcend their medium and become something bigger, using their iconic status to interpret and even direct the course of real world events. Thus it only makes sense that heroes should take on board one of the biggest issues of the 21st century and look at the environment. So what do green superheroes have to say about global warming and other eco-issues.
There are many green superheroes in terms of color. The Green Lantern for instance, Green Arrow, The Incredible Hulk and Swamp Thing. Part of the reason for this was that in those days, green superheroes were easy and cheap to color, and would stand out against the other colors on the page (also the reason that almost every female Marvel character had red hair). These green superheroes had nothing really to do with the environment – though Green Arrow had a decidedly eco-friendly origin story as he learned to work with his surroundings for survival when stranded on an island. This story was re-told most recently in the TV series Smallville.
Back then though, going green was not as much of a hot topic and there was much less understanding about global warming or the energy crisis. In Superman 4 though, Christopher Reeves made a statement on world peace (with eco-consequences) by confiscating the world’s nuclear arsenal and launching them into space (reportedly Christopher Reeves’ own idea). This was taken further when Superman later fought a nemesis by the name of Nuclear Man. Interestingly this behavior directly went against the rules and laws that the Superman franchise set for him in the first film – that he could not interfere with the larger affairs of man. To do so would be to impose his will on us and to therefore mis-use his powers. This is a stance taken by many superheroes, which is perhaps why there are relatively few green superheroes.
One superhero who has tackled the subject more head-on in recent times though is Iron Man – perhaps one of the more surprising green superheroes. Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark is an inventive genius who uses his incredible intellect to tackle the world’s problems. Under writer Matt Fraction’s reigns, Tony Stark has taken it up himself to provide the world with free clean energy having invented such a power source; the ‘repulsor’. He starts by targeting car manufacturers and by creating his own vehicle for public consumption called the ‘Stark Resilient’. He is certainly one of the more proactive green superheroes, but as is the nature of any comic he is not without those trying to scupper his plans.
Another superhero whose whole schtick was about being good to the planet was star of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon somewhat before his time. ‘Captain Planet’ was one of the green superheroes, and drew his power from the Earth itself in order to prevent pollution and corruption of his home. Many other characters in comics such as Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman and Namor have dealt with issues surrounding pollution and global warming – and all superheroes are green superheroes in a way.