Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Hercules Complex"

This poem is spillover from the March 18, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] janetmiles. It also fills the "wishing" square on my 11-26-13 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by LiveJournal user Lb_lee. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

WARNING: This poem mentions some weird forms of self-harm and gruesome situations, inspired by superhero origin stories.

"Hercules Complex"

There are those who are not
satisfied with being ordinary,
who seek to gain superpowers
by any means conceivable.

They push themselves to the limits,
attempting to replicate freak accidents
that have transformed others into superhumans.

They jump into vats of toxic chemicals,
expose themselves to radiation,
and leap into dangerous situations
hoping that the intensity of the stimulation
will somehow trigger a change.

For the most part, it does not;
a majority of the seekers simply die.
Most of the survivors suffer horrible injuries,
some permanent, even crippling.

The latent potential is spread far and wide
throughout the throng of humanity,
and nobody knows exactly what it is
or how it might manifest,
only that certain things sometimes
seem to bring it to the surface.

The few people who have it
often gain their gifts under extreme duress,
and there is a sort of pattern to it.

This is what the seekers pursue
with such desperate ardor,
and the few who succeed
only spur on those who follow.

It is a peculiar kind of self-harm
in which the intent is not injury but increase,
and yet it lessens more often than it improves,
the mental flaw creating a weak point
regardless of outer strength.

It's called the Hercules Complex,
after the demigod who yearned
to prove himself a true hero
through the quest of twelve labors.

It can even happen by proxy,
as the old gladatorial arenas exposed,
for throwing people into extraordinary situations
sometimes makes them extraordinary,
and so the legends begin.

Yet it cannot truly be controlled;
it is a matter of chance or fate
or something more ephemeral still.

For all their wishing,
they remain terribly ignorant.

What they do not understand --
what nobody with the Hercules Complex
could ever begin to grasp --

what is nevertheless known
to every supernary hero in the world --

is that it isn't power
which makes a hero,
but heart.

* * *


Hercules is a classic figure known for his twelve labors, variously described as being expiation for wrongs done or a means of proving himself a true hero.

A "complex" is a mess of feelings about something that can cause psychological trouble.

The psychology behind superhero origin stories is complicated. Here are some sample origins.

People like to tell stories about characters with amazing abilities. We talk about demigods, heroes, superheroes, legends, and so forth. Superheroes are often describes as modern gods, and they can tell us a lot about ourselves.

Gladiators were historic fighters who underwent stupendous danger and sometimes manifested amazing survival ability.

Self-harm involves damaging one's body for emotional release or other reasons. While cutting is the most common example, there are many others -- and some people hurt themselves with extreme fitness routines or other things that can resemble self-improvement. There are ways to stop injuring yourself, or to support someone who self-harms.

Supernaries are ordinary people who use intense training to compete on a level with those who have superpowers. Some readers prefer heroes without superpowers. There are also supernary villains. The whole point is that you don't need special powers to become a superhero. You can be a hero in real life. The catch is, it's more work than most people want to do.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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