“Dormammu: You will never win.
Doctor Strange: No. But I can lose. Again. And again. And again. And again, forever.”
–Doctor Strange (2016)
We all pick our heroes, and there are different heroes to pick. Hercules is a hero because he’s strong. Odysseus is a hero because he’s clever. Moana is a hero because she recognizes Te Fiti the loving through the flames of hurt Te Kā (“They have stolen the heart from inside you / But this does not define you / This is not who you are / I Know who you are”). In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne is a hero because he’s violent enough to kill the bad guy, and Jimmy Stewart is a hero because he’s idealistic enough to resist violence. (If that doesn’t say something about how America likes to imagine itself, I don’t know what does). In Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Richard Mayhew is a hero because he’s kind. In the movie, Wonder Woman is a hero because she won’t give in to hate or apathy, even when Ares taunts her with humanity’s flaws. She keeps loving.
Doctor Strange is a hero because he’s clever (like Odysseus) and because, at the end of the day, he’s willing to lose. He’s willing to lose and lose and lose, lose until Dormammu is tired of hurting him, and agrees to leave everyone behind Doctor Strange alone. (That’s a story we’ve seen before: one of my favorite versions is Tyr’s part in the myth, “The Binding of Fenrir.” Ask me about it sometime, and I’d love to tell you). Our society is so interested in “winners.” Some of those winners “sacrifice themselves” for the final step, but they still win. Strange’s sacrifice (“sacrifice,” originally “to make sacred”) is different: he’s choosing a path where he gets hurt, where he loses, again and again, because that’s the best thing he can do for the world.
Lately I’ve been feeling more hopeful than I was feeling when I saw Doctor Strange, so I’ve been thinking more about Moana’s open eyes. I suppose we all choose our heroes, day by day; we choose who to look up to, and that’s who we grow toward. What about your hero, then? What’s their superpower?