Northern Ireland

Ireland needs a hero: Is there anyone left to save the day?

Superman flying over city
Image caption Superman: fighting for the American way since 1932

So, the bailout is agreed, but the Republic of Ireland is still in trouble. If you believe the hype, the government is broken, the financial sector is rotten and civil society teeters on the brink. These are desperate times.

To quote Bonnie Tyler: "Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods? Where's the street-wise Hercules, to fight the rising odds?"

In the US, when society faces hard and uncertain times, popular culture has plenty of mythic heroes to help shore up public morale.

And none have endured the test of time better than the superhero, a genre now more popular than ever.

The modern American superhero emerged amid the grey austerity of the great depression and the looming threat of World War II.

Superman, the archetypal costumed adventurer, was created by two teenagers at the height of the depression in 1932. Batman came along in 1939 and Wonder Woman and Captain America debuted in 1940 and 1941 respectively.

All of them were, at one stage or another, roped into government propaganda efforts against the axis powers during the war.

In fact, Superman and other American comics were banned by the Nazis, who thought they were a Jewish plot.

The UK has its own roster of fictional saviours including Captain Britain, Dan Dare and the anarchist anti-hero of V for Vendetta.

France has the indomitable Asterix and Canada has Wolverine of the X-men.

Darkest hour

So, now in Ireland's darkest hour who can the Emerald Isle count on to save the day?

Like jobs and support for Fianna Fail, Irish superheroes are fairly thin on the ground.

The most high-profile masked man with overt Irish connections is Daredevil, also known as Matt Murdock.

The blind Irish-American is a pro bono lawyer with red hair and Catholic guilt issues by day and a devil-suited vigilante by night.

The metaphor of a blind lawyer frustrated with the criminal justice system taking the law into his own hands may speak to an element of the populace keen on driving cement trucks into government property and vandalising TDs' offices.

Captain America, probably the most patriotic of superheroes, is actually the son of Irish immigrants.

Born in Manhattan to Sarah and Joseph Rogers, Steve Rogers was the quintessential 7-stone weakling until he volunteered for a secret government experiment to create a "super-soldier".

Although of Irish extraction, Cap's loyalty is to the US and Captain Ireland doesn't have the same ring to it. Besides, it's now unlikely the Irish government could afford a super-soldier programme of its own.

The X-men include a few Irish-born mutant heroes among their number.

Banshee, named after the gaelic omen of death, was born Sean Cassidy in County Mayo.

His super power is a high-pitched scream which can destabilise those around him and cause disturbances in the surrounding environment. Personification of the Irish banking industry anyone?

Banshee's daughter, Theresa Rourke Cassidy, inherited her father's sonic scream and took the superhero name Siryn. In a recent storyline Siryn gave birth to a son who was horrifically absorbed into the body of his father. Developers now chained to Nama may find this grotesque plot twist strikes a chord.

Image caption The League of Volunteers will be keeping Ireland free of Nazis

While all of the above have Irish roots, they are also all creations of the American comics company Marvel.

Emerald age

But fear not, after 72 years of importing characters from America, the emerald age of superheroes may be about to dawn.

Dublin-based Atomic Diner Comics is preparing to unveil a new universe of Irish crime-fighters.

The Glimmer Man, will tell the story of James Quinn, a young journalist in neutral Ireland during World War II.

As a masked mystery man, Quinn will wage war against any Nazi that dares trespass on the soil of Eire.

The Republic will also get its own superhero team when Atomic Diner publishes The League of Volunteers in mid-December. Among those joining the Glimmer Man on the team will be the legendary Fionn MacCumhaill and a character known as the Druid.

On his blog, Atomic Diner's writer and creator Rob Curley explains his belief that the heroes and myths we use to entertain ourselves can serve a deeper purpose.

"The Uncanny X-Men, (are) mutants feared and hated by the world around them, they can be seen as an attempt to highlight the racial tensions of the 1960s," he writes.

"Like all myths, these characters helped their readers to understand the world around them and how they themselves fitted in to it."

Rob hopes that his creations will go some way towards giving modern Ireland new heroes to look up to.

"The idea behind any superhero story is one of personal responsibility and duty to the society we live in. So I think in this context the superhero can say a lot about the implosion of the Celtic tiger and that loss of responsibility and duty by our politicians," he said.

"Over the years our own myths have been forgotten and with such a constant influx of stories in all forms of media there seemed to be no need for new heroes of our own.

"I am hoping over the coming years to help turn the tide in my own small way by introducing new creations, along with breathing new life into heroes long forgotten."

Perhaps, now the era of bankers and builders is over, the age of heroes can begin.

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