(In the psychodynamic sense, not the “passport” sense of the term.)
One of the benefits of a retcon is that you can change history to make it foreshadow the present. It’s not just the past, anymore… it’s prologue. Instead of wandering from point to point to get to here, a good edit can result in a straightforward narrative of history.
DC Comics, from around Crisis On Infinite Earths ran with this and explained, more or less, that Superman was the Superhero that established the pattern of what it meant to be a Hero. Protect the innocent. Deliver the guilty to the proper authorities. Do not kill. Superman is the Gold Standard. (We will, of course, ignore the books from the early days that had him kill bad guys, and we won’t count the times that he killed xenomorphs, or Doomsday, or General Zod (that was John Byrne)).
In that particular version of history, it was Superman first and then other heroes started showing up. Green Lantern. Wonder Woman. Flash. Martian Manhunter. The pattern was set for all of the heroes… which brings me to the new 52.
It looks like in this new continuity, Superman may or may not be the first hero. At the very least, he’s much more the vigilante than the Big Blue Boy Scout… and this makes me wonder what the DC Universe is going to do to explore a world of heroes without someone exemplary set down the rules of The Game.
They’re probably going to avoid it for reasons laid out in Cynicism!… but I find myself hoping that the heroes will stumble for a while before discovering that they have to be heroes that stand for something.