Op-Ed

Superheroes

September 12, 2012   ·   0 Comments

I was posed the question, as a nerd, “What do you look for in a Superhero novel, what do you look for in a villain”.  That had me pondering because I had recently followed renowned anarchist David Graeber and he comments about the movie, The Dark Knight Rises. It is also topical because this weekend is Monteral Comic Con.

Now I don’t want to re-open the anarchist debate about superheroes but am extremely conscious that our love of superheroes as kids goes a huge way to establishing our values as adults. Like a lot of kids my age I devoured comic books and soon came to have favourites amongst the enormous selection on offer during the Bronze Age of comic books. Generally this found me identifying more with the Marvel than the DC Universe.

Common traits amongst my favourites would be humans becoming Superheroes through some “process”. Looking at my current and historical collection there is a lot of Thor and the Hulk. When I was a child Thor was sent to earth in the body of a disabled medical student who only became Thor again by banging his cane – and this was not always guaranteed to work. The movie version is quite different as are the current realm of comics. The Hulk, of course, was mild mannered Bruce Banner who you shouldn’t make angry. Spiderman was a normal kid who acquired these powers whereas a lot of others, Superman the most notable, were either always endowed with special powers or had none – just gadgets – in that I give you Iron Man and Batman. Another character that appealed to me was Captain Marvel/Shazam – “World’s Mightiest Mortal” – essentially a scrawny kid who had similar powers to Superman bestowed on him without the invulnerability. He got these powers from a 3,000 year old wizard and all he need do was utter the word, “Shazam”. The emphasis on him being mortal and him being on a rival comic book publisher to DC – it was a clear, and more successful competitor to Superman. Perhaps identifying that the only thing Americans did not dig about the Man of Steel was his invulnerability. In the end Shazam was way too cheesy and good humoured though. Not to be taken seriously amongst the Comic Geekerati. (I await the onslaught from Captain Marvel fans)

So to get to the question , a Superhero needs to be mortal and human most of the time and when the “special powers” are called on it’s is only in exceptional circumstances because you never know how out of control things could get. Of course Harry Potter has a lot of these themes. There are later diverse graphic novels of The Hulk – who I light-heartedly argued online with Graeber, is the first superhero anarchist. In one particular novel he is cast to an isolated planet because, well, he can’t be trusted. In these modern incarnations Hulk speaks and rarely reverts to his Banner alter-ego and this story unfolds with him reluctantly battling for the underdogs of the planet to ultimately become a hero and a “god”. Hulk does not want any of this – as is usual in his history he just wants to be left alone and not bothered because whenever he is Hulk, he is never left alone. It’s that Shakespeare quote, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”.

So my type of superhero would be reluctant, would not have to do this all the time and would definitely see it as more of a curse than a blessing. However, ultimately would realise that it was not just about them and that as much as they did not want it they would use that power for the help of others. This concept occurs in many comic book story-lines, probably because it is the one the self-isolated nerd identifies with most.

I think there is a compulsion amongst the Geekerati. When asked to help out they feel compelled, especially if they know they can help and know they have some power that others do not. Try it! Ask a Geek to take out the trash and he’ll ignore it – for  it is within your power and he/she should not be trifled with such mortal tasks, tell him you can’t work your Facebook privacy settings and he won’t be able to resist unleashing his software super-powers to save the day – or the picture of you drunk you don’t want your boss to see.

What would I look for in a storyline and a villain that involved this hero?.  It would have to be a dystopia such as  V for Vendetta, Watchmen – or even somewhat other wordly like Game of Thrones but not too much fantasy. The threat does not have to be a thing, a creature, it could be many things . The result of the threat would be the end to a particular way of  life. Graeber complains that the makers of the Batman movies push forward the argument that law and order and a regulated society are somewhat essential to a content population. If you are an anarchist and you have seen the latest movie then you can clearly see Graeber’s point. In fact Christopher Nolan addresses the type of story I just described very well. Albeit very establishment.

If my story were focused on a villain then said villain would not be too dissimilar to the hero just had different experiences that made them bad – perhaps like Darth Vader.

Having scribbled many comics as a kid writing this skit has enthused me about possible storylines again. Just in time for Comic Con. Perhaps a dystopian Peasants’ Revolt – with added super-powers. Or was that done in Planet Hulk?

 

 

 

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