It seems our cultures have something of an obsession with superheroes. The enduring myth of a superior being, a saviour figure not held back by mere mortal limitations who sacrifices himself to save mankind. Does that sound like someone familiar? A figure revered by millions throughout the western world? Yes, of course, it’s Superman.
He has died quite a few times over the years, but keeps on getting resurrected. I guess the world cannot do without this ultimate hero in the jolly red underpants and cape.
Strangely nobody seems too bothered with the fact he’s an illegal alien, although perhaps the future President Trump will have the comics burned and Superman deported. Or he can try.
Superheroes have certainly been with us for quite some time, inspired by ancient myths and later folklore, characters like The Phantom first appeared in the 1930s, quickly followed by enduring favourites like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
Many of us grew up with a whole host of heroes – The Fantastic Four, Thor, The X-Men and who could forget Duck-billed-Platypus boy.*
Comic creators were nothing if not imaginative, giving us a literal A to Z of amazing characters – from Ant Man to Professor X.
As a kid I eagerly read Marvel and DC comics, following the adventures of the many colourful crusaders as they battled to outfight and outquip their evil enemies and rival heroes.
They used all sorts of amazing abilities, often acquired in bizarre accidents involving radiation, mutations or strange twists of fate, to battle the forces of evil. And there was a lot of evil to battle. So Thor hammered and Hulk smashed, to keep us all safe from harm, but also because it was more fun than working in accounting.
It always struck me as rather odd how much time was spent talking during these epic fisticuffs. There was also a lot of ‘toying’ as I recall, as in – ‘Puny human, I am merely toying with you, now I shall crush you like a bug!’ Strangely they never seemed to succeed with this strategy and the mouthy bigheads usually got their comeuppance, eventually.
Some heroes were certainly a bit more super than others. The original Iron Man was slightly less bad-ass than his modern day counterpart, I recall he had to stop and plug himself into a wall socket at regular intervals, like charging a mobile phone. A bit limiting when battling immortals and cosmic-powered aliens. Imagine losing your charger!
We’ve had earnest patriots and cynical loners, immortal gods and damaged billionaires. Could Donald Trump have a secret super alter-ego? A bigoted super-villain with bad hair and a hypnotic hold over half the population? Will he gain control of America and access to its huge stockpile of deadly weapons? Where is Captain America and when will he step in to save the day? Stay tuned folks..
Whether it’s enhanced mental powers, superior strength or the ability to level an army with hypersonic hiccups, the Superhero must always be ready to risk his/her life in the name of justice, freedom or maybe a good old scrap. They laugh in the face of danger and titter in the presence of peril. They are the personification of our own desires – to be better, stronger and generally less rubbish at life. To be somebody special, somebody looked up to. A modern day Jesus / Buddha figure, but with less qualms about smacking villains upside the head.
A key component of any hero figure is his/her Achilles heal. An invincible hero makes for rather unexciting narratives, so our saviours must have some basic vulnerabilities to provide drama. Whether it’s Kryptonite, lack of electricity or simply too much compassion and kindness, there is always some weakness for the villains to exploit. And exploit it they do, the utter bastards.
These days superheroes are big business and the number of TV and movie spin-offs and re-boots continues to multiply, with mixed results.
The Iron Man and Avengers franchises suggest it is possible to deliver big, exciting action spectaculars that are smart, funny and entertaining, to a very broad audience. Heavy on action and effects to be sure, but still engaging us with humour, half-decent characters and plots.
The X Men films brought in classy super-thespians to give a bit of gravitas to their leading men, while the Watchmen took us into rather more grown-up territory, dark and thought-provoking. Clearly good source material counts.
I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger.
The Joker, The Dark Knight
With the Dark Knight trilogy, Chris Nolan really delivered something special and gave us the Batman we’d always longed for, along with a superb Joker and many great supporting characters, not to mention lots of groovy vehicles and gadgets.
Now we have the era of cool postmodern anti-heroes all trying to outdo each other in the cynicism, violence and swearing stakes. With relative newcomers like Deadpool and Suicide Quad hitting our screens, perhaps following on where Kick Ass left off, we live in interesting super-times.
If I had to choose a super-power for myself, I’d probably want something fairly unique, like prehensile eyebrows, or the ability to yodel underwater. If nothing else it would sow confusion and provide some entertainment to cetaceans.
I’d also want a cool costume too, preferably one that covers up my slightly skinny chicken-legs. Maybe a suit of flexible super-armour that has a cloaking device, phasers and a killer sound system. That would be very handy on long missions. I could create a villain-bashing playlist, featuring lots of cool gangster rap, techno and of course a bit of the old Ludwig van Beethoven, my old droogs.
It would have a built in mini-bar too, it can be stressful saving humanity from endless doom and catastrophe, like an evil super-villain in the White House, or a giant space-squid that disrupts all our Wi-Fi connections and eats our entire supply of microwave popcorn.
Who are your superheroes and what powers would you like to have?
*Duck-billed-Platypus boy may have been a dream.
Copyright J.Lennick 2016 All rights reserved.
Images Copyright – DC Comics / Marvel Comics. All rights respected