Random Musings on the Nature of Super Heroes
There’s just something sexy about a girl in tight spandex. I grew up with Wonder Woman and Batman (with an occasional appearance by Batgirl) on television, and to an impressionable young woman surrounded by misogynistic authority, hot females with kick-ass abilities were role-models to love.
But as I got older, and started thinking for myself (and reading a lot more comic books) I found that Hollywood was cheating me. Superheroes became mainstream, and about the same time Gen13 hit the market, you could hardly mention movies without without hearing someone spouting which comic hero was next in line for celluloid recreation. And although a superhero makes for fine theatrical entertainment, converting a printed three-year character development into a 90 minute movie just loses something. People were all about special effects. Screw depth and angst.
This really bothered me. I have always been into super heroes that had a more literal connection to reality. Characters like Batman, and Lara Croft were appealing for the simple reason that they DIDN’T have super powers that gave them some kind of edge. They were just really athletic, smart, and fantastically well-funded people who happened to be on “the side of good”, even loosely so. They even had real-world hangups and moral issues and didn’t necessarily need a super villain to “fight crime”. And the really great thing about them was that no matter how amazing their talents, there was always the idea in the back of your mind that if you just trained hard enough, and earned enough money, YOU TOO could be like them. Sure, it was a pipe-dream, but a POSSIBLE pipe-dream. It’s not like we are somehow going to develop x-ray vision or incredible strength as we hit 40… more like just the opposite. But we can relate to money and tight abs.
Superman is certainly powerful, but what’s the point of having god-like abilities if you ignore the real issues of our time… Famine, oppression, pestilence, even global warming. The “supers” always seemed to be out fighting for a tiny few – saving the girl in the alley while thousand are being raped to death in Darfur . But those issues scare us. Those issues are not fun to read about. Those issues are too close to reality and don’t sell comic books. People want to read fantasy. And why not?
We read about Lara’s adventures in exotic lands because it allows us to be a part of something more than our boring uneventful lives. As a female, why would you NOT want to be a rich, buxom, explorer with catlike reflexes and a fear of no man? And don’t forget those guns…
We like power. We like to see ourselves as powerful, and guns do that. But the great thing about Lara Croft is that her power doesn’t really reside in her guns, the guns are just tools. The real power is in her training and resolve. Unlike Superman, who is all muscle, Lara uses her tools with precision and intelligence. Batman has his tools too, and his belt is only part of it. He uses darkness and fear to keep his enemies at bay. He might turn you over to the cops… or he might just dump your sorry ass off the side of the building and leave your fate to thirty floors of justice.
I like to use super heroes in my art (and writing). It’s not so much a fan thing, but rather taking advantage of a preexisting character. I don’t have to waste time trying to establish a personality and story in my work, I can just use someone like Lara Croft and I have an instant fan-base. No one thinks twice about Lara stumbling around a dark and damp cave, wandering through an ancient tomb looking for mysterious artifacts of questionable purpose. That’s what she does. The other nice thing is that she’s human… totally human. Not only can she be seduced, she can be killed. She has risk, and risk creates tension, and tension makes for good art.
Superman on the other hand, is virtually indestructible unless Kryptonite happens to be around (which is far too often, IMHO – have you ever knowingly been within 100 yards of plutonium? Not bloody likely.). What’s the fun in that? Where’s the risk?
On a side note, I always wondered why no one ever just electrocuted Superman. Or maybe they did and I missed it. But it would seem that being impervious to bullets doesn’t make you a non-conductor. Wouldn’t his muscles and neurons work the same way as our own? Doesn’t 200mA across his heart kill him just as dead as anyone else? Oh well. Comic license and all that.
The only saving grace for a character like Superman is his story. Simply put, he has a top-notch plot. Everything explained, nice and neat, but also interesting to read. He is the quintessential comic character, complete with villains and a weakness. Had Superman been a book and not a comic, it still would have been awesome. This is why the first season of Smallville was fantastic, and the rest are basically “freak of the week.” His story is interesting. Watching him fight the latest, greatest mutation in Smallville isn’t. It gets tired and unbelievable almost at once. Story is everything.
Batgirl is another of those characters that really appeals to me. She’s a non-super super, like Lara, but with a secret identity. I never saw the need for the anonymity myself, but it adds to the mystery. She’s young, smart, beautiful, and wears form-fitting outfits that show off her curves. Her strength is in her speed and training, with a helping hand from the gadgets around her waist. No guns, which I always found a little funny since she could basically be stopped cold by nothing more than a 16 year old punk with a revolver. Chalk it up to risk and move on.
One thing that you might find different in my superhero fan-fiction is the inclusion of better than average villains. I say “better” because they are smarter. You won’t often find my villains willingly leaving an unguarded heroine to their demise, nor will you see them foolishly underestimating an opponent. They usually won’t have unearthly powers any more than those they challenge, no matter how twisted they are psychologically. You can’t perform horrendous acts of cruelty and be “sane”, but that doesn’t preclude a villain being intelligent, even radically so. World domination probably won’t be a motivator for my villains, but greed or even plain old psychotic insanity very well could be. I have always wanted to write a longer piece about a really smart super villain. Someone who is the anti-Holmes, always ten steps ahead of the detective. The villains in my short works are probably incarnations of that character.
Or maybe incarnations of myself. It’s good to be bad.