Superheroes and me

June 13, 2006

The Physics of SuperheroesTHERE is a reason I don’t have kids. I’m scared. Not just of the process of actually growing one and then figuring out how to feed and water it post-whelp. Not to mention the wipe-sanitize-deodorize delight of juvenile waste management.

I’m scared because I know that no matter what I do, it will be wrong. At least in my kids eyes’. I know this because of comic books.

You see, my parents thought in their wisdom that if they banned comic books and instead provided a similar-look publication, The Great Illustrated Classics, I would grow up to be a genius. That turning Little Women and The Count of Monte Christo and The man in the Iron Mask and Silas Marner into picturebook poptarts would render them irresistible. Well, they did pass the time, and I did like the pictures.

And they probably did stimulate my imagination as much as that sort of thing can, filled as they were with bleakness and loss, injustice and hopelessness and archetypal good women in search of husbands. My parents always said I was a serious child. Helluva thing.

Pulp fiction

So surprise, surprise, age 19 with Tim Burton’s images of Gotham City fixed firmly in my head and Prince ringing in my ears, I began stockpiling every Batman periodical I could find.

Then I discovered Wonder Woman and began combing little cafes and tearooms and second-hand stores in earnest in my search for DC and Marvel comics. I had hundreds. Towering piles of my dog-eared pulp, filled with garish colours and explosive justice and a sense of greater purpose and kickass women. Some indication that humankind was indeed worth fighting for.

How to Be a Superhero: Your Complete Guide to Finding a Secret Headquarters, Hiring a Sidekick, Thwarting the Forces of Evil, and Much More!!Instead of reading the classics — unabridged grownup versions of the ink-and-pastel counterparts — I spent time after lectures and earning my workmaton wages lying on my tummy on the floor, cigarette in hand (oh the maternal horror of that one!), up to my ears in Superheros. Probably being my parents’ worst nightmare. I maintain it was a reaction to reading for a degree in English Literature.

Fantasy vs Reality

It was just a phase — further proof that a childhood indulgence would have passed harmlessly enough. Or I might have grown up to be a superhero myself and isn’t it great to have one of those in the family? I can just imagine my parents presenting us: “my son, The Director, my daughter the Dental Professional and my youngest, The Incredible Sulk.” Mind you, when I put like it that I can see their point.

Anyway, I got over the DC obsession when the real world intervened in my fantasy life. You know, post-college job hunting, romantic fallout, committing to responsible driving and all that stuff. So I ended up giving away the collection to an older but Peter Pan-styled colleague (whom I secretly envied. Despite, rather than because of, his delinquency. I refuse to believe there was a correlation.)

But I had discovered popular culture and Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground and Science Fiction and Gothic fashion trends and the Beat Generation and so much more. I was almost prepared for the retro trends of the 21st century.

Signs of the times

Superheroes And Philosophy: Truth, Justice, And The Socratic Way (Popular Culture and Philosophy)There was plenty of moral fibre in these comic books. You know, do as you wish to be done to, the struggle between good and evil, taking responsibility for choices, doing a good turn for the human race.

The only thing missing in those days was cultural representation. But times have changed and this year is looking good for resurrection, rebirths and reinventions, albeit mostly All-American.

Wonder Woman is wielding her Lasso of truth again as of this month, and Batwoman comes out of the closet in July in all her gay glory. Firestorm has emerged black and beautiful, Blue Beetle has surfaced as a Mexican-American teen, the all-new Atom has been reborn as an Asian-American professor and there is a powerful Chinese Justice League, the Great Ten.

Inspiring! We really can do anything, no matter where we came from. As long as it’s somewhere in the USA. Then again, imagine if we only had Homer Simpson and Paris Hilton to look to for inspiration. Oh the horror!

Barring modern-day reinterpretation of the classics, Silas Marner is always going to be a sad old white man, and Eppie is always going to be a blonde bombshell. On the other hand, that Count of Monte Christo dude was pretty tough, and certainly very motivated.

Without a literary spin on old stories with an all-star mythological cast — along with angels and demons, the original superheroes — would we even have had the likes of Superman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman?

I doubt it.