Saturday, June 25, 2011
The Modern Superhero
Once upon a time, a publisher that would later evolve into DC comics decided to release a story about a man in tights. This was Action Comics #1, the story was called Super-man and the comic has since been hailed as the birth of a Golden Age.
Now to those that don't know, American comics are devided into "ages" based on the state of the industry, or a particular trend. The most referred to are as follows: The Golden Age where the superhero was born, The Silver Age where alot of them were reborn with science fiction origins (to the point of some of them being downright silly) and The Dark Age where everything was put into an ultra serious semi-realistic format (as realistic as an universe with Captain Marvel can be, anyway) with lots of violence and fanservice.
before the now classic superhero format, the closest thing we had to Superman were costumed vigilantes in Pulp books. Magazines with novels of all sorts of stuff, some following the same character and others with 5 or 6 different stories but the only kind that seemed to have survived up to this day and age is romantic fiction aimed at women.
We had Zorro and The Phantom and Mandrake The Magician, and before them, we had Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan. I'm sure you can make arguments for Thor and Hercules (even Jesus) fitting in there somewhere but let's keep it simple.
Now I'm personally convinced that todays Superheroes are actually placeholders for the hero myths. Alot of people scoff at Superman "He's too powerful" they claim "not identifiable with at all" and then they go read Deadpool comics. Seriously, that guy could survive roasting hot dogs on the flipping sun - anyway, here's my counter argument.
You're NOT supposed to identify with Superman (or at least not entirely), he's practically a reimagining of Moses. Born in another world pending destruction, sent down the Nile (or in Supermans case, through space) avoiding all sorts of dangers on his way. Brought up in other living conditions than was meant for him (His actual parents were reknowned scientists, his stepparents were lowly farmers) and then growing up to set an example for the common man. That's what Superman is supposed to be, a better man. By always following his naive sense of right and wrong, not being able to lie and always trying to grab defeat without killing anyone in the process he sets an example for others to follow. Sure Superman could beat people up as much as he wanted, and be king of the world but that's not what he does. Every time he get's in front of a criminal he initially tries to appeal to their conscience before using force. This is a man every other man should strive to be, and it shows.
Problem is, people don't like the whole morality lecture these days. They wanna be able to smoke, drink, generally not give a crap. Of course there's exceptions to the rule but when I venture around in the world (and especially the internet) I meet lots of people that really could take a lesson or two from The Man of Steel.
No, people identify with people like Batman. And I get it, Batman is cool. He's put down to our level by having no powers (other than extreme riches) and having his parents shot in front of him. People identify with El Mariachi because thugs killed his girlfriend and shot his hand so he couldn't play guitar. What is it about revenge that makes us identify with characters? Would we feel better about Superman if he went around in the universe, tirelessly looking for a way to somehow avenge his planet? Would we enjoy Mickey Mouse more if he went looking for his appearantly missing parents?
Anime and Manga seems to be the new go-to place for superheroes. Now alot of manga fans will kick me for this but mangas are basically superhero comics. Akira Toriyama, author of the famous Dragonball series was a huge fan of series like Superman, thus it had a direct impact on his work. Goku was a fugitive from a distant planet that was blown up by a menacing force like Superman, he was able to fly and had super strength. And in a twist he could be compared to Havock from X-men in his ability to shoot beams from his hands (Kamehameha!).
So I think that fans of modern shounen are ignoring the resemblance to western superheroes in their beloved franchises. Monkey D. Luffy is like Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man and can stretch all he wants, Uzumaki Naruto can multiply, just like Multiple Man and Conan from Case Closed! is a huge fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and an ace detective like Batman or more obviously Sherlock Holmes. The main differences are of course the art style, which in Mangas case are influenced heavy by the artist (and so-called Kami No Manga/God of Manga) Osamu Tezuka that created his Astroboy character based on his work as an animator for Disney (thus the resemblance between him and the former mentioned mouse)
So where is the Superheroes at the home country USA going? Well, DC comics that started the whole thing is rebooting all of their franchises, and the well-known and established characters from all the big companies are facing increasingly darker themes like death, divorce, rape, religion, racism and miscarriages. While I like that some of these themes are discussed and presented in modern media (Red Arrow being the first singledad in superhero comics) they are far more often disposed off as soon as there are drops in the economy. Editors even going as far as killing of small innocent girls (Red Arrows daughter) or having even Spiderman selling his love of his life to the devil. Dark times indeed, and people are outraged every time.
But that's part of the problem, stories like these have shock value and this makes the major corporations have dollar signs in their eyes. People are going to be buying the comics if the death of a well known character is advertised on the cover. It's silly, shallow and never going to end.
Yet I feel like the heroes are in an era of change. The movies have increasingly bigger influence on the medium as a whole, and both DC and Marvel are busy producing more and more TV-series.
Superheroes will continue to set an example for the common man to better himself, doing what they do because they it's simply right, and let's hope that even a few of us follow the example to always do the right thing as well.