Monday, January 31, 2011

SuperZeroes: Why Can’t We Get Heroes Right?

Quick reminder: today is the last day to vote for your favorite IGMS story of 2010.

There have been a bunch of super-powered TV wannabes popping out of the tube lately.  As a former comic-book addict I was excited for each and every one of these shows.  I love the super-hero meme; put a good origin story and a cape on it, and I AM THERE.

From Heroes to The Cape, the recent crop of meta-abled television shows have been disappointing.

It’s possible I’m too familiar with the cliches of the genre—the mainstays of origin stories are boring to me now.  I know that normal humans actually use more than 10% of their brains; I think that evolutionary watersheds are not likely to happen in a readily observable timeframe (from a human perspective).  I’m dubious about the abilities of gamma rays, x-rays, or cosmic rays to confer anything more than radiation sickness and a slow painful death. 

It’s possible that Buffy Summers ruined all future TV-based super-hero stories for me in a blinding display of camp and wit.  (Yes: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a super-hero)  Joss Whedon can’t even live up to his creation (as he showed with the dreadfully boring Dollhouse); and if Joss can’t do it, is there really hope for anyone else?

I suppose it’s debatable whether Dollhouse was super-hero SF or just plain SF.  I shall not debate it here.

It’s also possible that Hollywood (or whomever) doesn’t really understand the type of story that draws people to superheroes, and that’s why so many big-and-small screen versions of them fail.  Will the curse that brought the X-men and Spider-man movie franchises low in their 3rd iteration carry-over to Christopher Nolan’s Batman series?  Remember that the 80’s Batman franchise nose-dived on its 3rd title…  These stories all died because of their sudden weight gain—too many antagonists, too many protagonists, and not enough time  spent clarifying and building the relationships between them all.  For me, NBC’s Heroes was a flop because the people were all caricatures who moaned, groaned, and whined their way through their new super-powered lives.  (With the exception of Hiro.  If the show had been called Hiro, and featured just him, I’d have been happy.)  ABC’s attempt at remaking the Fantastic Four family style (No Ordinary Family) fails for a similar reason: I don’t believe in this family.  Fall in a lake, and get super-powers from bio-luminescent thingies, sure; but the family dynamic is unbelievable.  Heck, the *individuals* are unbelievable.

Maybe it’s that I’ve become cynical in my advanced age.  I’m not sure that the glut of super-heroes flashing muscles and bespangled costumes on TV isn’t just a ploy to capitalize on the upcoming Thor, Green Lantern, and Captain America movies.  Like some exec is up in his office saying, “Know what’s big right now?  Heroes, that’s what.  Big heroes, with muscles and … you know, like that guy, whats-his-name, Stan Lee, used to write!  Get me Jessica Alba and a script, STAT!”

The good news is that super-heroes are making a comeback in literature too.  And from what I see, MUCH more successfully.  While it’s hard to put the same amount of visual splash into text, the super-heroes I’m reading about in short stories from James Maxey, Will Mcintosh, Ken Scholes and others pack a punch that their big-screened counterparts simply can’t match.


--Scott M. Roberts

Assistant Editor, IGMS

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