Do We Still Need Superheroes?

6 May

Iron Man 2 opens tonight, and if you’re like me, you really, REALLY want to go see it. There’s just something about a good comic book movie that gets the little kid in me juiced, makes me feel excited and anxious to get to the local infini-plex and load up on Coke and popcorn as well as those little fruit thingys that stick to your teeth and strike obnoxious talkers in the head with ferocious accuracy.

In other words, I’m geeked. Because I’m a geek.

But after reading the review from Entertainment Weekly for Iron Man 2, I’m less enthused. Not because I allow critics to form my opinion on movies (I mean honestly, I can almost say with 100% confidence that if a critic loves a movie, I’m invariably going to hate it. My friend Ashton says that’s because I’m an entertainer at heart and therefore like stories that entertain; he juxtaposes this against the artistic at heart, who like stories for the stories themselves, regardless of whether or not anyone else likes them. He also makes a convincing corrollary between being artistic and being necessarily tortured in soul, but I digress).

Where was I? Oh – I don’t let critics influence my opinion on movies, but the EW review detailed that the movie focuses less on the character of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. in a role he just owns) and his struggles with being a hero and instead turns the lens to more and bigger battle scenes. Which, I’m cool with, but not at the expense of character.

In other words, what could have been a potentially unique look into the heart and mind of a superhero (because, let’s face it, Iron Man is not about brooding introspection a la The Dark Knight, nor is it as existentially angst-ish as the Spider-Man franchise) becomes – in the opinion of the reviewer – just another shoot-em-up SFX fest.

This, to me, is troubling. Not because I dislike a good shoot-em-up SFX fest – I love a good one, and honestly: who doesn’t? – rather I find it disturbing that we no longer like to know what makes our heroes tick. In essence, we want a superhero who does superhero things in the appropriate amount of time with the appropriate (and ever increasing) amount of bang, and we want to walk away saying, “That was a good superhero movie.”

But what makes a superhero heroic is not just the ability to blow sh*t up. Nor is it the superhero’s ability to get into his suit of armor or tights. What makes a good superhero is the combination of story with ability. The struggle of the man or woman with his or her self, both in and out of costume.

We’ve lost the patience for that kind of thing, it seems.

I’m a superhero kind of guy, provided the superhero is done right. At least in my estimation. I don’t generally gravitate toward the superheroes who operate under a “scorched earth” policy – faster, Kick-Ass, kill, kill, kill! – as those characters are more about anti-heroes than actual heroism. I don’t think you can be heroic without an essential sense of virtue and morality, and being vengeance minded doesn’t count as moral in my book. Now, if the hero starts with a vengeance mindset (like, say, Batman) but moves toward a larger morality, that’s cool. But a superhero who just kicks tail and kills folks because the world sucks doesn’t get my vote or my interest.

And yet, there seems to be a plethora (“Do you even know what that word means?” “No, El Guapo!”) of movies and comics and graphic novels out there that suggest this as the dominant superhero archetype now. Maybe it’s a response to our own developing sense of frustration, maybe it’s reflecting the erosion of a true moral code, or maybe it’s just because we’ve become a violent society feeding on violence for violence’s sake (shades of gladiatorial Rome, perhaps). But it does not bode well for the superhero myth.

I read a blogpost about why Superman will always suck, and one of the key issues the author takes with Supes is his “moral absolutism. ” And in a postmodern, relativistic world, I can understand the argument. But the problem is, while it is true and real that flawed and imperfect heroes exist and therefore occasionally – if not often -fail, the superhero by nature is not real. The superhero is not Joe Schmuck next door. He or she is an individual gifted beyond our limitations, beyond our ability to be. That’s what makes him or her super.

But we’re not satisfied with the “transcendent hero” anymore. In fact, we seem to resent the sh*t out of him, as if by merely existing we are somehow diminished for not being like him. And since the superhero is a created being, the easiest way to deal with our metaphysical discomfort is to just kill the archetype off.

That sounds harsh though, so to be fully capable of pulling that off in front of a public consciousness that still thinks it needs heroes, we’ll brand the archetypal holocaust a “re-imagining.” See the re-boots of the Superman, Batman, Spider-Man franchises in print and on film. I mean, my God, life is not normal if we don’t somehow see at least one comic hero/heroine and their universe razed, taken back to ground zero, and rebuilt in our own, current image. We add in quirks or obvious flaws (drunkeness seems to be popular, as is depression, repression, opression, obsession, regression and Grecian 44) that keep the hero from being seen as truly good, and then we watch the hero struggle with the burden of heroism for however many issues it takes us to get bored with his endless struggles. Then we b*tch and moan because he’s depressing and not really all that heroic, and the universe gets collapsed, the process started all over again.

Perhaps it’s just a good business model. But it feels like more.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe a static hero is difficult to pull off without him or her becoming anachronistic. Superman being the prime example of this. I currently watch Smallville with my wife, and I’ve grown increasingly tired of the show because Clark has become static. He’s not moving forward in his character. He’s stuck in an interminable “inbetween” phase that has gone on for far too long. It makes him seem naive, stupid, unsympathetic, and worst of all selfish. It is the mirror world of the real Superman, who is wise, intelligent, inviting and genuinely interested in the good of all people.

Now, I’m aware that the archetype for Superman has it’s limitations. But the character has sustained for over seventy years – that’s right, SEVENTY FRICKING YEARS – based on the character’s character: a sense of morality, a desire for justice, and the belief that those with power should serve those who are powerless. Those are not static characteristics, and they sure as hell aren’t boring. Yes, I know the challenge of stretching Superman is hard, but difficulty has its rewards. But rather than delve into a full working out of what true goodness looks like in a fallen world (and make no mistake, the comic book world is as fallen as it can be), our generation shirks the challenge, choosing to denegrate the hero’s character rather than elevate our own. It comes back to my theory of conviction: we see in the true superhero our failures, rather than his example.

Which brings me back to my blog title, and the question I’m wrestling with: Do we still need superheroes?

If we’re talking about superheroes who are heroic, transcendent in their moral bearing, character, motives and interactions, then I say a resounding “Hell, yeah we do. More than ever.”

But if we’re talking about superheroes who are made in our own image, who take the things we don’t understand or care to change about ourselves and magnify them into traits that are supposed to be admirable, that don’t call us to a higher standard of life or thought or belief, superheroes who condescend and pull us down with them, the answer is equally resounding.

No thank you. Period.

And if you’re wondering just what sort of superhero story I’d like to read, head here, read the “Batman: In the Cards” postings (1, 2, 3),  and find out for yourself.

Confederate = Terrorist?

12 Apr

I’ll admit it: I’m tired, easily annoyed, and when I stumbled across this headline today – “Were Confederate soldiers terrorists?” – all of that annoyance and exhaustion spilled over.

So naturally, I’ve decided to write about it.

What truly sucks in all of this is the fact that I like the writer of this piece. I like his perspective, his candor, his language and style. I happen to disagree with him in this case. And like I said before – I’m cranky. So take this with a grain of salt, I suppose.

Roland Martin, an occasional contributor to CNN.com, has crafted a masterpiece of doo-doo, the Sistine Chapel of flung poo. In a hackneyed opinion piece that is a response to the State of Virginia declaring a “Confederate History Month”, (a political brainfart if there ever was one) Martin does nothing more than stir up the blogosphere (and, yes, I know, I’m falling into the trap, spare me your emails) by asserting that the soldiers who fought on the side of the Confederacy were mid-nineteenth century terrorists, the 1860s version of the Taliban, enemies of all that the great and glorious United States stood for.

Please. Stop. 

The South lost the war. And as I’ve said on this blog before, we deserved to because we were undermanned, outgunned, and outclassed, but mainly because WE WERE WRONG.

States’ rights or slavery, or whichever theory of secession you subscribe to, we screwed up. And we got beat.

But that doesn’t make the men and women who supported the secessionist cause terrorists. They united themselves under one flag. They marched into battle wearing uniforms (such as they were). They participated in combat and aggression under the accepted codes of the time, engaging not in destructive actions targeted to malice an unsuspecting populace but in straight-ahead uniform combat.

And did I mention: they were beaten by the Union. 

Martin doesn’t offer anything new in his commentary; he barely offers anything that would seem to remotely resemble educated opinion, educated being the key word. He makes no attempt to understand the context of the war, or the tenor of the nation during that time in our history because for Martin, the issue isn’t what the men and women of the time understood or believed. It isn’t about understanding that the entire history of humanity is conflict – with self, with nature, with others. It’s not even about the tragedy of a nation torn apart by that most nasty of polemics: pride. 

It’s about slavery, and being wrong for supporting slavery. And those who support wrong causes must, by definition of the 21st century rhetorical rulebook, be terrorists. 

You know, like all Muslims. 

Oh, damn your insistence that we be civil and non-judgmental. Muslims are terrorists, we all know that. They believe wrongly, whether it’s theological or political in nature, and that wrong belief spurs them all on to acts of beady-eyed aggression in support of a cause/belief that in their heart they know is wrong. And they know this because we tell ‘em so. But they refuse to listen, they refuse to surrender their antiquated notions of belief and practice, and instead resort to violence and malfeasance across the globe, even the ones who don’t seem so extreme. 

Especially the ones that don’t seem so extreme. 

And if the preceding paragraphs sounded stupid to you as you read them, understand that they were as exceedingly stupid to type, because I know they are just muckraking, tabloid, pot-stirring journalism, and not true in any meaningful sense of the word. I know that extremist language does little to actually bridge divides and reconcile anyone. And chances are, you know it too. 

In fact, Martin himself makes a similar point, albeit from a different vantage: 

“The fundamental problem with extremism is that when you’re on the side that is fanatical, all of your actions make sense to you, and you are fluent in trying to justify every action. Every position of those you oppose is a personal affront that calls for you to do what you think is necessary to protect yourself and your family.” 

Too bad Roland Martin falls into the same trap he condemns.

Calling all Memoir Writers

21 Jan

If you have a complete book-length memoir, here’s your chance to have it read by an agent!

Just follow this link: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/Dear+Lucky+Agent+Contest+Memoir+And+Narrative+Nonfiction.aspx

Good luck – though I hope I beat you… 🙂

All-American Idiocy

21 Jan

You may not be into basketball, either collegiate or professional. You may care more about other things, better things, than ten men running up and down a hardwood floor. If so, kudos to you.

But even if you absolutely hate basketball, you have probably heard about the young man pictured to the left. If you haven’t, get your TV fixed. Or, simply read this Bill Simmons piece from ESPN.com – it’s as good an article on LeBron James as you’re likely to find.

To make it plain and easy, LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world today. A perfect creation of power, finesse, intelligence and personality that just draws people to him. Even if you hate basketball, you can’t help being amazed. Simmons sums it up nicely:

“LeBron James is the best basketball player alive… If you were ever fortunate enough to have season tickets for a memorable athlete in his prime — Gretzky, Montana, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Pedro, Koufax, whomever — then you know exactly what this means. It’s not just about the winning. It’s about heading to the stadium or the park feeling like you won the lottery. It’s about the buzz in the crowd, the way everyone seems like they spent just a little more time getting ready. It’s about the ceiling being removed for the night. It’s about the chance that, 50 years later, your grandkid or your great-grandkid will ask you, “What was it like to see HIM play every night?” … and you’ll have an answer for him. It’s about the familiarity of excellence — constant exposure to someone who’s better at his job than you will ever be at anything — and how that superiority ebbs and flows from night to night.”

And, in case you haven’t noticed, LeBron James is black. Hate to bring race into it, but it’s kind of hard to avoid. The best basketball player in the world – bar none – is African-American.

So what?

Well, read this story from my hometown newspaper (ajc.com) this morning, and you’ll get the “so what.” In essence, the nutbag bouche who’s responsible for starting the AABA (All-American Basketball Alliance) is saying that the brand of basketball currently on display in arenas all across the nation is “street ball” and devoid of “fundamental basketball.”

If you didn’t click the link, Don Lewis, the founder of the AABA, is making the league whites only. ‘Cause, you know, only white people know how to play fundamental basketball. Those black kids just run around and jump and holler and stuff.

Don “Moose” Lewis is an idiot. He’s more than an idiot, but I don’t want to waste my limited expletive vocabulary on him.

I am ashamed that this sort of idea could see the light of day in 2010, and be so closely linked with my beloved South. Rest assured, with the current demographic make-up of Atlanta, a whites-only basketball league has as much chance as the All-American Osama Bin Laden Fan Club.

At least, I hope s0…

Things I Don’t Want for Christmas

15 Dec

In case you’re considering buying me anything, I wanted you to know what I like. And since it’s easier for me to tell you what I don’t like, I thought this list would help.

So, things I don’t want for Christmas:

  1. A flaming bag of poo upon my doorstep.
  2. Tickets to “Lorena Bobbit on Ice!” (The doorprizes are just gross.)
  3. A copy of Chris Brown‘s new CD. (I think it’s called, “Please forgive me… anybody? Please?”)
  4. A copy of Rihanna‘s new CD.
  5. A colonoscopy.
  6. Ear hair.
  7. A tie that Craig Sager would wear.
  8. Driving lessons from Adrian Peterson.
  9. A Zhu Zhu. (Further proof that we are on track to follow the Roman Empire into the dump heap of history.)
  10. A guest spot on “Jersey Shore.”
  11. Wang Chung’s greatest hits album. (Sad part is, I was trying to be funny. Then I Googled it and found out it really existed…)
  12. This.
  13. A season’s pass to “Six Flags Over Hoboken.”
  14. Tim Tebow’s book, “How to Keep Your Composure on National TV.”
  15. The Nobel Peace Prize. (I want to earn it.)
  16. A $2 million dollar raise. (Again, I want to earn it.)
  17. The Defensive Coordinator’s position at UGA.
  18. The Ambassadorship to Afghanistan.
  19. A draft notice.
  20. A wasteful, do-nothing federal government that lacks sense and is disconnected with the American public. (I already have one of those.)
  21. This.
  22. I would like to know how the critic on the cover of the above item still has a job though. You can get me that information.
  23. The Big Book of Literary Criticism from the Marxist/Nihilist Point of View.
  24. The Big Book of Dry Political Memoirs That Reveal Nothing.
  25. A wedgie.

Happy Start to Hanukkah – Here’s Some Neil Diamond

11 Dec

Since Hanukkah starts tonight, just thought this most awesome cover of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” deserved to be shared.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the one, the only… Neil Diamond.

Top Five Most OVERRATED Movies Ever. Period.

8 Dec

This list is going to get me in trouble, if for no other reason than number three. I know that several of my friends will disown me for even suggeting it.

But, what’s the purpose of lists like these if not to generate controversy and discussion? So, into the breach. Here’s yesterday’s Top Five Most Underrated Movies, so you can have some basis for comparison.

Scent of a Woman (1992) – God awful. Tripe. Chris O’Donnell gets smaller and smaller throughout the entire movie as Al Pacino chews more and more of the scenery. This was the first flick that I noticed “The Pacino Technique”, in which an actor simply shouts key lines as a way of projecting emotion. Interestingly, Pacino has been stuck in that mode ever since. I think he passed the threshhold for audience’s tolerance with his awful performance in “Any Given Sunday” which would have made this list if anyone had considered it worth anything to begin with. On the plus side, “Scent” did give us an early glimpse into the gifts of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Titanic (1997) – this is a movie that has diminished as time passes despite the fond memories of its “brilliance”. The special effects are not-so-special now (this is strictly in reference to CGI shots; the set pieces remain some of the best artistry ever put on film) and the story, much maligned when the flick was released, is even worse now. This movie tapped into a momentary flux in the zeitgeist and became huge. Today it wouldn’t even pass muster as a Lifetime Movie of the Month. Well, okay – Lifetime would green-light it, but even that’s telling you something, if the silliness of their recent flick “12 Men of Christmas” is any indication of their selection skills.

Star Wars (1977) – I’m going to get killed on this one. I love Star Wars. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker when I was a kid. And when I was in high school. And college. But now, as a grown man and father, looking back on the storyline and dialogue – dear Lord, is there a wussier hero than Luke Skywalker? It took Yoda and a butt-whuppin’ for the blond haired one to become a real hero instead of a whiner and then he stepped into psycho by the time Jedi rolled around. So we get a total of five minutes that feature Luke as even remotely heroic. As a kid, I never understood why so many people identified with Han Solo; now, I wish the movie were told from his perspective alone.

King Kong (1933, 2005) – both the original and all of its remakes. Stop-motion monkeys and blue-screened scream queens do not captivating film make. And it gets even worse when Peter Jackson stretches out a thirty minute story (at best) to almost THREE FREAKING HOURS of tedium. I didn’t even go see this one on the big screen; I waited until someone in my circle of friends was silly enough to buy it, then borrowed it. On the plus side, though, let’s hear it for the T-Rex vs. King Kong fight scene in the movie’s early moments. That should have been the entire film right there; or Kong could have gone on to face other massive animals in sort of UFC fashion. That would have been cool to see.

Transformers (2007) – I wanted to love this movie, I really did. But Michael Bay let me down by focusing too much on Shia LaBeuf and the other irrelevant human beings. Why couldn’t they just tell the tale of the Autobots vs. Decepticons and let the machines be the stars? As it was, there was too few Transformers and too many human beings, specifically John Turturro, who must have done something horribly wrong in Hollyweird to have to take crap roles like this. What happened to the dynamic actor in Quiz Show? Where’d he go?

 

So there they are. What movies are missing? Which ones deserve to be here more? Leave a comment below to add to the discussion.