With Mediocre Power Comes Minimal Responsibility: a Review on Superheroes

Was Superman wearing an airplane costume that with feathers protruding through it the first time someone from Earth saw him? That’s the only explanation I have for the total disregard for the human form (Kryptonian form? Feh.) from Metropolis onlookers. That, or they just never got around to getting Lasik. Luckily for them, that planebirdguy has just the power to fix that. Y’know. With laser vision. I assume that’s how it works.

From one nonsensical rant to another, I’m here to poke at the idea of superheroes while looking at their respective origins: comic, film, TV, and video game. As there are oodles and shloads of heroes/villains/assorted advanced ability folk out there, I’ll limit my scope to one from each of the media.

Oh, and for all geeks and geekatrons who seethe because I use “comic” in place of “graphic novel” or use them interchangeably, then I hope this makes up for it:

The one who really should be mad is Voltaire.

Of Comic Origin: As a man who spreads his geek love over a multitude of genres and media (consensually, of course), I must admit that comics are where I’m extremely weak, but they are the origin of how people see superheroes. While I’m familiar with much of the mythos, I’m definitely going to take my lumps over this section.

So what do I do? Do I stick with Superman, the Boy Scout of Comics for 74 years? Should I discuss Batman and his arguable status as a superhero? Do I cross genders and pore over Wonder Woman while maintaining some sort of fanboy decorum (keeping the “BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS” mentality to a dignified minimum)?

No. We’re going to talk about Matter-Eater Lad.

“If super strength wasn’t such a common superpower, I would be worthwhile!”

Eating disorders run rampant in America, and it’s never a good idea to eat your problems away lest they eat away at you. Why not have a superhero whose power ignores that advice? Therein lies the “fun” of Matter-Eater Lad. Yes, the quotes were necessary.

MEL’s power is the ability to ingest and metabolize anything without ill effect. Other superheroes apparently accepted him into their fold. Not fibbing. We’d all be in good shape with MEL in hand if a villain ever threatened our world unless someone could conquer a plate of atomic hot wings.

As a child, I was a big fan of playing pretend and using my imagination to see myself as a hero. More often than not, I would stick with TMNT’s Leonardo or even as Mario (a plethora of leaves and flowers in the yard led to easy power acquisition). I’m sure there are/were many kiddos who reinvented themselves as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Superman, and the like, holding their arms out and pretending to swing, slice, or fly. Maybe they donned capes, wore their underwear on the outside, or put on a mask to create a concrete connection between reality and fantasy.

Did the kid who played as MEL set up a bunch of Chips Ahoy! as land mines? Did he save his comrades by scarfing them down? Hmm. That doesn’t sound that bad.

Look out! Lex Luthor is about to set off this delicious frozen rocket! Let me eat it slowly, lest I cause a brain freeze!

Biggest Issue: his name. Why so literal? Flash isn’t Runs-Really-Fast Guy. Green Lantern isn’t Creates-Emerald-Objects-But-Hates-Yellow Chap. Spider-Man isn’t Crackin’-Wise-And-Not-Eating-Flies-Because-I’m-Not-Actually-A-Spider Man.

Suggestion: go as Pica. His whole planet (as they ALL have this sub-par ability) has this disorder, so why not go with that? Hell, I’m chewing on paper right now, and I’m not proud of it, but I’d rather be called Pica than Matter-Eater Lad.

Curiosity: If he chews on aluminum and has a filling, does it hurt?

Of Film Origin: There’s not a massive amount of heroes who’ve originated from film, and some of them haven’t exactly been winners, so why would we bring them up?

Then again, we DID talk about Matter-Eater Lad.

When some of your choices include Blankman, The Meteor Man, and Superhero Movie, you desire a feel-good hero. Or, in our case, heroes.

Enter The Incredibles. Any Pixar movie already has an advantage regarding enjoyment, and The Incredibles managed not to Cars 2 it up. In fact, and this is purely unbiased, The Incredibles may be the best piece of cinema ever created.

Okay, so it’s totally biased and not entirely true, but it does a great job at making superheroes relatable. Living in a world where being yourself has essentially become a crime, this superpowered family struggles with hiding their unique abilities while dealing with mundane everyday issues. An extraordinarily strong father whose former glory is encased in cubicles and middle-aged fat. A wife whose ability to warp and contort her body can’t help when her motherly responsibilities stretch her patience thin. The adolescent daughter whose power of invisibility seems constant with her battle with shyness. The precocious son with super speed that quickly lands him in trouble because he just wants to be who he is. A curious baby with many paths to choose from. But he’s a baby. And a monster. And a flame. And pure metal. And a whole slew of other things.

While the movie does include plenty of power usage and villain-thwarting, the idea focuses on not trying to be something you aren’t: the Parr family isn’t normal, and Syndrome isn’t superpowered. Trying to be what they aren’t ends up poorly for both sides. The great thing about this film is that the titular team doesn’t stick strictly to crime fighting after they re-realize their use; they carry out their normal lives, but they allow their true selves out when necessary without going overboard.

Biggest Issue: Helen’s/Elastigirl’s lack of background. While Pixar doesn’t make their movies too lengthy, I would’ve liked to find out more about Mrs. Incredible. This concern manifested when Helen had to borrow a plane to find her husband. Leading up to the point she calls in a favor, we had no idea that she was an accomplished pilot. Sure, Pixar quickly implies Elastigirl’s flying capability when she looks at her old picture of her donned in air gear, but I’ll always crave more exposition.

Suggestion: supplemental material. Maybe there is already a backstory in one of the books or even an extra feature on the DVD, but I’ve yet to find it; this is due to me not looking that deeply. Most movies and TV shows travel this route to circumvent their natural time restrictions. I know there The Incredibles comics out there, but I’ve yet to pick one up.

Curiosity: Is this the one Disney movie that shows/implies the most death and destruction?

Of TV Origin: Whether cartoon or live-action, one thing we can count on when it comes to TV superheroes: NBC is going to mess it up one way or another. I got into Heroes a few episodes into its first season at the behest of my friends. I was instantly hooked, and I vowed to watch this show until its end. Unfortunately, the end didn’t come soon enough. The first season? Marvelous. The second through fourth? Like a pet that you know is in extreme pain but you don’t want to experience the agony of putting it to sleep, so you let the poor pup/cat/hedgehog linger for waaaaay too long.

The Cape? Never watched an episode, but its quick cancellation proves that decision to be wise. At least that show led to this:

No, I would rather discuss Alphasa show currently running on Syfy (or hopefully will continue now that its second season is over). While the show focuses on several powered characters, Alphas avoids the spread-out format of Heroes and keeps the characters centralized and on a team. Led by the unpowered Dr. Rosen, this team of Alphas (the universe’s term for superheroes) all have extraordinary but somewhat plausible abilities. There is a catch: each ability comes with some sort of drawback. Bill Harken can hulk out when emotional which causes extreme amounts of adrenaline. His drawback: a weakened heart if he “amps up” for too long. Rachel Pirzard has heightened senses, allowing her to be able to see/smell/hear details that the naked eye/nose/ear would never detect. Unfortunately, unless she really focuses, her senses would likely overwhelm and incapacitate her.

But Gary is a fan favorite. Gary Bell, a high-functioning autistic, can see electromagnetic wavelengths. Your cell phone? He can hack it. Your wi-fi? He doesn’t need a password. He’s watching his favorite TV shows without having to DVR them.

Yes, Superman has to deal with kryptonite and Professor X with stairs, but they don’t have to put up with those obstacles with every waking moment. Also, this drawback not only affects Gary but everyone around him as well. It has to be difficult to work with social and mental hindrances, but it’s intriguing to see both Gary’s struggles as well as his team’s. Alphas plays up some of Gary’s social miscues for humor, but they tend to do it tastefully; no one makes fun of Gary for his autism, and Gary tends to get the zingers in on other characters.

Gary’s wavelength power is one of the more heavily utilized abilities on the show, but Alphas follows The Incredibles in the sense that they both have superpowers, but the focus is on the people who utilize them. Gary is the quick-witted tin dog of the team, and he allows us to feel empathy instead of sympathy with how he relates to the audience.

Biggest Issue: not enough Bill and Gary together.

Suggestion: more Bill and Gary together. Seems simple enough.

Curiosity: Can any Alpha fly? How would you rationalize that with the basis in reality the show is founded on?

Of Video Game Origin: So many video games already have characters with ridiculous abilities, but would you call Mario a superhero? Kirby? Sonic? Maybe they could be seen as one, but let’s focus on something more traditional. We need someone in a cape. Someone who fights for the good of us all.

Or we could look at Boogerman.

His biggest weaknesses: showers and stubbing his toes.

He uses burps, farts, and of course, boogers to battle baddies. I haven’t played this game since I rented it about sixteen years ago, and I know I never beat it. This is one of few traditional superheroes (if you can call it “traditional”) who arose from video games: standard costume, millionaire alter-ego, and horrific puns. His name is Snotty Ragsdale, after all.

What makes Boogerman stand out from other games or heroes? Purely his grossness. The game was a standard side-scroller without many memorable moments, if any. The music, gameplay, and story don’t stand out. The only reason I chose this over any others (Viewtiful Joe, Infamous, Prototype) is strictly the fact that I could be Boogerman. I might be. My belching is rarely rivaled and serves to drive others away. Until “super-anxiety” or “power to enjoy Cocoa Puffs” become legitimate noteworthy abilities, that’s all I have.

Biggest Issue: this game was actually made. Not only that, but the titular character was featured in the Clayfighter series. He didn’t just fade away.

Suggestion: don’t bring him back in any form. Nintendo thought different and added Boogerman to their downloadable Virtual Console library.

Curiosity: Why? Just…why? Why was this a thing? I have a vivid memory for many things exciting, tragic, and mundane. I remember buying Yo! Noid at a Drug Mart when I was six years old for $5. That game was based off a pizza chain mascot. I can recall nearly every ridiculous aspect of that game, and the story was pretty much “get more pizza”. If a game that focuses on something jarring like farting to fly can’t stick in my mind, then why?

What have we learned? Probably nothing. I’m not much of a teacher. If you want to take away something, then take this: there’s a reason Superman is so popular and Matter-Eater Lad isn’t. When you want more obscure heroes to make the leap from comic to big screen, realize there’s probably justification behind their obscurity. Expect them to be more Ghost Rider than The Dark Knight. The next time someone asks to see someone Cerebus the Aardvark turned into a script, remind them of what happened with Howard the Duck.

And if you don’t know what happened with Howard the Duck, then do yourself the biggest favor: don’t.


Halvin and Cobbes: Profiting Sans Permission; the Review!

When you look back at your childhood, what do you see as a formative influence: your parents, teachers, coaches, friends, siblings, or unrelated mentors? Was your imagination an amorphous beast of ever-changing ideas and possibilities, or did you hone in on one train of thought and rode it until the end of the line?

The question implies you’ve left childhood behind you. Some of us, though we’re taxpayers and job-havers, have not. As a 26-year-old “adult,” I still harbor such a potent imagination. I go to bed with fluctuating story lines and intents flowing through my head. In all truth, I blame this on my main influence: a 6-year-old philosophical hooligan and his almost-Schroedingeresque tiger friend. That’s right; I was raised by Calvin & Hobbes.

Don’t get me wrong; my parents, teachers, etc. did a fine* job raising me. Luckily, both Calvin’s dad and mine shared several similarities. I often wonder if my dad would read the funnies before me just to get ideas on how to answer my childish curiosities that day. Despite knowing the science behind the mechanism, I still hold true that little men open the garage door.

Calvin (at least his eponymous strip) was born a mere 15 days before I was. And, like the spikey-haired (when not on the business end of an amateur barber tiger) rapscallion, I hold true that much me hasn’t aged. Maybe these similarities are strictly self-observed, but I’ve always felt a connection with a fictional character wise beyond his years and stupid for his age.

I had a Calvin & Hobbes shirt when I was younger with the two characters sharing a hug on the front. It was pink. The entire thing screamed “GIRL,” and it was still my favorite shirt. Not until adulthood did I find out that Bill Watterson, the hermit-like brilliance behind the comic, was strictly against merchandising his characters. Though there was one official C&H shirt made for the Museum of Modern Art, mine was not that.

Is that wrong? We see unlicensed material constantly around the internet. Many of us would snatch up merchandise featuring mash-ups of pop culture without blinking an eye at the legality or morality of the situation. But I feel there is a level of cheapness when it comes to some of this, and that’s where we get into the review.

A while back, my friend shot me a text with another friend in a t-shirt featuring the following image:

“Chewie and Han” by Zomboy

It was glorious. Star Wars combined with Calvin & Hobbes was a geek’s dream. The brash, intense human with a more level-headed and potentially violent, large, furry friend. Seemed like a stellar (pun suddenly intended) match.

And then the internet changed my mind.

PhotobucketThese are several other images you can attribute to Zomboy. I’m not sure if this is something that falls under copyright, but it definitely falls under both copywrong and copytoomuch.

From top to bottom, you have references to The Big Bang Theory, Batman, Entourage, and Ghostbusters. These are four images with the same exact layout, very similar faces, and pairings that make little to zero sense. There are several other “designs” by him that follow the exact same format, but you’ll pardon me for sparing you both the link to his store and the infuriating pictures.

My basis for thumbs up or down regarding these relates to the actual relationship of the characters this “artwork” of which it’s based. Also, don’t mind my constant use of quotes, but I guess the artist’s version of hitting ctrl+c and ctrl+v doesn’t exactly tickle my inner Picasso.

I’ve not watched much of The Big Bang Theory on account of Community being just fantastic and that I despise laugh tracks, but was Hobbes an annoying know-it-all and Calvin the one who gets the girl, or were those somewhat reversed in the comic? Did Robin ever get to drive the Batmobile, and wasn’t Calvin the superhero? Did Calvin’s Duplicator cause him to change appearances and sprout a douchey beard while turning Hobbes into two unappealing humans**? Why the hell is the ghost from the logo riding backseat with…I don’t even know which Ghosbuster that’s supposed to be.

The connections made in these and Zomboy’s other “work” don’t make sense to be as a Calvin & Hobbes fan, and that’s what I like about mash-ups. The fact that this person is charging $28.63 a shirt on Redbubble is maddening. Maybe the website takes a large cut. Maybe Zomboy should physically take a large cut with a broken piece of glass. Maybe that’s unfair of me to say and an extremely unbalanced reaction to someone who thought it would be cute to make twelve of these shirts. Maybe it’s unfair to Bill Watterson to make even one penny off bastardizing his work in a way that barely pays homage to the original. Maybe.

There are a few exceptions, as there are with any dislike (not a massive rap fan, but I do enjoy MC Frontalot…which, y’know, makes sense).


By Ninjaink (and via here), these two renditions offer some resemblance to C&H continuity, which is apparently good enough for someone as fired-up as me. The way the symbiote (yes, I know it’s not Venom, you fanboys) is pouncing Peter/Spider-Man akin to Hobbes jumping Calvin creates a geeksplosion that only the hardiest of Lysols could clean up. Similarly, the parallels between the clone saga and Calvin’s Duplicator is pretty darn neat and at least tries to make the two different universes connect to an extent (unlike a Calvin-Wayne driving the Garth-Hobbes mobile, an .jpg I shan’t link).

Ratings! Wheeeee!

Creativity: Little out of Much. The usage of an unlicensed Calvin is not uncommon. Anyone who’s driven behind a pickup truck can tell you that. It all differs on what Calvin is actually pissing on (and apparently who he’s actually pissing off). The idea of making money off property that isn’t inherently yours is even more routine. You have a glimpse for why I specifically chose unlicensed Calvin & Hobbes merchandise. Looking at both Zomboy’s cookie cutter concepts and Ninjaink’s relevant representations, they both violate the ideals of Mr. Watterson, and that lacks creativity when using others’ concepts for your own monetary benefit.

Price: No Thanks out of 5 Thanks. $28.63 for a t-shirt is too much. For any t-shirt. Ever. That print better be made of either gold or Reese’s Cups, because I’m not laying my wallet out for it otherwise.

Source: Stupendous! out of Tiger, Ferocity of! I love Calvin & Hobbes & the whole gang. You should, too.

So please, if you’re going to try and make money off someone else’s work, do it with some kind of originality tied in with the source. Otherwise, Get Rid of Stupid t-shirtS.


*Extremely debatable.
**I’ll be honest. Never watched Entourage. Never wanted to. Is “douchey” a proper adjective for the characters? Is it even more pertinent for the viewers? Aw…mean.