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.

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