The Real Life League of Real Superhero Stories
It took 70 years, but it seems that pop culture has finally finished digesting the Superhero and begun to regurgitate the idea in the form of stories about how weird the idea is. With this past week's progressive sample release of Dr. Horrible, the Whedon's Supervillian Mad Scientist Musical Laundromat Love Story, the release of Hancock featuring Will Smith as a drunk, disillusioned superhero, and the momentous unveiling of the first trailer for the hotly anticipated film version of breakthrough graphic novel Watchmen, stories that essentially ask "what if superheroes were, like REAL or something?" are bigger than ever.
Watchmen, which follows cataclysmic events in the life of a second generation of superheroes, some of whom inherited their characters from their parents, is very heavy stuff; in addition to giving graphic novels a much needed shot of legitimacy that has yet to wear off, it singlehandedly broke open the world of superheroes by actually exploring how the world might react if people actually dressed up in spandex and fought crime. Now, some people actually do dress up in spandex and fight crime, but we'll get to that later. The idea of Superheroes in a real world, or at least acting something like regular people without all the stilted superfriends-speak and unironic catchprases, keeps coming up again and again, from my favorite show Venture Brothers (which owes much to Ben Edlund's Tick) about the weak, self-absorbed but super-scientist grown son of a seemingly superhuman titan of achievement, to Disney's surprisingly unawful tween-targeted Sky High, about the freshman year (at a floating superhero high school that might as well be called 'Superwarts') of the son of the world's mightiest superheroes, who also happen to be high-powered real estate agents; and of course, The Incredibles, which could somewhat fairly be described as Watchmen recast as a sitcom. All these projects break one of the cardinal laws of Superheroes: no attachments other than a single love interest, and for darn sure NO OFFSPRING. Just crossing the family dynamic with the superhero tropes provides so much wonderful friction that it's certain there are superhero family dramas (and superhero family sitcoms) in development. Seriously, how long can it be before someone decides to remake The Greatest American Hero?
However, as the Incredibles explored a bit, there is enormous potential in the ridiculousness in the world of Superheroes, or, as Warren Ellis and boingboing have redubbed them as a result of DC and Marvel attempting to enforce their recently-renewed 1979 'Superhero' trademark, Underwear Perverts. One of the most inspiring films in this area is the underappreciated Mystery Men, based loosely on a spinoff of misunderstood genius Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics. There's a scene in Mystery Men where the main characters are auditioning potential new members of the team; and the parade of goofballs and their elevator pitches about their superpowers (The Waffler carries Truth Syrup, which is Low Fat) looks to me like a really fun idea for a library program. Have a panel of superhero judges to see superhero auditions, or give kids time to make their own costumes and form their own super squad and shoot a commercial for their services, with awards for awesomeness, ridiculousness, and outlandishness. With the right group, that could be an absolute blast. Maybe you could even get a real costumed hero to come inspire the audience.
Because there are real-life superheroes, of course. You may well have heard of Angle Grinder Man, who freed the booted cars of London, or heard Terrifica on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a woman who protects the drunk girls of the bars of NYC (and has an arch-nemesis, Fantastico). Mexico has Superbarrio, protector of the weak and organizer of labor rallies, and here in Michigan we have FoxFire (not a web browser), who helps those in need as part of a shadowy organization known only as the "Nameless Few". Some of these people are bringing attention to their cause, others are tongue-in-cheek but not entirely kidding, some are sweetly earnest, and others are downright serious. If you can stand a bit of a web time warp (and a well-intentioned but not very comprehensive resource), you may wish to check out the World Superhero Registry to see if a caped crusader is available in your area.
Regardless of intent, the superhero is here to stay, and these ideas have left their Marvel & DC cradles and made the leap into the real world. They're even spilling out of their rightful place on the Graphic Novel shelf and storming Dewey's fortress of Solitude. In addition to numerous scholarly works about superheroes, a new book coming this october explores the plausibility of Becoming Batman and what it would realistically take to reach Batman's level of martial arts and technological prowess. Next up is a book about parenting twins, and how to activate their wonder twin powers.