Saturday, January 24, 2009

On Being A Super Hero Who is Not Super

Sometime I like to get up on my soapbox and pontification or rant or comment on a particular element that I have feelings about in comics. This issue has always been near and dear to my heart and that is the “super heroes” who are not super.

In the two main super hero universes DC seems to dominate with major heroes who do not have any real powers. In Marvel the only headliner who comes close to being a regular human is Daredevil, but even he has hyper senses.

In the DCU non powered heroes are everywhere. Batman is the chief among them and the characters associated with him (Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Oracle, etc.) are all non-powered heroes. Green Arrow is also a human hero as was Black Canary until they added back her sonic cry. When you look at the rest of the DCU you can add in Wildcat, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Midnight (one limited power), Red Arrow and others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

My theory for this is that the DCU has a history that stretches back to the Golden Age in more of a straight line. While Marvel in one form was around 70 years ago, the Marvel Universe started when Fantastic Four #1 was published. Therefore many of the “mystery men” from that time were people who just put on a cape and mask and went out to fight crime. The original Sandman was one of those types of characters, he shot sleeping gas at people and that was basically it. I can’t imagine how many bored and rich playboys decided that a domino mask was a cool thing to do back in the “golden age”.

Over the years as characters were being created it always needed to be more. So now Blue Beetle III has an alien armor to make him more powerful. Wildcat’s son is a were-creature of some sort; everyone has to be truly super.

Where this long rambling preamble is going is that the truly human super hero is being rapidly turned into something more then human and I for one mourn the loss of the human hero. The charm of Batman, Green Arrow or Hawkeye was all you needed was dedication and the willingness to learn a skill. But each one of those heroes has been killed and now (or will) be brought back to life. When that happens they become more then human and for me, something is lost.

Green Arrow had his soul come back into a cloned body that is ten years younger. No one has adequately explained to me exactly how in the hell Hawkeye came back from the dead. By the way both of them died while in the air an odd coincidence. As for Batman, we know he was not killed as the “Omega Sanction” is well documented to be something different from a true death, but still when he comes back it will feel like he is more then human.

I guess that is why I have always been an advocate of letting characters get old and die or move on. We are now saddled with the Cyclops, Human Torch’s, Bruce Wayne, Hal Jordan’s of the world who will never grow old or die. If you have read comics as long as I have (well over 40 years) it makes the characters feel less like they are any relation to me. It also makes whatever happen to them meaningless as you know nothing leaves a lasting impression.

From there it is an easy path to seeing why I have always loved series that actually have ended. In Vertigo two of the strongest series ever done were Sandman and Preacher, both ended. In super hero books Starman by James Robinson had an ending of sorts that make the series feel more important. The Elseworld and Imaginary stories that are done well are great because stuff happens. Arguably the best series ever done Watchmen had an ending, All Star Superman the best comic series in the last 20 years had an ending and Planetary one of the best all times series will one day have its ending.

When human heroes are no longer human, there is no ending and therefore we lose an essential element that makes life mean something and that is an ending. A real rose versus a plastic rose has a higher value because it does not last.

I’m not sure I made the exact point I wanted to make, but it is a recurring theme for me, that I want my heroes be more human and that means to experience real change.

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