Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Super Stories

In case you're new to this blog, I'm a total geek when it comes to superhero stories. It's one of the signs that I will never be a true high-brow writer. But, that's okay, because I'll be ridiculously happy and people may even read my stuff. Sorry, that was a low blow to the high-brow writers. So, let's go back to where I started: I love superhero stories.

Over the weekend, I watched the new Spider-Man movie and several cartoon episodes, also Spider-Man. As I write I am listening to "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog", brought on by a middle-grade book titled "The Mad Mask" by Barry Lyga, sequel to "Archvillian", a book about a twelve-year-old who gets superpowers and uses them to fight against Might Mike, a superpowered alien boy who saves the day. Think Superman on this one. It's quite a fun book, and I love the antihero Kyle (aka, the Azure Avenger/Blue Freak). Lyga did a great job creating a character who is flawed and takes a little too well to the whole "supervillian" thing, but still is a good person who saves people from real danger without ever receiving glory for it.

I'm not the only superhero geek in the world. Marvel has ten new movies planned, at least, since the success of The Avengers and the lead-up-to-The Avengers movies. Superheroes have hit a stride recently, and while I am not complaining (there are more people to talk to about geek things! Yay!), I also wonder why.

Here are my thoughts: superhero stories have some things in common, regardless of origin story or costume color. Things like hidden identity, humanities of science, good/evil, nature of good and evil, secrets, and, to refer to the book I recently read, not receiving glory. That last one might be one of the reasons I like Spider-Man so much: the news is out to get him, and he looks like a flake to his friends, but still he saves NY.

I think it's interesting that while superhero stories are on the rise, dystopian stories are also big money-makers. What does that say? What's the link? I think that, as a people, right now we are interested in the ramifications of science and in human nature.

Superhero stories usually have crazy science, and I think we kind of love that about them. But science almost never has reliable consequences. Nine times out of ten, it's a scientific accident that gives the hero his/her power, especially in the Marvel universe. Then, the bad guys are almost always mad scientists, making death rays and hovercrafts while the hero relies on physical force - which bugs me, but that's a post for another day. But I think this speaks to human anxiety about new technology. We root for the guy who punches out the skinny genius and crushes his laser gun like a dried leaf.

Today, technology and science are rocketing forward, faster, perhaps, than human ability to use it wisely. Dystopian stories show what happens when that science is put to evil use. Perhaps superhero stories are popular because they show the human triumph over science, or complicate the issue enough to show how science can be used for good. Steve Rogers became Captain America through careful, calculated science, for example.

In relation to this, I think human nature is a big deal too. Who cares how much technology we build, if we use it all wisely? But we don't. As soon as some marvel is built (Ha! See what I did there?), someone figures out how to abuse it. Dystopians are built on this. We figure out how to keep track of criminal activity, we can now track all human activity and suddenly Big Brother is watching. Dystopians deal with the dark side of human nature. The weak, the oppressive, the cruel.

Superhero stories deal with the same, of course. But they also show the powerful side of humanity. The strong, the kind, the self-sacrificing. When it's so easy to see the evil and corrupt in the world - just open a newspaper - it makes sense that we would be drawn to the good, even if that good is fictional. Superheroes save the world because it is the right thing to do. With the exception of Tony Stark, they do it anonymously. They often have to make the decision between what is right and what is easy, and put their own desires aside for the greater good.

Lately, the superhero films have depicted their protagonists as human, with human fears and flaws. Gone are the days where Superman never doubted himself or Batman never wavered. I like this. I think it reinforces what we want to believe: that everybody, as self-doubting or flawed as they might be, has the potential to step up and become the hero. Maybe I read and watch too many superhero stories, but this rings true for me.

At least, it's something to think about.

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