Sunday, June 17, 2007

Super Reviews

Perhaps because superheroes are sort of my comfort food, I've been ingesting a lot of superhero-themed media lately. Here are some of the recent highlights:

Superfolks, a novel by Robert Mayer, was published in 1977 and I can't believe I'd never heard of it until last month. A good ten years before deconstruction became the vogue in superhero comics, this book deconstructed the superhero concept in a way that showed not only the author's ability to recast a children's genre through adult eyes, but at the same time to retain that childish sense of awe at seeing a man in colorful tights save the universe. Though its importance is often overlooked, without Superfolks there would be no Watchmen, no Dark Knight Returns, no Incredibles. The book is at once hilarious, poignant, vulgar, and inspiring. An excerpt from the first chapter to give you a taste:
There were no more heroes.
Kennedy was dead, shot by an assassin in Dallas.
Batman and Robin were dead, killed when the Batmobile slammed into a bus carrying black children to school in the suburbs.
Superman was missing, and presumed dead, after a Kryptonite meteor fell on Metropolis.
The Marvel family was dead; struck down by lightning.
The Lone Ranger was dead; found with an arrow in his back after Tonto returned from a Red Power conference at Wounded Knee.
Mary Mantra was dead; cut to pieces by an Amtrak locomotive when Dr. Spock tied her to the tracks and she couldn't remove her gag.
Captain Mantra was in a sanitarium near Edgeville; said to be a helpless wretch ever since seeing his twin sister cut to shreds.
Only Wonder Woman was still in the public eye. And she had forsworn forever the use of her superpowers. Using her real name, Diana Prince, she was a leading spokesperson for women's liberation, an associate editor of Ms. magazine, a frequent guest on late-night talk shows. Her message was that the strength of Wonder Woman resides in all women and they must learn to use it. Battling to liberate womankind, she said, was more important than catching petty crooks. She sounded at times like a sinner repentant.
Even Snoopy had bought it; shot down by the Red Baron; missing in action over France.
Enter David Brinkley, once the most powerful hero of all, sole survivor of the planet Cronk, sent to Earth on a rocketship by his parents Archie and Edith, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and all that, now settled into a suburban life in Middleville with his wife and children. When riots break out in New York City, Brinkley pulls his tights out of storage and sets out to find the source of the problem, despite his failing and unreliable superpowers. (The one thing that does remain reliable about his superpowers, incidentally, is the cosmic punishment he receives--clumsily bumping into a wall or flying into a tree--whenever he uses his X-ray vision for less than altruistic purposes.)

It's a Bird! is a graphic novel by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen. It tells the story of Steve, a thirty-something comic book writer asked to write the one character he simply can't relate to--Superman. In the process of trying to understand what makes the Man of Steel tick, or even what makes him an interesting character, Steve revisits his grandmother's painful death at the hands of Huntington's disease. The result is a thought-provoking examination of the world's most recognizable superhero and a touching tale of hope.

Gotham Central is an award-winning series of comics by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, and Michael Lark. I checked out the first two collected volumes from the library, wherein the officers of Gotham City's police force attempt to catch a supervillain without Batman's help, solve the mystery of a teenage girl's disappearance and death, and discover who is framing one of their own for murder. Picture NYPD Blue or Law & Order (though more the Order part) set in a world where in addition to the real-life police drama--the second volume centers around one of the main characters coming out to her fellow officers as a lesbian--there's the added tension of police officers getting shown up by costumed vigilantes or killed by a homicidal clown.

A few years back--on November 17th, 2001, actually, which I remember because it was the weekend before our wedding--the creators of Batman: The Animated Series unveiled their latest addition to the world of superhero animation: Justice League. I remember feeling like the ultimate geeked-out fanboy as I watched Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and the Martian Manhunter come together on screen. I'd always been a big fan of the Justice League, as it brought together many of my favorite characters in one group, so to see them moving and talking, and done in the beautiful art deco-ish style of Batman, was a dream come true. Sadly, I didn't have cable at the time (or ever, really), so I only caught an episode here and there over the next few years. Lately, though, I've checked out both seasons of Justice League on DVD from the library, and now I've also watched both seasons of the follow-up series, Justice League Unlimited. While the original series does a wonderful job of developing the seven main characters, JLU opens up the membership of the team to include virtually any superhero (of those owned by DC Comics) the creators feel like including in that particular episode--and you can tell the creators had fun with this freedom, pulling in random and obscure characters to make for fun and original stories. Watching the two seasons of JLU in order on DVD is particularly rewarding because, though each episode is self-contained, together they tell a bigger continuing drama building to each season's finale.

1 comment:

TK said...

Though this isn't generally the genre of books that would catch my interest, I had to laugh as I read the excerpt from Superfolks. I can see how it would be an entertaining book to read!

And while it's not MY type of book, no on understands better than I that this 'collection' of books and DVD's must have made you feel like you were in SuperHero Heaven!

Oh, and either my eyes are better today, or I detect the darker blue in your blog background to be just a shade lighter, making it easier to read the print. Thanks. :)