Monday, November 03, 2008

Plot Devices that Need to Go Away #6

Still working on some format issues, please bear with.



Also Known As: Superfuckers, Supercelebs, Starsupes

What is it? In an attempt to "modernize" the concept of the superhero and make it more "relatable" to our era, superheroes culture is being shown as being comparable to celebrity culture; after all, the heroes are mostly telegenic young people living exciting lives that people have a voyeuristic fixation on - that's why people read comics, right?

Why do comic companies do it?

In the old days, comic creators were military vets (remember, Jack Kirby served as a scout in WWII; thus, when Millar keeps claiming that Ultimate Cap is what a REAL Captain America would have been like, I have to laugh, then cry) or had parents who had served. The generation currently calling the shots has no idea what to pattern superhero life after, so they go with the only "culture" they and what they think of as their audience is familiar with: Tabloid Hollywood Celeb Culture, of the Entertainment Tonight and reality TV variety.
Recent Offenders include but are not limited to:
The Order, The Authority, X-Statix, the entire body of Garth Ennis' 'superhero' work, 50% of the body of Warren Ellis' 'superhero' work, The Initiative, especially Ms. Marvel, the Authority, Powers, the Ultimates.

Patient Zero
Powers. Bendis' work here is probably the most definitive and the one that has shaped most of Marvel and thus the mainstream. Bendis chose this angle for the supers in powers because then, it was innovative and after a few years in Hollywood, it was the framework he was the most familiar with. It was easy, so he did it. The fact that he keeps doing it? Makes me nuts.

Why does it have to go away?

Never mind that Celebrity culture is the lowest, most degrading and decadent part of Western culture (and fuck you if you think otherwise). It's lazy shorthand for "Hey! Superheroes are assholes who do it for money! And glory! And Q-Ratings! And Orgies with Groupies! and licensing! And Movie Deals! Did we mention the Orgies? What? 'Truth and Justice'? That's grandpa shit!" Yeah, because bathroom sex with an 18 year old starlet is so worth having your life threatened daily by atomic monsters. I just wonder, has the concept of heroism just degraded beyond the point of no return in this culture? Is this what we define heroism as? Who is the biggest 'name brand' actor/actress/whatever. I know who my heroes are: there's not a single celeb among them. I like actors, I like what they do and occasionally even the causes they support when they are off camera. But you know who's way more heroic than that? The guys and gals who actually make those causes fucking happen. The guys who work on building communities, fighting poverty, injustice, hunger and addiction and sickness; firefighters, soldiers, police officers, doctors and teachers have my respect, those are heroes (though this by no means is universal; I was taught to question all forms of authority, and as such no grouping automatically has a 100% approval rating: I judge based on results and an individual basis, thank you very much).
Angles for Redemption of the Device: Showing that these guys aren't heroes. Show that these vain cretins, like the current incarnation of Ms. Marvel, that while they are off filming a shot for a product placement, aren't saving lives while truly heroic superheroes, are doing the real work, without credit or a corporate sponsor.


PlanetNiles said...

To be honest Mike the first super powered celebrity that I know of was Grant Morrion's Zenith in the late 80's early 90's.

Zenith was quite clearly an arsehole with super powers. He was a 'musician' and a celebrity who just happened to be super strong, super tough and could fly; he didn't want to be a hero and was quite taken aback when heroism was thrust upon him.

He still saved the universe and matured in the process and had a whole number of #1 hit records. Didn't stop being an arsehole though.

He was contrasted with former celebrity-heroes who had been real heroes but had retreated from that life; 'losing' their powers and taking to drink; or drugs; or just running as far and as fast as they can.

The thing is, were there real super humans around some of them would be doing good things and some of them would be celebrities. Sometimes they might even be the same person.

Like Sir Bob Geldof, or the late Ian Dury, or Robbie Williams, or Annie Lennox, or the Princes William and Harry.

The problem is not so much Celebrity, its our attitudes towards it; the people who are celebrities for being celebrities for example. Or the celebrity casualties such as Amy Winehouse.

Celebrities are a very good model for people with super powers but that doesn't mean they'd be the be-all-and-end-all of the super human community.

MrCynical said...

To be honest, I've read Zenith, and it was pretty clear to me that he was never the hero of the story, Mandala/Peter St. John was. It was his plans and his commitment that even though he was viewed as an ass, he was a bigger hero than Zenith.

Furthermore, I define "Patient Zero" not as the original version of a concept, but the point where it goes from a simple tool to pandemic.

Anonymous said...

What you describe reminds me of Howard Chaykin's Power & Glory. The tale of a man who has all those powers, but who lives only for the glory, the dames and the money, and the black ops agent who does all the superhero's dirty work.