“If I had to choose a superhero to be, I would pick Superman. He’s everything that I’m not.”
As I cast a weary eagle-eyed bloodshot glance (my superpower) hither and thither about this pop culturally scorched planet, it occurs to me that it would make far more sense to believe in supervillains than superheroes.
Now, I enjoy the sheer Hollywood return-to-the-status-quo-story-arc propagandist thrill-a-minute-ending-in-a-giant-fucking-explosion escapism of a good Marvel flick, like any boy’s mind trapped in the broken shell of a man’s body, and have read the comics since I can remember the feeling of a smudge of ink on my tiny fingers. However, leaving my infantile suspension of disbelief at the gates of the Fortress of Solitude and stepping with aching knees back into the concrete world of snafu for a moment, my personal experience leads me to suspect that if a modern human acquired any form of actual superpowers – from the strength to stop tanks, to having the ability to turn invisible – then those abilities would inflate that person’s already Bruce-Wayne’s-5th-birthday-party-sized-bouncy-castle 21st Century ego and sense of entitlement as the YouTube traffic and corporate sponsorship deals would inevitably drive that person right around the cosmic bend faster than a coked up Tony Stark.
I mean, imagine :
By day, he runs one of the largest corporations on the planet; his fingers stirring the radioactive gloop in many genetically modified pies; his subsidiaries produce Earth-rotting chemicals, un-food that harms more than nourishes and plutonium mining that exploits the local poverty stricken population of “over there” while causing the economies of the Western world to implode by using financial derivatives and insider trading as weapons of mass destruction and coercing shifty eyed debt ridden governments, through lobbying, into favourable legislation for him and his cackling hand wringing cronies.
Yet, by night, he stalks the deep Dark Web on a mission for old fashioned goodness and truth, patrolling the lowly digital basements and caves; a single figure watching and waiting for the narcotic dealers and human traffickers to leave clues of the whereabouts of their warehouses filled with ripe bodies and poppy essence for him to liberate with his iPhone 6 and Mercedes. He has felt driven by his inner demons to help the most feeble and frightened segments of mankind in a misplaced and medieval version of justice ever since his family was eaten by a starving homeless man. That cannibalistic cliché and the animalistic strength that surged through his body when he ate a Philly cheese steak containing a pellet of quantum-soaked rat shit from an animal that had escaped his father’s bio-engineering laboratory turned the budding industrialist into a scuttling, garbage obsessed hero – Mister Rodent!
The cognitive dissonance I feel here is as compelling as it is brain melting. Mmmmm … Philly cheese steak.
In the current murky psychic waters of an untrustworthy and morally ambiguous sense of the authority running society, and as new information of how the world actually works gets pumped into our brain-cupboards everyday, it is difficult to tell what separates the so-called heroes from the so-called villains. With our innocence trampled under the rocket powered boots that never came, and our now innate suspicion in anything that reeks of an old fashioned sense of goodness, is the archetype of a hero even valid in our dynamically transforming cultural climate? Hence the current fascination with flawed, yet seemingly more human, anti heroes and the Noir-ish sense of a planet going all to Hell in a Hoverpod. Knowing what I know of human nature, the rise of the supervillain or superantihero, as an individual or as a collective, would appear more credible. Well, until the mutants or extraterrestrials come to enslave us all. In fact, who needs them; just get a job, pay your taxes and see how that works on your sense of self worth.
Comic book culture has had a major influence on the so-called real world and not necessarily in ways that the bizarre characters that sprang from Lee, Kirby and Siegel’s collective imaginations would approve of : from guys with noble intentions who really do dig an extreme form of cosplay (or is it pantomime?) and go outside to give homeless people handouts and stop drunk guys indulging themselves with antisocial driving and generally getting in the way (but you have to admire their pluck); to inspiring technology in all its military industrial complexity; and then there is a collective jungle of faceless cyber vigilantes dedicated to internet freedom, supposedly, as well as naive and idealistic bite-the-hand-that-feeds anti capitalist campaigners – both groups smothering their individual identities under the same mask of a fictional romantic anarchist facing off against a dystopian fascist state.
My alcohol and caffeine sodden brain does not think that our collective unconsciousness has banished the archetype of the hero as a force for some higher ideal, or perhaps, more precisely, with the transformation of our understanding of life through the events of science and technology, our notions of what a higher ideal consists of is in the process of evolving into something beyond the purely simplistic good versus evil paradigm; where Captain America becomes a doomed and incendiary hero fighting against the systems of surveillance put in place by our betters to oversee that we do nothing more than pay our taxes, consume cheap thrills and die. The more outlandish and subversive our heroes become, the more new cultural tropes creep into the psychosphere and into the heads of the Big Mac chomping population, and the weirder the world turns.