Superheroes for the world of today
Superheroes have been back on our screens with a vengeance in the last few years, and we love them to bits but they’re getting too dark to function. As Bonnie Tyler said, we need a hero… but what kind of superhero will fit the bill?
Last week I was discussing superhero films with strangers in a lift, in a giant zaibatsu corporation. Sound odd? All lifts are designed to fail on a daily basis, so workers are often provided with the opportunity to discuss important matters with their fellow man in a show of blitz spirit while avoiding more obvious topics of discussion. Namely, should one try to open the doors manually, press the alarm bell (nothing happens), shimmy up the cable for help or tell everyone you really would quite like a wee?
The superhero films of the eighties, we agree, were uncomplicated. Superman’s biggest problem was getting everyone to believe he simply couldn’t be Clark Kent because Clark Kent wore glasses and Superman had red pants, fiery breath and a cowlick – ta-da! The men in eighties films were real men, women were real women and superheroes were excellently fictional superheroes.
In the noughties we like our superheroes somewhat messed-up, like the dystopian society we live in. V (for Vendetta) is Everyman portrayed as both terrorist and moral guardian of a fascist Britain. Batman is an Asbo kid with more self-awareness and better toys. Superman is Jesus 2.0 and Spiderman is a troubled teenager struggling to control his emissions. From his hands, I mean! His hands!
Today’s superheroes provide us with thoughtful blockbusters but they’re nothing to aspire to. Eighties superheroes were too dumb to think. Modern superheroes are too dark to function.
The role models we mortals really need are endearingly pathetic superheroes that still somehow save the day. I want to see superheroes with tails that aren’t even prehensile. Superdimwits whose only power is the ability to spill their own and maybe other people’s drinks in bars. Brave men and women whose principal ‘special’ power is that, whenever they feel mildly anxious, they secrete a precious form of vitamin E through the palms of their hands that they can then jar and sell rich cocaine moguls on eBay.
For us to relate to them, these superheroes must use imagination, not skill, to defeat their nemesis. Or, at the very least, figure out how to escape from a broken office lift.
Let our future superheroes be ridiculous but tenacious. Let them save the world by overcoming their faults, not by relying on powers we’ll never possess. And maybe then we’ll finally have superheroes it’s worth aspiring to be.