Sunday, August 1, 2010

Superheroes Galore

Superheroes fascinate me. I guess, all of us have, at one time or other, idolised them. Their superpowers set them apart from ordinary folk like us. Yet we feel a kinship with them because the child in us always believes that they would save us, protect us, whenever we need them. They are our anchor, the safe port in times of storms.

Spiderman and He-Man (and the Masters of the Universe) were the first superheroes to enter my life. I used to live from Sunday to Sunday, waiting for Doordarshan to beam these supermen into my home.

He-man with his cat / lion and menagerie of loyal and devoted sidekicks would beat the hell out of the really sinister looking Skeletor every week.

Spiderman, on the other hand, worked alone. Swinging from one skyscraper to another in his should-have-been ridiculous blue and red costume, managing to fish Mary-Jane out of trouble every episode, he was one of the highlights of my Sunday evenings.

The celluloid version of Spiderman, however, lacks the same charisma. They are likeable enough (with one of the most memorable dialogues in recent times – “With great power, comes great responsibility”) and Tobey Maguire does a decent job of playing hapless Peter Parker who one day wakes up to his superpowers. Maybe, it is the rather insipid Kirsten Dunst who plays Mary-Jane or the slightly sepia world in which the movies are shot. Or perhaps, the older me simply wants to understand the man as much as the superhero.
Batman, however, is as much a man as a superhero.

He is the creature of night, the vigilante who keeps the dark and troubled Gotham City safe from a bunch of most devious and imaginative supervillains ( I often feel that the villains in the Batman series are more a manifestation of all possible human fears than one-dimensional evil-doers). The city cannot decide whether it loves him or hates him. He tries not to care, as his dark silhouette watches them from a rooftop. Aloof. Alone. A lone wolf (or should I say, Bat) in the true sense. His superpowers are not really superpowers but a devilishly clever use of technology married to an uncanny sense of justice.

But he is also a man hounded by his own demons. He is almost the Heathcliff of the superhero landscape. Dark, mysterious, brooding. He has a wry and often self-deprecating sense of humour. He does not want credit. He is nonchalant about being perceived as merely a spoilt brat of a billionaire. A womaniser. A good-for-nothing. A la Sidney Carter. Yet, you can sense that he seeks and needs an approval, an affection and above all an understanding that few can give him. Because nobody, not even the faithful Arthur, know him.

Batman perhaps also has had more movies based on his life than any other superhero. The cast of movies based on him has been eclectic and talented. From Michael Keaton to the seriously dishy George Clooney have played the hero. The ensemble cast has included actors as different as Michelle Pfeiffer, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarznegger and Jim Carey. Yet, only the last two movies directed by Christoper Nolan, with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman explore the complexities that make the man, his various nemesis and his own small circle of friends who are allowed a small glimpse into his true persona.
Batman Begins and Dark Knight show that Batman is not just a figment of cartoonist’s imagination or childish fantasy. In fact, Batman, the series, is not meant for children.

That brings me to another superhero and though the na├»ve think that his chronicles are meant for children, it is the more mature who can actually grasp the subtle play of human psychology in the books. He is Harry Potter. JK Rowling’s bespectacled hero has made millionaires out of lot people, including the author herself. He has fascinated millions of people worldwide, both men and women, children and adults. The launch of the books and the movies see a mass frenzy which few franchises, if any, can boast of.

So, what makes Harry Potter so special? Here is a young wizard who must take on the greatest evil, He-who-must-not-be-named. He is clearly talented, brave and has the blessings of Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of our times. But is this teenager mature, wise and strong enough to do it by himself? No. And that is where, I think, lies Rowling’s masterstroke. There are no sidekicks in the series. Ron and Hermione are as much the heroes of the series as Harry. True, that it is Harry who has been prophesied as the only wizard who can defeat the Dark Lord. But he cannot do it by himself. He needs not just the help but constant and active participation of his best friends. So, it is fitting that JK Rowling allows each lieutenant of Dumbledore’s Army to destroy a Horcrux, a part of Voldemort’s own soul.

Then, there are the whole bunch of superheroes, who go by the name of X-Men. And this is, perhaps, the only series, where a woman superhero leaves as great an impact as the men. Jean Grey. I have always thought that the powers of mind - to read others’ thoughts, move things with them et al – are the greatest and most dangerous powers of them all. So, they need to be handled with a lot of care and caution. Jean Grey does that. She is beautiful, powerful and smart. Add to that her smouldering, just-under-the-surface chemistry with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in the movie is simply awesome) and her affectionate, steady relationship with Cyclops and you have one of the most unusual love triangles.

In no other series, the distinction between good and evil is so clearly delineated. Magneto’s men and women are as powerful as the X-Men. But Professor Xavier’s team of Storm, Wolverine, Beast, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Rogue etc. have a very powerful conscience which Toad, Mystique, Sabretooth and indeed, Magneto, himself lacks. But you can never dismiss them any of them as one-dimensional.

Coming back to slightly more straight-jacketed superheroes, one must think of Superman. Clark Kent and Lois. Superman and Lois. Lex Luthor and his ingenious ways of sourcing Krypton, the Achilles’ heel of our caped superhero. Clark Kent as the shy reporter who has a huge crush on his colleague Lois Lane, is actually Superman, a superhero, who was not born on earth, but will do anything to save its denizens from the evil-doers. Delightful series that can still make me believe in black and white.

There are plenty of other superheroes who I could write about. But then, it would be Monday morning by the time I finish. And much as I hate the thought of going to work, I am afraid, there is no way out. Maybe there would be born a superhero who would find the way to beat the Monday blues.

Till then, ciao.
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  1. I love Superman! I always thought he had the coolest superpowers... and I wanted all of them! :)

  2. Have you read the original Watchmen book? It's absolutely extraordinary.


    1. Hey, actually i have not. My brush with superheroes is primarily through movies and animation :-) excepting Potter, of course

    2. Sorry. I missed your reply! Thanks for answering!

      There are so many great things about the Watchmen book, it's hard to know where to start. First, it's clever and subtle and multi-layered. At first I thought it would be a problem, that the heroes were basically people we didn't know: later I came to see that as a great strength of the book. It takes all the obvious questions and deconstructs them: don't you feel silly wearing tights to fight crime? Is a cape in any way practical?

      Next, the characters are beautifully created: flawed, rounded, vulnerable, compelling. Then add that to a plot with a villain so dangerous that his schemes boggle the mind.

      I highly recommend the book. The film is, basically, a love letter to the book. However, as is often the case, there are layers of richness which just can't be put across on celluloid.

      For someone who loves superheroes, you will enjoy every frame.


    3. Thanks, Vivienne. I am always looking for book recommendations. I will definitely try this one out. Glad to have you stop by :)

    4. I don't know if you noticed, but I gave you a brief shout-out on my own blog here:


    5. Oh, thanks a ton! Sorry, been crazy few weeks at work. Totally missed it

  3. I saw these and thought of you...