A Life With Superpowers

With the upcoming Man Of Steel scant months away, it seems the WB’s theoretical Justice League film is closely hitched to the success of its latest superhero venture.

Opening this door to speculation raises other questions. Why can’t Warner Brothers put together a successful, non-Batman movie while Marvel is making money off relative unknowns like Thor and Iron Man? How has Superman, the most recognizable comic book character on Earth, not had a successful film since 1980? What was up with Green Lantern?

For a lot of reasons, I think Warner Brothers doesn’t know how to cultivate a loyal fan base and remain profitable, as demonstrated by the recent cancellation of Young Justice and Green Lantern. I don’t think Warner has found a single director not named Nolan that knows how to make a superhero movie look and feel like something the modern audience will pay to see. I think Warner has shown that it doesn’t have the  organization to put together more than one superhero franchise at a time – much less balance multiple franchises across production teams while organizing a single thematically consistent universe. And I don’t think they understand the true size of Marvel’s accomplishment.

And I don’t think Warner Brothers understands the modern superhero. Stoic protagonists face overwhelming odds, risking it all to save the girl/friends/people/world every day. It’s the only thing the CW does shows about now. What we crave are heroes touched by their own power. Marvel gets it.

Superpowers are like a gun. The only superhero stories we care about are the ones where that power is used on other people.

Imagine for a moment that you are in a fist fight about something people get into a tumble about. Maybe a parking ticket outside a bar or a Packers’ fan at a tailgate. It’s your fight, dreamer; make it whatever you want. And like most unexpected fights, the experience is different from the movies. Everything is hyper real and happening too fast. The adrenaline is screaming in your ears, and you’re trying to figure out how to end this thing. Now imagine a random spectator throws a gun between you and your opponent while you’re having it out. I know, it’s a dick move. Probably a crime. Certainly rude. What do you do? Do you grab the gun? Do you let it sit and see what your Packers’ fan does? If you get it first, do you point it at them? Are you willing to pull the trigger? How much do you think that gun has increased the odds someone is going to die now?

That’s what having a superpower is like all the time. You carry a gun that touches every part of you and ensures that the stakes are life and death even in the most trivial circumstances. We get so caught up in the absolute morality of using power to fight evil that we forget that the power is there all the time. It changes the face of all interactions because, even without its use, the threat of power remains ever-present. It’s the reason we don’t tell our teachers they spit when they talk or tell our boss he creeps our secretary. Power.

Misfits is a an excellent example of what I’m talking about. The show, more than four seasons deep, takes place on a community center estate where a bunch of at-risk youths are doing community service for their various transgressions. During their first day of service the youths and their probation worker are caught in a freak storm that gives them superpowers. What I love about this show is the deep consideration given to a life with power. None of our offenders become “superheroes” to save the world, though they do accidentally pull it off a couple times. Instead it’s about the complex human interactions are made more complicated and more dangerous by power.

Can travel through time but still can't escape his boring life.

Can travel through time but still can’t escape his boring life.

Because, again, that power is a gun that you can use at anytime. And unlike comic books, the “real” world if full of people with power just trying to figure out the best way to live. Consider any political argument you’ve ever heard. We don’t think about most of those arguments in the dichotomous of good or evil, especially when you haven’t taken a side. We think about it in terms of different people with different interests trying to get what they want. And, in those terms, all interactions are political. Misfits demonstrate a world where sex, relationships, and mundane tasks are all complicated adventures in themselves because of superpowers.

There was a guy in the first season who’s power was to move dairy products with his mind – a shitty Magneto. Totally stupid, right? He was laughable and his ridiculous power built a murderous resentment in him when other better powers were discovered. As it turns out, he killed everyone. He beat an immortal, a psychic and a guy who could turn invisible simply by moving cheese. A power, I might add, that changed him. That’s the thing about power; the specifics aren’t as important as what they do to the person who has them. And no matter how far you go with power, you’re still human with all the associated flaws and desires.

And the fact that the characters have incredible powers and can’t seem to get out of their community service is poignant.

The misfits are touched by their power. It’s a constant temptation that changes them. Instead of costumed strong-men flying about fighting masked marvels, we find a world populated by monsters in the form of desire and the very human inclination to use an advantage to get what’s wanted. Power has always been a part of our history. That’s a quality Marvel’s recent films have had. No matter how remote or alien the venue, the problems concerning power are always very human.

And they get how dangerous superpowers really are. If you’ve ever seen Smallville, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries or pretty much any superhero movie you’ve watched one of those fights where someone with super strength is fighting someone without it. They’re always throwing people against things and knocking them out when, in reality, they would just crush any part of that person or punch through them and the fight would be over. Really, even throwing someone through a wall or a window would probably put them in the hospital if not kill them outright.

Every super fight should be over that quickly whether it’s strength, flight or any other power. Superpower fights are like gun battles at close range; they don’t last long unless everyone’s immortal.

But I’m a little far from my point, which is that Marvel’s production studios gets it while DC is still putting together superhero movies with the structure and forethought of Steel. Which makes no damn sense. How the hell does Warner Brothers do eight successful Harry Potter films while failing to pull off one Superman movie?

In short, they need to get their heads in the game.

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One thought on “A Life With Superpowers

  1. William says:

    Warner’s doesn’t have a superhero problem. Superman isn’t a superhero, he’s a god. He has no limits, no weaknesses, no flaws. He’s Super Eagle Scout Jesus. (Notice the Christ imagery in all the previous movies and even in the trailers for the new one)

    Who cares, who can care, about the troubles and life of a god?

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