And He’s Gotta Be Larger Than Life

This is not a movie review, though it’s one of my very, very few posts inspired by watching a movie.

So, I went to see the Avengers (which is SO totally Human Wave.)  For those who don’t know me very well, this is under the heading of an anomaly.  I rarely go out to the movies.  Heck, I rarely watch movies at home.  Even those that are highly recommended by friends tend to get forgotten before their theater run ends.  But we were taking Friday off as a family, so we went to see the movie…

With much trepidation on my side on whether I’d be able to stand it, we went.  Full disclosure – I fell asleep during Star Wars.  Twice.  Why?  Because by that time I was reading science fiction and the plot struck me as “cliche one meets cliche two” and I’m not visual.  Also I’ve found in recent times that movies have gone MORE visual, with cut scene to cut scene and minimal dialogue.

Another source of concern is that I hadn’t seen the lead-up, though I keep meaning to watch Iron Man, which we have.  And also that I generally don’t watch super hero movies, because…

Well, because modern super heros seem to be like Superman in Five For Fighting’s “It’s not easy to be me” lyrics, you know “I can’t stand to fly/I’m not that naive/I’m just out to find/The better part of me” all the way the incredible touchy-feely wankiness of “men weren’t meant to ride/with clouds between their knees.”

And if you’re saying “But Sarah, it’s the vulnerable side that makes a super hero interesting” … Yeah.  It’s the vulnerable/flawed side that makes everyone interesting.  But what makes them worth reading about is what they accomplish DESPITE that, not the fact that they’re faster than a speeding bullet and yet whine about being a pretty face beside a train.

Oh, I know when this came in, and I even know why. I read enough pulp to know that one gets tired of the “big muscular hero does stuff” and that is why I like the uncut version of Puppet Masters, because we see why “Sam” runs, and what he does despite his big, sundering flaw.  Somewhere along the line the “I’m going to write something totally different” took over, and you end up doing well with it, because no one is doing it… And then suddenly it’s a trend, and then it’s “the way to do things.”

The reason I hate Super Hero stories in general is this ridiculous “his powers are a great burden” and “he just wants to be normal.”  Look, children – yeah, we all know people who are very smart or (worse) very beautiful, and we know there is a dark side to it.  It’s not all beer and skittles or prom queening and flowers.  Yes, their “powers” attract as much envy and hate as they attract admiration and love.  BUT ask them…  How many would give them up?  When they say they would what they mean is NOT “I want to be dumber/uglier” it’s “I want people to accept me and the stupid backbiting to end.”  Which again is different from being super man and wishing you were made of tissue paper.

Super heros who spend the movie chewing the scenery about how unfortunate they are and JUST wake up long enough to punch out the villain in the end, make me want to throw things.  Of course, this is the fashion in story telling, right now.  We seem to have – thank heavens – got over the anti-hero craze of the seventies – even our vampires are defanged before being made heros – but we are still stuck with pop psychology and angst over being heros.

I’m glad to report that Avengers doesn’t have that.  It has the required psychological plot (TM) under the idea of team building, but that didn’t bend me out of shape, because… well… it is hard to forge a team of exceptional people.  I’ve run enough workshops with extremely talented writers, and had other such professional occasions to know that making a team of gifted people is MUCH harder than making a team of newbies, beginners or people who aren’t special in any way.

What I really liked about the movie is that even though every character is profoundly flawed, the only one who is truly angsty about it is the Hulk and – arguably – he has more reason than any of the others since his shifted form is utterly mindless or close to it.  And even though every character is profoundly flawed, they’re not, any of them, (except Hulk) throwing fits over how terrible their fate is, in having these powers.  And, oh, by the way, Loki doesn’t turn out to be the good guy all along or even to be just a young man full of high spirits who went wrong TM.  Evil is real (if a little simplistic, but then it is a super hero movie, not War and Peace) and good is good, and you know where the line is.

Being myself, I confess that Tony Stark is my favorite character, because I do like characters who don’t take themselves seriously.  (“Doth mother know thou wearest her drapes?”) Though Captain America is my second favorite, because he’s a man who does what he has to do.  And can any movie be bad that contains the line “Hulk, smash,” as instructions?

Now, this concludes the movie portion of this blog post, and it brings us back around to what is a hero.  Not a “superhero” just a hero – a hero of the sort I like to find in books, even when they’re not about heroic actions.  And this is my view of it:

1 – A hero is larger than life.  What he does and what he can do puts us in awe of him.  (Not in “aw” of him.)  This despite the fact that

2- A true hero is or should be completely human.  Running up against a hail of bullets is yawn worthy, if you’re invulnerable to bullets.  Heroes know what can happen to them, face it and

3- Do what they have to do despite knowing how much it will cost them.

4- What they have to do MIGHT be run up against a hail of bullets.  Or it might be running into a burning building to save a child – or a cat.  Or it might be working three jobs so their kids get through school with no debt.  Whatever he does, though

5- He does this without complaining, whining and angsting that would shame a thirteen year old girl, particularly when a thirteen year old girl IS a hero.  (I think Hollywood directors caught on that we like the underdog, and think every character, including the hero needs to be the underdog.  Trust me, humanizing a character does NOT mean castrating him.)

6 – The hero doesn’t always win, but when he loses, he gets back on his feet and tries again.  He doesn’t spend time thinking of giving up his super powers, just so he doesn’t have to fight again.  AND he definitely does not wander around all angsty because no one said thank you.  The hero does what he has to do, he doesn’t do what he can so he gets thank yous.

7 – I’m not saying that all heros have no internal flaws driving them.  Most of them do.  Good examples are Black Widow and Hawkeye in this movie, who have oceans of blood to pay for, and know they’ll never clear the bill.  These flaws can and should be presented, they just shouldn’t be WHAT the story is about.  The story is about the exceptionally good things heroes do.  They don’t even have to be particularly good people, they just have to do good stuff.

8 – Heroes don’t have to love people.  They do need not to be idiots.  (I will admit here that if I hear one more pseudo-profound diatribe about how we’re a cancer/infection on the Earth, there’s going to be broken crockery.  This nonsense denotes as much deep thought as saying “We’re all naked under our clothes” another sixties favorite.)  By this I mean, they might not love people in general, but they’ll love SOMEONE, or else they might not really like people, but they feel they belong to them.  Or else, they might not love people but … as compared to what?  The point is, they should be on the side of good and not go looking in the weeds for reasons to hate humanity in order to sound like post-modern-scholars (TM).

9 – The hero needs only ONE outsize quality.  That is, your hero doesn’t need super strength or super powers, or x ray vision (which always seemed to me very weird.  I mean, who stands in front of a villain and goes “I’d have your kidneys checked.”) A hero needs ONE outsize quality, and it can be something all of us have, but he has more of it.  Think Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride and PERSISTENCE.  There’s a reason he’s one of sf/f’s favorite characters and totally steals that movie.  (And the lady or gentleman in the back who is giggling over “outsize quality,” stop it, or I shall throw a dead fish at you.)

10 – The hero needs to do the heroing.  This involves a certain moral quality. It is impossible for us, in this day and age of multiculturalism and “everyone has his reasons” to actually say that without cringing.  But heroes have moral certainty.  Look, you might or might not be for the death penalty, but Inigo’s certainty he should kill the six fingered man makes us follow him and cheer him.  It’s not our moral certainty.  It’s his.  And the fact that the six-fingered man grossly needs killing just makes it perfect.  You’re the writer.  You’re in control.  You can make villains who need to be destroyed and actions that must be stopped.  Like, how many of you will stop on the way to rescue a puppy from being put in a blender to go “well, everyone has his reasons.  I need the villain’s take on this?”

But Sarah, you say, I want my heroes and my villains to be done in middle-grades, in fifty shades of gray as it were.  I want to be realistic and life-like.

Oh, please, do go ahead.  You will probably win several prizes.  I just won’t read you.  And probably there are a few people who feel like me.  I have no objection to THAT market being served, I’m just jazzed to see storytelling come around to where there is some of the stuff I like and where a blockbuster movie unashamedly does the Human Wave.

194 responses to “And He’s Gotta Be Larger Than Life

  1. Awesome post, SH. My favorite Cap line was his response to the “flying monkeys” quip. Chris Evans gave the character just the right amount of gung-ho and frustration. You could see his eyes perk up at a reference that he understood and you felt his happiness at the moment. It was very fleeting, but this particular movie is FULL of moments like that. SOOOO much different in every way from the horrible “humans-suck-and-are-completely-unredeemable-so-fuck-it-I’m-changing-species” of Avatar. Note to everyone…Cameron’s said he’s making Avatar 2, 3, and possibly 4 before doing ANYTHING other projects. On the upside, I suppose that means we get nothing Titanic-related, but on the downside…well, he’s going to make more Avatar movies.

    I have a hero that’s trying to find his bigger-than-lifeness. In the original version of the story, he was actually the angst-filled, “what we’re doing really sucks” but I couldn’t stand him anymore. In all honesty, it’s a study of what it would take to make contemporary human society go all interplanetary postal, but that’s beside the point, so his sentiments fit. Now, after deconstructing him and shifting the blame for all things bad to a convenient Bad Guy alien, I’m left with a protagonist that’s looking for a hail of bullets to run into. What I may end up with is a tabula rasa-type character that drives the story, but allows his brothers in arms to do all the heroics, even as they fall one by one by story’s end. The character isn’t boring, but neither is he, so far, a superman and his heroism doesn’t make itself evident until climax. Until then, he’s simply a competent combat team leader and his men provide the color, humor, bravery, etc, etc.

    Does that angle on a hero work given the topic of the post?

    • It reminds me of Taran in The Book of Three, who is so desperate to rise above being a lowly Assistant Pig-Keeper that he hardly notices he was the one who assembled the team of heroes who saved the kingdom. I don’t think you need to be Lloyd Alexander to make good use of this device.

    • I have to admit I really liked Avatar, possibly because as an Injun I enjoyed seeing the Injuns win for a change. And the Sam Worthington character is a Hero, with the whole Hero’s Journey and all. It’s just a bad choice of bad guys.

      • So…you missed Dances With Wolves and Last Samurai? The plot in Avatar has been woefully overdone and the antagonists are always the same. That being said, I did go see it in the Imax format and really enjoyed it for the visuals. However, the story itself and the who gaia thing realized? Ugh.

        • Yeah, can’t redo plots. That’s why no one does tragic love stories after Romeo and Juliet.

          • It’s not so much the fact that Avatar’s plot has been done before (Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, et al) as the fact that there’s nothing new in the plot this time around. And it was a bad plot to begin with: the bad guys are always the same, evil imperialist Western capitalists who want to Rape The Earth™ to make a buck, and the good guys are the pure-hearted Defenders of Nature™. Boring, boring, boring.

            Now, if you want a story where the Indians win, you could go with the Battle of the Little Bighorn, with the protagonist being a Cheyenne warrior in Chief Black Kettle’s army. Custer would make an interesting antagonist: he wasn’t evil and had an interesting past (nearly getting expelled from West Point for excessive pranking, for example), but it’s easy to see why a Cheyenne would hate him for Black Kettle’s death at the Battle of Washita River. A skillful storyteller could do a lot with that, without ever descending into the “the bad guys are evil” cliché. Lots of research would be needed, but there’s also enough uncertainty around Little Bighorn that you could fit the needs of your story (so-and-so died, so-and-so escaped but was thought dead for years) into it as well.

            Avatar didn’t bother with giving depth to its story, though, which is my main objection to it.

            • There is a book called The Indians Won — don’t remember by whom (Martin Cruz Smith?) and my politics have changed a lot since I liked it, so I don’t know if I’d still like it. But I remember the character called Makes Much Radiation. :-P

            • And now, after having had lunch, I’ve thought of another objection to Avatar. Early on, the protagonist, who’s allegedly a Marine and therefore would have gone to boot camp where he would have been drilled in following orders, dammit… this protagonist gets a briefing heavy on the “careful with your new body, you’re not used to it yet, take it slow while you get used to things, don’t run until you can walk, etc.” before his first avatar-controlling experiment.

              So what does this genius do? Ignore his mission briefing and his superior’s orders (yeah, that’s totally in character for a Marine, right?) and flail around wildly inside a pressure-controlled room, right next to a metal tray containing lots of dangerous items and ALSO next to a window opening onto the low-pressure, hostile environment outside.

              That was the point at which I stopped watching the movie, because I can’t enjoy a movie where I think the protagonist is a grade-A, certifiable idiot. By rights, his idiocy should have sent the metal tray flying through the window, depressurizing the base and killing everyone inside, including him (since his real body was also inside that same base). The End.

              In my personal continuity, that’s what happened, and Avatar was a ten minute long movie on how the ill-fated First Pandora Expedition was lost, and why the Second Pandora Expedition decided to stop replacing trained avatar operators with their completely untrained twin brothers.

              • Robin, he’s also a guy who’s been a paraplegic for years who suddenly has legs again.

                • Robin Munn

                  Yeah, I’ve thought of that. (I’ve mentioned my annoyance with that plot point before to others, who made the same counter-argument.) And if he was just a regular Joe, his ignoring orders wouldn’t bother me nearly as much. But for a Marine, who’s been specifically briefed that you’re likely to have this reaction and you should try to keep it down, to ignore his orders and his briefing like that… that bugged me so much that it made me give up on the movie then and there.

                  • The current experience with neural prosthetics is that it is taking *months* of practice just to move a hand to the right point in space. That doesn’t include *using* the hand. That dud is *not* gonna be able to use a surrogate body in less than *years* worth of conditioning!

                  • Robin, if Marines could always be expected to follow every order, they wouldn’t have brigs on Navy bases.

                  • In Avatar I didn’t find the hero’s goofing unbelievable, but it did make him unlikable to me. Goofing off when it might endanger just you is one thing, doing it when it might endanger other people is not the behavior I want to see in a hero – or at least then he should show some genuine regret once he realizes what he just did. I think it labelled him as ‘hate people’ person for me – that maybe his going to the side of the blue natives was not so much a case of defending the innocent or whatever, but rather a case of looking for any excuse to get away from his own people.

                    And yes, the bad guys were sort of bad in the wrong way. They didn’t make me feel much of anything, they were mostly just puppets. This type of stories are great fun when they can make you hate the baddies first, and they should have a bit more personality for that. Now if Quaritch had been the one who needlessly endangered his own people because he felt like goofing off… Something like that. Their characterization stopped mostly with ‘bad’, a bit of something like ‘also annoyingly stupid’ might have helped. Unfortunately the hero got most of that part.

                    Now, in ‘Aliens’ the marines actually kind of did get that ‘annoyingly stupid’ bit. :) Remember that part where they brushed off Ripley when she tried to tell them about the alien she had encountered? Now I have no idea whether that would count as natural behavior (if you start from what current marines are like), but when you are talking about a situation where you are going against some previously unknown and dangerous lifeform and it’s your skin on the line the smart thing would be to grill anybody who might know anything to bits. Can’t say I was overly concerned with their fates after that… But since Cameron seems to have some tendency for perhaps disliking military maybe that was deliberate, who knows. Just a pity he didn’t do the same in Avatar.

            • Battle of Washita River

              While many historical sites have changed beyond belief, you can still stand on the ridge above the site of that battle. What must it have been to have lost all you worldly goods and be facing winter on those relentlessly wind swept plains?

              • I visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield as a kid. I remember two things distinctly about it.

                1 in all the movies the soldiers are in a valley and the Indians come over the ridges around them to attack. The actual battlefield the soldiers were on a hilltop that the Indians had to attack uphill.

                2 There are little narrow paths through the tall grass all around the battlefield to various grave markers and informational signs telling about what happened at this particular spot on the battlefield. And every few feet there are signs warning to watch out for RATTLESNAKES! I grew up in an area without poisonous snakes and this was my first experience being in an area inhabited by them ;)

            • Refer back to blog post about use of cliches for minor characters. Using a cliche for a major character or the main plot is just … cliched.

              • The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. LeGuin; the book that meant I never bought another word with her name on it, and won’t. Pure, unadulterated, 200-proof “humans are bad guys who gather in corporations to concentrate their evil”. I’ve never seen “Avatar”, but even from the people who liked it the descriptions sound like rewrites of TWFWIF.

            • I object Robin to Custer being a good guy. He was known for getting to the top on the backs of several people during the Civil War. He was a really good PR man. ;-) no offense. Plus he was another one who broke a lot of treaties. But it would make an interesting story.

              • Oh, those were just the mendacious accusations of jealous lesser officers; all capable men are assailed for using others as stepping stones just as capable women are smeared as having slept their way up the ladder.

                And those were bad treaties, written to secure safe havens for Indian terrorists while still preventing the agreeable Indians from retaining their honour and maintaining their economy. As such the treaties were destined to fail and Custer simply acted to ensure that their failure did not occur at the worst possible times.

                While I am at it: chocolate is bad for you, heroes establish unattainable ideals which causes greater frustration, cats are parasites and Lord Voldemort is actually the only one who understands the true threat to wizardkind.

                • LOL – RES … I know that all heroes are either backstabbers or sluts depending on the gender. My husband also tells me that when you are overrun you can either fight back or become a part of the new culture. Frankly, I am for fighting back so I have a feeling for the terrorists during the 19th century.

                  And chocolate is the only thing I get to eat anymore… since I am now denied wine and other things. I refuse to listen to my docs when they want to take my coffee away.

            • “Now, if you want a story where the Indians win, you could go with the Battle of the Little Bighorn,”

              Or: http://www.bidalaka.com/picofarad/pf20/redcloud.html

    • This may be relevant to your hero-building, Scott. Ian Fleming always said he intended James Bond to be a fairly uninteresting character whom interesting things happened around.

      • Nice! I saw last week that an Ian Fleming biopic is planned. I can honestly say I’ve never actually read a Bond book, but I’ve always been a sucker for the movies. I don’t know about Bond from the pages, but the movie versions are certainly not boring guys :) More like the prototype for Dos Equis “most interesting man alive”…”the mere weight of his words can break a lesser man’s jaw”.

        There’s a lot that’s interesting ABOUT my protagonist and he’s certainly smart, competent and well-liked by his men, but, as we find out about 1/3 into the book, he’s heir to the throne. He was raised in a fake post-apocalyptic village along with the rest of the nobility’s kids and one of his best friends caused the greatest loss of life in human history…and plans to do it again. But, personally, he’s not jumping off the page at me.

        • You should definitely read the actual Bond books: in the books he’s a lovely mix of prissy Scot with French sensualist, and he’s not near as comfortable with killing people as he comes off in the movies.

          Except for the new Casino Royale. Daniel Craig was brilliant.

        • Yeah, I found the books very different from the movies. And if you think about it, if you’re a real spy, you do NOT want to STAND OUT. It’s the last thing you want to do, because you won’t last long, either as a spy or as a living being. You want to be bland, uninteresting and nondescript. Therefore a writer of spies should make them bland, uninteresting and nondescript.

  2. Great post, Sarah, as always. Glad you enjoyed the movie. In a very strong ensemble cast of great characters, my favourite was Thor – the very opposite of an underdog. He’s actually a god, and has no insecurity about that fact whatsoever. And he’s a cocky sumbitch, which is always fun to watch.

  3. I really enjoyed this post, and am right there with you on the whole “humans are an eeeeeevil blight upon the face of the world!” (raise back of hand to forehead and swoon). That attitude totally makes me want to Hulk out.

    • YES on the hulking out.

    • we’re a cancer/infection on the Earth

      All the more reason to get into SPACE! >_> *beth makes a mental note to lampshade and subvert the trope at the earliest possible opportunity*

      • What, you want the cancer to metastasize?

        Whoa, how’d my tongue get embedded that far into my cheek?

        • If we ARE the cancer, h*ll yes. Again “Humans are terrible” begs the question “as opposed to?”

          • “We are the cancer” – how many tropes exist now that came into existence in response to other tropes (We (white European) humans deserve to rule the universe) that are long dead, so now only the anti-trope remains? Rebels still rebelling when the object of rebellion is long gone.

        • Well, considering that there’s a whole lotta vacuum out there, and vacuum makes a great containment system… ;D How else will Earth be able to study us, huh? ;) ;) :D ;) ;)

      • It would be utterly un-PC, but what about writing the development of two colony worlds, one run a la modern China (we’ll conserve when the state is strong enough and that is not now) or India (conserve what, besides the tourist parks? Oh, and foreign technology contains spiritual evils and should be eschewed unless absolutely necessary), and a world run like modern Britain or the US? Humans would not be the problem per se, but the management approaches of the different human sub-cultures certainly would lead to different environmental outcomes.

        Yes, my description of Chinese and Indian environmental attitudes is painfully overly-simplified, but you get the jist of the idea.

      • A friend of mine had a saying, which I don’t know whether it was his or someone else’s, saying, “The meek shall inherit the Earth, while the rest of us infest Space”. I suppose “infect” would work just as well there…

  4. ppaulshoward

    Well Sarah, if you’re going to have a villian who “puts puppies into blenders”, I’d like to know “why he’d want to do that” either before or after your heroes rescue the puppies. (I can’t think of a reason your heroes should not beat him into plup.) . [Wink]

    • Maybe they are DEMON PUPPIES! In which case rescuing them and letting them run off might be a bad idea. (Though, really, blenders are not the tool for killing DEMON PUPPIES, I suspect.)

      But that’s PLOT! *evil giggle*

      • Puppy frappe?

      • ppaulshoward

        Well Beth, he’s the villain so he may just *think* they’re demon puppies. [Wink]

        Or if they are demon puppies, he may be putting them in the blender to create a “magic drink” to gain demon power in order to defeat the heroes. [Grin]

        But yep, that’s plot. [Dragon Laughter]

      • how about someone who loves puppies and becomes the guardian of the DEMON puppies… sigh… I wished I had demon puppies… they would be so much fun.

        • You FOOL, Baskerville!! Don’t you realize Demon Puppies grow up to become Hell Hounds???

          • Oh yea – I love HELL HOUNDS. Some good stories have been written about hose kinds of dogs (Terry Pratchett with Neil Gaiman is one). Besides I truly believe my landlady’s chihuahuas are hell hounds. :-)

            I love them anyway. Makes me the Lady of Hell Hounds I bet. snicker

  5. callanprimer

    *giggle* *snort* You didn’t just say “outsize quality” you said “wankiness” and “castrating” *snort* *snort*

    Ducks as a putrifying monkfish sails overhead.

  6. Persistence and courage is all you really need in a hero, everything else is decoration. There’s an indie movie “Ocean of Pearls” where the domineering father is a Bad Dad and Lousy Husband. But you find out he was a hero for not getting a haircut.

    And have I nattered on about “Men Without Chests” by C.S. Lewis yet today? Just plug all that in here, too.

  7. Anyone else bust a gut laughing when Hulk finally meets up with Loki? Priceless.

  8. The only thing that would have made that movie nicer is if, early on, we would have gotten a little more New York hometown flavor. Marvel loves NYC as the old neighborhood should be loved, and keeping the fight to a specific area helped with that. (Of course, since a lot of the flick was shot in Cleveland, it’s possible that it wasn’t all really New York and that I just don’t recognize that. But it’s supposed to be New York.)

  9. Sarah, have you seen “The Incredibles”? If not, I highly recommend it. The movie has several themes, but the one that really speaks to me is the idea that what makes you a hero is not your powers, but your character. Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is a hero because he can’t see people in trouble and not try to help them, even when doing so is illegal or could cost him his job. The fact that he has superhuman powers is irrelevant. He’s a hero not because of what he can do, but because of who he is. Syndrome, by contrast, has very powerful technology at his disposal and desperately WANTS to be seen as a hero, but for all the wrong reasons. He’ll never actually be one, because he doesn’t actually care about anyone but himself.

    All of this is why the greatest hero in “The Avengers” is not Thor, or Captain America, or Iron Man, but Phil Coulson. Because, when the time comes, he picks up a gun (even though he doesn’t know what it does) and goes up against a freaking GOD, because somebody has to. He knows what doing this can cost him, and he does it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.

    • Yeah. I’ve seen the Incredibles. “Come in Second” is what we tell the prodigy when he heads out for a test :-P
      And yup. Coulson is my sort of guy.

      • On the Captain America DVD (Netflix it) Coulson is featured in a short. For that matter, he also appears in a “Marvel One Shot” on the Thor disc … it’s a fun gig for the actor.

        • Are we absolutely sure Coulson is dead? Fury faked the blood on the cards. He could have faked the death, too.

          • ABSOLUTELY sure? With comics you can’t be absolutely sure even if you’ve not only seen the body but checked the fingerprints, scanned the retinas, typed the DNA, conducted the autopsy and cremated the body that the person is ACTUALLY dead. I don’t even care if the Lollipop Guild has sung over her grave. And, as noted above, even Death is no end to a character, and that didn’t even cite Spike from Buffy and Angel.

            Ever see the movie Soapdish? We’re talking Kevin Kline’s character level of dead. We’re talking Monty Python’s Black Knight.

            • Or Buffy. Actually bringing characters back from the dead seems to be a human long-story-telling thing. We authors aware of this TRY to discipline ourselves.

    • I think I made the same point about Coulson over on FB. he’s the ultimate HW character in the movie to my mind.

    • Well, to be fair, Mr. Incredible also gets a rush out of heroing, but you’re right, he can’t stay out of it when he sees someone in trouble.

    • Agent Coulson was, believe it or not, my favorite character in the whole movie(s). I mean, I love the Avengers characters, but Coulson is the Everyman who learns how to do what counts, when it counts, and does it. I was devastated when he didn’t…

      • You really really really want to see the short feature on the Captain America disk, about what happened when, on the way to view the crater caused by Mjolnir Agent Coulson stops at a Kwikee Mart.

  10. Great post, Sarah. What I like about my favorite hero characters is that they are not so much *reluctant* heros as that they may not think they are all that special. Hence Bruce Banner/Hulk really *works* in this film. Bruce can be all angsty because he’s afraid of harming innocents, yet he becomes convinced that he has a job to do, that just maybe he can control the beast – and then of course Captain America does exactly what is necessary by giving him orders and treating the “beast” as a mamber of the team.

    There’s been a lot of conversation in other venues about who is the “leader” of the Avengers – and the movie deals with the idea of melding these egos – but I have to say that Cap is the natural leader… of civilians and military… but Stark is the leader/motivator of the Avengers. Cap is their heart and particularly, soul. (Coulson might actually be the “heart.”)

    Avengers is definitely HW, and the audience numbers certainly bear out that it is what people want to see.

    • They did defer to Cap, though, when the schtuff really hit the fan in New York, and he responded like the leader he is. I never collected the comics, but my geek friends tell him Cap was the leader of the team. I would certainly agree that RDJ’s Stark provides the sparkplug.

      One of those fleeting moments with Cap is the mention of winning WWII but with a reference to all that we (the U.S.) had lost since. It wasn’t heavy-handed jingoism. It flew right by like good jingoism should :)

  11. Does anybody else think that Banner/Hulk is just a guy with terrible PMS?

    Otherwise, yeah, Heroes should be HEROIC. How hard to grasp is that concept?

    • To be momentarily serious, Banner/Hulk is a lovely reification of the way many abused children feel: full of rage, afraid to let it out.

      • Yes, this was the key insight brought to the character when writer Peter David took on the book and brilliantly ret-conned a dysfunctional childhood for Banner.

  12. There is a reason that T-shirts emblazoned with the sentiment that Vampires do not twinkle are so popular at Cons. Quite a number of people, even if they don’t exactly know why, know a Vampire should not have a case of teenaged angst. Now a Vampire might be very erotic, see Louis Jordan’s turn as Dracula, for example. But a Vamp should not be a wet tissue. (Count Duckula excepted.)

    As you haven’t seen the set up films, Captain America is not a wet blanket. He strikes out on his own to do what he can to save his own when the powers that be want to keep him safely in silly publicity mode. Not a bad film. Thor, well, The Spouse and I both believe that the deleted scenes, which is where much of the character development fell, are sorely missed. Considering that there was a great deal more involved in world building in this film it was better than we expected. Still it is best seen on disc, where you can get those deleted scenes. (And Loki’s villainy is established here.) And the first Ironman is simply loads of fun — Robert Downey, Jr. can be one h*** of a charming bastard. (Even if he isn’t a tall green eyed Adonis.) :-)

    • When my sibling heard that RDJ was going to be Tony Stark, his comment was, “Who else could play a self-centered alcoholic playboy genius? It’s a natural fit.”

      Ah, Louis Jordan’s Dracula. Scared the whatsis out of me when I was a kid. But then Nosferatu still gives me the willies. No sparkle there! No angst, either.

  13. If you watch only one set-up film this year, make it “Iron Man”.

    I think “Iron Man” is generally considered the best of the set-up films (and the one that started this all, thanks to the post-credits encounter with Nick Fury). I’m not as picky (or discerning?) as OSC, so I thought “Iron Man 2″ was OK, rather than “horrible” (his opinion). I found “Thor” and “Captain America” enjoyable, and I guess I need to add the most recent “Hulk” to my watch list (even though the Hulk is flying a different Banner).

    • With movies of this sort you have to take the good with the bad. In IM2 Tony Stark’s senate testimony is the very very good and excuses much. A distinct HW moment.

      • In IM2 Stark thinks he’s dying. A relatively young man (which is how Stark is played despite RDJ being in his 40s; his looks let him get away with it) can be forgiven losing his cool in a situation like that. The Iron Man suit becomes an encumbrance at that point, and there is some angst in the situation.

        Although as a physicist, forgive me for barfing at the particle accelerator, its details, and the new element…

        • How are you on gamma radiation turning someone huge and green (and apparently dying all pants purple) and a rainbow bridge?

          • But it wasn’t the radiation alone, it was the effect of irradiating tissue that had been impregnated with some variation of the super soldier serum. Speaking as someone who is studying effects of gamma knife radiation on the brain – yeah, you can get a mutation alright, and it would certainly be modified by adrenaline – the reversible transformation is the fantastical element. (and the pants – apparently he wear oversized pajama pants under his clothes.

            • I like how they’re retconning the Super Soldier Serum into the Universe, especially in Johann Shmidt’s case.

              As for the pants, well, ever notice we’ve never seen Bruce banner and Howard Wollowitz in the same room? just sayin’…

        • Ah, the accelerator was just for fun! given how he’s the ultimate MacGyver and can build an arc reactor out of bailing wire and duct tape, we can figure he has a few shortcuts.

          • They only call it an accelerator for public purpose. The technology is so advanced that we don’t actually have the words to describe it; the only people in the Universe familiar enough with the technology to even discuss it are Stark, Reed Richards and a certain Eastern European dictator … which is why Stark is deliberately misleading about the nature of his invention.

        • I know how you feel regarding the physics angle, Stephanie (I can’t watch Avatar because they lean the wrong way in turns while riding the blasted flyers), but really, if we’re going to critique comic books on such things, pretty much all of them are going to make us barf.

    • Thor is good for the beautiful visual effects of the Rainbow Bridge. THe nice thing about the other movies is that you get set-up bits and tie-ins for other movies. Hawkeye takes high-cover in Thor, Black Widow makes her debut in IM2, Stark talks to the general in The Incredible Hulk… etc.

      BTW, make sure you go for the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, not the 2003 Ang Lee “Hulk” dud. The later movie was a minor retcon to set up Hulk (and Banner’s character/characteristics) for the Avengers. It’s also much the better movie and gave an appreciative nod to the TV series by the same name.

  14. Give credit where due – from Buffy onward Joss Whedon has explored the meaning of heroism. I particularly recall, from Buffy‘s last season, an episode in which Xander counsels Dawn about the nature of being “the sidekick”. And Firefly has numerous instances of characters doing the right thing without regard to personal cost.

    There is a reason Buffy was one of Jim Baen’s favourite shows and I doubt it was Sarah Michelle Gellar’s figure.

  15. My favorite character moment in the movie was when someone tries to hold Captain America back from going after Loki — “But he’s a god, what can you do against a god?” is the gist of what she tells him (I don’t remember the precise quote). Cap’s response: “There’s only one God, Ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”

    That’s a great moment not because Joss Whedon is expressing his opinion through the character, but precisely because it’s an opinion Whedon doesn’t hold (I don’t know Whedon’s beliefs, but I’m pretty sure he’s an atheist). It’s great because Whedon was willing to step aside and let the character speak his own mind — and Cap, given the time period that formed him, most definitely believes in God in some form or other.

  16. My theory (which is mine) is that Marvel Studios has finally figured out the secret to making successful comic-book movies. The secret is this: don’t be ashamed of making comic-book movies.

    Note how many past comics adaptations have been hedged about with qualifications: it’s “darker and edgier” or it “goes beyond its comic book roots.” And, usually, the result stinks.

    Avengers (and its feeder films) lets its freak flag fly. It doesn’t just acknowledge its comic-book roots, it flaunts them. It has the goddamned Helicarrier, the craziest secret-agency headquarters ever! And it’s not just a minor background detail — half the film takes place aboard a goddamned flying aircraft carrier, and none of the characters ever winks at the audience or acknowledges how crazy it is. And that’s a glorious thing!

    Comic books provide more than half a century of fun storytelling and awesome production design just waiting to be used — but only if the moviemakers aren’t ashamed of it. Marvel Studios has figured this out. It remains to be seen if Warner/DC can do the same.

    • I suspect one point here is that many of today’s filmmakers are comics fans. It makes sense – they are perfect for reading in the odd moments on set while awaiting the next scene & their larger-than-life pretensions appeal to actors’ ham proclivities.

      I forget who (probably several folk) observed that one secret to comedy in film is to play it straight. Occasionally a character can break the 4th wall but that is the rare exception and becomes tiresome quickly.

    • The secret is this: don’t be ashamed of making comic-book movies.

      Which, I conjecture, is much the same as saying “Don’t be afraid of writing Human Wave fiction”.

      • Indeed – they are also not ashamed of the TV origins. See my other reference to The Incredible Hulk TV show. The 2008 TIH movie has a scene with Bill Bixby on TV, Lou Ferigno as a security guard (LF also as voice of the big green guy), a humorous mangling of Bixby’s iconic line, and an appearance of the iconic “all alone” music from the TV show.

        MARVEL gets it right, because they are not afraid to be comics. I’m not sure DC can get it right, because they keep trying to be art.

        • I don’t know about that. DC (and everyone else involved, obviously) got “Dark Knight” pretty much right on the bullseye. I’ll give Avengers huge kudos and enjoyed the hell out of it, but it’s certainly on the more fantastical side of the spectrum. Dark Night and Ledger’s Joker were just all kinds of awesome and I never got the impression they were trying to make “art”, certainly not like Burton’s version. Dark Knight gave me the impression of gritty reality, inasmuch as a superhero movie can, I suppose. I’m really looking forward to the next installation, as well as a Dark Knight-esque telling of the Spiderman story, which would be Marvel borrowing from DC in that latter case.

          • The problem with Superman is it’s so hard to write an interesting character who is invulnerable, can fly faster than light, turn back time, see through walls, etc. Frank Miller had a fun approach when he made Superman an gorgeous but amiable dunce who also had limited “batteries” — if he wasn’t in sunlight, or he was very very strongly challenged, he was actually vulnerable.

            • I specifically remember seeing a 40′s or 50′s black and white Superman show where he was knocked out by being hit on the head with a crowbar. Even my kid-sensibilities railed against that.

            • The trick with Superman was to write challenges that could not be resolved by his powers and abilities being beyond those of normal men. One reason Luthor became an evil magnate (wonderfully revised by John Byrne) is that being faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings does squat to stop a corporate takeover.

              Of course, Supes was an old man (as such) when the Guardians of the Galaxy (the Warren Court) invented the Miranda Rule, thus rendering him powerless.

  17. Loved the Avengers. Loved Captain America — watched twice on Blue Ray yesterday. But Agent Phil Coulson was the ultimate hero in Avengers. And Whedon did the hardest job — had a character who was going to die *not* be foreshadowed or ‘different’ — whose death was done well, and mattered.

    • Completely agree. My wife, who isn’t a superhero fan at all, really loved the movie and those leading up to it. When Coulson died she was muttering angrily under her breath how much it sucked to kill him off. Needless to say, she’s not a big Game Of Thrones fan.

      • Thanks – Beloved Spouse and I are saving that movie for my birthday and now you’ve ruined it, ruined it!!!! You’re a terrible person and I hope you choke on your puppy frappachino.

        Fortunately I have long since learned to delete certain data from memory.

        • I want to make clear that Glenn Reynolds has NEVER blended puppies, contrary to Frank J’s scurrilous rumor. SO if you’re going to kill a puppy blender, make sure he really is FIRST. (The heavy responsibility of the novelist-blogger to layer her fact-checking. Sigh.)

          • So why does he always promote those “heavy-duty blender” specials on Amazon, HUH? And I point out to the jury that there is no denial of *drinking* puppy smoothies, which I believe was FrankJ’s original insinuation.

            On the other hand the Blogfaddah is very generous in promoting indie books so … I’d excuse a little gratuitous protein supplementation. But they’d have to be demon puppies.

            • Um… I’m going to go with “not proven” — surely anyone horrified by such an accusation would refuse to engage it directly? OTOH my religion would ONLY make me shun him if he blended kittehs, so…

      • Ah poop! The Spouse and I were going to see the movie for our anniversary, but he spent the evening at the hospital with his mother instead. I guess we can just skip it now.

        O, I still want to see it, but I will have to suppress evil villainous thoughts about the person who forever spoiled my life by revealing a plot twist and turning ME into some future mega-villain. (Tapping the tips of my long fingers together as I go, ‘hee hee hee.’ )

        Sigh.

        • Hey, now. It was spoiled well up-thread from yours truly.

          • By inference only. It was possible to deny the knowledge until you uttered the dread phrase “When Coulson died” — although, being well-versed in comic memes I am aware that, unless we are shown the body (oh heck, sometimes even then) the character is not proven dead (and for a few characters … Jim Corrigan, Denny Colt, Boston Brand, Captain Jack Harkness … death is just a new beginning.) Perhaps A2 will be feature Phil Coulson, The Avenger: A New Avenger Rises. Or perhaps his character could be called Reboot.

            I’m awaiting the superhero RetCon, wielding the power of retroactive continuity.

            • Reboot is a Canadian produced anime style series. There might be copy-right infringment issues.

          • Hey if I am going to turn into a mega-villain you expect me to be logical about it?

            Being truly logical results in an automatic expulsion from the Union of MegaVillians International without notice.

    • Whedon, making you feel a character’s death because (in part) it comes out of nowhere and it’s foreshadowed? Never!

      “I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar…”

      • Gah, of course I meant “it’s not foreshadowed”.

        • I don’t know. You could make a (weak) case that him playing completely out of character with his admiration of Cap was sort of putting a red shirt on him.

          • Oh, come on. The whole time, they’re threatening that Loki’s gonna kill somebody onscreen. You’d already seen Loki do some fairly drastic stuff to people, so it wasn’t any surprise that he killed a main character onscreen. What was a surprise was who they picked. (I assumed it would be one of the “bridge crew.”)

            • Fairly drastic? LOL, that’s a low-balling a eye-sectomy, if I’ve ever heard of one…or an eye-sectomy, for that matter. That one scene was enough for my wife to push The Avengers into “wait until she gets older or we own the DVD and can fast forward” in regards to our superhero-loving 8-year-old girl. My wife likewise nixed John Carter because of the hot iron branding scene. Me? I’m not so squeamish and have a good idea that my 8-year-old isn’t either, but a health chunk of marriage is about picking your battles.

              • *remembers being young and being tricked into seeing Poltergeist and never sleeping alone in a room with a walk-in-closet for the next…5 years? 7?*

                I’m with your wife; some kids are perfectly good at making their own nightmare fuel, and adding extra is not going to make anyone’s life happier.

              • You know, the thing actually said it was an eye scanner or something to that effect. I don’t think it actually took the eyeball.

        • Just a mild beg to differ. Part of what Whedon has done in the past has been to put his characters in peril and get them out so often that you aren’t exactly expecting it when that final fatal blow comes.

  18. Amen. I prefer heroes that are confident, self-assured, and heroic. If I wanted some whiny little pansy I could go to nearly any college campus in America. Or I could just watch Twilight. :-D

  19. Yeah, I don’t see a lot of Hollywood movies either, though I will see Avengers (bracing myself for Joss Whedon’s usual gratuitous character death, which is why I don’t watch Joss Whedon anymore). Mostly, I find modern Hollywood writing to be unintelligent. I don’t even like Pixar movies – there’s interesting stuff there, but it never gets beyond “well, it was okay … I guess” for me, and pretty pictures only help so much.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head on why Superman is boring – it’s hard to find an evil big enough that’s also interesting. I like Clark Kent much better than Superman – Clark Kent is very human and has human problems that are a lot more interesting than the big monster of the week Superman faces. And why Batman seems to be everyone’s favorite – no superpowers, just works like heck, even if he is angsty as all get out (I usually hate angsty heroes, but Batman seems to work. Along with Severus Snape, the real hero of the Potter books. Maybe because they have real reasons to be angsty. Maybe I just hate gratuitous angst.)

    My favorite superhero was the original Nightcrawler in the X-Men, who wasn’t angsty at all. Just a nice friendly guy with a good sense of humor, even if he looked like a furry blue demon. Then they ruined him and made him angsty and humor-less, sigh.

    • It wasn’t gratuitous.

      And since the boy sidekick Bucky’s death is no longer the raison d’etre for the entire Marvel Universe, you have to do something.

      • Agreed. It was layered in quite nicely.

      • I guess not everybody realizes that it used to be commonplace to note that everything in Marvel continuity depended on Bucky’s tragic death, and that thus you could do anything you wanted and resurrect anybody except Bucky. This gave the entire universe a sort of grandeur of the non-superpowered and brave, and of great power/great responsibility. A lot of people associated it with WWII/Holocaust survivor feelings of responsibility, which made sense for the old school Marvel bullpen members. The pattern was often repeated in Marvel comics titles, for those who noticed.

        But the Winter Soldier storyline screwed that up. So Whedon, as an old school Marvel reader, stepped in with a new death on which to build life. It was totally a Marvel move. (Though of course one could argue that Marvel was what first influenced Whedon’s willingness to kill people off, because his comics reader generation was exposed to a lot of that.)

        • ??? When was that introduced? Between, ohhh … 1963 and 1993 I read every Marvel comic this side of Millie The Model and I don’t recall ever reading That it all followed from Bucky’s death!!!!?? Uncle Ben, OTOH …

          First comic I remember buying at the newsstand was FF#4, with Amazing Spiderman #2 and Hulk #1 not long after. Marvel’s line and prices rose in step with my income, so it wasn’t until a sadly misplaced box of comics broke my habit that I stopped (sigh – an entire month’s worth of books, right after Superman died and Batman’s back got broken … the truly pathetic thing is I have about seven years additional boxes bought on momentum before I finally gave up on finding that one missing month.)

          • Really? I know for sure they plugged it hard in a lot of the Marvel Superheroes gaming materials (mid-1980′s), and that wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard or seen the Bucky rule. Most of the comic fans my own age certainly had heard it and believed it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the Bucky rule was the only reason I learned who Bucky was.

            And yeah, the other way people said it was that you couldn’t resurrect Uncle Ben or Bucky. So maybe the Bucky part was the add-on, and the Uncle Ben version was the original?

            • Here’s a pretty standard comment from a guy named Sean on rec.arts.comics in 1996.

              >I think that when you are dealing with Marvel comics at least (DC tends to go by the “if you see the body its dead” though even when they violate
              this rule, at least as of late, they are pretty classy and plausible in
              doing it. Case in point Superman and Ferro Lad) you have to use the
              Princess Bride variations of dead.

              >The vast bulk of characters who have died since 1961 are in the “mostly dead” category, i.e. James McDonald, “Guardian” Hudson and Jean Grey, both of whom managed to stay dead for a few years at least.

              >Then there is the rare “pretty dead” class, those whose deaths were major turning points in the history of the Marvel Universe (like Ferro Lad was for LSH). These characters are brought back only briefly (if ever) and usually go back to being dead quickly. Thunderbird I, Captain Mar-vel, Baron Zemo, Gwen Stacy, Uncle Ben.

              >Then there is the only of his kind, the ultimate maxim, Bucky, who is truly “Bucky Dead” a truly unique distinction.

              • I have to hand in my geek card for this: Who the H%$# is Bucky?

                • ppaulshoward

                  Wayne, when Captain America started out (in the forties), he got a boy side-kick named Bucky Barnes. When Cap was brought back in one of the early Avengers, it was established that Bucky was killed while Cap went into the “deep freeze”. Oh Marvel had “fun” with the fact that Cap and Bucky were active superheroes into the fifties after the time the Advengers’ story had Cap go into the deep freeze.

            • Ah-ha! Gaming materials, he said sinisterly. Non-canon, supplementary materials intended to limit the depravations of gamerssssssssss.

      • It’s gratuitous because Joss Whedon must kill someone who shouldn’t be killed in everything he does these days. It’s become a formula. Yes, he’ll give reasons for it and it will be lovely and powerful. I hate it every time so far. There’s rules about killing off characters, and he breaks them.

        I know not everyone feels that way, and that’s fine. I didn’t mind pain as much when I was younger and experienced less of it in real life. It’s just not for me. I’m actually angry about it because Joss Whedon is one of the few good writers in Hollywood these days.

    • Gratuitous comic geekery comment: back in the early Sixties, when Marvel was inventing its universe, the primary artist on the Superman comic was Wayne Boring. You could look it up.

      • I might have read some of them, but I was too young to look at names. Big thrill before going on river trips with my family was getting some comic books to read. That was in the post-Wortham times when comics books were only for kids. I’m glad we’ve got comic books for adults now, but maybe we should just leave Superman with the kids and remember him fondly as grown-ups without needing to update him.

        • DC didn’t publish credits back then — it was another Marvel innovation. I would NOT want to have to name the year DC’s policy changed. I expect DC figured that putting credits on the stories would lead to writers and artists thinking their name on a story had value (when it was widely known that gorillas on the cover were the one sure way to boost sales.)

          • IIRC, Marvel’s “innovation” in that area was, in part driven by the Comic’s Code authority. For some reason they wanted to put “Marv Wolfman” on the credits for an issue but the Code, in those days, did not allow “monsters” such as that to be depicted (one of the reasons we have “Morbius, the Living Vampire” with Dracula being added to Marvel’s stable much later). But it was the artist’s _name_ so. . . . To justify it, they had to start putting artists names on the credits and the rest, as they say, is history.

            • Wolfman didn’t break in to comics until 1968, according to Wiki, moving to Marvel in 1972 under the aegis of Roy Thomas as editor-in-chief of Marvel (Stan having moved up to publisher.) (Which is about what I remembered, but memory is a treacherous aide.)

              Marvel’s running credits began long before that … I’m not pulling any of my older issues out of their mylar to confirm, and Wiki doesn’t readily yield such data so you’ll have to accept my word on that.

    • Re Superman being Boring due to Lack Of Challenges:

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WorldOfCardboardSpeech

      The man himself has commented on the matter — and shows the solution.

  20. OT: For some reason, when I read this post I flashed back to a bumper sticker seen on “the res” one time (you have to sing it… no, really):

    “My Heroes Have Always Shot Cowboys”

  21. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    Also I’ve found in recent times that movies have gone MORE visual, with cut scene to cut scene and minimal dialogue.

    And sometimes it works really well. One of my favorite movies is “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, which does a wonderful job with minimal dialogue.

    Video is different than Literature. One can show images, one can’t. Sure, there are other differences. But a good Director can do wonders with images. Take Firefly, where the colours of Simon Tam’s wardrobe change over the course of the series, to indicate Simon’s changing position in the crew. Whedon also used shadow really well.

    For Joss Whedon fans – did you know that he has finished shooting a “self produced” version of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, which I am really looking forward to seeing.

    Another movie I’m looking forward to is “Iron Sky”.

    I haven’t seen “The Avengers”, but I’m willing to bet that one of my kids will buy the DVD.

    Wayne

    • The Good The Bad And the Ugly is NOT recent. I meant last five years or so. The Tudor series did this and it bothered the living daylights out of me. I know that time period well enough to write in it with minimal research (I did so much over the years) BUT I had no clue what was happening in the Tudors. I’m not visual and the REALLY fast cuts (NOT like TGTBATU) with no time to get a clear idea of who was doing what to whom are murder if you have trouble identifying/remembering faces quickly glimpsed.

      • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

        Haven’t seen “The Tudors”. Have to check it out next time they re-run it.

        Wayne

        • I’ve seen the beginning of a couple of movies and they were like that. I REALLY have a hard time remembering faces, unless I see them long enough to attach a name to them. Hence “the beginning” — I wander away after that.

      • You beat me to that comment. I like The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly; but I wouldn’t consider it recent. It was made back in the Golden era of movies in my opinion. Although I have often said that I am sure they made just as many sorry excuses for movies back then, it is just that we don’t remember them because only the good ones stick around. Off the top of my head though, I don’t know of enough movies to fill the fingers on one hand that were made in the last 5-10 years that are good enough to stick around that long.

  22. Written before I’ve read any of the other comments.

    I remember one of the things (one of many, I do admit) that turned me off of Smallville is that they made Clark “angtsy.” This is the guy who is going to grow up to be Superman. Almost by definition he’s supposed to be a positive image, an inspiration, a noble ideal. He should not now, nor ever, be “angtsy” (except in very small doses, leavening to the mix, as it were). Yet Clark is always whining about being “normal” and never goes “Wow! I can do this _cool_ stuff. Awesome!”

    Shortly after watching that de Cappuchino version of “The Man in the Iron Mask” I did a short essay on “Where have all the heroes gone?” (Inspired not by the movie itself but by one line, the “younger generation” soldier pointing at d’Artagnon and saying “All my life, all I ever wanted to be, was him.” That line _got_ me.)

    I can write less than admirable characters. I can even make them protagonists. But I feel far more at home writing about people that, were I to meet them in reality, were people I could admire, could like, and would wish to emulate. Curt Swan’s Superman; The Batman from late 70′s to early 80′s. Captain America at least up until I stopped reading comics around 1987–finding them too depressing.

    Or, in prose, The Vorkosigan clan, most of Heinlein’s protagonists, Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” and so very many more.

    Contrast that with the “re-imagining” of Battlestar Galactica. I stopped watching about 2/3 of the way through the first season when I realized that I didn’t care about any of those people, didn’t like them, and felt they deserved each other. (I suppose YMMV.)

    So the late Donna Summer isn’t the only one who “Needs a Hero.”

    • Hm. here’s a kid who’s just found out (a) he’s adopted, (b) he’s an alien, (c) he’s got a spaceship that gives him strange dreams, and (d)he might never be able to have sex without gutting the girl like a trout, and you don’t think he’d have a little angst?

      • Charlie – not only is he an alien, not only ain’t he getting laid, but, if he’s he’s sexually attracted to Lana he’s a pervert, since they’re not the same species. That’s angst-worthy at an Oedipus & Jocasta* level.

        *No, not the Jocasta created by Ultron who was, for a time, a (multiply self-sacrificed**) member of the Avengers.

        **Don’t even ask.

        • “That’s angst-worthy at an…”

          Why? He was raised as a human among humans. Humans and Kryptonians, powers aside, are physically, mentally, and emotionally equivalent. All the “attractiveness” cues are the same. There’s simply no rational reason why he _shouldn’t_ find a human attractive, sexually or otherwise.

          I mean, seriously, aside from a few pedants, readers have accepted Superman and his various relationships quite readily. Even Wertham, in his anti-comic crusades didn’t, so far as I’ve been able to tell, go there.

          • Actually, the “Man of Steel woman of kleenex” issue was a running one in Smallville.

          • No, Kal has no reason to know Kryptonians and humans are “equivalent.” All he knows is that, like Tarzan, he was raised among apes and, while he may have learned to pass he is yet Odd. Sure, he is alienated from his Kryptonian heritage but that just exacerbates his confusion, his schizoid dilemma, torn by a lust that simultaneously enflames and repulses.

            Besides, he’s a teenage boy desperate to be “normal” — that is something Hollywood writers think they understand.

        • … if he’s sexually attracted to Lana he’s a pervert, since they’re not the same species.

          Wait, would that make Aragorn a pervert, by the rules you’re applying? Or Beren?

          Although the existence of Elrond Half-Elven (and other descendants of Beren and Luthien) suggests that elves and humans are not separate species, as they’re able to produce fertile offspring with each other.

          • I don’t know about inter-species huffin’ n’ puffin’ in Middle Earth and I think I shall carefully avoid any searches likely to lead me to FanFic (or worse) exxxplorations of the subject.

            Just the thought of coming across a line the like of “O, Fangorn – is that a limb in your trunk or are you happy to see me?” gives me tremors.

            And now, for whatever odd reason, the mind is overflowing with images consequent to the question: What if The Lord of the Rings had been filmed in Bollywood?

          • I think the takeaway here is that, much like dolphins apparently are, humans are perverts who’ll try anything once, and sometimes a second time just to see if they’ve got a better clue what they’re doing.

      • A _little_ angst, sure. And stipulated, he hasn’t learned yet the various ways from the comics to mitigate his powers temporarily to avoid “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”. Still, seven years of nonstop angst with nary a “this is so _cool_, look what I can do?” to relieve it. We’re talking _Superman_ here.

        • My 8-year-old daughter LOVES Superman, so I’ve bought a couple of the latest DC animated movies for her. One of the most clever things I’ve ever seen regarding Superman had to do with one of those animated movies. He was showing Lois Lane the Fortress for the first time. When they got to what looked like a main entrance, there was a large, arm-length key hidden under a welcome mat. As he goes to unlock it, she says something like, “isn’t that crappy security” to which he answers that the key is made from the heart of a dying star, so dense and heavy that only he can pick it up. This just after he picked it up and unlocked the door like any of us would a normal key.

          Very clever.

  23. A couple more things. You mentioned Inigo Montoya and how the Six Fingered Man grossly needed killing. That brings to mind my absolute favorite line from the movie (a movie filled with awesome lines): “I want my father back, you son of a bitch.”

    Another characteristic I’ve noticed that seems to be common to heroes is the effect they have on people around them. They often tend to be “polarizing” (in that bad people often become worse in response) but people in their lives just tend to become better people. An example of that, silly as some may think it, is Sailor Moon. Nothing specific I can point to (and it’s been years since I watched it) but I just noticed that the folk that hung around with Usagi just tended to end up better people as time went on (but then again, so did she).

    • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

      Agreed. Heroes bring out the worst and best in the people that they meet.

      Heh. My kids used to love Sailor Moon. Never could stand it myself, but that’s a cultural thing. I don’t get Manga/Anime.

      Wayne

    • Is it wrong to drag Harry Potter into this? In Deathly Hallows, when we are greeted to Hogwarts by Neville Longbottom who has been leading the resistance inside the school, Neville says Harry had taught him how to stand up to oppression.

      A hero does not have to knock down others in order to be large.

      • In some ways, I was more impressed by Neville than Harry, because he didn’t have the backing that Harry had after he got to school, yet in the end, he stood up and did what was needed just as much.

        • That Neville would turn out to be more than a comic deversion is signaled in the first year. It is his points, gained for standing up to friends (which he had few enough of), that puts the house of Gryffindor over the top.

          • Well, that’s true, and really, I understood that. One thing about Rowlling, she may have been a bit hamhanded with it, but she foreshadowed things all through the books.

        • I think I would like to see her write the Neville Novella — while Harry and all were gallivanting around in the woods, Neville was turning into a real bad@$$ in the school. Off-screen! Pfui.

    • It’s been years since I seen The Princess Bride, and I don’t remember the name of the odorless, tasteless poison, but the line that sticks in my head is when he comes up to the dead man, picks up the glass, sniffs it, and says, “______ poison.”

  24. Actually, it’s not a cocaine derivative — the name comes from the use of -caine as an ending for anaesthetic drugs, which *does* come from cocaine.

  25. I keep hearing great things about the Avenger movie. Makes me wish I wasn’t somewhere where there are no movie theaters…

    By the way, what happened to the Human Wave website? I’ve tried multiple browsers and it results in only a blank page. I hope it comes back. I’ve been pointing readers to it to explain what Human Wave Science Fiction is. :)

  26. Never play chess with a pharmacist when death is on the line!

    “Iocaine powder? I don’t think it’s FDA-certified.”

  27. From your examples I think my novel Conjure Man is Human Wave. I have a very evil individual trying to take over the world and he is stopped by heroes that are normal. The evil guy is possessed … it has some Navajo creation elements. I am not trying to get this novel looked at – I am just saying that of all my books, this one seems to be more Human Wave than any of the other ones. I am pledging to myself to try to do more Human Wave, positivism where even when it gets really really dark that the book ends in hope.

    I don’t write sci-fi. Mine is more supernatural/fantasy elements. I do have a background in electronics so I can understand the gobbly gook of some of the scientists. My hubby still thinks I should get into that area of writing. I just love fantasy so much since I first picked up Andre Norton’s Witch World. It was the Great Escape for me.

    Cyn

  28. ppaulshoward

    On the Kal-El attraction to human women. At one time in the DC universe, it was implied that all human-like “aliens” were descended from Atlantians who had left Earth to settle other worlds. Thus if his people are one of these peoples, then there are enough similiarities for him to be attacked to Earth women. Now, his people may have enough genetic differences that he can’t father a child on an Earth woman.

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