Posts Tagged Avengers

Superheroes in the real world

Green Lantern figureMort Weisinger had a problem. The executive in charge of National Periodical Publications’ (aka DC Comics) most prized property, Superman, was being called out by Albert Einstein. An MIT class had sent Weisinger a letter from Einstein, who said that no one, not even Superman, could fly faster than the speed of light.

No problem, Weisinger though. He convinced science fiction legend Isaac Asimov to draft a reply. “Professor Einstein’s statement is based on theory,” Asimov said. “Superman’s speed is based on fact.”

Comic book fans are often accused of having a fragile understanding of reality, but the flip side is that, aside from their otherworldly powers, superheroes have always been grounded in the real world. Why else would Einstein feel the need to play cosmological traffic cop with Superman?

The superhero comic book genre is built on an important conceit. Just as people who enjoy Broadway musicals need to take for granted characters’ tendency to break out in song and dance, so readers of comic books need to assume that their favorite heroes live in the real world.

It all began with Superman. The first superhero may be from another planet, but he grew up in a typical American town and lives in a typical American city. The only difference between Superman’s world and our world is the man himself.

The existence of utterly fantastic beings in an otherwise realistic world creates many paradoxes, and comic book writers have been dealing with them since Superman first took flight in 1938.

When the United States entered World War II each hero (through his or her writers) had to decide whether to enlist. DC’s near-omnipotent pantheon could have ended the war in five minutes, which presented a problem. That’s why most of the DC heroes stayed stateside; Clark Kent feigned poor eyesight to give Superman an honorable way out, while the Justice Society of America feared the corrupting influence of the Spear of Destiny.

DC’s rival Marvel Comics, created a hero specifically for fighting the Nazis. In his debut issue, Captain America socked Hitler in the jaw, a moment of catharsis for his Jewish creators whether it ruined the illusion or not.

Since then, comic books have tried to address real-world political issues, from racism in Green Lantern-Green Arrow to privacy and national security in Marvel: Civil War. Just like World War II, the trick to getting these political comics to succeed is acknowledging the problems of the real world without having superheroes intervene in a totally unrealistic way.

What about the superheroes themselves, though? In theory, they are real people under their masks and capes, and they should do what they do in a somewhat plausible way.Thor figure

Since he has no powers, Batman is a popular candidate for an ultra-realistic treatment. In Batman: Year One, Frank Miller had Bruce Wayne go on a practice mission in street clothes, driving a stock Porsche instead of the Batmobile.

This approach helped inspire Christopher Nolan’s series of Batman films. Particularly in the first two movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, plausible explanations are given for Batman’s methods and technologies, and those of this enemies. The Batmobile is a discarded military prototype, and the Batsuit is made of Kevlar body armor.

However, even Batman has his limits. No matter how realistic he appears to be, he’s still a vengeful billionaire skulking around in a cape and cowl, and that, unfortunately, does not exist outside of comics.

“Once a depiction veers toward realism,” Miller said, “each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre.”

Giving a superhero a realistic environment and realistic equipment isn’t enough, which brings us back to the person under the mask, and on to the Marvel movie universe.

Marvel’s movies are not as focused on realism as Batman Begins, but they still strike fans as authentic. That’s because the characters themselves are realistic.

Green Lantern and ThorWormholes may not be a convincing explanation for Thor’s arrival on Earth or his powers, but he reacts to everything the way a real person would. When confronted with the victorious Avengers, Thor’s brother, Loki, doesn’t shake his fist and twirl his nonexistent mustache, he just says, “I think I’ll have that drink now.”

That is the superhero conceit in action. The characters may be super soldiers, irradiated monsters, and gods, but they live in the same world as readers and viewers and thus act the same way.

That’s why the laws of physics don’t bother fans of Superman. His powers might be impossible, but he is not.

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Comic Book Cars: Acura MDX

SHIELD Acura MDXContinuing this week’s Avengers theme, I thought I’d take a look at this bruiser of an SUV. It’s actually an Acura MDX, the car Westchester moms drive to the mall. However, it has been rebuilt by S.H.I.E.L.D., the top secret security agency that watches over the United States in the Marvel Comics universe. That’s quite an endorsement, huh?

Acura has always been a low profile brand; even the current spaceship-like TL fails to turn heads. That’s why Acura is taking over the Marvel universe. Last year, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents chased Thor around a desert in a fleet of Acura SUVs. Honda’s luxury division returned as the official car of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Avengers.

This was actually a brilliant move. It got Acura plenty of exposure (Avengers broke the record for highest gross on opening weekend), particularly with an untapped market segment: nerds. Nerds generally aren’t car enthusiasts, so they don’t have any preconceived notions about the brand. They also like technology, which Acura has plenty of. They are also more than likely to buy a car just because Nick Fury drives it.

Does the car fit the role? Acuras look suitably futuristic, befitting an agency that has a helicarrier, and they look downright awesome decked out the way this show model is. Is it odd that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Japanese luxury vehicles when every other government has Fords and Chevys?

Sure, but this is a comic book movie. As long as the Avengers beat the bad guys, all be well. If anyone happens to notice the black SUVs in the background, Acura might make a few extra sales.

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How the midnight premiere of Avengers restored my faith in humanity

Avengers movie posterThe local multiplex was full of sweat and anticipation. It was one hour before midnight on May 3, 2012, and scores of nerds were packed in a theater waiting for the first showing of Avengers to start. Many were dressed up as their favorite characters, and a beach ball was being volleyed back and forth.

Avengers, a movie about a team of superheroes based on the Marvel comic books, isn’t for everyone, and this opening act of nerdom seems to confirm that. But everyone should try to be as enthusiastic about a movie as these people were.

Every year, at least one great movie comes out, but going to see a film in theaters usually involves a lot of tedium and annoyance. There are the endless commercials and previews, and the audience. Some are abhorred by what they see on screen, others are ecstatic. Either way, they feel the need to vocalize their opinions. It’s no wonder that Netflix is so popular.

Things don’t have to be that way. There was plenty of noise at the midnight showing of Avengers, but none of it was annoying. When each hero came on screen, the crowd cheered. There was a collective gasp at every moment of suspense or tragedy. It was like watching a play: the audience engaged with the characters (and each other) as if everyone was in the same room. Imagine that.

Normal movie audiences have little in common, but everyone at Avengers could at least share their love/fanatical obsession with Captain America, Iron Man, and company. Once in awhile, it’s nice to enjoy a movie, and the companionship of fellow fans.

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NYC: Nerd Mecca

Most nerds shun light and social interactions in favor of the safe serenity of their parents’ basements. The fact that thousands of them emerged from their hiding places, descending on New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center like a swarm of zombies, shows just how big of a deal Comic Con is. However, it could be bigger.

First, an explanation: Comic Con is a four day celebration of all things nerdy. It’s held in San Diego every summer and New York every October. There are vendors selling everything from comics to action figures, celebrity appearances, artists displaying their skills, and corporations showing off new movies and video games.

An essential part of the experience is cosplaying, dressing up like a character from one’s favorite series. A big part of Comic Con is actually just people-watching, or maybe superhero-watching. I went last Saturday, bumping into: Captain America, Thor, Ichigo (the main character of the popular anime/manga Bleach), and the Flash (the original, 1930s version, in fact), and many others.

For all this, convention-goers pay $50 for a one-day pass. That’s the rub: it seems like a lot of money just to walk around, gawk at men in tights, and buy stuff. Things are different in San Diego, though.

At the San Diego Comic Con, major movies like Avengers and Watchmen are previewed, and their creators and stars hang around for more than a half hour. This year, the reality show American Chopper and the creators of Gears of War teamed up to unveil a custom trike based on the game. Nothing like that happens in New York.

That really doesn’t make sense. New York is, after all, the comic book capital of the world. Marvel and DC are headquartered there, and have been since time immemorial. Consequently, the “Big Apple” is the setting for many superhero stories. Spider-Man lives in Queens and studies at Columbia, Daredevil protects Hell’s Kitchen (aka Clinton), Dr. Strange lives in the Village, and anyone who saw this summer’s Captain America movie knows that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s base of operations is in Times Square.

The West Side is clearly less of a commute for the big wigs of comics, so why make all the important announcements in San Diego? It could be a sign of the times: comic book heroes are still popular, but the books themselves are not. The real money is in movies and video games, and the people who make those live on the West Coast.

I had a great time at Comic Con (this is actually my second year), but I still think it could be better. There must be a way to honor New York’s place in comic book (not just comic book-based entertainment) lore, and give fans their money’s worth. The Javits Center isn’t too far from the Marvel and DC offices in Midtown; perhaps they could take an office field trip.

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