The Sorting Hat: Superhero or Super Villain

Friday, January 17, 2020 | 0 Comment(s)

I'm still on superheroes.

But today we're coming at the subject from a completely different angle.

I think comics writers have messed up a bunch of these origin stories. In what Social Psychology calls the Fundamental Attribution Error, many of these stories have emphasized the person as the driving force of their own destiny, and discounted the undeniable importance of the situation. To wit, readers or viewers first meet the young Carol Danvers, Peter Parker, Clark Kent (as a kid pre-powers), Hal Jordan, etc. pre-powers. As a viewer, we feel we understand the moral fiber of these characters before they realize their powers. But I think, for many of them, perhaps their powers ended up being the driving force of their future nature.

A great number of super-villains and evil mutants emit energy beams/lasers/fire/spikes/insert-dangerous-substance-or-weapon shooting from somewhere on/in their body. In my mind, the day you get pissed and turn the JV basketball team into a shish-kebab with your pre-pubescent projectile extrusions, is the day your "good guy" status also gets skewered through the heart. During that double-dutch tournament where Macy's feet begin emitting systemic booms, destroying the gym and killing everyone on the bleachers, she's probs not gonna be drafted to the superhero league of cool kids the next season. Macy's on the run. And that's how Macy became a super-villain.

I was b b b b born to be b b b bad!
It just seems that the social acceptability of one's power's manifestation, and when in one's development that transformation occurs -- sometimes puberty (if we are thinking mutants, or Superman), other times simply later in life or when chosen/bitten (Captain Marvel, Spidey, Green Lantern) -- does more to predict that person's lot in life than who they were as a kid or young adult, before the defining moment of their existence.

Now the exceptions to this rule are just as fascinating. Somehow, if you shoot a power beam out of your eyes, you'll generally end up "good." This is the most unrealistic of outcomes, the pinnacle of examples being Cyclops - who stands as a figurehead to White Privilege in the Marvel Universe. It is impossible for me to believe that a child, even a White child,  who shoots high intensity plasma rays out of his eyes, uncontrollably, whenever his eyes are open, would not immediately end up in a high security prison for. ev. er. HE NEVER GAINS CONTROL OF HIS POWERS FOLKS. Never ever. People make him various eyewear to absorb the beams he is constantly shooting when his eyes are open. I really can't emphasize that part enough. To make this example even more grotesque, his brother, Havoc, pretty much has the same power as his brother, except way more powerful, and it shoots out of his torso. Havoc gets a ton of shit for not being able to control his powers either, and while it is a long and rocky road, eventually he does. His brother, nope. Never controls it (granted, they say its psychosomatic related to childhood trauma). Did I mention this kid with eye beams was in foster care for awhile. You know that pipeline to success we call Social Services. Eye beam boy came from the bottom, then was chosen to lead the X-Men once deadly energy started uncontrollably manifesting from his face, slicing his house in two. Yah. That would totally happen.

A Modern Day Geordi La Forge
Horrible case of pink eye. Incurable.
Back to eye beams. Superman, Cyclops, Vision. It seems as if somehow there is this weird cosmic exception of optic blasts as virtue signals. Perhaps Jesus shot beams from his eyes and everyone just sort of forgot to write that part down, but subconsciously people just know that it's true. I don't know what to tell you on that one.

Other exceptions include Wonder Woman, who grew up an Amazon and therefore her power was integrated into her identity. No "realization of powers." And one can't forget Batman, who is an exception in that he's just a dude with gadgets and therefore never has to reconcile anything except his gargantuan wealth. Ironman slides into this category as well, except that apparently he is a shit-ton more handy than Bruce Wayne.

The final exception is another Bruce. Banner. The Hulk and his alter ego are the exceptional exception in that his narrative arc is drastically defined by how Bruce and society at large deal with both the destructive and unpredictable nature of the Hulk and his power. I argue that this is both what makes Hulk comics so gripping. Even as he plays the hero he is always, simultaneously, the anti-hero. This construct is also what tanked the first two modern-day Hulk movies (Eric Bana and Ed Norton's). The movies came at Bruce & the Hulk the same way the industry did Spidey (4 times), Thor, Ironman, and Captain America, they focused on the person. But that's not where the action lies with the Hulk. You need to zoom out and show society's various reactions to the Hulk. The outrage. The hero worship. The divisiveness. A world where everyone believes they know who the Hulk really is, on the inside. While all Bruce Banner knows is that he doesn't.

Who is Inside Who?
So, the next time you see Pyro crackling firebolts through the air with amazing inaccuracy, remember that he too was once just a kid, not bad or good, until that fateful day in July, during that middle school barbecue . . .

RIP Ms. Doughtery's 8th grade class.

No comments:

Post a Comment