Friday, November 26, 2010

How To Become A Superhero!

The not-first recorded instance of this was in Detective comics # 27 where the Wayne family got mugged and in the process got killed by a local hoodlum. They were returning after watching the film Zorro, though this doesn’t seem to have instigated the crime. The upshot, Batman.
He should have gotten out of the car when the mugger had the Luger thrust up his mug. But he was proud, too damned proud. Old values and stuff like that. So the mugger shot him down and took off in his car. Too bad! He had a nephew; a potential entertainer who tried to go by the name of the Human Spider. The kid changed his name and cleaned up the act.

A beautiful family. But always nosing around. The mob didn’t like that and punished them. The mob, always punishing. Frank Castle didn’t like that and punished them, them and all the others. But just don’t seem to go kaput. He continues to punish!

No point in doing this if you already have had your dear and near ones shot on the mug (as there is no one to protect). But could come in handy if you have a girlfriend or an old aunt or some foster folks living in some Farmville. Not to mention lots of nail biting moments when someone almost catches you with your pants off!

The masked ones are no longer in fashion. A recent study has found out that you cannot create a mask without stepping on somebody’s intellectual property rights (he could be living in Guantanamo Bay for all you know). So show your mug! As you have no dear or near ones, there is no dire need to keep a secret identity. Then again, it might come in handy if you want to take up a social life. Ask the Fantastic Four. Couldn’t even get married in peace!
The Psychologically troubled ones were fad in the 80s. But this would mean a lot of killing and mutilation. Not for the faint of heart. Or like the Batman, you could act all mad and intractable. But no killings, just good old spanking.
Antiheroes still have a lot of gas left in them. Misunderstood and always on the run! Good fun.

If all else fails, be a superman in which case you can do away with all the killings. Congenital superheros have a natural inclination to put ‘em right!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How to create a Superhero!

Step 1: Create a super human.
Step 2: Turn his alter ego into a boy.
Step 3: Turn the superhero himself into a boy!

Captian Marvel. For those who’ve heard about him, he is just another one of those superheroes. For those who’ve seen him, he is better known as Shazam. But for those who knew him, he was the man who beat Superman!

Superman must have been the grand daddy of superheroes. But then Superman was a flawed superhero even though the world wouldn’t know about this until Fawcett Comics exploited it. The flaw was that Clark Kent was a man!

Fawcett's circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett reportedly said: "Give me a Superman, only let his alter ego be a boy!” And that, my friends, would have been a bigger marketing adage than “Bottle it!” had Fawcett continued with the hero. (But with the Golden Age coppering out and the DC lawsuit looming large, lightning struck its last!)

It was a very simple strategy. Don’t make the boy wait till he is a grown up to thwart the criminals. Grant him the wish even as he is in his underpants! Don’t worry if gaining magical powers from a wizard was as outdated as fairy tales. After all, no one fell for the extra terrestrial origins either.

But there was a trick that even Fawcett missed. The trick was that, if the alter ego can be a boy, why can’t the superhero be a boy as well? It’s always easy to be wise after the event. Nevertheless I daresay had Captain Marvel been a boy instead of the ‘big red cheese’, he would have been even a bigger hit that even the dwindling fortunes of the industry post WWII couldn’t have stopped him. Even though Captain Marvel Jr was ushered in to look into the matter, he was after all, well, a Junior! (But he had the best hairdo in the business!)

This is perhaps the reason why Stan ‘the man’Lee turned out to be the real Captain Marvel. It did not matter that his superhero was as unimaginative as the ‘Amazing Spideman’. What if he was a webbed version of Bat-Man and lost his uncle like Bruce Wayne had lost his parents? What if he liberally borrowed the Blue and Red from Superman and like Clark Kent, worked for a newspaper? Only one thing mattered. “The reader must identify with the character”. He realized that he might not be able to put three young lads and a lass on a space ship or even convert a young lad into a hulking monster. But when it comes to taking a little spider venom, a young lad is never out of place.

But Spidey was not just about the reader identifying with teen angst, it was also about Stan’s spectacular storytelling, Romita Sr’s amazing artwork and plenty of word balloons that left one with the feeling that one’s read something than look at a lot of ‘lettering’. Like, reading a short novel. Financial crisis, identity crisis, girlfriend crisis and on top of it a city swarming with all sorts of radicals. Science fiction at its best!

Post Scriptum: But unfortunately Spidey turned out to be the last action hero. Changing times demanded attitude and grit. A certain mutant by the name of Wolverine who nearly got erased out of the comic panels became a sold out star (much like a certain Steve Austin). But times were changing too fast even for him. Other washouts like Batman and Daredevil reinvented themselves. The biggest loser was the all time unidimensional do-gooder Superman who paid with his life. With independent players entering the market bringing with them all sorts of titles and characters, the second flood since the days of Noah inundated the Universe. Amidst numerous reboots and other cheap gimmicks envisioned to resurrect an art form that was once considered esoteric, one wonders if they all mustn’t be booted out than rebooted!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lucky Luke

Ah Lucky Luke! What can one say about Lucky Luke, that lonesome cowboy who couldn’t quite ride into the sunset of comic book glory? It’s a bit unfortunate! But well, that’s how the cookie has crumbled for him.

Lucky Luke is the tragic hero of European Comics, a potential main-eventer who never got the push so much so that he had to contend himself with his name being mentioned in passing

by those who doesn’t want to stop with just Asterix and Tintin while talking about European Comics; but sadly not mentioned in the same vein. A raw deal for one of the most flamboyant comic book characters ever created. Heck, I can’t remember anyone more flamboyant!

Luke may not have been as imaginative as Asterix used to be, or as ingenious as Tintin was; but heaven knows, Luke was brilliant! The very genius that catapulted the Gaul to superstardom was at work on Luke as well (to say nothing of Morris’s art work which was as distinct as that of Uderzo’s or Herge’s, if not aesthetically clean.) Imagine re-imagining Billy ‘the Kid’ as actually a kid!

So what’s he ain’t got that they got?

Any attempt at drawing comparisons with Tintin must be discouraged as they belong to entirely two different sub-genres. Tintin is ‘adolescent fiction narrated and illustrated in the style of comic books where as Lucky Luke is, just like Asterix, head to toe a pure comic book as in it doesn’t lend itself to other media. (Please refer the article Asterix Vs Tintin for more on this.)

That leaves us with the Gaul. Yet notwithstanding the similarities, even this might be gently prevented. You can write about as many cowboy heroes as you want, but a Gaul, that’s trespassing!

In Europe, the Gun-totter was immensely successful. But world over, the reception was as low as that of a cowboy flick in the 30s. Was it the due to the lack of exposure on account of being a European comic? One might argue! But I am not certain if the inherent lack of exposure on account of Luke’s European roots can be blamed for this misfortune. Brilliance outshines the setting!

Perhaps it was the creators’ presumption that the world was au fait with the Wild West that worked against Lucky Luke. As one can clearly see, the indigenous elements play far too crucial a role in the development of the plot. And one can’t appreciate the series and its subtle and sometimes ostentatious humour unless one has a working knowledge of the Wild West legends like the cattle ranchers, the gold miners, the ghost towns and names like Billy ‘the Kid’, Calamity Jane, Jesse James and the ilk.

So would it have worked for Luke had the world been familiar with the exploits of the West? I don’t think so! If being familiar was the requisite, one might have seen a huge market for Luke in US. So why did he miss out?

My reckoning is that Luke didn’t make it big in US (and subsequently in the World) due to what could be termed as “Bringingcoaltonewcastle Syndrome”. Trying to sell Westerns to Americans? That’s a laugh!

For a country that has produced more Wild West novels and comics and movies than the rest of the world put together or can ever put together, Luke was just another wannabe! That he comes in Album format doesn’t make any difference as the themes, the characters, the history were all done to standoff!

So I guess…. well, Luke was never destined for greatness. What seems like his strength seems like his weakness too.

By the way, did I tell you, I like the name Buck Bingo better!