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 Don’t worry if gaining magical powers from a wizard was as outdated as fairy tales.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!

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