Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We Could Be Heroes, Part One of Three

Last weekend I spoke to the youth group at Community Fellowship Church in DuPage County, Illinois, for the first installment of a series on superheroes. It was loads of fun. Since I have no ideas for new posts here at Loud Time, I thought I'd post my comments here, in three parts.

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I already know, with absolute confidence, my favorite film of 2012. I’ve been waiting for this movie my entire life: The Avengers.

The buzz has been building on the Avengers movie since 2009, when long after the closing credits of Iron Man started rolling, the black screen was gradually replaced by the scene of Tony Stark’s living room. The last time we saw this living room he had literally had his heart ripped out by his best friend, so this is sort of ominous. Stark knows someone’s there but he doesn’t know who, so his defenses are up. The camera gradually reveals Samuel L. Jackson, wearing a telltale eyepatch that signals to geeky fanboys like me that we’ve just been introduced to the iconic soldier Nick Fury, agent of Shield. Fury calmly introduces himself to Stark and gradually lays out an invitation, to him, to us, to join him in “a much larger universe.”

I, quite honestly, almost wet my pants. I’ve been a fan of the Avengers since I was about eleven, when I walked into a 7-11 or something and saw a comic book stand with Avengers #221 on it. I bought that issue and I’ve since bought hundreds more, the oldest--#7— dating back to 1964. For my anniversary at work my boss gave me a CD-ROM with the text and graphics of forty years’ worth of Avengers comics. So, yeah, I’m a fan.

This year they’re finally releasing the movie they’ve been building up to for the last few years, with the teaser in Iron Man followed a few months later by a teaser they added at the last minute to The Incredible Hulk: Tony Stark sidles up to a failed general and suggests that the Avengers can help him track down the Hulk.

The next year brought us Iron Man 2, which introduced the Black Widow as a character and teased us with a shot of Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, God of Thunder. Then came 2011, when Thor came to theaters and introduced Hawkeye, Thor’s evil brother Loki, and the Cosmic Cube, a reality-altering device of devastating energy, or something like that. The Cube is central to the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger, which came out a few months after Thor and rounded out the cast of The Avengers movie. It even, gasp, includes an Avengers preview.

I’m freaking out, honestly. This past summer my wife and I went to Cleveland, Ohio, which was sort of a depressingly cheap and boring vacation until I learned that The Avengers was filming down the street. We stood on that street corner for over an hour waiting for something to blow up, some hammer or laser beam or shield or something to whiz by. I learned two things that day:

__One, my wife is a saint.
__Two, I haven’t lost my obsession with the Avengers.

The Avengers have always excited me, but in the beginning they were really just a commercial device, drummed up in the imagination of a relatively young comic book publisher trying to make some money. Marvel Comics had observed the success of their rival DC Comics’ new supergroup the Justice League, featuring cultural icons Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and others. Marvel wanted some of that super-money, but being a new publisher they didn’t have the cultural traction that DC had. They made up a team anyway, featuring the best they could do at the time: the Hulk, Thor, Iron-Man, the Wasp, and . . . Ant-Man. That’s right: one of their greatest hopes was a guy with the powers of an ant. A few issues later they recovered Captain America from a block of ice in the arctic circle, where he’d been abandoned in the mid 1940s after World War II ended and war fatigue made him decidedly less popular among the comic book buying public. The 1960s-era Marvel Comics thawed Captain America out and made him an Avenger. They had their super-group: a raging beast, a fallen god, a long-lost war hero, an iron man, an ant man and a wasp. Somehow it worked.

Superpowers, quite honestly, are a dime a dozen. Pick a thing and add “Man” or “Woman” to it, and you’re 90 percent there. “Plastic Man”: a guy who can stretch like plastic. “Cat Woman”: a woman who acts like a cat. “Invisible Girl”: a girl who turns invisible. It’s easy to the point of pointlessness. What’s really interesting about superheroes—what keeps people like me coming back again and again to read their exploits—isn’t their powers. It’s their weaknesses.

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