Wednesday, July 23, 2014

No longer my heroes

Like most American males, I grew up reading comic books. Specifically, comic books featuring superheroes. As such, the heroes featured in those books are part of my upbringing. And as such, it saddens me a little bit that it's getting harder to recognize those heroes.
(WARNING: What follows is almost entirely an old man rant that steers awfully close to complaining about how youngsters today are a buncha lazy, good-fer-nuthin' numbskulls who don't even know how much better things were back in the good ol' days. If that kind of thing doesn't appeal to you, I would kindly suggest that you tune out now and get off my lawn.)
I first started chafing over this issue in 1989 when Tim Burton's "Batman" came out and superhero movies became a genre. In that movie, Batman showed up in an all-black rubber suit. He looked cooler than Adam West in the old TV show and I understand you have to make stylistic changes for movies. It was jarring though. Then the X-Men came along and they all wore black suits and not the distinctive costumes they each wore in the comics. Later, Spiderman became a movie franchise and Peter Parker no longer relied on an apparatus worn on the wrist to shoot webs, but secreting web fluid from his body, like an actual spider. Okay, those all make sense. I don't care for those changes but I understand them. Director Joel Shumacher took over the Batman movies and his first great idea was to put the characters in suits that accentuated their nipples. Nobody understood that one.
Somewhere along the line, though, the comic books changed to reflect the look and tone of the movies (sans nipples, thankfully). They also started major plot shifts and re-boots. Superman got killed. Batman had his back broken. Characters were being killed off and brought back in different forms. For the most part, I went with the flow, even though I didn't really like it. For one thing, I really don't read comic books anymore. The last time I read one was an issue of The Avengers, in which all the characters were outfitted with a sardonic world view. Back in the day, only Spiderman dared to riff and quip wise during his fight scenes. Now all of them were firing off snarky commentary. This, I recognized as a direct result of the success of the Iron Man movies, or more accurately, Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Because in the comic books I read growing up, Iron Man wasn't particularly charming and he definitely wasn't the big deal in the Marvel Universe that he is now. Sure, he was the leader of The Avengers, but he was a recovering alcoholic and pretty somber.
Things really turned sour for me when Captain America, my very first favorite comic book hero, showed up on the big screen with wings painted on the side of his head. Painted wings! In the comics, he had actual little wings on the side. In the same way I like Superman and Batman better with their briefs on the outside of their tights, I want Captain America with actual little wings on the side of his head. I know none of those things make sense but that's how I grew up with them and that's how I like them!
This was when it began to dawn on me that the comic book super heroes were moving on without me. That the timeless characters now belonged to new generations of fans and that they would be adapting to suit their needs and wants, not remaining stagnant to suit mine. This was tough to swallow but I really had no choice in the matter. That didn't stop me from railing against some of the changes, though.
Earlier this year, it was announced that they're going to take a stab at re-booting the Fantastic Four movie franchise, this time with a black actor playing Johnny Storm/The Human Torch. Of course, I hated this idea and upon registering my displeasure, was accused of being a racist. I was ready for this, though, and had a counter-argument. If they feel they want to have a black actor portray a member of the Fantastic Four, fine. Let's cast him as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. Making him the Human Torch means you either have to waste valuable screen time explaining why he has a white sister in Sue Storm/Invisible Girl or explaining how they aren't brother and sister anymore. Meanwhile, Reed Richards is one of the most brilliant minds in the Marvel Universe, he's the leader of the Fantastic Four and he'd be married to a white woman in Sue Storm. Why can't that character be played by a black actor and who's racist now?
In spite of feeling like I win that argument, more changes that sadden me continue to come down the pipe. Most notably last week's announcements that Thor will now be a woman and worst of all, my beloved Captain America is going to be killed off (again). Well, it's actually Steve Rogers who has always been Captain America will be replaced by the more-than-worthy-successor Sam Wilson, his former partner The Falcon. But still.
Things change and so do people, even fictional people who are perfectly fine the way they are. This is something I have no choice but to accept, even though I don't have to like it.

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