Friday, August 21, 2009

The Five Best Grown-Up Comics Superheroes

At the request of BookMonkey, (one of my most devoted blog followers!) hereinafter doth I decree a post of his choosing, and in honor of his upcoming birthday, and which quite engaged my imagination and assessment facilities.
I think the previous sentence proves that I've had too much sugar tonight.
Nevertheless, onward! My personal Five Favorite comic-book superheroes who are grown-ups, i.e. over thirty. I've given it some thought. It's no easy task. Spidey was nearly thirty when JMS wrote him, but not now. Quesada the Skrull says he's even younger than the 28 dictated by the logic of 'got his powers at 15' and '12 or 13 years since the FF got their powers'. But 30-ness is a state of mind, and anyone who'd sell their marriage to the devil doesn't deserve to be called 'a grown-up'.
Similarly, my great affection for the Legion, the Titans, Invincible, etc. does not win them a spot here, due to their perpetual youth. Booster Gold and Kyle "Green Lantern" Rayner are actually trying to be 30 lately, but probably still not grown-ups. More responsible, more stable, good progress, boys, but not quite.
Ben "The Thing" Grimm is, by my reckoning, 47, and yet despite all that Dan Slott did, Mark Millar just last month had Ben throw a sulk and leave his fiance at the altar 'for her own safety'. And bachelors-in-mourning Spidey, Namor, Daredevil, and Hulk all nodded solemnly and said they empathized with Ben's commitment cowardice. Of course, I had no affection for Debbie 'Invented Just to be Jilted' Green anyway, what with her NOT being Alicia Masters, but still. If Ben has any maturity in him it's not to be found recently. Perhaps new writer John Hickman will BRING BACK ALICIA BROAD HINT HIDDEN IN THE GIANT CAPITAL LETTERS.
So, without further ado, my favorite grown-up superheroes.

5- Clark "Superman" Kent- Beating out 51 year old sage Dr. Stephen Strange (the once arrogant but repentant Sorceror Supreme) is relative newcomer Superman. Few have heard of this mild-mannered landed immigrant from Metropolis with his funny cape and tights, but obscurity does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for a good-hearted, honourable, young husband with a steady job, many good and loyal friends, and semi-limitless alien powers. Good is the right word for him, and boy scout, too. He loves his wife and his parents, lives to be helpful, and generally flies on the sunny side of the street. Kind, unerringly brave, trustworthy, inspiring. And bearing up under a crushing loneliness by immersing himself in his adopted world with a smile and a thankful heart. I could do worse than Superman. But I don't. Siegel and Shuster's 1939 creation does DC proud, and with all apology to Bud Collyer, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, John Newton, Gerard Christopher, Tom Welling, and Brendon Routh I will probably always hear Tim Daly's voice when I read Superman.

4- Reed "Mister Fantastic" Richards- Central City, California lost a favored son when Reed moved to Earth-616 New York to start the first superhero group of the Mighty Marvel age of comics. Equal parts wise leader, loving husband, doting father and best friend, this stretchy stringbean scientist can't be beat- he's too springy and resilient. Expanding his mind even more than his rubbery limbs and body, I can't help but admire him for his smarts- and everyone in the Marvel Universe seems to agree. Except Doom, of course, but a man can be judged by his enemies as well as his splendid friends. Stan and Jack made a winner in 1961, brought to life by Mike Road, Beau Weaver, Hiro Kanagawa, and notably Ioan Gruffudd whose name I may have spelt right for the first time today. He's about 46 these days, but he was a grown-up even before he got his powers at 33. Responsible, methodical, conscientious, a man of science and familial devotion whose family is the family of man- and indeed the whole multiverse.

3- Patrick "Plastic Man" O'Brian aka Eel- Protecting the grimy streets of Gotham City is a legend, more myth than man, a detective with a dark secret past, a childlike sidekick, and... a groovy theme song by the Kinks? Created by Jack Cole in 1941, voiced in cartoon form by Michael Bell and Tom Kenny, 'Plas' is far more than he appears. DC's kooky shapeshifter, acquired from Quality comics, is best known for his playful antics, skirt-chasing, witty banter, money-grubbing... wait, was this a list of heroes? Of course it is. O'Brian may have started out a thief, a cad, and a bounder, but a gunshot and a vat of acid changed him forever. I find it illuminating that a very similar accident could have made a monster like the Joker, but the same painful circumstances helped 'Eel' turn his life around for the better. He masks an important trait with his frivolity- he's DEVOTED to his friends and family. He's over 3000 years old because he spent CENTURIES as crumbs on the ocean floor saving Aquaman. And though marriage has never seemed to be in the cards for Plastic Man, his Offspring is a flake off the old silly putty and I just have to give props to a good father.

2- Arthur- He lives in The City. He lives with the Tick. His super-hero name is the same as his given name. He's Arthur. Created by Ben Edlund in 1989, voiced by Mickey Dolenz and Rob Paulsen, performed in gleaming white Moth-Suit for too short a time by TV's David Burke, Arthur is just about the best sort of superhero a regular guy can be. Intelligent, sensible, kind, and flinchingly brave, (His battle-cry is 'NOT IN THE FACE!') I love Arthur. He's fiscally responsible, he conquers his own crippling shyness with girls and super-villains alike, and perhaps most importantly, he follows his dreams. Even the crime-fighting dreams that could result in having to have a machine to poop. And The Tick can't function without him- everyone needs a friend who's on a first name basis with Lucidity. I Arthur.

1- Jennifer "She-Hulk" Walters- I know, right? What a freaking surprise. Mike likes She-Hulk? I've never had an inkling of this. First two-dimensional crush, gateway super-hero, call her what you will, this mid-thirties lady lawyer and jade giantess is my fantasy-land number one. Conceived by Stan Lee and John Buscema (and probably Benny Hill) in 1979, it was hard to see her as anything but the glaringly obvious- She's the Hulk with Boobs. She was part of a trend of creative dearth: "Hey, anybody ever notice what a sausage-fest superhero comics are? How about a Girl Thor? A Spider-Chick? Anyone for Iron Woman?" Few people know what to do with Shulkie, how to write for her, how to get past the awful name, how to draw her looking like a female. John Byrne, Dan Slott, and a choice few others have found a way to the lovely, utterly endearing, wellspring of brilliance, wonder and joy. They found the answer for a character who could NOT be taken seriously. Just DON'T! This is not a character who can stand on the rooftop in the rain watching her humanity ebb away. This is feisty-ness. This is indomitability. This is the sensational. She's mockery, conscience, willful parody. She's all business, she's down-and-dirty, she's the heart of fun and the life of the party. She is woman, hear her laugh. And make Frank Cho draw her more.

For whatever reason, there AREN'T that many grown-ups in superhero comics. (The Justice Society notwithstanding) One way or another, the traits that make a man-child into a grown man (or green woman) are hard to uncover. Possibly no one who is buying such comics wants to get beyond the 'I'm a miserable mutant and I'm the only one who understands my pain and everything everyone everywhere sucks' stage. Or possibly the writers and editors THINK that's all we want. I've slogged through so many mediocre comics on my way to the terrible ones that I forget sometimes why I ever loved them. But projects like this one can reinforce my faith. Super-Heroes can show us the best parts of ourselves, and be something to aspire to. Thanks, BookMonkey. Perhaps you are a grown-up superhero, too. Happy Birthday.

1 comment:

Bookmonkey said...

Very cool Mr. Guy, the only one that I would have added was Bob Parr from "The Incredibles," but that's a movie rather than a comic so I would have been wrong on a technicality.

Keep on Blogging,
Bookmonkey