Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Can I Borrow That Obsession?

This week, apparently, I'm living with borrowed obessions. I live with a comic-book geek. Since I had put away superheroes (although not fairy tales) when I was still in elementary school, it's taken me years to appreciate the kind of episodic wildness that lurks in the text beside the art.

This late-dawning appreciation, however, hasn't stopped me from having opinions on storylines and characters. Recently, we were discussing the latest Superman movie and I was fulminating on missed opportunities. Mostly I was trying to explain that as I come to this stage in my life and start to lose patience for YA-skewing plots and casting that I feel sorry for characters that become plastic with overexposure. Superman seemed to have suffered this in his last outing. Instead of being humanized by being associated with other strong human characters, he came back from space an alien with a sitcom problem. His curly-headed inamorata was no longer a strong, independent woman, but a girl with a new boyfriend and an ex who couldn't understand boundaries. It was sad. It was juvenile.

It matters that it was both of these things (not least because I have to sit through these movies). It matters because other movies have come along that were able to say more with the same old tropes and characters. If you're going to have a mopey storyline, why not talk about the search for identity directly? Why not make a movie that takes on the idea of the Justice League as a kind of Ellis Island for aliens and the super-powered? Why not talk about what it might have looked like to have Clark Kent raised on the 70's instead of the 30's or 50's? And if you're going to do that, cast people who can stand up to complexity. Then again, perhaps the challenge is in seeing the character as a product rather than a concept. Are iconic characters both our wish to choose well and remain steadfast and the plastic toy that we throw against the things that frustrate us?

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