Saturday, March 28, 2009

The "Reals" World

I'm about to break some old news here, but it was new to me when I read about it not ten minutes ago....

There are REAL superheroes in this world.

I frequently visit the BioMatrix website, and I just read the newest article - - and learned about real-life superheroes, who are often referred to as "Reals".

Apparently there are some concerned citizens out there who have been taking to the streets over the last several years in attempts to better their community and effect change. They wear costumes and go by names like The Dark Guardian, Geist, and Citizen Prime. They do good deeds like pick up litter, give food to homeless, and occasionally try to take care of petty criminals.

While there's something naturally off about someone willing to don a costume and walk the streets at night, I think that anybody who is actually working to make the world a better place seems pretty sane.

Check out the BioMatrix article and all of the links it provides for more info. It's pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is Superman an Ubermensch?

The Superhero as a Nietzschean Construct

The concept of the superhero is often attributed to mythology. However, the idea owes at least as much to Nietzsche as to the ancient Greeks. In many ways, the idea of the superhero is similar to the idea of the Ubermensch. The superhero is someone who is stronger and generally better than the average man. A superhero typically operates above or outside the law. Like the Ubermensch, the superhero is someone who imposes his will to change the world to fit his desire.

Is Superman an example of Nietzsche’s concept of the Ubermensch? Denotatively, the words “Superman” and “Ubermensch” are the same. “Super” is Latin for “over”. “Uber” is the German equivalent. “Mensch” is simply “man”. Clearly, there was a Nietzschean influence on the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. The influence extends beyond just the character’s name. Before they had refined their idea in 1938, the two young men had created a character whom they called Superman who was not a super-powered do-gooder, but instead a mad scientist type who sought to rule the world with his great mental strength. While beings with powers beyond those of the average man have been featured in stories since the original tales of gods and goddesses, the creation of Superman in 1938 was the birth of the comic book superhero.

There are various examples that can be used to illustrate the connection between the comic book superhero and the Ubermensch. One that can be rather obvious and deliberate at times is Alan Moore’s 1980s take on the British superhero Miracleman (Marvelman, in England). There are numerous references throughout the Miracleman series to Nietzsche’s works. In the first issue, there is a quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The secret military experiment that led to Miracleman’s creation is even called “Project Zarathustra”. Several characters even refer to Miracleman as the “overman”. Miracleman, like many superheroes, at first has a strong sense of morality and acts accordingly, but he gradually becomes amoral, going beyond such foolish, human ideas as “good” and “evil”, and rules (really just watches and occasionally grants wishes) over a world of neutrality and Perspectivism.

Even the quintessential human superhero Batman can be seen as an example of the Ubermensch idea. Batman is a self-made man, a perfect example of Will to Power. He violently imposes his will, and will even fight against governing bodies or law enforcement in order to achieve his personal goal of justice.

Though perhaps not immediately obvious, the popular Marvel Comics character Wolverine can be considered an Ubermensch. Wolverine is typically portrayed as an outsider with physical and tactical superiority over many of the people around him. He has little to no respect for law or even society in general. Still, like Batman and most other superheroes, he will violently impose his will at a moment’s notice.

Of course, some good arguments can be made against the idea that superheroes are a Nietzschean construct. A rather obvious argument is that superheroes are based on archetypal hero characters that have been present since ancient mythology. One could also point out that many superheroes often work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies. Also, superheroes typically uphold societal standards of morality, whereas Nietzsche wrote against such ideas as “standards” and “morality”.

While it is true that modern comic book superheroes do owe a great deal to the mythologies that came before them, the same can be said of most fictional characters. Archetypes are considered archetypes for a reason, and they will most likely continue to pop up in works of fiction for as long as people tell stories. While most superheroes do seem to be agents of a societal order, it’s important to note that they are considered heroic because they act in ways that are typically not allowable in a lawful civilization. Superheroes are generally violent and operate without license. While they do act according to what they think are the proper set of morals, it must be noted that Nietzsche’s preferred philosophy of Perspectivism is inherently flawed. Perspectivism is logically self-refuting, as you could easily stump a Perspectivist with the question, “Is it absolutely true that there are no absolute truths?”. So, surely superheroes can be forgiven for being imperfect examples of the Ubermensch concept.

While some good arguments can be made to the contrary, it is apparent that superheroes are generally examples of Nietzsche’s idea of the Ubermensch. Though they are imperfect constructs, they are Nietzschean constructs nevertheless.

(For my "Marx and Nietzsche" course this semester, I had to write a paper. I proposed writing a paper on the influence of Nietzsche on comic book superheroes, but my teacher said that comic books had nothing to do with philosophy. Before he denied my proposal, I had already written this short, rough draft. )

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Master of Kung Fu

While at MegaCon a few weeks ago, I was walking by one of the many booths selling $1 back issues. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone flipping through the issues in a box beneath a table. That young man was looking at issues of “The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu”. When the guy was done looking, I took over. I bought twenty issues. They are awesome.

Now, I suggest you homeboys (and possibly homegirls) go check out the wikipedia article on Shang-Chi ( ). It’s an interesting character. Basically, because of Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu (36th Chamber of Shaolin star), and the “Kung Fu” TV series, there was an explosive martial arts craze in the ‘70s. Marvel Comics, of course, wanted to capitalize on this. Thus, Shang-Chi was born, essentially.

The issues I purchased were published between 1978 and 1980.
The series, on the surface, is half Bond movies (also popular at the time, of course) and half kung fu exploitation. Beneath the surface, there is some excellent dramatic exploration, thanks to the skillful and passionate writing of Doug Moench. The art is well done, especially by Paul Gulacy and then Mike Zeck.

The dramatic exploration deals with romantic relationships, fragile friendships, and familial loyalty. There is also the “fish out of water” problem, as Shang-Chi has to deal with this new, western and modern world.

Of course, it was the seventies, so some of it seems very tame and cheesy, but the overall quality is self-evident.

As both a martial artist and comic book fan, I greatly enjoyed the issues I bought and read. This was not my first introduction to the character, as I had known of him in general, and he was featured in a few issues of “Ultimate Spider-Man”. But before he was seen in the pages of “Ultimate Spider-Man”, he was the feature character in a couple of issues of “Ultimate Marvel Team-Up”. These issues are some of the finest martial arts-related comics I have ever read. And, being written by Brian Michael Bendis, they make up a good story in general.

I suggest that anyone with any interest in either comic books or martial arts check out “Master of Kung Fu”. Shang-Chi stands up there with Iron Fist, Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva, and other great comic book martial artists.

(Also, for me, bonuses with these old comics are all of the old ads for muscle building courses, x-ray specs, selling seeds, and assuredly crappy at-home karate courses. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up in that era.)

Friday, March 6, 2009


It’s pretty good.

The good parts in it are actually fucking astounding, but the bad parts are utterly terrible. But, like with all things relating to superheroes, the good triumphs over the bad.

I typically cringe at the sound of someone saying, “They used the panels from the comic as the storyboard!” I don’t think that making a direct, shot-for-shot recreation of a comic book necessarily makes for a good film. So, I did go into Watchmen with some reservations as to whether it might be TOO faithful.
Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

Snyder and team did a good job of changing, dropping, or adding just the right things, for the most part. There are some parts of the book I would really like to have seen, but the movie does stand well on what it’s got.

While I don’t really agree with all of the bright color choices (which seemed extra odd, as the Watchmen book isn’t really all that brightly colored…), I do think that the film was amazingly beautiful to look at. The cinematography is really top-notch.

The music is perfect. All of the song choices were correct and well-placed, and the original score makes parts of the movie even more stunning (especially the scene in which Osterman is atomized).

The acting is good overall, but some of the performances reeked of ham. Silk Spectre II is portrayed with some one-note acting, and Carla Gugino does a surprisingly bad job at playing Silk Spectre I.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fantastic as the Comedian, somehow nailing the simultaneous hatred and pity/love that we must feel for the character.
Jackie Earle Haley does an admirable job as Rorschach, though some of his narration is a little difficult to take seriously.
Matthew Goode is good at making Ozymandias disturbing, and does a commendable job of adding some interesting back-story to his character.
Billy Crudup does an amazing job as the voice/movement/human part of Doctor Manhattan. He carries out the difficult task of delivering some of the most inhumane dialogue ever written in a voice that attempts at comfort.
Probably the best actor of the troupe is Patrick Wilson. His portrayal of Nite-Owl II is absolutely perfect. When he’s in the guise of Dan Dreiberg, he’s a genuine Clark Kent: clumsy, unattractive, and impotent. When he’s wearing his true skin as Nite-Owl, he’s the Overman: graceful, strong, and passionate.

It is a rather violent movie. While some moments of violent are examples of exploitative trash in a film that should be above that, most of the violence is done tastefully. When these guys fight, they REALLY fight. I really only take issue with the popping of bone out of the skin, the shattering of a leg with a bullet, and the far-too-detailed cutting off of someone’s arms. Other than that, I love the action.

It compares well with the book, I think, as they are two very different entities. The book offers much more characterization and philosophy, while the movie offers things that a comic book simply can’t: music and more dynamic action. Everyone should go see it. The 160 minutes go by quickly enough. And you should definitely try it in IMAX.
(Can't wait for this sequel!)

Monday, March 2, 2009

MegaCon 2009

It was that time of year again...

For the sixth year in a row, I attended Orlando's premier comic book, anime, sci-fi, fantasy, and collectibles convention.

Like every year, there were big smelly guys (and girls), twelve-year-olds doing their best to look like they aren't twelve, and various people in skimpy clothing (girl and guy alike). And, like every year, I tend to miss it when it's over.

I started going to MegaCon with my high school's Anime Club. We'd all take a short road trip from Jacksonville to Orlando, get hotel rooms, and have a ton of unsupervised fun for a weekend. Those weekends could simultaneously the best and the worst of the year, as there was always some sort of drama, romantic or otherwise, within the group (I was usually a participating actor in said dramas), but it was always a great time spent with friends, or people who were merely acquaintances on any other day. I loved those trips. I loved the time spent with friends more than the massive amount of nerdly goodies I'd invariably buy.

But alas, this year proved to be something of an end for that era. Though my second year in college, it was the first year that I didn't spend all or most of my time with friends. Quite a few just couldn't make it, and those that did seemed to be too busy for me... Oh, well. It was still enjoyable, as I got many goodies, got to spend some quality time with my girlfriend (though we live together, so we don't necessarily want for time together), and I live in Orlando, so it's more convenient to go than it was in high school.

The con itself was pretty goood. There seem to be more twelve-year-olds every year, though...

Many big(ish) names were there as guests, including Lou Ferrigno, Peter Mayhew, George Perez, Chris Claremont, Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Steve McNiven (just to name a few). While I planned to get some autographs, I simply didn't want to deal with the lines while carrying around a heavy box filled with comic books I wanted signed. Maybe I'll try harder next year.

I did get to meet Lou Ferrigno. I wanted him to sign my copy of an "Incredible Hulk" DVD and "Pumping Iron". He flatly informed me that he charges $40.00 for each signature. I did not leave with a Lou Ferrigno autograph.
I managed to find some good deals and have some fun, so it was worth it. Cons are definitely something that everyone should try at least once. I know that I'll continue going to MegaCon for at least a few more years. If for no other reason than the sake of nostalgia...