Friday, July 20, 2012

"My Favorite Superhero, And Don't Tell Me He Doesn't Count"

Summer movies bring Superheroes raining down on us like overpriced popcorn.  We’ve had the four-pack Avengers, Spiderman, I believe Batman’s on the way. 

It’s a taste issue, I suppose.  You either like Superheroes or you don’t. 

I do.

But not those Superheroes.  Or their unfamiliar-to-me ilk.

The identity of the only Superhero I am truly passionate about – and have been since my youth – will imminently be revealed.  But first, allow me to disparage the other ones.

“Who are you?”

“I’m ‘Bile Man!’  I heap odium and abuse on all I find unworthy.”

“Are you a Superhero?”

“Only to the cynical and bereft.  To others, I am merely a sourpuss.’”

I do not herein present myself as an expert on Superheroes.  When I was a kid, I read Superman and Batman comics, the odd Aquaman, and some now-lost-to-my-memory crime fighter who was allergic to yellow.

There’s your problem with Superheroes right there, and by extension, Science Fiction.  The premises of these enterprises seem to me entirely arbitrary.

“It’s a world exactly as our own.  Except they walk on their hands, and they worship a bicycle." 

(I know.  I need to acknowledge that there is bad Science Fiction and good Science Fiction.  Of course if I did that, it would take a terrible toll on my stereotyping.  Besides, unless I’m wrong, what makes it Science Fiction – good or bad – is that there are these imaginary, “I-don’t-think-I’ll-go-along-with-that-one” leaps.  Which, as the hyphenated, “in quotes” words reflect, has always been an obstacle for me.)

Conventional Superheroes – if that’s not a contradiction – all have “the sources of their strength”, and specific vulnerabilities.

“High-heeled shoes will bring him to his knees.  And you don’t have to kick him with them.  He just has to see them.”

“The source of his strength is Juicy Fruit Gum.”

“His arch nemesis is shoe polish.”

“Look out, Evil Doers!  He just ate some parsley!”

Why parsley?  Do the creators of these Superheroes give these selections serious thought?

COLLABORATOR:  “It has to be parsley!  Otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense!” 

CO-COLLABORATOR:  “Right on, Partner.  ‘PARSLEY POWER!  Whoo-hoo!!!” 

Really?  What if some fruit grower bigwigs got to them and said,

“We’ll give you a hundred grand to change ‘parsley’ to ‘pomegranate seeds’.”

CO-COLLABORATOR:  “Think about it, ‘Nerd Man.’  We could still keep the ‘P’ on the tunic.  Just change it from ‘parsley green’ to ‘pomegranate red’.  And we’d be up a hundred ‘K’.”

COLLABORATOR:  “I don’t know…I feel like I’ve suddenly lost my moorings.” 

Okay, I’m done with my mocking.  And I have to tell you, I had a really good time.


My favorite Superhero has absolutely nothing abnormal about him.  No energizing “sources of strength”; no crippling liabilities.  And he’s from right here on Earth, not another planet.  He was never bitten by anything and transformed.  And – a point that, for me, could easily seal the deal all by itself – there are absolutely no tights-with-a-bathing-suit-on-top-of-them involved.

My all-time favorite Superhero, a regular person in every possible way, is


Okay, he was raised by a family of apes.  But otherwise, he is just like you and me.

Except he can do anything.

Fly?  He swung from vines.  Invulnerable to bullets?  He just darted out of the way.  Strong?  He could throw lions!  (Both in the “wrestling” sense of taking them down, and he could actually raise them over his head and throw them.)  And as a bonus – at least for two movie Tarzans (Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller) who participated in the event in the Olympics – that Ape Man could really swim.

Tarzan could accomplish virtually any feat those souped-up Superheroes could pull off.  And without any kind of potion, accidental biting or extra-planetary enhancements.   Call him the Whole Foods Superhero.  All natural.  No additives.    

Just your every day Ape Man, who could do it all. 

(He ran through the jungle barefoot, for heaven’s sakes.  There’s a lot of pointy stuff down there.)

Did Tarzan have vulnerabilities?  Tons of them.  Anything that could kill a regular person could kill Tarzan.  But it didn’t let it stop him.  Which, to me, makes Tarzan the most heroic Superhero of them all.  I mean, how brave do you have to be to withstand a hail of bullets, when you know they’re just going to bounce off you?  I could do that.  And I’m not brave at all!

And, as if more proof were required to crown Tarzan “King of the Superheroes” –

No “Mental Anguish” whatsoever.

“Remember, Peter, with great power comes great responsibility” sends the young Parker fellow bouncing off skyscrapers in an existential funk. 

How would my favorite Superhero respond to such an ominous warning?

“Tarzan not understand.”

And he wasn’t being dense or sarcastic.  The man would truly not understand.

That was Tarzan. 

Pure power.  Pure heart.  Pure simplicity. 

And just try putting a pair of tights on the guy,

If you want to hear that bloodcurdling "Tarzan Yell."   


For me, the greatest Superhero of them all. 

Okay now.

Tell me I’m wrong.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; ERB's Tarzan is no less improbable than Fantasy (magic made it happen) or Science Fiction (batteries, it's the nuclear batteries that made it happen) because it's still a wish fulfillment tale. European male overcomes nature and other men purely due to his strength of heart and physical superiority.

The most improbable thing of all, and there are a lot in ERB's first novel, is Tarzan's language ability. He teaches himself English and how to read with picture books.

As a hero he is great. He relies on nothing but his brain and brawn, both are considerable. He is honest and true, and wealthy too. What's not to like?


Greg Morrow said...

The superhero who was allergic to yellow was the second Green Lantern.