It’s all about character

I read an interested blog this morning, that you can access here. Specifically, the author, Dave Gonzales, discusses DC versus Marvel characters.

One of the first points he makes is that many of the DC characters have iconic symbols…and, as a former graphic designer, it pissed me off that I missed that, but he’s absolutely right. Superman with the red-and-yellow S, Batman’s bat-in-an-oval, The Flash’s yellow (DC really likes yellow, don’t they?) lightning bolt, etc etc. Now, Marvel has some iconic designs as well. Spidey’s mask. The Fantastic Four logo…but, for the most part, it’s the characters themselves that are the icons. Spider-man. The Hulk. Thor. The Human Torch. The Thing. Iron Man…the list goes on and on.

So, why the difference?

Okay, gonna warn you well up front, I’m not much of a DC guy. I love the new Batman movies. I think the idea of Superman is stupid, but I’ll get into that. That being said, I gotta give them props for Watchmen, though, really, that praise falls more to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. But still, they published it.

Anyway, let’s toss the two strongest heroes from Marvel and DC up for comparison, shall we? That would be, in my book, Superman vs the Hulk. And a more unlikely pairing would you ever hope to see?

Superman first. Here’s a nearly infallible hero. Goody-two-shoes to the core, virtually indestructible (to the point where the radio show had to invent Kryptonite to give him SOME sort of weakness). Finally, as has been pointed out in various blogs and in Kill Bill, Superman is his real identity, Clark Kent his alter-ego. And when he dons the guise of Kent, is he acting out humans as he sees them? Or is he just SuperHumble? Either way, it’s boring.

The Hulk. Mild mannered, in fact wimpy Dr. Bruce Banner, in his one moment of heroism, saving Rick Jones from the gamma bomb, exposes himself to the deadly rays and turns into the Hulk. The madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets.

So where Superman is a study of control and intelligence, the Hulk is pure rage. And here’s where it gets interesting for me…where does all that rage, from wimpy Bruce Banner, ultimately, come from? Yes, there’s those out to get him, in the classic Frankenstein motif, which has gotta piss you off a touch, but still…

Now, what if Superman had some sort of debilitating fear or negative attribute? I remember seeing just one panel from the much touted but ultimately disappointing John Byrne reboot of the Superman franchise. In it, he had gone to Metropolis, and was now back home. In that one panel I remember, Clark’s face was in shadow, he was looking down, and he said something like, “They all wanted a piece of me…” And I thought, finally, someone’s doing something right here. I imagined him being hounded like Jesus amongst the masses, people holding out their children to be healed, hucksters wanting to turn him into the Next Big Thing.

But no, he’d saved a plane or something and everyone crowded him. I was instead reminded of Elton John’s tantrum after someone kept calling his name while he tried to play tennis in the documentary TANTRUMS & TIARAS. Supes was still kind of boring.

And it comes down to this…who are your favourite characters? My guess is, whomever you choose, when you come right down to it, you’re going to find they are a fascinating mix of good AND bad. Look at Gregory House from the TV show HOUSE, a show, by the way, that does things very, very right most of the time. This is a guy that will go out of his way, out of pocket to skewer someone, to dig beneath their surface persona to lift the rocks and see the squirmy things beneath. And yet, at the same time, at unpredictable times, he can be entirely empathetic and give you exactly what you need to hear. But you never know if he’s serious, or playing a larger game. He’s brilliant, yet self destructive. He saves people, yet he seems to despise humanity. See what I mean? A lot of good, and a lot of bad at the same time.

That, for me, is a fun and fascinating character. Yes, when I was small, I ran around the house with my blanket tied around my neck, cape-like, and jumped on my bed, arms outstretched while yelling, “Up, up and awaaaayyyyyy!” It was cool to think I could fly and kick anyone’s ass I wanted to.

But when you get older, you find out that life, and people, are much more complicated, much less black and white than you’d hoped. Not all the good guys wore white hats and for sure, not all the bad guys wore black hats. Susan Richards was “invisible” in more ways than one, the Thing loved the strength, hated the package, Dr. Strange was an arrogant ass, Spidey’s just a young kid learning his way in the world, and Tony Stark? Yeah, weapons maker, alcoholic, womanizer…obviously he’s got self-esteem issues.

So, yeah, in the end, when I’m looking for a hero, I want someone a little more flawed than Superman. Give me the wimp that’s filled with rage any day.

Kinda describes me in my high school years anyway…just swap out the green skin for zits…


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