Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Superhero Sandwich Recipe: What Makes a Character a Superhero?

            Hold onto your action figures, because this one's a long one!  Also, I'd like to point out that this post is not very accurate; it's more of a description of what I believe would make up a superhero, as it makes sense to me and not so much my sister!!!  So, please don't get mad!  The optional theme song is Last Sons remix.

            Just recently, Jenny the Bloggess posted to her immensely popular blog a hilarious(as usual) nerdy argument with her husband Victor about Mighty Mouse and Underdog being superheroes and what actually is the definition of the term "superhero".  It escalated into "What the FUCK does it mean to be a superhero?" all thanks to the people who commented on the blog post saying, "It's ONLY the costume; no, it's the secret identity; it's actually wanting to save the day; can anyone say superpowers?" which I disagree with for the most part due to the fact that it's not any one singular aspect of superhero-ism.  In fact, I kept directing my friend's attention to it with the hope that he can contribute his point of view on the subject because he's the person to talk to (in addition to Chris @nerdist Hardwick aka "Big C" and Wil @wilw Wheaton and Matt Mira and Jonah Ray of the Nerdist Podcast, not to mention the godfather of all superheroes, Stan THE MAN Lee) about this subject.  Hopefully my friend can provide some insight to this matter as he is a comic book nerd, superhero nerd, computers, etc.  He's a nerd who should share his knowledge of everything Marvel-DC-Dark Horse so that this way people can stop endlessly arguing about the subject, which somehow expanded to Tony the Tiger being a drug dealer, Scooby Doo being a dog who can eat (hero) sandwiches (bad pun, so sorry), and the Doctor of the Whoniverse being a superhero…... or not.

            I figured, you know what?  Let's break the composition of being a superhero down into multiple parts that I shall discuss at Nerdy lengths.  Now, I might not be entirely correct, so this is just my opinion of what the "recipe" is for a superhero (sammich).  In any (nut)case…. *AHEM!*

Alignment: How Morality and Ethics Make Love

            If anyone has played any sort of roleplaying game (RPG) at all, especially Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), they should know that one of the steps in creating a new character is choosing an Alignment.  According to Wikipedia (the non-encyclopedia that's really a self-policed general knowledge and information clearinghouse, whose information I actually took from Big C's book The Nerdist Way's "RPG Your Life" chapter), "Alignment is a categorisation of the moral and ethical perspective of the player characters."
            And the official position on alignment can be credited to the roleplaying gamesmith company known as Wizards of the Coast (Pokémon Trading Card Game, Call of Cthulhu, etc.)—

Alignment is central to a D&D character's personality.  D&D uses two measures to determine a specific character's ethical and moral attitudes and behavior.
The moral axis has three positions: good, neutral, and evil.  Good characters generally care about the welfare of others.  Neutral people generally care about their own welfare.  Evil people generally seek to harm the others' welfare.
The ethical axis has three positions as well: lawful, neutral, and chaotic.  Lawful people generally follow the social rules as they understand them.  Neutral people follow those rules [they] find convenient or obviously necessary.  And chaotic people seek to upset the social order and either institute change, or simply create anarchy.

            So there's no singular way to align yourself; instead, there's nine--you could be the law-abiding citizen who rises to the occasion to protect people and do what it takes to do away with anyone of the Evil alignments, you could be the cowboy who basically only looks out for their own self or you could be the evil mercenary who could help the villain by selling their services and limited loyalty to them.
            If there was a graphical representation of the Alignment axes, it would look like this:

If you already know about the alignment areas, skip ahead to the next part of this section.  If not, I suggest you read the description I've laid out for you here with the help of Big C's Nerdist Way book (yes, again; it's very educational)…. Which I totally recommend you check out; my Elks home service nurse is doing just that….

Π    Lawful Good—The "Crusader":  These people are saintly do-gooders who do what it takes to SAVE THE WORLD!  Many superheroes and heroes fall into this category.  Examples include Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Indiana Jones; any actual mainstream superhero you can think of is typically grouped together in this category.
Π    Neutral Good—The "Benefactor": If Lawful-Goods follow a third-party code, Neutral-Goods are bound by their own conscience.  They will act altruistically, even if some of their actions aren't considered technically "legal", which is why most regular people fall into this category.  (Yes, most; if you haven't seen my bad driving post yet, you need to press PAUSE here and read up on that.)  Examples include Spiderman, Zorro, Han Solo quite a bit, young Captain James Kirk of Star Trek on his first mission in the Alternate Universe movie series, and ME!
Π    Chaotic Good—The "Rebel" (noun): These characters are vigilantes, who are basically drawn towards a greater good, but have little care for any political authority unless it lines up with their own agenda.  In fact, they might rebel (verb) because they like to be in control of their own world and don't like being under someone else's authority.  They're not above doing bad stuff and getting their hands dirty if it serves that "greater good" in the end.  Added characteristics: LADIES LOVE THESE GUYS!  Examples include the Doctor, Robin Hood, Dexter Morgan, early Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. version), Neo inside the Matrix, Wolverine, and Walter White from Breaking Bad.
Π    Lawful Neutral—The "Soldier": These people are dogmatic and "enjoy an abdicratic existence where [they] do everything [they're] told in an effort to never question [their] authority of choice."  Every soldier of lower rank falls into this category (thank you for serving and making sacrifices for us; I'd join you, but y'all wouldn't be able to handle me out on the battlefield—SORRY!)  There's no real allegiance to the good or evil morality alignments, just orders and tradition.  Examples include James Bond, Odysseus, Forrest Gump in boot camp, super-straight cops (as in, not crooked), SD-6 grunts in Alias in the very beginning, evil minions, the Minions in Despicable Me.
Π    "True" Neutral—The "Undecided": These people have no sway one way or the other in any direction; anyone who doesn't fit into any of the other alignment categories are in this category.  Animals that have at most little self-awareness (or whales) typically are grouped here because they don’t have the burden of moral and ethical dilemmas and decision making.  It's too vague if you stick yourself here, opinion-wise, but that's your choice.  Examples include full-time druggies (stoners and potholes and crackheads and whatnot) and animals without much sentience (meaning not Scooby-Doo, neither Underdog nor Mighty Mouse), who are basically just your run of the mill [insert favorite animals here—mine would be either the tauntaun or the Tribble].  Taxidermied animals also are in this group; all they do is WATCH YOU PRANCE AROUND THE HOUSE NAKED AND NOT GIVE A SINGLE DAMN ABOUT IT!!!
Π    Chaotic Neutral—The "Free Spirit": Hippie Central basically.  These people only give a crap about themselves and their own wants and needs without regard for anyone or anything.  They're free to do whatever they want, and they'll just undermine authority for the sake of undermining it.  Examples include Jesse James the Outlaw (or other "famously" infamous cowboys), Han Solo when you first meet him, Captain Jack Sparrow, other pirates, any anarchists, Anonymous on the Internets (no offense or disrespect).
Π    Lawful Evil—The "Dominator": These people are the kinds of corrupt politicians who would rub their hands together and go "MWAHAHAHA!".  They do follow a code of conduct or a leader, and while they wouldn't go out of their way to crush someone, they take great pleasure to remove obstacles that take the form of other people.  Examples include Boba Fett, Magneto, Darth Sidious early on, other dictators, and I'm tossing Mitt Romney in here just because I don't like him or his motives.
Π    Neutral Evil—The "Malefactor": These morons are not needlessly destructive, but they also don't follow any higher code.  Guided by their own desires, they'll only pledge allegiance to those who will help them get what they want and then resort to backstabbing if it suits them.  Anyone in this category is NOT your friend!  Examples include Megatron and any Bond villain out there.
Π    Chaotic Evil—The "Destroyer": These beings (people or otherwise) are pure evil, plain and simple.  They're guided by their own desires and are almost always cruel and awful. Demons, monsters, most serial killers, terrorists, etc. are typically thrown into this category.  Examples include Darth Maul, Sauron from Lord of the Rings, Satan himself, etc.

            So, yeah.  That's how alignment goes so far.   And people in the Bloggess' blog post comments were saying, "It's about intent!  It's INTENT!"  I'm like, "'Intent' has a couple of names (morality and ethical views) and those two names formed the love-child word of 'ALIGNMENT'!  And that's not the only part of being a superhero!"  Because you see, alignment is at the core of the individual's personality, and it directs how they view the world, act upon it and react to certain situations.  Superheroes (and heroes in general) are generally the very good guys, and they go with the Lawful-Good and Lawful-Neutral alignments, because they do what is right no matter what, and they rise to the occasion to save whatever is in danger!
            But like I said, the D&D-style alignment is not the only defining piece of the superhero puzzle.  What about skills and talents?

Abilities: Can YOU Shoot LAZORS Out of Your Eyes?

            There's an old joke by Boris Hamilton about how there are medical procedures that can improve your eyesight with the use of lasers.  Basically it's along the lines of "You know, I've been wearing glasses for a long time and they (whoever they are) said that there is a procedure where doctors could shine lasers into your eyes and then you don't have to wear glasses anymore.  I'm not about to have lasers go into my eyes, but if there's a procedure to where I could get lasers to come out of my eyes, I'll be the first in line!"  WHO WOULDN'T?!?!

            You see, superpowers (that isn't anything along the lines of anthropomorphizing animals like Scooby-Doo, Underdog and Mighty Mouse) are a part of being superheroes.  Basically any sort of supernatural ability (super anything, like strength, speed, eyesight, hormones!  And abilities that aren't actually typical, like having wings, flying, laser eyes, laser BRAINS [which need to be laser-pointer toys that are produced and sold by ThinkGeek], invisibility, shapeshifting, telekinesis, telepathy, etc.) can make someone into a superhero in addition to a positive alignment.  But wait, it gets even better:  Superheroes can even use devices that have supernatural (or super-scientific) abilities, like Green Lantern's ring, Iron Man's armor, or Thor's Mjolnir and they'll still be superheroes!

            But let's back up to Batman and make one thing clear: He might not have powers, but he still maintains superhero status!!!!!  You see, according to Wikipedia (Crap, now I'm citing it!  Oh, well; it's general info….), "Unlike most superheroes he does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, martial arts skills, an indomitable will, fear, and intimidation in his war on crime."  Not to mention that he hangs out with Superman and Wonder Woman in the Justice League, and their superhero status could just rub off onto him.  But just because you're not super-powered doesn't make you NOT a superhero and Batman repeatedly proves that.

            Anyways, there are other ways to be a superhero, like through the transformation origin story that provide unusual results that are used to fight evil in the end: Bruce Banner gets exposed to gamma radiation, causing him to mutate a bit so that anytime his heart rate and adrenaline levels spike, he turns into this giant super strong green rage monster (which is really a personified boner according to Big C); Tony Stark, weapons entrepreneur and the Marvelverse Bruce Wayne, gets hurt badly while being kidnapped and had to replace his heart with a power core in order to live, through which he powers his super-suit exoskeleton.  And if you dare say that aliens can't be superheroes, goddammit, ARE YOU RACIST AGAINST ALIENS?!?!?!  Seriously, the only way racism (including racism towards extraterrestrials) can go away is to IGNORE ALL RACE!!!  Seriously, Superman (aka Kal-El, displaced refugee from the planet Krypton) is a superhero—THAT'S A GIVEN!  As for Thor, an Asgardian (which is really more of an alien race at this rate, and not supernatural), saved Earth and the human race with his alien-tech weapon!  THEY'RE SUPERHEROES!  They can do super things ordinary humans cannot do in order to save the day!  But on the other hand, there's the Doctor, a Gallifreyan humanoid alien (a Time Lord, if you want to get technical) who can travel through all of time and space and use a sonic screwdriver like no fucker's business, and save the day!  He doesn't WANT to save the day, but he HAS to!  He'd rather go on vacation than stop some misguided human from using evil alien technology that will destroy the planet Earth, yet he still does it anyways because he knows it's the right thing to do!  He's still a hero!  Just don't not call him a superhero because he's an alien with alien tech!  (Racist again!  Of course, I'm also saying DON'T call him a superhero because that also doesn't gibe with the Chaotic-Good alignment he's got.  He's a hero, with extraterrestrial abilities and tech, who protects Terrans!)

            But these two things (alignment and abilities) aren't the only ingredients to the superhero sandwich you wish to examine.  We've got more to consider….

Appearance: Why It's Cool to Wear Your Underwear on the Outside and Accessorize With a Cape

            In our world, appearance is everything.  That's why the fashion industry is so huge in our society: people want to dress up in certain kinds of clothing in order to look rich, famous, like they're part of the "trendy in-crowd" who can get awesome jobs and extra houses and cars and yachts and stuff just because they "look good"!  To be honest, I don't care about the trends; I only use trends I actually agree with, and I try to go more for the functional part of fashion, rather than the "fashionable" part.  Seriously, skinny jeans, footless leggings, Ugg boots, pajama pants, year-round flip flops, and raggedy men's exercise shirts that have arm holes the size of my thighs are undoubtedly non-functional and unfashionable to me.  Translation: "UG-LY!  Go put on real clothing, dammit!  Because I want to destroy you with my laser brain and super hormones for wearing that!"

            But having a costume and an identity is another part of the whole superhero soup: who in their right mind would ever instinctively support some random nerdy party-going former TV host fat guy named Peter Smithwycke who wears khakis and a grease-stained t-shirt with raggedy sneakers on his feet, or some other guy who calls himself Red Napoleon (the name of my Voltaire cover band) and sports the Goth ensemble to fight an alien invasion that so far did not follow the United Nations' binders full of plans that deal with responding to a predetermined course of First Contact?  Captain America's outfit and Superman's costume are easily identifiable and associable with the hero who people, in general believe, can save them from whatever villain threatens their lives or lifestyle; it's a brand, like any sort of image that corporations would use as identification in the world.   It also gives them a "secret identity" that Tony Stark is obviously not following the code of, something that would protect them from having someone go after them for the purpose of "ruining" them, by threatening their life outside of their superhero career, threatening their loved ones, and so on and so forth.  It's like my names on the Internets: Eden Pyrithea or LadyEden1337 aren't my real names, but rather aliases I use to protect my real identity because I was raised to be paranoid thanks to my loving overprotective paranoid parents.  Only a select few know my real name.  And I am happy that they know who I am, because I trust them.

            Anyways, we've got three out of the four parts that make up being a superhero.  By this point, you're probably like, "Okay, wrap it up!  I've got videos of cats being cute and people being hit in the nuts to get back to watching!  You've confirmed what I believe makes up a superhero!  Just wrap it up and gimme my fucking hilarious Lolcat picture that you always tack on at the end that ties into the theme of the blog post!"  But you forget: there's one more part of superheroism that is crucial for your typical superhero to continue to exist: the SUPER VILLAIN and his minions!

Arch-Nemesis: Super Villains Exist Too

         (Yes, I named almost every single section in this blog entry with a word that starts with A.  Why not?!)

"The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture."
—Alfred Hitchcock
"Who is to say who is the villain and who is the hero?  Probably the dictionary."
—Joss Whedon
"Villains are much more proactive than heroes.  Heroes, by their nature, are purely reactionary forces.  The villain is, in all ways, an agent of change.  A catalyst."
—Black Mage from 8-Bit Theater
            In case you haven't gathered this from the quotes I listed, having an antagonist such as a villain or an arch-nemesis or even a super villain is essential (but not mandatory) to any superhero's existence.  Without the super villain, why would the superhero exist?  There's no Superman without Luthor, there's no Batman without the Joker and the Penguin and the Riddler, there is no Ceiling Cat without Basement Cat, there is no Sherlock Holmes without Jim Moriarty (unless you're into a JimLock roleplaying ship on Twitter, courtesy of Mark Gatiss's writing of "The Empty Hearse"; seriously, that idea gives me goosebumps), "There is no Thor without Loki," as Tom Hiddleston once shared during his Nerdist podcast episode while discussing the possibility of a Loki movie with host Chris Hardwick.

            Sure, there might be some petty criminals in the world who need to be slapped in the face and nagged to near death by my friend Jesse's superhero, Captain Naggy, but it would provide for a boring existence!  Heroes, in addition to superheroes, need some sort of challenge that overarches across every story; without villains, life would get boring fairly quickly with the press appearances, the interviews, the circus-like displays of his abilities, anything Metro Man would do in between each of his nemesis Megamind's attempts to defeat him and take over Metro City; it's in the movie Megamind, with Will Farrell's voice!  It's a pretty good movie; I suggest you watch it!

            Anyways, there's always going to be a super villain to balance out the existence of the superhero; otherwise, it's just an egocentric press circus that will get dull very quickly.  I mean, why did Indiana Jones have to go into perilous situations to retrieve artifacts?  To keep the Nazis from getting them!  Why did Captain America go into a Hydra factory sort of base camp?  So he can rescue 400 men, including his own best friend Bucky, from Herr Schmidt aka Red Skull.  What would happen if Thor and Loki got along pretty well?  NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN!!!!

            Let's face it: Evil geniuses are necessary so that the not-so-evil geniuses would face off against them and defeat them in a battle of wits and science and MWA-HA-HA-ing.  It's all about balance!  That's what the Tao-ist yin-yang symbol is all about: balance.  That's what Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law is describing: "For every action (force), there is an equal and opposite reaction (force)."  For without balance, the multiverse will be uneven and anything and everything (including motherfucking universal meta-badass Chuck Norris) will plunge into the jaws of CHAOS AND DISSOLUTION!!!

            *pant, pant*  I hope that covers it because I've already stayed up all night after sleeping all day this past Sunday, and after drafting this blog post, I'm ready to nap!  (Yes, once again, I'm screwing up my circadian rhythm.  Someone help me fix it please!)  In any case, I hope to every deity out there that this clears up the "what makes a superhero?" air; it's important to learn and understand ideas such as this so that we may correctly identify who IS a superhero and who is JUST a hero and who is NOT a superhero.  I tried to be as objective as possible with examples, so that we can apply the listed traits to the character to see how they measure up.  I also plan on publishing another blog post very soon; this one is a GUEST ENTRY, by my good friend Jesse Graves (a.k.a. Captain Naggy) and I hope it's a lot more comprehensive than this one.  I sure enjoyed providing my input on this nerdy topic, but now I must sleep some.

"Duct tape is like the force: there is a light side, a dark side and it holds the universe together."
—Anonymous source

Enjoy your tacquito.  And your Lolcat picture, which is really more of an adorable pug gif pic!—WASN'T IT WORTH IT?!?!