Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ROADS TO REGRETTABILITY : HOMEGROWN INTERNATIONAL HEROES


Roads to Regrettability : Homegrown International Heroes
The League of Regrettable Heroes – soon to be published by Quirk Books and written by yours truly – features write-ups on 100 of comicdom’s weirdest, most unfortunate, most misunderstood and flat-out strangest  superheroes. The book debuts June 2, 2015, so in the meantime let’s discuss the many paths a character can take on the road to regrettability. There’s an old joke that war is how God teaches geography to Americans, and the fact is that our colossus of a nation sometimes makes us a little ignorant of the heroes of other lands, which is why sometimes they come out a little stereotypey …

One of the things which the limited series Marvel Super Heroes Contest of Champions brought to the world of superherodom was a heretofore unheard-of number of international heroes. Slipping the boundaries which seemed to keep superheroes exclusively in Manhattan (or, at least, America), superheroes from around the planet were introduced in one swell foop. The problem- no one seemed to know enough about other nations to create much in the way of nuanced regional heroes, meaning we had a green-clad Irish “Shamrock,” a generically Arabic “Arabian Night,” an aboriginal “Talisman” parading around the Dreamtime, and a West German superhero named, of all things, Blitzkrieg. Who were his sidekicks, Kristalnacht and Zyklon?

Knockin' down haters.
Not to be left out in the cold, DC had their own international super-heroes. On television, the Japanese “Samurai” and Native American “Apach Chief” rubbed shoulders with a glitter-tastic Mexican El Dorado, all of whom possessed powers that had nothing to do with their names (which were there just to be ethnic, frankly). Meanwhile, in the pages of the Super Friends comics – and elsewhere in the DC Universe – an international “Global Guardians” was developed to provide some around-the-world flavor, but again was based largely on landmarks and cultural traditions. Ireland was this time represented by Jack O Lantern, Greece by The Olympian, Denmark by The Little Mermaid, Japan by The Rising Sun, and so on.

DC repeated this technique when appointing its unusual New Guardians, supposedly the next generation of super-humanity representing all the people of the world, but once again the aboriginal Australian wandered the Dreamtime, plus there was a Japanese guy who was really good with computers and a totally racist white South African. At least that last one was a bit of a twist.


A personal favorite among the American-created international jet set was Captain Britain, created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe in order to give Marvel UK a British hero in the Marvel tradition, without all that pesky familiarity with the culture. Powered by Merlyn, a member of aristocracy and intended to be a sort of stiff-upper-lip Captain America, the British Cap’s costume was a lorry wreck of apparent Englishisms shoved haphazardly on a single piece of fabric. With tiny flags on the corner of his mask, a lion rampant on his chest, Union Jack bracelets and a ding-dang scepter, all that was missing was a belt made of five-pound notes and fish fingers. Maybe he could also have a double-decker bus he parks in a red telephone booth, just to make sure all our bets are covered.

4 comments:

The Abominable N. Oremac said...

At least Marvel UK had the good sense to hand Captain Britain to Alan Davis, Dave Thorpe and Alan Moore and say "here, do some shit with this guy"...then Claremont got his hands on the character again, but now everything was DIFFERENT because X-books and Kitty Pryde and stuff.

cup king said...

A a person of British could I take this opportunity to thank you for not mentioning bad teeth.

Count Otto Black said...

This is a very late comment because I've only just read the post, but as a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, I feel I should mention Alan Grant's Batman - The Scottish Connection. In this ludicrous travesty obviously written after an extremely brief Scottish holiday, Bruce Wayne visits a Scotland that consists entirely of picturesque Highland scenery and several tourist destinations in and around Edinburgh. Unexpectedly encountering a supervillain who, because he's Scottish, is a scrawny red-haired man in a kilt called Fergus who seems to have bought his costume in charity and joke shops, and whose headquarters is a quaint wee cottage down a dirt road, as inhabited by everyone in Scotland who doesn't live in Edinburgh Castle, Batman has his work cut out because - and this is the ultimate insult! - he didn't bother to pack any bat-equipment other than his costume because he was only going to Scotland, so what could possibly happen? Obviously he's never seen Braveheart!

So come on, give Fergus Slith the embarrassingly useless Scottish supervillain a good going-over! He's undoubtedly "gone and forgotten" because at the end he falls off Edinburgh Castle, along with his sister, an equally feeble Scottish superhero whose incredible powers basically amount to having two trained crows. Which makes her more of a force to be reckoned with than the Red Bee, but only just. And by the way, our national totemic bird is not the crow but the golden eagle, an enormous raptor that could take your face off with no trouble at all, so Alan Grant has his wires a little crossed there.

As does Batman, whose reputation as the world's greatest detective is surely undeserved since, apart from being defeated by the weather because Scotland is so obviously harmless that he couldn't be bothered to pack his night-vision goggles, he somehow manages to get the "nothing worn under the kilt" joke wrong.

Calamity Jon said...

I feel I should mention, for whatever it's worth, that both the writer and artist for that book - Alan Grant and Frank Quitely - are Scottish. I have to wonder if they didn't dumb down the cultural references just to get it past an American editor ...

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