Who’s Afraid of Batman,
Superman & Spiderman?
There was a time, around WWII, that we got so scared about what we could do to ourselves, that we’ve resorted to an ancient device: to create incorruptible alter egos. They would be everything we’d like to believe our true nature was, noble, altruistic, always right. Plus they also had what we possibly couldn’t: supernatural powers.
At least, that was supposed to be their subtext. Superman, Batman, and other heroes conceived around that time, were all physically and morally powerful, and would never compromise. And neither would Spiderman, himself more a creature of the 1960s, full of self doubt and insecurities. Combined, they convey a pretty good picture of how we saw ourselves during the 20th century.
It’s too bad, then, that the more we flesh them out now, and imbue their myth with depth and gravitas, the more they recede toward the improbability and wind up helpless to cope with our way more complex reality. The trick worked for a while, but now its secret is out, and we’d no longer feel safe having one of them running around this side of the screen.
The more Hollywood reboots them, to please newly acquired sensibilities, the more it becomes clear that what they really embody is our fear, and as such, we don’t know which one is the scariest, whether the masked stand-ins we’ve created to keep our own monsters at bay, or our deranged need to fix everything about our own far from perfect nature.
Of course, the Greeks had it all pat down, and didn’t even bother giving their own superheroes unrealistic nobility or sense of justice. Their only difference was the sheer power they had, and we didn’t, to rule over our fate. In every other aspect, they were just like us, flawed, jealous, vindictive. Thus, arguably, their mythology has survived way longer than ours probably will.
So now that we’ve crushed you with our deeply unscientific and philosophically dubious view of superheroes, and why we even bothered creating them, despite our total lack of academic credentials to approach the subject with any originality, let’s have a quick look at some refreshing views of these three beloved characters.
THE UNETHICAL MR. KENT
Only the powerful appeal of an alien from Planet Krypton could withstand charges of using a self-serving human disguise, so to be able to go about his business of saving the skin of his hosts. It’s not clear why Kal-El decided to become a newspaper man in his spare time, but as far as journalistic ethics is concerned, he most definitely should’ve chosen something else.
That’s what writer Ed Yong found out, once he stopped being, as he put it, ‘willfully blind to the more grievous ethical breaches’ by those covering the so-called ‘superhero beat.’ Alas, Superman may be out for justice and all that, but as Clark Kent, he’s naturally averted to transparency and disclosure, crucial qualities for any reporter worth his notes.
Among the most serious charges Yong seems startled that no one has ever brought up about Kent, is his use of company time for the pursuit of personal interests, of inside information about his own activities, without disclosing how he obtained them, and, we may add, of sporting a ridiculous red spandex, that really doesn’t do much for his masculine self-image. Just saying.
And it’s not just Kent. Apparently, few have noticed how ingrained is the lack of professionalism within the Daily Planet. After all, Lois Lane is said to have won a Pulitzer for reporting on the Man of Steel, while secretly maintaining an affair with him. And Jimmy Olsen’s lack of critical thinking should get him fired anywhere else but on a comic strip. Oh that’s right, he lives in one.
SPIDEY’S STICKY FINGERS
Yong’s main charge against Peter Parker is the blatant ethical lapse ‘of taking photos of himself in a mask and selling them to his employers.’ But he also cuts the poor kid from Queens some slack, since photojournalism has always been low in cash rewards and high on risks. Not much has changed since, except perhaps that now writers and reporters as also underpaid.
But the Website I Am Bored won’t let Spiderman off the hook that easily, as it puts to question whether a spider bite, even a radioactive one, would really cause such an incredible physical mutation in a human being. Of course, you may already know the answer, that is, unless you’re waiting for the rapture or something, but it’s cool to watch them demonstrate it anyway.
In a quick video, that dips into science but thankfully avoids any CGI effects, it relates what we know about genetics, virology, and some of the physical attributes of arachnids to the amazing mutant. The results are mixed, at best, but not enough to spoil the fun. Again, taking such a close look at this loving, self-deprecating hero, still may induce some uneasiness.
No wonder his more insect-like characteristics are the ones to creep us out, once we think about them. Take hair, for example, a normal human aspect we already have a complicated relation with. Hairs that spiders and flies and bugs in general have in their extremities are definitely a put off in a human being, no matter how er silky his or her hair may be. On top of that, sticky hair? Ew.
A HARD LANDING FOR A BAT
Of the three, Batman is perhaps the one who went through the most transformations since its debut in the late 1930s. That may be so because he’s human, unlike Superman, and has had no shocking mutations, as Spiderman. But he could as well have them all and still be the strangest of them all, for if he’s one of us, he’s unlike anyone you’ve ever known.
Yet, someone came up with a ‘niche analysis’ of the Dark Knight, not so much of him as a character, but those wonderful toys that have been enthralling boys of all ages for over 70 years. Of course, it had to be another spoiler. This time, the buzzkillers have a beef with his cape, which he spreads like wings and uses to glide from the top of buildings on his nightly patrol.
Well, according to University of Leicester physics students, he’d need a parachute, or he’d be dead on landing. Did we mention that he’s human? They say that such a glide would drive him to speeds of almost 70mph at ground level, enough to crush, or severely impair, anyone, even him. It’d be the equivalent of being hit by the Batmobile at 60mph.
Of course, such a daring and elegant hero wouldn’t listen to physics undergrads, who may know a thing or two about wingspans and terminal velocity, but certainly have no sense of style. Imagine that they had the nerve to suggest the Cape Crusader to do what Gary Connery did, to become the first person to glide to the ground from a helicopter using only a wingsuit.
They said that, if Batman really wants to be standing, once on the ground, and able to fight the evil-doers on er equal footing, he’d would need someone, perhaps Luscious Fox, strategically placing a large number of cardboard boxes on the ground for him to crash into. Really? What else? a giant red ‘X.’ so he couldn’t miss it too? They have no shame.