When it comes to superheroes there are two things that have repeatedly proved themselves to not work. One is when campaigners use a superhero to fight for a worthy real-life cause, the other is superheroes who play up to the superhero myth. Time and again superheroes have been co-opted to try and improve the behaviour and morals of the young, perhaps the best known example is Superman taking on Nick O’ Teen in the memorable (but rubbish) 70’s anti-smoking campaign. It didn’t stop kids smoking and Superman just came across like a pain-in-the-arse control freak who should have much better things to do than prevent kids blagging gaspers outside newsagents.
Equally, when movie makers deliberately attempt to subvert the genre by being knowingly ironic - recent examples include Green Lantern, Super, Hancock, My Super Ex-Girlfriend – their movies are usually badly received because they fail to understand that viewers already know that superheroes are ridiculous; they don’t need to pay good money to be told as much. Incidentally, you can tell when a superhero movie is doing this when they refer to other superheroes as being fictional.
There are honourable exceptions; The Incredibles, Megamind, Mystery Men and Kick-Ass all played with the myth and won because they retained a respect for the genre they were poking fun at. After all, as far-fetched as superheroes are, they provide much entertainment for millions of comic book fans and have done for decades. Films aimed at that community which belittle the genre are never going to prosper. The best superheroes have always offered escapism, yes, but also sincerity - they work because no matter how ridiculous or far fetched they appear they stay true to their own moral code and behave in a correspondingly sincere way. In taking away the sincerity, all these films leave is a daft bloke in tights.
Surprising then, that a comic book which melds good cause campaigning and knowing irony should succeed - but Superior, by Mark Miller, certainly does. Building on the success of his biggest hit, Kick-Ass writer Miller has created a comic book which takes a young MS sufferer and turns him into a ‘real-life’ version of his ‘fictional’ superhero.
12-year old Simon is wheelchair-bound and facing a lifelong struggle with MS but finds escape in watching the ‘Superior’ film series - a barely-disguised take on Superman. When a space monkey who’s actually a demon from hell (I know it sounds naff, but stay with me) offers Simon the chance to become a real life version of Superior, he is transformed into his own superhero and, after saving a few lives and stopping a war, attains the status of most beloved person on the planet. Inevitably, there are more twists to the tale and pretty soon super-villains start coming out of the woodwork to complicate matters. What follows is an exciting tale of bravery and life-changing moral choices which, in theory, should be a cloying, syrupy embarrassment but is actually an inspired and inspiring story that is every bit as good as traditional comic books.
Superior succeeds because it respects the superhero myth it is usurping, has fantastic artwork (by Leinil Yu), uses MS as a starting point rather than the entire raison d’être and warms the heart without being patronising. There is a movie version in the offing – to be made by the same director as Kick-Ass – so sufferers of MS may be about to get an unprecedented big screen embodiment.
Superior is available here
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