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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some Saturday supervillainy: Zeus vs the Hulk

Well, almighty Zeus isn't really presented in Marvel Comics as a villain, exactly, but I couldn't resist the alliteration.

I see around the intertubes that Marvel created a minor controversy this week when it presented a clash between one of its major heroes, the Incredible Hulk, and the king of the Greek gods - Zeus himself. Guess who won?

Now some Hulk fans are complaining about the Hulk, who almost never loses a fight, being taken down so badly by a "mere" king of a pantheon of imaginary deities. Others are observing that if Hulk fans have reached the point where they expected a different outcome ... well, it was about time something like this happened. I tend to the latter view: heroes are supposed to be physically beatable. They are not supposed to solve their problems by overwhelming force - at least not time after time - but through resourcefulness and courage and a certain amount of luck (and, where relevant, teamwork). Which was why I could never see the point of Superman when I was a kid ... and still can't really.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is kryptonite too much of a one note solution?

Grendels Dad

Marshall said...

I think it's interesting that you see moral forces at work within this.... well, comic book... world. You seem to be taking advantage of the non-objective nature of the setting and characters to speculate about how abstract moral forces like courage, resourcefulness and luck could operate. I see that you can step entirely out of the frame and criticize the book according to whether the forces operate as they should. So where someone else might see a colorfully violent pastiche, you find a working definition of virtue. Yes? Not a justification, but an explication such as might be a valid element of a moral curriculum.

Anonymous said...

I actually really like Superman's personality, since he is essentially a physical god, and yet he spends most of his time helping people and living a modest life rather than trying to impose his philosophical or political issues on people. So, he seems like the sort of hero you'd like to have around.
His powers on the other hand, are ridiculous, and I always rather looked up to Lex Luthor for having the balls to go after him as a frail meatbag.

Russell Blackford said...

I'm sooo tempted to write a whole blog post about the (good) points that you all make. Since I seem to have thrown away a promising career as a media tie-in writer to be a philosopher, lol, I am now a bit of an armchair admiral with these things.

But yes, it's fascinating to see how these character concepts and the ideas attached to them (including ideas of resourcefulness, power, the proper use of power, and so) play out.

Yeah, Superman can kind of be justified as a mythic story about the proper use of very great power. There's also the point that's sometimes made about how Superman is totally alien and in effect isolated from others by his difference, including his vast power. People know his person of Clark Kent, but they don't know him (though in the comics he has actually married Lois Lane so that effect is largely lost).

But one thing that bugs me is how someone like Lex Luthor has to use his wits to go up against the overwhelming power of the hero. The weakness to Kryptonite can only be used so often before it palls, and really, the whole idea of hero struggling against the odds is hard to sustain when the hero is on such a godlike level. It's the villains who have to be smart and resourceful.

As for the Hulk, he was originally a combination of Jekyll/Hyde and King Kong. He was a representation of anger or rage - incredibly powerful and destructive in rampages, and very hard to hurt. He was ordinary anger amped up to an enormous degree, thanks to Bruce Banner absorbing vast power from the explosion of the gamma bomb or whatever it was called. But like King Kong he was not supposed to be totally invincible or invulnerable. He could be in trouble against a competent, well-prepared villain.

You have to keep exploring the possibilities of characters, but if you make the Hulk unbeatable you lose much of what made the character interesting in the first place.

Russell Blackford said...

That should be "persona of Clark Kent".

Jambe said...

I'm not a big fan of Superman myself - I was always more interested in the darker or more misfit DC groups like the Outsiders, Checkmate, Shadowpact, the Suicide Squad, etc. That said, Kent may not be written as an intellectual, but he works fine in a team and can even lead, and he often has too much courage for his own good.

I was never deep into mainstream DC or Marvel comicdom, but anymore I rarely read it at all. I only follow the Batman books because of the art - Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs produce some of the most consistently distinctive and beautiful work comics have ever seen if you ask me! Dustin's watercolor covers are downright breathtaking sometimes.

There's so much other stuff out there that's far more interesting, though, in terms of narrative. You have the popular Dark Horse titles like Hellboy and The Umbrella Academy ofc, and Vertigo/DC series like Mike Carey's wonderful Lucifer, the sprawling modern fantasy of Fables and Neil Gaiman's Sandman (ntm all of Alan Moore's stuff they publish).

So much! The shelf in front of me has Y: The Last Man, Asterios Polyp, Incognito, Warren Ellis' Planetary and Transmetropolitan, Luna Park, Hickman's The Nightly News, Local, Wasteland, and ALEC: The Years Have Pants, which is Eddie Campbell's amazing autobiographical comic omnibus.

However, I do think I'll have to pick up Uncanny X-Men now, because Kieron Gillen will be writing it solo soon after Matt Fraction stops co-writing it with him, or so I gather (I enjoy Fraction as well - I have his creator-owned Casanova tpbs somewhere in the house).

Gillen's indie book Phonogram was great and liked how he wrote Thor and Beta Ray Bill during his BRB miniseries (some friends have been trying to get me into Marvel again by showing me Gillen's writing). These same people tell me his X-Men spinoff Generation Hope is worthwhile but I haven't had the time to check it out.

I can't say I've ever been a fan of the Hulk, for the same reason I'm not a fan of Superman. I generally prefer Snarky Brainy Folk in Battles of Wit to Big Strongmen Smashing Stuff.

Svlad Cjelli said...

Lets not forget that "Superman" is the alias invented to protect Clark Kent's affairs. People don't tend to remember that the bright, inside-out, primary-coloured circus-outfit is the act.