Superhero Self-Help

Just finished reading From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust.  The novel is a hilarious send-up of the superhero genre, told in the form of a self-help book for superheroes: “When Being A Superhero Can’t Save You from Yourself – Self-Help for Today’s Hyper-Hominids.”  The novel is narrated by Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman, who is leading six dysfunctional superheroes through group therapy in the wake of a fellow hero’s death. The opening paragraph gives a pretty good flavor:

You can wrap a steel I beam around your neck with your bare hands and wear it like a tie.  You can swim so quickly that you can go back in time to offer Columbus correct directions to India.  You can climb the outside of a building, regurgitate the ton of paper you’ve eaten, and weave a beautiful multilevel hive while not paying a cent in downtown rent.

But are you happy?

Faust not only riffs off superhero psychology to hilarious effect, he also explores a sort of alternate Marvel/DC universe that is as diverse as the real world.  His racial (and gender/sexual orientation) critique of the superhero genre is brilliantly constructed – and brings a lot of laughs along the way.

At about 100 pages in, the book started to feel a bit slow to me, and I even wondered if there was really enough material for a 385-page superhero send-up.  But then it quickly picked up again, and there was a series of twists and revelations that were unpredictable, engaging, and just plain fun.  As the novel approaches its climax, the complex social criticism beneath the humor comes into sharp focus, and the result is nothing less than mind-blowing.  My laughter and pleasure in the book slowly gave way to anger as the intensity of the larger plot became clear.  Without getting into spoiler territory, the ending is unexpected, but completely apt, and it got me thinking about endings more generally.  So many endings aim to leave the reader satisfied, sad, even horrified – but rarely is anger the intended reaction.  Perhaps more books ought to do so; there’s no shortage of injustice for us to be angry about.

My sense is that Faust’s critique is not so much of psychology but rather a certain aspect of the individualistic, self-help culture – a paradigm that, when taken to its extreme, tends to pathologize self-sacrifice and heroism, and leaves little room for an understanding of social justice.  It’s quite impressive that a book so successful in its humor is also so successful in its thought-provoking social commentary.

Faust is also brilliant at voice and dialogue – his mastery of multiple dialects reminded me of greats like Mark Twain, and that alone makes the book worth reading.  Recommended for anyone who loves superheroes, social criticism, or laughing out loud.

Secret Invasion: The “Wha-huh?” Moments

secret_invasion_2_p1So Marvel Comics has just wrapped up Secret Invasion,  its mega-crossover for 2008.  Shape-changing alien skrulls secretly invade earth, taking the place of many of your favorite superheroes.  You can’t trust anybody anymore.  An old but fun premise with lots of potential, especially in the hands of talented writer Brian Michael Bendis.  Sadly, it concluded with a whole bunch of Whahuh? moments.  Spoiler-filled, highly editorial discussion below the fold.

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Latino Superheroes at Fantasy

In case any of you haven’t caught it, an expanded version of my post on the top Latino superheroes has been published online by Fantasy magazine, complete with pretty graphics and interesting follow-up conversation in the comments section.

And while you’re there, check out some of the other cool articles and stories there – it’s one of the best online fantasy magazines, IMO.

Top 12 Latino Superheroes

I just read Nameen Gobert Tilahun’s excellent article in Fantasy Magazine about a recent list of top 25 Black superheroes.  It got me thinking about the relative lack of Latino superheroes (though there have been more recently), and the stereotypes and other oddities about the way Latinos are often featured in comics.   And of course it got me thinking, “who are the biggest Latino superheroes?” Here’s my personal top 12, ranked according to a highly unscientific combination of popularity, importance, and my own personal fondness (or lack thereof) for the characters.

#12 Rictor/Richter (X-books): Rictor is a relatively minor character in the X-universe, but I remember him fondly from my 80s childhood.  Rictor and fellow New MutantsHe was a young mutant with the power to create earthquakes, and started out as a trainee with X-factor, and then migrated from X-book to X-book (X-terminators, New Mutants, X-force, and I think recently he’s back with the current incarnation of X-factor.)  Rictor was cool (at least at first) because he was a visibly Latino character who wasn’t a blatant stereotype. After I stopped reading X-force (even as a teenager I was turned off by Rob Liefeld’s hackneyed writing), there was apparently some plotline about his Mexican family dealing arms. Doesn’t sound very promising, and if it was written by Liefeld, I doubt it was handled with any subtlety.

It took me quite a while to find a pic of Rictor as I remember him.  A leather vest with no shirt  … kind of a hot anti-costume, but could you get away with that even in the 80s? 

Considering that the X-books are single-handedly responsible for like 75 percent of the diversity of the Marvel Universe, it’s surprising there haven’t been more X-Latinos.  But I haven’t been keeping up well with most of the X-books lately (there are just too many of them), and I’ve heard in recent years they’ve featured some other Hispanic characters, like Empath, Cecilia Reyes, and Skin.

#11 Isaac Mendez (Heroes): From the first season of Heroes Isaac had the power to paint the future.  His heroine addiction (he could only paint the future while high) was a bit of a stereotype as well as a low-hanging fruit for the writers, but Santiago Cabrera’s performance was strong, and I thought the character had potential until they killed him off. 

No, I didn’t include Maya and Alejandro from season two of Heroes … they were just way too annoying for me.  

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