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best. superheroes. ever.

According to me, that is. :)

I was thinking of mentioning this on Sunday but then it, well, didn't happen, and work consumed me. Now I was taking a break and reading blogs... what else is there to do when it's so cold and windy out there? And, btw, will this cold stop? It's almost April already! Last Saturday not only we had near-zero temperatures, but we also had gale force winds!. But I digress...

So I see that Anne brings up the topic of superheroes, which reminded me of what I was going to write about: my top five favorite superheroes (since I've got High-Fidelity on my mind, and hence top-five lists!), and their best stories. (Note: some images below are clickable).

1. Batman


Who else? But of course, not just Batman-any-batman-batman, but Dark-knight-Batman, creation of Frank Miller's genius, also responsible for other graphic novel classics such as Ronin.

Miller reimagined the legend of Batman in the mid-80s as the Dark Knight: when the story told in Miller's Dark Knight Returns begins, Batman is old (more than 50), and he has been inactive for ten years. Gotham City has grown unruly and anarchic, and few think that Batman actually existed: he has become a legend. At the same time, he has grown bitter, and a lot less tolerant. When he decides to resume his vigilante ways and bring back order to Gotham, it's No more Mr. Nice Guy, but the enemies of the present are not what they used to be (The Joker, for example, is a raving all-out psychopath). This Batman influenced all that came afterwards in all mediums, including Tim Burton's masterpiece at the end of the 80s, and is most definitely not Adam West in tights with Robin prancing around next to him and warning "holy jokes Batman!" (which isn't to say that the movies got, er, "campier" --and crappier--, the further away they moved from Burton's original in time). He's no longer a troubled person that battles crime or being a corporate honcho, now it's clear that there's an underlying element of dangerous psychosis to someone who runs around at night dressed like a flying rodent on state-of-the-art machinery. The deep scars created in his childhood are evident, and they make him more human, and consequently all the greater as a superhero. batman_dark_knight.jpg

Miller followed The Dark Knight Returns with Batman: Year One in which he retells the story of Bruce Wayne as he fumbles his way into superhero-dom, fleshing out the characters to never-seen-before depths.

Miller's DK2, the Dark Knight Strikes Again, is a fantastic piece of art, where Batman has to fight against a Government that has grown in its Fascist tendencies and where do-goodies like Superman have compromised so much with it in the name of "fighting evil" that they have actually become "part of the system", which is controlled by Lex Luthor and Brainiac--and there's only the man in the cape ready to outwit them. (Yes, this is no mere hyperbole). Here Batman becomes as radical as the forces he opposes, and while sometimes Miller stretches it a bit in different dimensions, it's well worth the read. Incidentally, Alan Moore (which I'll mention again below) also added to the Batman story with the classic The Killing Joke, in which he explores the psychology of both Batman and Joker further than most.

2. V


V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore is, in my opinion, one of the finest pieces of literature ever written, never mind graphic novels or comics. Moore also created Watchmen (in which superheroes move in the shadows of a world that no longer cares about them and have to deal with very real, down-to-earth problems) and From Hell (and I don't have enough superlatives for these two books, so I won't bother. Suffice it to say that if you like comments and you haven't read them, well, you just should--and while you're at it also read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Moore as well, which is nothing like the movie).

V_for_Vendetta-cover.jpgV has some elements in common with Batman, but there's another reference that is more relevant here and that is Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration (which I mentioned here with Ensayo sobre la ceguera, another book that touches on some similar ideas). In the graphic novel, Britain has become a police state after a nuclear war left most of the world in ruins (though Britan was spared after removing its missile silos), and V emerges from seemingly nowhere to challenge the established order. There are so many ideas on each page that Pynchon comes to mind (just an analogy though, I'm not saying that a graphic novel can approach the depth and complexity of, say, Gravity's Rainbow!).

V is basically an anti-hero, which is what's required for the times (in fact, he takes a similar role to that of Batman in DK2). I don't want to disclose how it ends since the astonishing ending is what 'makes' V, but "Ideas are bulletproof" is one of my favorite statements of all time. :)

3. El Eternauta

Not strictly a superhero (but then again V wasn't, either), created By Hector Germán Oesterheld, one of the best comic writers from Argentina, El Eternauta covers the story of a group of people fighting an Alien invasion in Buenos Aires. El Eternauta has elements of "Golden Age" science fiction, literature (with the idea of Robinson Crusoe's island turned into a home in the vastness of a city where most people have been killed by a deadly Snowfall), and it never compromises (although the two sequels turned to veer off into more traditional superhero storylines that suited less the story than the evolving politics of the time).

One of the (many) things that appeal to me about this story and character is that they are uncommon: there aren't any fancy locales, but the greatness and gritiness of reality, or unbelievable heroics, but the heroism that comes from taking a stand when you have to. It's just a man, and his family, and his friends, fighting against all odds with whatever they have. The everyday, down-to-earth nature of it makes it all the more worthy.

A great story, plus great characters, with El Eternauta as the quintessential image of a someone wanting to relive the good days of the past, and finding, in a very real sense, that you can never escape the present. A masterpiece.

4. Lobo

lobo.jpgPossibly the wackiest, craziest "superhero" ever created, Lobo never fails to crack me up. Again, he's more of an anti-hero (I seem to have a thing for them no?), but he's shown his tender side every once in a while. The story of Lobo is as crazy as the character: he's the last one of his race, because he killed everyone else on his planet (he was bored by them, and he wanted to be "unique"). He lives in an asteroid in deep space. (The Little Prince, anyone?). With him ("swimming" in space in orbit around the asteroid) live a group of space-dolphins, which are the only living creature he respects and loves. He can survive in space without food, air, water, or a spacesuit for that matter. He only listens to heavy metal music, and only from a particular space-radio station, and he got an implant so that he can hear it 24/7, transmitted directly into his brain anywhere in the galaxy. At the beginning, each drop of blood from Lobo created an exact replica of him. This created major chaos but it really annoyed the original Lobo, which killed most of the them until he fought to the death with the last clone (the problem is that no one knows who won--so maybe it's the Clone that's still out there!). lobo.png The Legion of Superheroes captured him and through some genetic-engineering thingamagic "disabled" the cloning feature in Lobo--and tried to kill him by dumping an entire mountain on top of him (unsuccessfully I might add). He fought against Superman and it was a draw!

But that's not the end of it. In the Lobo Paramilitary X-mas Special, he squared off against a crazy Santa Claus and his band of armed-to-the-teeth elves (he won). He was killed and went to hell, but he made such a mess there that they sent him to heaven, from which he was (of course) expelled, and since no one wanted him the, um, powers that be decided to re-incarnate him. First as a bunny (but he gets killed again). Then as a wickedly powerful woman (killed again, yes). Then finally as himself again. In The Last Czarnian we see Lobo chased by:

  • The Legion of Decency (a group of psychotic, tea-sipping grannies)
  • A convoy of space truckers (their leader is an Elvis impersonator)
  • The Oneida Police Swat Team (who want to kill Lobo after he kills their police chief)
  • The Storm Troopers of the Pan-Galactic Demolition Dance Company (who want revenge after Lobo upstaged them during their chainsaw ballet) (!)
  • The Orthography Commandos (a group of hooded literacy loonies that hold lethal spelling bees) (!!)

Insane, sure. But lots of fun. :)

And, last but not least...

5. Wolverine

wolverine-small.jpgMy favorite character from X-Men (with Jean Grey/Phoenix behind), Wolverine is by now known to all as some guy in a movie that smokes cigars and likes to ride in fast bikes. But (as the movies well show, although I fear that sometimes these subtleties might get a bit lost in the noise) Wolverine/Logan is a pretty screwed up person, generally looking out for himself more than for the greater good (although when forced to choose he's a pretty decent guy). The claws and the Adamantium skeleton are insanely cool, but his self-healing abilities are even better (and there could be no first without the second!).

The psychology of Wolverine is generally overlooked, but fascinating on its own right. Wolverine/Logan is one of the main reasons why I like X-Men in the first place--without him something would definitely be missing from the story (unlike other what would happen if some other major characters where missing).

And, an honorary mention to: The Demon who is as funny as Lobo but (because of a curse) has to speak in verse, The Demon is a spirit banished from (where else?) hell, that inhabits the body of a poor guy that can't do anything to stop it (except take up buddhism!). The series of four books The Demon v. Lobo is truly something to behold.

Wow, I just realized that I've been writing for almost an hour! I guess I needed the break. :)

Posted by diego on March 23, 2004 at 9:20 PM

it's not as easy as it seems

An excellent Salon article triumph of the telcos, on what we rarely hear about developments in VoIP:

[...] the battle with Big Telecom is one front in a wider war on the oligarchies that dominate the world economy. But to the oligarchs themselves that war is a mere sideshow. The real fight is between Big Telecom and Big Cable, with both sides using Internet telephony as a weapon.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 23, 2004 at 6:48 PM

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