CURRENT TRENDS IN SUPERHEROHOOD
by MÖRTEN PEDERSEN
"Captain Whizz beheld, in one of his many technological technical gadgets, the approach of his arch-nemesis Commander Bloodspray who had sky blue eyes like the sea. Sneering, Captain Whizz unsheathed his death-probe-stick, dudgeoned already with blood. Then Captain Whizz said, very impressively, "In the name of all that is just and righteous may you feel the vengeance of my probe stick on this sacred night". Commander Bloodthing laughed mockingly, looking quite evil. Time would tell..."
The above excerpt, from Kerp Titchener's "The Wonder of Whizz" is part of a current attempt to re-invigorate the traditional superhero novel. A symptom of this trend is the recent collaboration between Date Morson and Tetty Whelmes, in which the morphogenic character of Tumbleman appears. Tumbleman is a former member of the Kirov Ballet who, having been affected by the Chernobyl fallout, gains the unlikely ability to pirouette and tumble at speeds in excess of 60 mph. This talent is put to use in various intriguing ways, chief amongst which is aiding the Eurasian peasants in the Urals in their zinc prospecting by pirouetting at such speed as to bore a hole in the mountainside.
"Perestroika Tumbleman" and "Tumble! Tumble! Tumble!" have been criticised for their dismissive characterisation of women as mere aides and votaries to a main male character. Mindful of these comments Tetty Whelmes is about to publish what she hopes will be the novel to redress this balance while at the same time trying to find a milieu and structure that is more in keeping with the reality of women's lives as she sees it.
"Mrs Tate : Excellent Juggler" finds the modern woman in a humble domestic setting, constrained by social power relations but finding her salvation from banality in her extra-special talent. After accidentally drinking a domestic cleaning product Mrs Tate finds she can juggle with extraordinary proficiency. A mysterious qualification to this talent is that she can only juggle prime numbers of given objects. In the exhilarating finale Mrs. Tate takes on Gorfo The Invincible in an interstellar juggling contest in which the competitors are challenged to juggle as many American Presidents as they can.
"Gorzo, with ten hands, had eight hands more than what Mrs. Tate had, which was but two. But what he didn't have was her female intuition,dental brace and womanly charm. Mrs Tate may not have been very beautiful on the outside etc. but that wasn't the be-all-and-end-all because she could juggle any number of articles as long as that number was not divisible by any number other than itself and one.."
In a beautiful resolution Mrs Tate's husband - a former mathematician who renounced his profession and took up alcoholism when one of his equations crippled a ten year old boy - finds redemption when he proves that 223,793 is a prime number and helps his wife to win the contest and save the planet. By virtue of an unexplained associative reaction the crippled child, now 38, finds perfect health and goes on to become the renowned middle distance runner Seb Coe.
This synthesis of logic and fantasy has always proved a potent attraction for superherodom: who can forget Low-Junction Girl and her ability to melt at low temperatures?. Or Trigonometry Boy and his ability to contort his body into any shape whose vertices add up to 180Š ?. Unfortunately he was forced to retire when he ruptured his hypotenuse whilst trying to verify the cosine rule.
Not all superheroes are similarly fated to meet with misfortune. The memory persists of Fack Almsby's creation " Pete Brans - Lord of Fauna" who, having gargled his streptococcus throat with plutonium, gains the ability to magnetically attract microscopic herbaceous life to his teeth and thereby save it from extinction. Though beset with tooth decay, Pete Brans goes on to live forever, blossoming for one season in every year.
Those superheroes devised with an eye to verisimilitude have been rather less successful.
Nat Gorling's contribution to the genre "Beige Cummins and his Modified Height" has hardly broken any bestseller records concerning, as it does, a man who can vary his height from 5 7' to 5 9' whilst maintaining his humility. And whither Poppy Cobbler?, the piebald chihuahua who can mend working men's shoes with commendable alacrity whilst also playing his part in the French resistance.
This last work points to a sub-genre within the heroic novel form : that of the animal-as-savant conceit. The seminal work in this field was the Cold War epic "Hook, Line & Llama" about Corky, the eponymous Llama who overhears a politburo meeting whilst grazing in a window box at the Kremlin. Using her limited Russian, Corky reaches the conclusion that a nuclear strike from the Russians is imminent. Corky thus sets about a subterfuge to prevent them and to this end she invites all of the Russians to Trabolgan Adventure Centre for a weekend. That weekend, with the country empty, Corky travels its length and breadth hiding things in obscure places so as to disrupt all Russian plans. Unfortunately Corky mistakenly hides herself under the triple-word-score on a scrabble board and is never seen again.
It is to be hoped that a similar fate does not await the superhero novel, performing, as it does, an essential function in motivating people to greater achievements. It is evident that a great amount of despair informs that outlook and demeanour of the common man these days and it is through the benevolence of the superhero novel that we learn that, if only we can find the right bottle of radioactive detergent, we too can develop our potential.