Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PSS: Superpowers

I'm told that when I was younger I stood in the movie theater cheering Superman in his quest to rid the world of evil. The recounted story has me out of the seat nearly the whole movie, staring at the massive screen in awe, with arms stretched to fly with Superman as he defeated evil with the flick of an eyelash.
That was me at 2: crushing ne'er-do-wells with my sidekick, Superman, and my incredible, heart-felt gesticulations. Perhaps, if you were that much of a pest, I'd even assault the baddies with the occasional undulation. Elvis with a cape, and a hefty side of bad-ass-doer-o'-good.

Comparatively, an introduction to super heroes through Superman is a bit unfair. Every other hero is like a small fragment of his greatness. Every other superpower is simply part of the and-also-ran list of Superman's abilities. First clue: his name isn't The Green Lantern, Aquaman or The Beast (a villain, I concede), or I've-got-one-power-so-I'm-special guy. It's Superman. SUPERman. You've got A power. That's great. He's got POWERS. Spiderman? That's nice. Can he fly? Batman? Get real. Can he lift a bus? Captain America? More like Captain American't. One trick ponies, the lot of them.

Let me reign my ego in while I stop flying around crisp, azure skies saving the world from certain doom. If I had to reduce myself to a single power like all of those hum-drum dime store comic book heroes, what power would that be?
Uncle Wiki lists things like: mutation, telekinesis, accelerated healing, invisibility, animated hair (I'm a prime candidate for that, right?), and the ever exciting sonic scream. It's a long list, really. Rummaging through it for that diamond-in-the-rough power proved unsuccessful though. Don't get me wrong, echolocation could be great, but it's not immediately awe-inspiring to me.

Since my six million dollar uncle let me down, I've had to resort to a bit of soul searching. As I'm wont to do, let me answer this question by telling an absolutely unrelated story.

I had wicked good noodles last week. Shanghai noodles from the Little World restaurant. Talk about super!

Wait, that's not the right story.
Sometime around 1988 things changed for me when I saw the Amazing Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a film by Terry Gilliam with an amazing cast. I wish I'd seen this one in the theater, but like a good number of the stories that shaped my youth, I caught this one on HBO at some point. The cast was a collection of oddball characters with unique abilities including Berthold, who could run at amazing speeds, Adolphus, who had incredible eyesight and was an amazing with a gun as a result, Gustavus, who could hear nearly anything and had lungs able to blow down entire armies, and Albrecht, the token strong man. (Superman could SO kick their asses.)

Here is a collection of clips:
The movie is a fable told in epic scale though, so each sidekick is put in a situation that demands their unique power. Berthold chased down a bullet, Adolphus did something really cool that I can't remember, Gustavus was also forgettable, but certainly amazing, and Albrecht did what strong men do - carried all the stuff for everyone else (including the entire treasure of a king).

The thing point is that when it mattered, each knew not only what he had to do, but that he could do it. And therein is the moral of the story, which I'll steal with glee and use for this post as well. Each had the confidence to get the job done, each was willing to be extraordinary despite the impossibility of the task in front of them. And at the end of the day, isn't that Superman's real power - that he had the confidence to try in the first place?
My superpower? The courage to be extraordinary, to be part of a story that inspires the boundless imagination of youth to dream. (Preferably in a cape.)

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