Oct 24 2008

When parodying superheroes, you can do better than lampooning their clothes

Superhero parodies are very hard to write. Generally, you can’t parody something that treats itself as ridiculous to begin with.  This means that poking fun at ridiculous elements of superhero stories, like what superheroes wear, is usually unsuccessful. Fortunately, many elements have more comedic potential because the stories take them seriously.

1. Superhero origin stories have always been outlandishly tragic, but since roughly 1990 it has just been ludicrous. Instead of just watching his loved ones get murdered, the hero might get betrayed by the CIA, set on fire, sent to hell and then return as some sort of crazyass demon-hunter.

2. As superhero stories progress, the writers run out of material and the likelihood that the stories will take bizarre twists approaches 100%. He’s a clone! His parents were superspies! His aunt marries a supervillain! His girlfriend falls for a werewolf! He grows six arms! He writes his girlfriend out of history by making a deal with the devil! And that’s just Spiderman. Don’t even get me started on the total strangeness surrounding Jimmy Olsen.


3. Loving a superhero is pretty much the kiss of death. If you had to choose between dating a deranged serial killer and a superhero, go for the killer. At least there’s some chance that the killer will give up the behaviors that would get cut into pieces and stashed in someone’s refrigerator. On the other hand, if you learn that your lover is a superhero, you might as well shoot yourself. You’re going to die anyway, but at least you make sure you don’t get tortured, too.

4. As a rule, superheroes are totally socially inept. Some are mildly unsociable (for example, nerds like Peter Parker) but more usually because they’re so totally psychologically dysfunctional that they probably need psychiatric help (Bruce Wayne and Wolverine).

5. Superheroes tend to live in a world where intense violence is so routine that they frequently come off as casual psychopaths. For example, when Wolverine fatally stabs a cop in X-Men 2, no one seems to think it’s strange to have a copkiller working at a school. Great role-model there. And Xavier wonders why humans are afraid of mutants.

6. Stumbling across a hero’s secret identity will reduce your life expectancy to about 30 minutes. Writers tend to kill off such people because it’s the easiest way to tie up the loose end at the end of the episode or comic book. In fact, the people that discover Superman’s identity die so regularly and so quickly that it’s amazing that the police haven’t looked into the theory that Superman kills them.

7. Learning how to give someone superpowers will reduce your life expectancy to about 2 minutes. Writers tend to kill off the scientists that develop superserums and other power-generators so that their Captain Americas will be unique. Relatedly, did you know that over half of Allied lab assistants in World War II were actually Nazi spies?

8. By wearing glasses and changing the pitch of your voice, you can easily convince everyone that you are a mild-mannered reporter or freelance photographer in spite of having an outrageously muscle-bound body. You’ll even fool the Pulitzer-winning investigative journalists at the office!

9. Professional ethics don’t apply to superheroes. Clark Kent is apparently an excellent journalist even though his secret moonlighting as Superman creates the largest conflict of interest in the history of journalism. Let’s see. The most prominent journalist in Metropolis is secretly the biggest news story in Metropolis. And the second most prominent journalist in the city has the hots for him!

10. Any alien species will either look completely human (Superman) or have the ability to polymorph into a human (Martian Manhunter). Either way, they will be better than human in every way. Ah, humans. It’s like we’re Darwinian rejects. We don’t even have a distinct advantage at seeming human!

11. Comic books bend over backwards to make New York City the center of the action, even when it makes no sense whatsoever. For example, why would teenage mutant ninja turtles (nearly naked coldbloods) want to live in frigid New York? Brr. Why would anyone want to live in Marvel Comic’s New York City? You can hardly throw a rock without hitting a supervillain or alien invader.

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “When parodying superheroes, you can do better than lampooning their clothes”

  1. Elecon 16 Aug 2013 at 1:27 am

    This list in itself is pretty funny :). Sort of amazed no one has commented here yet, especially since it’s such an informative article. Thanks for the tips, B. Mac!

  2. B. McKenzieon 16 Aug 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks for the comment. Most of the articles from before 2009 (e.g. this one came from October 2008) don’t have very many comments — at that time, we were averaging 200 visitors per day, compared to about 2,000 now. Only 153 people have seen this article before, so that probably explains the absence of comments. In contrast, 190,000 people have seen the list of superpowers… it’s had so many comments that they’ve taken the site down twice. I’ve had to delete thousands of LOS comments.

    Also, I think that the articles which tend to generate the most comments are advice-oriented. A lot of people ask for advice or explain why the advice is wrong or offer recommendations to people that have already asked for advice, etc. Most of the non-advice articles (e.g. comedy and observations) are harder to interact with, I think. Besides variations of “this is great!” or “I hated this!”, I think it’d be harder to leave a comment on a work of fiction than on an advice piece.

  3. Nayanon 20 Aug 2013 at 1:03 am

    “As a rule, superheroes are totally socially inept. Some are mildly unsociable (for example, nerds like Peter Parker) but more usually because they’re so totally psychologically dysfunctional that they probably need psychiatric help (Bruce Wayne and Wolverine).”

    Christopher Nolan toned down Bruce Wayne’s psychological problems in the films. Bruce did not seem psychologically dysfunctional. Also his egocentric behavior was reduced. In the movies he respected others. But in modern age comics (Dark Knight Strikes Again, All Star Batman and Robin) he treats everyone like shit.

    Compare this:-

    Batman (All Star Batman and Robin):-“I am the goddamn Batman.”

    Batman (The Dark Knight Rises):-“Batman can be anyone.”

    In case of Iron Man, his playboy acts were minimized in the movies. He never acted like a playboy after returning from Afghanistan.

  4. B. McKenzieon 20 Aug 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I think you’re generally right, Nayan. Hollywood tends to round the edges on characters to (in theory) help keep them as appealing as possible to a large audience.

    –Kickass took out Big Daddy’s cocaine and Hit Girl’s conservatism, both of which tend to unnerve Hollywood marketers.

    –The Hellboy movie gave HB an odd soft spot for kittens and a milquetoast FBI agent as a partner.

    –In the comic books, Tony Stark is a major-league ass dealing with alcoholism. It’s not pretty. In the movies, he’s still an asshole, but the actor is solid enough that it’s harder to notice (e.g. telling the kid to walk in IM 3 and many of his interactions with Pepper throughout the series).

    –I don’t think Xavier does anything objectionable in any of his movies.

    Counterexamples:

    –Wolverine stabs a cop (in X-Men 2, I think) and is pretty thoroughly unlikable in all of his movies.

    –The cinematic Green Lantern is much more of a useless ass than the comic book’s Hal Jordan is.

    –Watchmen was extremely true to the graphic novels (e.g. Rorschach’s violent/psychosis issues and Manhattan’s nonadherence to social norms, like clothes). From a marketing perspective, this was probably a liability.

    –Like the Kick-Ass graphic novels, the Kick-Ass movie does not shy away at all from portraying its main character as a loser and something of a weirdo. Virtually every other superhero is aspirational, and the ones that aren’t (e.g. Beast, the Hulk, and the Thing) are not responsible for their woes.

    –The Punisher… Oh God, the Punisher. No marketing could possibly save it.

    –I’m not sure how to categorize this, but Hollywood doesn’t usually shy away from violence against terrorists or Nazis, even it involves psychically ripping out somebody’s tooth. (See also: Captain America and Iron Man 1). Most superheroes are scrupulously careful to avoid gruesome violence against standard criminals, though.

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