Monday, March 28, 2016

Superhero Media: Superfolks

In late 2014, I was working full time in retail and was pretty miserable. The hours ate up pretty much all my gaming time and the stress was aggravating my ulcer something fierce. It was clear that I needed a career change, but with a Literature/Film degree, my options were limited. About the same time, a good friend of mine told me that she was returning to study; her excitement over starting her Post-graduate course was somewhat infectious and I soon found myself considering a return to University myself. As I've mentioned before, I'm currently studying to be a Counsellor, but, for a time, I considered pursuing a Phd in literature. What is the point of all this background? Well, should I ever decide to take the plunge into academia full-time, Robert Mayer's Superfolks would suit me pretty well for a thesis. I scavenged a copy of Superfolks, quite by accident, from a friend giving away many boxes of books; I thought why not give it a go, it has a Superman analogue on the front, it may be good? I found that I finished the book in a few sittings, I was so drawn into it.

Superfolks is about Indigo, a retired superhero whose only battle is with middle age. He retired after all the other heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Snoopy and Captain Mantra) retired, died or disappeared and has slunk into fatherhood, the daily grind and "dad weight". His powers have slowly faded with the years and he debates returning to action to battle a crime wave that threatens to destroy New York City. As he straps on the cape for the first time in years, Indigo must find the confidence within himself to fight for justice once more. If this all sounds familiar, Superfolks is considered to have greatly influenced Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and Watchmen, though Alan Moore denies this. I believe that Superfolks was written to be a pastiche, but time has rendered it more of a parody. I also get the feeling that Robert Mayer got a lot of his information about superheroes second-hand. The heroes mentioned are very Golden Age (explaining the lack of Marvel heroes), and there is a focus on sexuality that has never really been a big part of the genre, despite what The Seduction of the Innocent claimed and the many, many jokes about the relationship between Batman and Robin. I personally believe that David Mazzucchelli said it best, "It makes perfect sense that his best friend would be twelve years old, because Batman is still a little boy stuck in a man's body. If there's a "No Girls Allowed" sign on their Batcave/clubhouse, it' because girls are icky... ...Superheroes live best in their own world - A pre[-]adolescent world." The Golden and Silver ages of comics simply do not engage with sexuality with anything more than a "fade to black", but that will never stop people from speculating about something that's not actually there.
So is it worth a read? Certainly. Superfollks is around $25AUD on book depository, so why not give it a go? It's a fascinating mess of popular culture, psychology and Mad Magazine style humour, with some really interesting Superhero concepts that I'd like to see explored elsewhere. I'll certainly be re-reading it at some point, maybe even working it into my Watchmen essay I've been planning for years. Not much gaming fodder, but fascinating for providing a "moment in time" and an outsider's look at the Superhero Comic.

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