Monday, September 12, 2016

Superhero Media: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Yes! I've been waiting for a good one! Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is not only a classic film, but may well be a masterpiece and is perhaps the only watchable example of "Superheroes in flouncy shirts" produced to date. Thanks to my Father's eccentricities, I was raised on a steady diet of British comedy, Wuxia, cult film and Terry Gilliam, so I can sing the praises of the ex-python's directorial work all day; rather than do that, I'd like to focus on how this fantastic, Odyssean, adventure can be drawn into broader superhero narrative and tropes. The titular protagonist, Baron Munchausen, based loosely on the (mostly fictional) exploits of Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen, a Russo-Turkish war veteran whose tall tales were infamous among the German Aristocracy, is representative of the power of the human imagination, most perfectly expressed by children, but also possessed by those of the correct temperament. Though the power of unfettered imaginings, the Baron can achieve superhuman feats, including riding cannonballs, fighting armies single-handed and traveling to the moon via improvised hot-air balloon

In terms of origins, the Baron gains his abilities to perform extraordinary tasks from the power of belief and the imaginations of those around him, somewhat like Captain Britain, or indeed, a form of fae, with the banality of reason and modernity reverting him to being aged and ineffectual. A world without unbridled creativity, ruled by the philosophies of new science, is a world that does not need Baron Munchausen, and may be a world that cannot be saved. The Baron is supported by Berthold, the world's fastest runner, Adolphus, a rifleman with superhuman eyesight, Gustavus, who possesses extraordinary hearing (and sufficient lung power to knock down an army by exhaling), and the fantastically strong Albrecht. Reads like the Baron has a speedster, a sharpshooter, a terrestrial-styled Martian Manhunter and a powerhouse on his super-team. The climatic battle of the film add to this impression, with the team of five, led by the Baron, fights off the entire Turkish army, using each of their powers in unique ways to overcome the superior number of their foes.

Baron Munchausen is a hero for the ages, deserving of a grander place in popular culture in general, but also in comics and other superhero media. Despite a cameo of a bust in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Baron is notably lacking from comics (film tie-ins aside), even though he truly belongs beside figures such as Stardust the Superwizard, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Nyctalope. Eureka Miniature's brilliant Baron is on my painting desk as I write, ready to take part my French Revolution campaign, hopefully set to begin next year, where he will team up with the Pimpernel and other, less savory, characters to save France and the world. So powder your wigs, prime the imaginary engines and get ready to adventure in the unmistakable and inimitable style of Baron Munchausen! 

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