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Day Twenty Seven: Favourite Superhero?
Greater minds and authors have been debating and formulating the definition of the ‘Superhero’ ever since the terminology entered the modern lexicon of our language. What defines a superhero is largely an objective list of characteristics to consider and appraise of a fictional persona. Does it add any real worth or merit to our everyday lives? probably not however in a tradition going back through human history where societies have idolised Gods and deities for their supremacy, perhaps these modern day superheroes serve a similar function of objectifying personality traits and characteristics we long to emulate and live up to. In their simplest appearance and presentation, they very much used to embody core values and act as a symbolism of stoic virtues and behaviours, Superman oft cited as the embodiment of the American spirit in his earliest appearances fighting for liberty and justice for all. In today’s world of superheroes, those that embody those pure defining traits tend to be overlooked or overshadowed by characters who are more, broken or damaged and work to overcome those limitations to be more than they can be. Even a rudimentary appraisal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would bare witness to the fact characters such as Iron Man and Wolverine, imbued with, challenging personality traits are often of more interest to an audience than those of a more virtuous nature such as Captain America or Cyclops. Perhaps we engage more with these superheroes because they follow the traditional narrative structure of the fallen character rising back to the top in the narrative arc.
I’ve watched and enjoyed a great many superhero characters over the years who have all had some impact on me, my very first was the original Supergirl as portrayed by Helen Slater, a cheesy mess but for some reason I really enjoyed the youthful, joyful optimism of her performance and portrayal of Superman’s cousin. I enjoyed equally The New Adventures of Superman with Dean Cain when it aired in the UK on television before ‘progressing’ to the big screen and finding resonance with more damaged and broken heroes such as Blade and Christian Bale’s Batman before the advent of streaming services and the arrival of Daredevil as portrayed by Charlie Cox on Netflix. As alluded to in my opening remarks, the audience tastes, mine included, have changed requiring and demanding more complex and relatable characters we can empathise and follow a similar journey to our own overcoming adversity and challenge before emerging into their full superhero state. Daredevil perhaps the epitome and answer to this demand with the disability of blindness a challenge we as an audience can understand before he works and trains to overcome this limitation and become the devil of hell’s kitchen. It still seems an asinine conversation to be having about fictional characters but at least, there is a certain logic or merit behind them, society used to idolise going back into history these perfect beings, the ancient Greek Gods for instance. Today, we idolise those around us who suffer similar limitations to our own but overcome them to become similar heroic deities to idolise and aspire to be.
In its strictest definition, superheroes by their very nature tend to have extraordinary powers and abilities though as we’ve discussed and witnessed, the modern trend extends this to ordinary individuals who use resources such as Iron Man or develop natural abilities such as Daredevil to overcome diversity and challenge. I’m going to use this modern trend and present my favourite superhero, Ellen Ripley. The hero and protagonist of the Alien franchise, it was in the second film after her ‘origin’ movie her powers and determination came to be witnessed. In almost every sense of the word, she can be described as a hero with a strong moral code, fighting spirit, overcoming familial tragedy and adversity and acting in a courageous and combative manner against an overwhelming force. Whatever characteristics or definitions you opt to use, legitimately, as a fictional character she embodied all the traits we look to describe Superheroes as they exist today with the added threat of a terrifying threat against her life, just putting it out there, the Alien Queen in her original form would tear Thanos apart. To a great many people, the forced notion of Captain Marvel as this pioneer female superhero is somewhat of a stretch to accept, my girl Helen Slater was the original Supergirl decades before the MCU even became a notion. Equally Ripley was an inspirational character, especially in the second film where she fights to protect her surrogate ‘daughter’ in Newt, both characters damaged and broken but forming a bond through shared loss that was tragically never seen to fruition or harmony.
One of the greatest sequences in my opinion in this movie that cements her status as a superhero is in the final chapter of the film when she descends into the Alien nest to rescue Newt who has been taken back to the queen’s chamber. The entire sequence, with a terrific score and orchestration by James Horner works perfectly with the shots of James Cameron, Ripley preparing for war, the complex look of fear, anger and steadfast determination, she was the very embodiment of ‘momma bear’ protecting her pack from the aggressive threat. What makes this even more fascinating was an interview with Cameron on the DVD release and repeated again recently with a showing of Aliens where the actress revealed her aversion to guns in real life but found the use of the weaponry a ‘cathartic experience’ in the penultimate confrontation in the Alien nest between the two mothers protecting their children. I’ll accept shes not a traditional superhero by the usual definitions and standards, certainly you won’t be finding her joining the MCU to fight off an invading wave of xenomorphs any time soon however in my youth, she was an inspiration. Irrespective of race, creed or colour, here was a character you could watch and admire for her bravery, heroism and determination to face and overcome the challenge before her. This was never pitched, advertised or sold as a female led movie with pithy remarks of the inequities of men, it was just a solid movie with a central character defined and influenced by her femininity, that wouldn’t have worked as a man and thereby removing the resonance between Ripley and Newt. So, a personal favourite superhero of mine. Plus, come on, if you’ve ever been to an anniversary screening of Aliens and don’t cheer when she drops the B word there is something very wrong with you.
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