Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Stan Lee, the legendary creator of the Incredible Hulk, Spider Man, Iron Man, and some of history's greatest super heroes is appearing on a large digital video screen talking, or reading from a cue card, to three adults well into their 30's.

"I'm very proud of you all," Lee says. And this is when the three adults (using the term loosely here) begin to bawl. Not like sniff-sniff/eyes moistening but all-out tears streaming down their faces. It should be noted that these grown-ups are wearing tights and capes and are dressed in costumes as super heroes.

"When my father passed away," says Feedback, whose powers [insert air quotes here] are absorbing energy abilities from video games that he plays; generating a feedback field that disrupts electronics within 15 feet; and is a computer genius, "You became my father. Spider Man taught me how to become an adult." By proclaiming his own adulthood, Feedback, or mortal Matthew Atherton is being presumptuous but cynicism aside, Atherton is undeniably sincere about being a superhero. And even though this is a television show with the hokiest special effects and lamest challenges ever, Atherton, along with the show, has won me over.

The three contestants left on the Sci-Fi Channel's original reality show Who Wants To Be A Superhero?--Fat Momma, Major Victory, and Feedback--are so far removed from reality that it feels wrong using the word reality in context with the series (paradoxically, it's also the realest but I'll get to that later). Superhero is beyond ridiculous and almost laughably kitschy but there's something special about it. There's an element of unadulterated geekiness that makes it wholesome and pure. Fat Momma, who can grow to five times her normal size when she gets angry, is a healthy-looking woman, or as she would say, fat. She is not the stereotypical superhero female with a buxom, voluptuous body yet she believes with her all her inner-strength that she can be a hero. It's ridiculous, yet poignant. Society's cruel weight prejudices versus self-determination. Fat Momma is the anti-Nicole Richie.

Major Victory, an ex-male stripper, wants to be a superhero to right the wrongs of his past life and to find favor in his daughter's eyes. So he will do the right thing week-after-week, even if it means running around in red underoos while helping old ladies cross the street. But the true brilliance of the whole thing is that noone on the show is the least bit self-aware. Never has a contestant stopped, looked down, and said, what the f*** am I doing here? And this is why the show is so awesome. Fat Momma, Feedback, and Major Victory have almost (and I say almost) convinced us that they are superheroes by ostensibly convincing themselves.

Whenever I watch the show, I feel a kinship with comic readers worldwide. I feel justified in having collected comics for nearly thirteen years. I'm not exactly saying that I'm proud of my boxed-in-the-attic-packaged-in-mylar collection, but then again, in retrospect, the show subsides my loneliness of having been a geek. As a teen reading X-Men, I was pretty sure no one understood me and this is why I found comfort in the pages of misunderstood mutants and vigilantes. And by watching Who Wants To Be A Superhero? I am made aware of the fact that as seriously as I took my comic collecting and as geeky as I felt, there will always be people who take the hobby that much more seriously. And, in retrospect, this makes me feel good.

True believers are never alone. There are those that read comics more religiously than the Bible. There are those that seek comfort in the pages of Spider Man and look to him for advice on the confusing times of impending adulthood. As Feedback cried in appreciation of Stan Lee's approval, my inner-teen cried along with him. Because while I'm a cynical, mortal adult, for an hour a week, I am brought back to a time when I believed that somehow, somewhere, superheroes were real. All those Shabbat afternoons spent reading Batman, Captain America, Justice League...it all comes together on Thursday nights at 9 P.M.

So yeah, it's ridiculous and unbelievabley silly but I would dare venture that Who Wants To Be A Superhero is the realest reality show I have ever seen. Fat Momma, Major Victory, and Feedback don't care about impressing an aaudience like the cast of The Real World or Laguna Beach. They've already spent over three decades being the butt of your jokes. Every moment of their life leads up to this series: to impress the king of geeks, Stan Lee. So do you blame Feedback for getting emotional? I don't. And I know one thing for sure--he's not acting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! While I approached this show with a "watching-a-train-wreck" attitude, I was quickly drawn in by the camp, but then by how sincere Feedback actually seemed when he gave that speech. I enjoyed it very much, and will actually buy the comic...gulp! **blushing with embarassment**

7:53 AM  

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