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Super Heros should just let the action rip

By Mark S. Lawson - posted Monday, 1 August 2016

As a child did you tie a tea towel around your neck as a pretend superman cape and try leaping off chairs in the kitchen? If you didn’t then the latest trend in television series is probably not for you. But if you did that same crop of shows may surprise you by showing how much a hero’s life has been complicated by relationships and interaction with other super beings, since you wore a tea towel.

Super hero/magical being shows at various stages in the TV series life cycle include The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones. Then there are the outliers such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Grimm, Limitless – a one series wonder where the hero becomes super smart by taking a pill – Beauty and the Beast and Lost Girl.

That last series, perhaps the most unusual of all, is a Canadian production (the Canadians have a lot to answer for) about a “good” Succubus. Yes, the evil demon in female form of medieval legend comes to life in this series in which good, bi-sexual succubus Bo can drain the life force from men and women except that she does not want to, mostly.


Needless to say she has relationship problems, but in this she is not alone. In fact, all the main and most of the secondary characters of the superhero series have relationship problems, despite their abilities. Supergirl, played by the comely Melissa Benoist, has god like powers, regularly holding up whole skyscrapers while fixing them with her heat vision and saving airplanes. But her human alter ego Kara Danvers cannot get the guy she wants, at least not for almost all of the first series. This is Jimmy Olsen who has moved from Metropolis to supergirl’s home town of National City. He knows Kara’s secret but already has a girlfriend and Kara, being the principled superhero that she is, did not simply throw her rival into orbit and inform Olsen that he’s trading up.

I agree I should get a life, but a certain morbid streak in my character makes me wonder about stuff like costumes. Supergirl’s outfit is a female version of that worn by Superman in the current films, without the plunging necklines of the early 1970s comic book original, or the strapless crime fighting outfit of Wonder Women in this year’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ which also features Aquaman (WW gets a whole film next year), and don’t get me started on the low cut armour worn by Zena (Lucy Lawless) in the 1990s series. Supergirl’s outfit also features a pleated skirt. I’m straying well outside my area of expertise here, but if you’re going to hold up whole buildings and punch out your aunt who has similar powers (a long story) wouldn’t a pants suit of some kind be more appropriate?

Jessica Jones, in contrast, does not bother with a costume at all. This is because she has given up being a super hero and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, due to an encounter with a mind-controlling bad guy. She also has relationship issues.

However, at least JJ is a stand alone series without reference to any of the others, which are always swapping characters and plot lines. At one point Flash takes an accidental break from his own relationship troubles by super speeding through a space worm hole to appear in Supergirl’s universe. The Arrow and the Flash, and their support teams (Supergirl has a whole secret government agency as backup), regularly help one another on cases and with relationship troubles. The 2012 film The Avengers, which featured a whole team of superheros wrecking a large part of New York in a battle with aliens, forms the starting point for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and is referred to be characters in Daredevil.

In the good old days, and I have a dim recollection of the 1950s Superman series starring George Reeves, you could wear a tea towel around your neck knowing that you could dash off to fight bad guys and not suffer heart ache. Sure there was Lois Lane, but Superman/Clark Kent did not seem to do much more about her than occasionally rescue her. Nor was there any endless agonising over moral choices. Even the priceless, camp 1960s series Batman involved few moral choices, and only the occasional mention of relationships. Other super heros did not enter the picture.

I will probably keep on watching these ridiculous series, I am strange that way. I also understand that life has become more complicated since I wore a tea towel cape. Moral choices do arise and, yes, relationships can go sour. Super heros are just as human as the next person, I suppose, so they should have problems.


But that is not what the super hero story consumption market is about. It is about action, adventure and leaping off tall buildings that are not kitchen chairs while foiling notorious plots by super villains. The role of significant others is to be saved, not hand out heart ache. So why can’t the producers of these series forget about the other, morally messy stuff and agonising over choices and let the action rip.

I’m far too old to leap off kitchen chairs, but I can watch an action-packed super hero series, if only they would produce them.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.

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About the Author

Mark Lawson is a senior journalist at the Australian Financial Review. He has written The Zen of Being Grumpy (Connor Court).

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