Average Movie Superhero

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With the recent spate of superhero movies, it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips – and I’m sure someday I’ll be able to write their instead of his. Valiantly they hold on to the ledge with one hand whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight with a single hand for more than a few seconds. Good luck having any unbroken fingers if they caught themselves from a fall.

Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg – because stereotypes. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, lifting their 55kg love interest should be easy. Patrick Swayze managed it in Road House. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

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The Art of Comics

Do you like comics? I’m not talking about movies based on comics. I’m not talking about comic fandom that can only be solved Utopia style. I’m talking about the art of storytelling that only the mix of art and narrative can manage.

How Utopia deals with comic fans:

I have previously discussed how some fail to give due respect to comics and graphic novels. The TL/DR is that literary snobs don’t like non-worthy genres to be discussed. I mean, how dare someone dilute words with pictures! Yet the comic format allows for a form of storytelling that other mediums would love to have. Literally showing can condense a novel to a few dozen pages whilst retaining all of the important details, as I discussed in my review of the Parker comics. Text can be used in a way that neither movies nor novels can utilise. An example is the way authors construct their ideas into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters to transition between ideas and moments. When you add the visual artwork you can add effect and impact to those transitions, ideas, and moments. You can’t do that in other mediums. Well, unless you’re Edgar Wright merging movies and comics.

The way the art is used to tell a story is an often overlooked aspect of comics and graphic novels. This is despite the fact that the art is their most distinguishing feature. That and the impossible physiques covered in spandex.

As an example, I’d like to share a page from a comic I bought when I was 10.* On this page is a panel that has stuck with me as an example of the combination of art and narrative. Comics can do this so easily. It would make movies jealous – unless they have the CGI budget. No big illustrated fight scene. No words like ZAP or KAPOW as a blow is struck. And within the context of this larger story, the minimalism is an important narrative device.

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From Batman #422 – Just Deserts (1988)

Obviously, this is just one example that lead to my formative appreciation of the comic book medium.* As much as many formative appreciations of comic books are based around the erotic artwork… sorry, lost my train of thought.

For another example of the combination of art and story, Nerdwriter made a particularly good video discussing Maus and how it is constructed as a story and piece of art. Every frame, every image, the whole page, has meaning.

When it comes to discussing the literary and artistic merit of comics the discussion often never moves past the capes, spandex, and insecurity inducing bulges. Some articles have argued that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. But comics are far more than the superficial observations of those dismissing them.

Well, at least I think they are cool.

*Please appreciate this post. It took me ages to figure out which comic I had owned. During high school, we were asked to bring in a comic book to be part of a creative writing project in English class. The class never eventuated and the comics were never returned to us. As a result, I couldn’t remember the details of this comic, and since there are a lot of Batman comics, it took a lot of effort to track down.

This also opened an old wound created by that high school English class. The wound of crushed creativity. The promise of being taught creative writing that went unfulfilled for decades. But thank goodness we got to learn how to write essays about ee cummings in Lit class instead.

One of the annoying things about movies

With the recent spate of superhero movies it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the 55kg gravity lover isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

Book Review: Gotham Central Vol 1 by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka

Gotham Central, Vol. 1: In the Line of DutyGotham Central, Vol. 1: In the Line of Duty by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the new TV series Gotham currently being cast there has been a bit of buzz around what the storyline is going to be about. Unfortunately it is not going to be based upon this excellent series by Brubaker and Rucka (should also mention the art by Michael Lark). This would actually be a great way to do a non-Batman series, especially as it would be able to use the recent Nolan films as a lead in.

I guess people who read will be the only ones to appreciate a series focussed on Gotham city police trying to work in the shadow of Batman.

View all my reviews

Why Comic Book Movies Suck

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With the run-away box office success of some of the comic book movie adaptations, you could be excused for thinking that comic book movies don’t suck. Sure, stick Robert Downey Jnr. in a movie and you are bound to bask the movie in his reflected awesome. Put Joss Whedon in the director’s chair and he could make paint drying fun to watch. But when all said and done, comic book movies are fatally flawed for the following reasons.

Origin Story

I was bitten by a cat. No increased agility, but I do clean myself with my tongue now.
I was bitten by a cat. No increased agility, but I do clean myself with my tongue now.

Did John McClane need an origin story? Did we need to see him join the police academy, walk the beat in montage form and get his detective shield before taking on Hans Gruber? NO! So why do we need to go back and see how every superhero became a superhero? If Charlies Angels can get away with having us believe that three rake thin girls can successfully beat the crap out of a group of guys twice their size whilst wearing stilettos without an origin story, I think we can just take it on faith that The Punisher has issues with criminals.

Superhero beating up normal people

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Super arms, normal pudgy body ripe for the beating.

He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he can change the course of rivers with his bare hands, but he still needs to punch a normal person like he’s Ali squaring off against Foreman. Let’s face it, if a superhero actually wound up and threw a punch like we see in the movies (or comics for that matter) to hit a normal person, their fist would go clear through the person’s body, which would be kinda cool to see on the big screen.

The most egregious use of this strength imbalance, in my opinion, is in Spiderman 2. Remember how Spiderman stops a speeding train using just upper body strength? Remember how he then has an extended fight with Doc Oc where he repeatedly punches the mad scientist in the face? Now I know that the Doc did have some cool new appendages attached to his body, but the rest of his body is still pretty normal. Yet we are meant to believe that Spiderman can’t throw a punch to save his life or that Doc Oc’s head can withstand a blow that is stronger than a speeding train.

Spandex/Lycra

In reality land, never a good look.
In reality land, never a good look.

I’m almost certain that superhero costume designers and comic artists are BSDM fans, nothing else can explain Catwoman’s costume. Now being a heterosexual male I find nothing wrong with the casting of attractive women to be wearing spandex or lycra bodysuits. Sure, it must be hard for the women to stay in shape, kick ass and say their lines, but we sure do appreciate it! I’m sure the flip side is also true, that the female audience members love to see the chiselled muscle of the male actors displayed either shirtless or clad in the most figure enhancing costumes possible. I’m sure that the LGBT crowd have their respective tastes sated as well.

But here is my problem with spandex and lycra: no-one actually looks good in it and it is not very practical. If Batman were really deciding on what to wear when fighting crime, he wouldn’t be deciding on a cape and cod piece, he’d be looking for body-armour and a backpack for lugging around all of his Bat-gadgets. What about pockets? Where do you keep your phone and spare cash? And what happens if the superhero hasn’t had a chance to fight crime recently or has had a lot of charity dinners of late? Spandex and lycra are just going to display those meals and extra flab straight away. They’d become too self conscious to leave the house to fight any crimes. Norman Osbourne has taken hostages down-town  Sorry, I have a muffin top and can’t be seen in public.

Gratuitous PG rated violence

I'm a science nerd, that means one graph per article, minimum.
I’m a science nerd, that means one graph per article; minimum.

After an epic fight that levels half the city the bad guy goes to prison and we have ambulances treating all the poor people who sustained a few cuts and bruises. After beating the living crap out of each other for 20 minutes, the good guy and bad guy have a sum total of a bloodied lip and a bad case of out-of-breathness. Then, of course, the bad guy dies in some elaborate death scene that cuts-away just before the gory bit.

On the plus side, there is plenty of shooting, explosions, car chases, fight scenes and general mayhem to keep anyone amused. But no tits. Definitely no tits. Because we wouldn’t want kids to see anything that could harm their little minds.

The laws of physics don’t apply

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I may weigh over 110kg, but this seat thinks I’m 50kg.

You know how when fat people sit down on something you hear it complain? What about the bowing that occurs? What about those permanent dents that your poor couch has from your fat uncle at Xmas time, not to mention the smell? Well, in the movies that doesn’t happen. Iron Man sits on a couch and doesn’t look a gram over 80kg, yet all that armour should be making it bow like your fat uncle after a plate of turkey. But it isn’t just that. Where are the crumple zones in that suit? What about air-bags? What about how squidgy Tony Stark would become being rattled around inside that suit?

Superheroes defy all sorts of laws of physics, whether it be jumping off a building and landing on the ground in high heels as though they just needed to tie their shoes, or casually picking up a car to throw at someone without their fingers tearing straight through the light aluminium panels. Also, why is it that the superhero always has super-clothes? Whether it be Wolverine’s amazing self healing singlets or the general indestructible nature of most costumes. Whoever designs those things could make a fortune!

Secret identity that isn’t really

The mask makes me look less like Ryan Reynolds, don't you think?
The mask makes me look less like Ryan Reynolds, don’t you think?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s quite clearly Clark Kent without the glasses.

How stupid are the people of Gotham? A Dark Knight rocks up wearing expensive high-tech gadgets, driving a really cool car at the same time a troubled billionaire returns home: how much of a leap do people have to take here? Even Hal Jordan was unmasked by his girlfriend, how long would it take other people to catch on? At least Tony Stark just came out and admitted it.

Big ass explosions

They're cool because they aren't looking at it.
They’re cool because they aren’t looking at it.

This is related to the physics point. Explosions in real life are never as spectacular as movie explosions. Car falls off a cliff: instant fireball. Helicopter stops helicopting: instant fireball. Gas from the stove left on for a few seconds: house explodes into a million pieces. Captain America ducks his head behind his shield as grenade explodes: doesn’t have exposed legs blown off.

In comic book movies everything explodes at the lightest touch. Somehow The Hulk crushing a car causes it to explode, rather than just leak. But not just explode, EXPLODE!!! I don’t know how much high-octane petrol and C4 the average person keeps in their car, but it must be a lot more than I do.