Sunday, July 4, 2010

In praise of dorky superheroes

I have a Fourth of July tradition. Specifically, somewhere in between sleeping in (because I’m free to do so) and showing up at the family conflagration—er, barbecue (because I’m NOT free to skip it), I binge on Captain America comics.

It’s not a particularly patriotic observance, I grant you. It’s mostly because they tend to be good summer reads—lots of stuff blowing up, bright colors, and completely random plot twists (we’re having an epic battle in the middle of the Smithsonian—WHY?). And my collection is now large enough that I can cherry-pick a day’s worth of reading on whatever theme I like. Some years I feel like exploring the goofy alternate worlds; other years, I go for the espionage action of the Ed Brubaker run; sometimes I just stare at Jim Steranko’s art and try to figure out what was going on in that man’s head.

Of all the superheroes for whom I harbor a soft spot—and there are many—Captain America is probably the second most likely to provoke eye-rolls from random strangers. He is terminally unhip. From the fuzzy pseudoscience of his origin (a mysterious and non-replicable combination of “Super-Soldier Serum” and “Vita-Rays”, now lost because someone shot the scientist who kept the formula in his head) to the questionable value of his powers (he throws a trash-can lid at bad guys? REALLY?) to his discomfortingly anachronistic costume (when was the last time YOU felt the need to run around wrapped in the American flag?), he’s sort of like the crazy uncle everyone ignores at Thanksgiving. And yet his comics continue to sell, and produce excellent stories, and they’re now making a movie, although I continue to hope they’ll cast someone other than Chris Evans of Fantastic Four fame to play him.

And the thing that always strikes me about the major criticisms of Captain America—he’s anachronistic, his costume is silly, he represents an outmoded expression of American national pride—is that those criticisms are valid, but they basically boil down to “He’s dorky.”

Well, yes. He’s dorky.


Being a superhero is inherently dorky. Putting on a silly outfit and setting out to change the world by example is quixotic at best, psychotic at worst. That’s what it’s about, frankly. It’s about being a colossal dork, in public, because you think the world will be a better place for your dorkishness. And a healthy society needs exactly this kind of dork.

Giving blood is dorky. Writing your congressman is dorky. Volunteering at a food bank is dorky. A friend of mine helps run an orphanage for disabled kids in Haiti, and she sends out the dorkiest emails imaginable about how amazing her kids are. I love her for it. We’ve made it uncool to care, unhip to give a damn about anything. It’s dorky to do good. But we need dorks. Dorks rule. Long live dorks.

Oh, and I’ve gotta get me one of them trash-can lids …

1 comment:

  1. So, now that the movie's come out.... muahahahhaa!!!!!