Monday, February 14, 2005

I blame Lyn (because blaming old friends beats shouldering responsibility)

What if your Dad’s job was saving the world? What if adolescence involved the prospect of not only growing hair in new and interesting places and seeing the opposite sex in a whole new light, but developing super-powers?

Why the hell am I thinking about these issues?

I blame Lyn, of course.

I stayed chez Lyn in Balmain on my way back to Cambridge, part of it on a wet Monday, with the unfortunate consequence that swimming at the Dawn Fraser pool was out, sitting around with Lyn’s comic and magazine collection for the morning was perilously easy.

Lyn’s been responsible for a number of my graphic novel buying relapses. Just when I thought I’d straightened out at uni after several comic-free years, she reintroduced me to “The Sandman”. I then managed to slide back into the comics-for-grown-ups market for some years, but kicked the habit on arrival in the UK as financially perilous for a student.

Then of course, over the break, I managed to wind up seeing “The Incredibles” three times. All of which is by way of saying I’ve made the financially ruinous discovery of “Invincible” – a super-hero comic about 18 months old (scroll down if you click through on the link). Both Invincible and The Incredibles have an interesting take on a newish theme – the super-hero genre as a vehicle for stories about family.

This is actually quite subversive of the genre. When you think about it, most classic super-heroes have absent fathers. Batman’s was murdered, Superman’s left on another planet. Wonder Woman never had a dad (the mysteries of reproduction on the all female Paradise Island never being entirely clarified) and Spider Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, is largely defined by his relationship with his dead uncle Ben.

By contrast, Bob Parr (Mr Incredible) is a man frustrated by his job but one who, when liberated to resume doing what he does best, realises his self-obsession was damaging his family. He’s a supportive father who learns to stop projecting onto his kids.

Nolan Grayson (Invincible’s dad) is simply cool: a supportive, kind but firm presence who’s always home for dinner (unless he’s trapped in a parallel universe). When Invincible as a series gets interesting is when rebelling against your father means standing up to his plans for taking over the world to save it from itself.

The Incredibles and Invincible also take a delightfully nostalgic view of the super-hero genre before the grim-and-gritty fad of the 80s. Both were prepared to flirt with whimsically stupid names for supporting characters (“Gazerbeam” or “Omni-Man”), and I love that in Invincible one can turn a page and find a gleeful depiction of an alien invasion underway. It doesn’t have to be foreshadowed, or explained, it’s assumed to be just another day at the office for superheroes.

It’s all so geeky, but rather charming. Besides, I’m entitled. I was sick recently.

(Yes, Lyn, I re-read my Sandman collection, too. So there.)

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