Why We Need Superheroes

 

Black Panther_Marvel comics
Black Panther: Source – Marvel Comics

The Superhero film genre is in overdrive at the moment, with at least one new movie every year. This year’s second superhero movie is ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ in a franchise that started in 2012 with ‘The Avengers’, bringing Marvel comic characters to life. This follows the quirky and successful ‘Black Panther’ (2018) that cleverly introduces a sub-genre element by showcasing mainly non-white actors, thus broadening the superhero genre appeal to different ethnic groups.

The recurring theme in this genre is not new – mankind is under threat from a terrifying external power and need heroes with superhuman powers to defend it. This storyline goes back to early human society when primitive man had an intuitive way of interpreting the awesome and incomprehensible power of nature. The animistic gods of the Ancients are often part-human/part-animal incarnations that represent the main elements – earth, water, air and fire, or aspects thereof. These were feared, revered and appeased with offerings and sacrifices in the hope of favourable outcomes or protection from the uncontrollable power of Nature.

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Thor – source: Marvel Comics

It is no surprise that some ancient gods, most notably Thor from Norse mythology, have been incorporated into Marvel’s superhero stories. Although Thor is a god, he has human form and is the defender of mankind against ‘foreign’ enemies. They evoke familiar tribalistic defence mechanisms in an audience primed to circle the wagons at the first signs of danger from an unknown or unfamiliar predatory enemy.

The earliest human societies, pre-dating and including the recorded tales from Ancient Greece, invented creation stories that often involved superhuman god-like creatures who created the world and ruled over it in an age before the coming of Mankind. These gods became invisible forces to be invoked and appeased in ritual ceremonies as humans inherited the earth. It filled a powerful need in early Man’s consciousness to make sense of his surroundings, and pre-dates our Age of Science and Reason approach to understanding our world and beyond.

The blurb for the new superheroes movie reads, “’Avengers: Infinity War’ brings to the screen the ultimate, deadliest showdown of all time. As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment – the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.”

The plot of this film centres on the concept of infinity or timelessness, through the infinity stones, or gems (six immensely powerful gems that appear in Marvel Comic stories known as the Mind, Soul, Space, Power, Time and Reality). This representation of attributes in physical objects harks back to ancient societies – objects to be revered or deified in the belief that they can affect desired outcomes. The stones are ancient artefacts, thus connecting the story to early human history and invoking the theme of the continuum of time.

Teenagers/Young Adults are the core target audience for this repeated narrative of humans with superpowers battling unknown or alien forces whose intentions are always hostile to human society. A show of destructive power by an evil character usually sets up the story, whereby one or more superhero will do battle, like gladiators, on behalf of a frightened and powerless population. Often the stakes are the highest imaginable – the fate of Planet Earth.

Charly_and_the_super_heroes group pic
Charly & The Superheroes

It is no surprise, then, that my own teenage daughter, Cathy, is thoroughly transfixed by superhero movies. She becomes engrossed in the latest story of heroic figures fighting on her behalf against external forces of evil who would destroy her home and family. She has no problem identifying with the ‘goodies’ – often male and female characters who represent ‘the best’ of humankind. When I asked her what our character, Charly Holmes’ next adventure should be, she quickly replied, “let’s make up a superhero story!”

And so, we have now completed our story – ‘Charly & The Superheroes’, based on Cathy’s idea that Charly, whilst on a film studio tour, is invited to substitute for a child actor in a superhero movie. The rest of the story developed from there. Our superheroes represent the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – but when a real disaster strikes, the actors are challenged to use their own knowledge and skills to help the group through a series of dangerous situations.

Charly paperback coverOur own homage to the superhero genre, ‘Charly & The Superheroes’, is available from 19th September in e-book and paperback formats from Amazon and other online stores. Suitable for children aged 10+, juveniles, young adults, teachers and parents:

Paperback (UK):

Paperback (USA/World):

Kindle

i-books, Kobo, Nook, Playster, Tolino and other platforms…

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Bert Kwok Remembered

Sad news this morning (25/05/2016).  British born actor, Bert Kwok, has died, aged 85. He was perhaps best known for his role of Cato, man-servant of bungling Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers, in half a dozen Pink Panther films.

Interviewing Bert Kwok at Granada TV0002Bert was the subject of my first celebrity interview way back in 1980 when I was a teenage trainee reporter for a Liverpool news magazine, the Woolton Mercury.  Yes, that’s me, aged 18, with a mass of bushy hair, towering over the diminutive Bert.  I had gone to spend a day at Granada TV’s studio in Liverpool to write a feature article for my series on Merseyside media, and was shocked to be invited by presented Shelly Rhodes to appear as a studio guest on that Friday afternoon’s arts and current affairs programme, Live from Two.  The main guest that day was Bert Kwok.

I have a copy of my piece in my scrapbook, and it tells me that that day’s show had a Chinese theme, with Bert, Chinese dancers, a martial arts display and the author of a book on China (no details recorded, due, no doubt to my young and undeveloped journalism skills, mixed with star-struck awe).  Imagine a fidgety 18-year-old  sitting next to the urbane and articulate Bert, regaling the ‘live’ Granada TV audience about his six Pink Panther and two James Bond movies… “and also on today’s programme we have a school-leaver in his first job as a trainee reporter…”

Bert shrugged-off my question about how he felt at being pigeon-holed as a Chinese/Japanese support actor in so many films and TV series (including the excellent Tenko).  He was happy to have had such a long career doing what he loved – acting.  He certainly leaves a tangible, accomplished and highly entertaining legacy behind.

Bert told me he had an affinity with the North West, having been born in Warrington.  He was taken to China by his parents to complete his schooling, then onto the USA to study politics and economics, before returning to the UK to start acting.  His big break came in 1964 when he passed an audition with director Blake Edwards for the part of Cato Fong in the first Pink Panther film.  Appearances in Dr. Who, the Avengers and Last of the Summer Wine, further served to embed him as one of our great British actors, and he received recognition for this with an OBE in 2011.  Incredibly, his first film part was in the classic 1958 film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, opposite Ingrid Bergman and Kurt Jurgens.  What an impressive body of work.  Rest in Peace, actor Bert Kwok.