Sunday, April 07, 2013

My ChildHood Heroes

Warning: You are about to read something very nerdy.

A couple of weeks ago, Greg Hatcher over at Comics Should Be Good put up a column where he cherry-picked some of his favorite childhood characters and threw them into a team together. It all started with an idea from the CBR forums' resident creative goofball, Pol Rua:

Since I'm me, I've been thinking about who would be on my team ever since. Even with the “only characters you loved before you were thirteen” rule, paring the list down took quite a while. But I finally arrived at a lineup of ten of my all-time favorites. Heroes one and all, these are the guys I'd have at my back if I were ever facing down the unlimited hordes of evil.

I'm a big believer in the top-down theory of management, so let's start with the Team Leader:

Optimus Prime.

Transformers is still one of the greatest ideas I've ever seen for a toy line: Cool cars and planes that turn into even cooler giant talking robots. You don't really need strong characterization to get me hooked at that point, but ol' Bob Budiansky went ahead and did it anyway. Not every Transformer was a winner, of course, but Optimus, the heroic leader of the Autobots, hit everything out of the park. For a decent portion of my life, before I got over my adolescent disdain for Superman, Prime was my go-to exemplar of heroism. The Matrix of Leadership chose him for a reason, and that choice has been borne out in his actions: Here's a guy who's been fighting a civil war for millions of years, across thousands of planets. Imagine what he's seen: good beings slaughtered for an inch of ground, friends and enemies broken and destroyed, the worst intelligent life has to offer, over and over again. And since he's a robot, he's never forgotten a minute of it. But he hasn't broken. He's just as dedicated to the ideals of justice and freedom as he always was. He doesn't want to be fighting this war, but as long as he is, he'll win it. Not for himself, nor even for the Autobots, but for all sentient beings. That's the kind of guy I want in charge of my all-stars.

The next team member was a no-brainer:


I mean, duh. I've written voluminously, here and anywhere else people would read it, about my love for Spidey. I won't rehash all that here, but there's still the question of what he brings to this team. Well, aside from his impressive array of powers, Spidey is one hell of an inventive guy. Not just content to be a prodigy in biochemistry, Peter Parker is also a great engineer. I mean, he assembled his web-shooters out of stuff he had in his closet when he was sixteen. You didn't do that. Some of my favorite Spidey stories are the ones where he displays his ingenuity, winning either through some clever gadget or a split-second analysis of the situation that he turns to his advantage. That, and his comic-book-standard cross-disciplinary fluency, why he's our Team Scientist.

Going forward: There's no doubt that, as a kid, my favorite movies were the original Star Wars Trilogy. And my favorite guy from those movies just so happens to fill a spot we need very nicely:

Luke Skywalker.

I'm a nerd, so of course I was very into the Expanded Universe books for a while. I eventually got tired of them, though, and I've figured out why: They went on for too long. Luke is most fascinating as a young, unsure hero, fighting to retake the galaxy from the Empire. Once the New Republic is set up, things are kind of done. You can have him go on and become the Great Jedi Leader, but at that point he should really step into Obi-Wan's role and let the spotlight shine on some new heroes. They tried that for a while with the Solo and Skywalker kids, but even that got cocked up. So the Luke I'm pulling is a Luke from the immediately post-Return of the Jedi period. The Emperor and Vader may be dead, but the Empire's still out there, and he's barely a Jedi, with no idea of how to be one. He didn't even kill the Emperor or blow up the second Death Star; Vader and Wedge did that. Full of potential, but uncertain of which way to go. He needs a mentor, and he needs direction, and he'll find both of them as Optimus Prime's Deputy Leader. Oh, he also has Force powers and a laser sword.

Now we need some specialists. Each of these guys brings a specific skill set or experience to the team, and a personality that mixes interestingly with the others. First up, a pair of Weapons/Combat Masters:

Mega Man and Link.

I love sci-fi and fantasy. You know that, right? Well, here's a cool hero from each of those genres. They're video game heroes, too, and you'd better believe those were a major part of my childhood. They're kind of different sides of the same coin: they both have gear for every situation imaginable, they both fight the same guy a lot, and their adventures are both free-form in style. They come from big worlds, and they protect those worlds with everything they've got. I picture Mega Man as having a “seen-it-all” quality about him, since his adventures follow a pretty set pattern, and he's run up against so many different Robot Masters (and taken their stuff). Link, meanwhile, is the host of the Triforce of Courage. So he's brave, but also brash, and, at least the way I played, went into things kind of gung-ho, and relied more on instinct instead of planning. Kind of a version of the Super Show/Captain N portrayal, but actually competent, and without the terrible catchphrase.

Next, we have the Paranormal Expert and Team Spokesman:

Dr. Peter Venkman.

The absolute best line about Venkman, the line that sums him up perfectly, comes from Sigourney Weaver's Dana in the first movie: “You don't act like a scientist. You're more like a game show host.” It's probably that quality, that always-on showmanship, that made me think he was the leader the first time I saw the movie. He wasn't, but he was a damn good public face. This team won't necessarily need that, but it will need a schmoozer, a talker, a guy who will seriously walk up to the monster, try to scam it out of its pants, and more than likely succeed. Peter Venkman is that guy, with a small particle accelerator strapped to his back. And while he may not be a walking Tobin's Spirit Guide like Egon, he's fought probably every kind of groovy ghoulie the world has to offer, and lived to tell about it.

Given how many hours I spent in front of the TV watching them, I've got to have at least one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. My pick:


Yeah, I know, I went with “the other one.” Well, he was my favorite turtle when I was a kid, and not just because his name is like my name. The other turtles's things are pretty overt: Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude. “Is a party dude” doesn't quite match up with those, but that's because they couldn't fit his real role in the team into five syllables. Think of the Turtles like a boy band for a second. (No, seriously, stay with me here.) If Raph is the edgy one, the “Donnie” if you will, then Mike's the sensitive one. He's good-hearted, compassionate, upbeat, and cares about people. There's not quite someone like that on the team yet. Spidey and Venkman are jokesters, but they're also angsty and douchey, respectively. Mike is just a good guy, and that's actually pretty important. The others all have their reasons for being heroes, but Mike's reason is simply that helping people is the right thing to do. The recent IDW comics have done a great job of highlighting this, and they more than anything else are the reason Michelangelo is the Team Conscience. Also, he's a fucking ninja, so he's our official Stealthy Guy.

You'll notice that a lot of these guys so far are '80s heroes. Well, the next two are solid '90s. 1890s.

Sherlock Holmes.

The (almost) original great detective, and one of my first literary obsessions. Seriously, I went through all the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was about nine or ten. And while I do love many of his adapted brothers, Doyle's original is still my favorite. The peculiar genius, who can tell you where you ate lunch last Thursday but not that the earth revolves around the sun. Holmes is brilliant, but also cold and not that great with people. And he solves crimes for the simple reason that he's bored and it's fun. There's nobody else like that on the team. There's almost nobody else like that in fiction. He's got to be here, as our Team Detective and Asshole.

Our final specialist is a contemporary of Holmes's but from a different world entirely:

Brisco County, Jr.

Oh, Brisco. We barely knew ye. This show was one of my first favorite “grown-up” shows, and my first favorite show that nobody watched. Brisco has just got to be here, but I struggled for a bit to figure out how he'd fit in the team. He can shoot a gun, but Mega Man can shoot everybody's gun. He can ride a horse, but Optimus Prime is a freaking truck. Then I remembered two things. First, Brisco is a bounty hunter. He spent most of the series tracking the guys who killed his dad across the Wild West. That's a skill none of these guys have. Holmes can tell you who committed a murder, but he can't stop him from running. So Brisco can be our Team Hunter. And he's also an archetype we haven't hit yet: the cool, debonair adventuring ladies' man. You know the type. Not egotistically self-assured like Venkman, but comfortable in every situation because he's constitutionally incapable of being flapped. Not a compulsive quipper like Spidey, but a sniper of bon mots. Just the coolest guy in the room. Brisco is James Bond with a cowboy hat and a sense of ethics, so he's also our Team Swashbuckler. (Good role for any character played by Bruce Campbell, really.)

That's a pretty good line-up, but it feels like something's missing. After all, we've got a very wide mix of characters here. Two are from the past, one's from the future, three are from other worlds entirely, one's a giant, talking turtle. They need something to bring them together, to give them purpose, to start them on the road to legend. Something, or someone:

Scrooge McDuck.

You knew this was coming. Carls Barks's Scrooge stories are what made me fall in love with adventure fiction in the first place. And Scrooge is one hell of an action hero. He's a “Good Parts Version” of the American Story, a rough-and-tumble, rags-to-riches billionaire who made it by (say it with me) being tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties, and he made it square. He's seen it all, done it all, bought it all, and kept the receipts. With his one multiplujillion, nine obsquatumatillion, six hundred twenty-three dollars and sixty-two cents, he'll have no trouble being the Team Financier, and if you can think of a better Team Scrappy Old Coot Who's Actually A Total Badass, I'd like to see him.

So that's my team. The only question now is, who would they fight?

Well, there's the Joker, Count Dracula, the Gmork, the Borg, the Four Elemental Fiends, an army of superintelligent velociraptors...

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