Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hero Tune-Up: Wonder Man

'Martyrdom. . .the only way in which a man can become famous without ability.'

-George Bernard Shaw

I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one. I woke today with a lingering sense of mailaise, and have been doing my ample best to delay or postpone the work without outright throwing in the towel. I don't know if that says a whole lot in the favor of Simon Williams, but I made a promise and dammit, I'm a guy who does what he can to keep his promises, so let's go. May the wind be at our backs.

Wonder Man is a placeholder character, really. Created to put dibs on what on paper sounds like a cool name, Simon Williams has always maintained a solid C-listing in the cape and tights set of the Marvel Universe. He's somebody who'll end up on the Avengers roster because he's a character that's free to use because let's face it, nobody will. Which is a bit unfair because on the face of it, he seems to have a lot going for him. Superhumanly strong, able to fly, nearly invulnerable, and he's been back from the dead at least two or three times. He's rubbed shoulders with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. His best pal is a former Avenger and current X-Man the Beast. Certainly there's a great deal of interesting background to Simon's character. So why doesn't he work on his own? I mean, when you come back from the dead to find an android copy in your place and the android copy is more popular than you are. . .what does that say? I think it says that Wonder Man is a cipher with the potential to become a character. He just needs that little bit of push that will accentuate his unique qualities and bring them to the fore. Those qualities we'll call Identity, Celebrity, and Immortality.

Identity: Consider the nature of Simon Williams; a young man thrust into a position of corporate authority who made a dumb move and allied himself with a supervillain, made into a godling, sacrificed his life rather than betray the Avengers, then died, only to come back from the dead to become a superhero and struggling actor. He had no head for business, got killed as a (albeit reluctanct) supervillain, was somewhat inept as a superhero, and is trying to be an actor when he has the ability to juggle tanks and Tony Stark on speed dial. Why? Why be an actor when the Avengers can give you a sweet stipend and you only have to worry about beating the crap out of the Absorbing Man every once in a while to earn your pay?

Maybe there's a bit more to it. Maybe his need to be an actor, to portray different characters on stage or screen. . .maybe that's an indication of his own need for identity, or maybe a need to escape his own. Maybe the guilt over his betrayal runs a bit deeper than he thought and he feels uncomfortable in a role he feels he hasn't really earned, so he attempts to earn acclaim and respect in another medium altogether. Of course, being an actor in Hollywood leads to another sort of recognition altogether, which leads to our second quality.

Celebrity: If celebrities are the new gods (apologies to Kirby), then what of a celebrity who has the raw power of a god? Simon certainly qualifies, and as the resident superhero of the L.A. scene he'd make for an interesting contrast between the heroic fame (the efforts of firefighters saving lives on the local news for instance) versus celebrity fame(TMZ's gawd-awful, gleefully evil razzing of anyone famous at any moment of vulnerability, to say nothing of the Entertainment Tonight/Barbera Walters 'celebrities as jus' folks sort of approach). Imagine what it must be like to have to deal with at once trying to be a committed actor and artist in an industry that wants to use you up and spit you out. Now imagine being the guy who has to protect that city and it's bloodsucking mass of neuroses and machievellian intrigue from the Wizard's latest rampage because they thought his script about his heroic efforts against that arrogant fool Reed Richard's was crap, or Dragon Man's latest rampage. The potential for stories here would run the gamut, from the hardcore superheroing of the merry Marvel manner to a bizarre mix of superheroics and Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. In fact, I think Campbell would be a good model to base Williams off of; heroic looking, matinee-idol looking, certainly a talented actor. . .but he keeps getting shunted into one odd project after another, never really getting that critically acclaimed mega-blockbuster.

Immortality: Simon has been dead on more than one occasion. He got better. What's that got to be like? Especially now, as a being of pure energy that just looks human? Peter David did a fun series starring Wonder Man entitled My Fair Superhero, wherein it's revealed that Simon will live for hundreds if not thousands of years. What kind of effect does that have on a guy, knowing that he's the man who can never die?

Well, as always I feel that if you're going to crib notes you should swipe from the most talented guy you can find, so I'll just snag a few thoughts and ideas from Russell T. Davies from his character of Captain Jack Harkness. A man who can't die might be a bit of a melancholy figure, at least to start with, living beyond friends and family into an increasingly uncertain future. But there might be some positive aspects too. Becoming a bit more forward thinking, a bit more patient, a bit more willing to sit down and learn because you have the time. It's a blessing and a curse, and while it'd be easy to get overly maudlin with the latter the former should have it's place too. I think tales of 'Future Simon' and his exploits would be quite fun. If nothing else, a crossover between Wonder Man and Hercules: Prince of Power would be hilarious. Two rambuncitous Avengers in the far flung future, and easily the most hedonistic pair of the bunch to boot? Get Bob Layton on the phone.

Also, there's the notion of what life means when it can't end. This could be a great oppurtunity to bring Simon's brother Eric, the villainous and undead Grim Reaper, to the fore. Would there ever be a chance for the bridges to be mended, even after thousands of battles across countless years? Brothers forgive, after all.

So there you go. Perhaps not enough to sustain an ongoing series, but certainly enough to cast the character in a slightly better light and provide for the occasional enjoyable one shot or mini-series to while away a summer's afternoon, preferrably on the patio with a coke slurpee. It's not reinventing the genre, but it is making it fun, which was kinda the point.

Huh. That wasn't such a chore, now was it?


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