Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Childhood heroes

Because my current pop-culture consumption is still at sub-trickle levels, here's a bit of uber-geekiness based on an online column I read during my paternity leave. If you're not inclined to follow the link and wade through the ensuing genre/nostalgia wallowing, I will try to briefly sum up: the author of the column, Greg Hatcher, had seen a piece of art on Pol Rua's blog which consisted of the phrase "My childhood heroes could destroy your childhood heroes" wrapped around a group shot drawing of Godzilla, Lobo, Bigfoot (the monster truck), Marion Cobretti, the Savage Dragon, Hellboy, the Tick, The Road Warriors Animal and Hawk, Aeon Flux, Robocop, the Punisher, and Jason Voorhees. (If you don't know some of those names, assume they are violent comicbook anti-heroes and you have about a 75% chance of being correct.) Hatcher then went on to assemble his own "my childhood heroes" dream team, which consisted of Tarzan, Callisto (an alien from the Matt Mason toy line), Kato, Linc Hayes, James West, Space Ghost, Igoo (from the Herculoids), Superman and Batman.

I found the column that riffed on the artwork's idea more interesting than the artwork itself, not only because I tend to gravitate more towards wordiness, but also because Hatcher was specific as to which versions of fictional characters he was calling on (e.g. the Ron Ely Tarzan, the Adam West Batman, and the Superman from the comics of the 70's) and equally specific about the rules of assembling his roster. He limited himself to characters who occupied his brainspace when he was a kid, which he defined in a very narrow window from ages 5 to 12. It was alright if a character pre-existed his lifetime and he discovered that character as a kid, but not acceptable if the character were created after he turned 13. Also, Hatcher made a list of much more straightforwardly good guys, as opposed to the mix of heroes, anti-heroes and villains in the meme-inspiring drawing.

As we all know, I love a good mental exercise, especially one with highly arbitrary and restrictive parameters! And as it happens, Hatcher is a bit older than me, whereas I would peg Rua as a bit younger than me, so there's some fertile ground to stake out in between them. Thus I am borrowing this meme (mostly hatcher's take on it) for my own amusement, and present the results for yours.

First off, every dream team needs some muscle, so for (some of) that role I'm going to go with B.A. Baracus.

If I'm going to assemble a team of larger-than-life characters from approximately 1980 through 1987, I would be a fool to pass up the potential inclusion of Mr. T. B.A.'s great for pure intimidation, can back it up in a fight, and he's a jack-of-all-trades who's good with an acetylene torch, too.

It's also good to have a wildman on the team, providing back-up muscle along with some extra unpredictability. The strongman is handy to have around if a single opponent needs to be knocked out with one punch, or a falling boulder or closing door needs propping up while everyone else gets by safely. The wild warrior, on the other hand, can take on a room full of opponents; it won't be pretty, but he'll be laughing all the way. And I have two closely related candidates, both from the Flash Gordon mythos, although two different spins: Thun and Vultan.

My preferred Thun is from the Filmation cartoons of Flash Gordon, while the definitive Vultan can only be Brian Blessed's version from the 1980 live action movie. Thun is just rad-looking, wearing his naked savagery for all to see. Blessed's Vultan is a bit more controlled, but all the more dangerous for it. He knows how to toe the line of acceptable behavior depending on the situation, master of his own domain and just barely respectful enough in others' (which generally means waiting until their back is turned to make fun of them). When he finally crosses the line into open rebellion, all of his pent-up rage and all of his insider knowledge combine to wreak pure havoc. He's actually one of my favorite characters by any measure, full stop.

In addition to brawn, a team needs brains, and I would choose Professor Henry Jones, Jr. for that role.

A scholar who's not afraid to get his hands dirty, a skilled researcher and a gifted improviser, not to mention he knows how to throw (and take) a punch, he's a valuable resource. Needless to say, I am only interested in recruiting the 1930's/40's model of Indiana Jones, and not the 1950's model.

Brains need to be balanced by heart, and in these "lad's tales" whose conventions I am following, that usually means the token girl. But since there's no limitation on how many characters I can stack this team with, I'm going to pick three ladies, all of whom happen to be plucked from Saturday morning cartoons. First up is Diana the acrobat from the Dungeons & Dragons.

Much like everyone else on the team, she can hold her own in a fight, but her niche is "the one people would underestimate on sight, much to their eventual chagrin." Second is Princess Ariel from the Thundarr the Barbarian series.

An honest-to-apocalypse sorceress, meeting the team's magic-user requirement. And third, Firestar from Spider-man and His Amazing Friends.

She can fly, she can melt steel from a distance, and she's a hot redhead, not to mention the only bonafide superhero on my team. Represent!

A couple more specialists round things out. For stealth purposes, I'd draft Little Bear, a.k.a. the titular Indian in the Cupboard.

A resourceful Iroquois brave who is only a couple of inches tall would be the best scout or infiltrator a team could ask for, and not incidentally he allows me to check the box of including one character who actually comes from a novel I read when I was in elementary school instead of just movie and tv characters. I'd also pad out the roster with Pegasus, which could either be from the books of classical mythology I read as a kid or from the original Clash of the Titans.

A flying horse is a great asset (especially when your main muscle is afraid of airplanes) but I also appreciate having a highly intelligent animal on the team (see above re: "underestimated","eventual chagrin"). I've always felt like there was a cultural tendency to associate pegasi with girly-girls (and their sparkly pastel-colored Trapper Keepers) but suck it, haters! I'm taking Pegasus back!

Finally, there is really only one possible choice for leader of the team: Sergeant Conrad "Duke" Hauser.

He's a consummate soldier, and as I've mentioned before one of his defining characteristics is the loyalty and devotion he is able to inspire in his fellow fighters-of-the-good-fight. Must be because he's an NCO. In any case, that's the quality I'm looking for to head up this team, a guarantee that the disparate elements will work together for a common goal. And Duke can get pretty much anyone to follow him pretty much anywhere.

That pretty much hits most of the major highlights of my childhood, with a couple of notable exceptions: both Star Wars and the Masters of the Universe loomed extra-large in my preadolescent viewing habits and action figure hoarding, but I really tended to enjoy those properties as more than the sum of their parts; plucking out any individual character for this exercise, whether from Eternia or a galaxy far far away, wasn't entirely satisfying, certainly not enough to displace anyone who made the cut. A similar principle kept me away from Voltron, which in and of itself is basically a five man band that doesn't work except as a quintet, and I hate dropping entire teams into larger dream teams. I was also a big fan of the Herculoids and Space Ghost back in the day, but I didn't want to duplicate the earlier efforts if at all possible. And finally, the most glaring omission here is obviously Green Lantern, not included partly because my all-time favorite GL, Kyle, did not debut until I was about 19 years old, and partly because GL simply transcends these kind of crazy remix parlor games (or so I choose to maintain).

One final note (for anyone who looks to these posts for glimpses of insight into me beyond unflagging love of 80's garbage): when I looked back over the list I noticed that it was decidely low-tech, not a single robot or super-computer to be found. A time-traveling miniature man from the 18th century, sure, and an archaeologist born in the late 19th, no problem. Several beings from fantasy worlds, and a handful of more modern (though by now fairly dated) folks who don't rely on anything more advanced than a military-issue rifle or a GMC Vandura (or, ok, mutant powers). Is it possible that, during the downtime that I was mulling the team concept while also working on my freelance coding day and night, that I got a tiny bit burnt out on technology? A possibility worth pondering, at least.

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