Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

You ever wonder what it would be like if some of your favorite superheroes were a little less squeaky clean? I mean, some of them aren’t so squeaky clean. So if you’re a hardcore Wolverine or Batman fan, than maybe your need for cathartic violence and grittiness is fairly satisfied. But when we start talking about the good guys, it would seem that most of the time the degree of power a character has is relatively proportional to his level of squeaky clean-ness. I mean, Superman and Captain Marvel (either the Marvel or the DC one- I could elaborate on the difference, but it’s a long story) spring to mind. Thor is another, although Thor stories that take place in Asgard give the guy a little more leeway to be hardcore and such. Now, most people will tell you they read comics because, ultimately, they like science-fiction and stories about morality. But we know the truth, don’t we? Deep down, most of us read comics because we tingle at the thought of being able to level a skyscraper with the brush of our hand or break the laws of physics, or really, just to have enough power to force some kind of change on the world. I think Kevin Smith put it best in the underrated, and probably under produced, Mallrats. I’ll probably offend everyone by listing this anecdote, but to put it mildly, Jason Lee’s character goes to lengths to explain to his co-star a perceived plot-hole in the Superman canon, pointing out that no ordinary woman (i.e. Lois Lane) would be able to engage in sexual relations with Kal-El without dire repercussions. Like I said, that was the mild version. That movie cracks me up by the way. Stan Lee makes a cameo. Superhero induced power-lust probably isn’t the healthiest personality trait we could foster in ourselves- and luckily, super-hero comics are fairly tempered by, as I said, complex stories about the nature of morality embedded into those thirty or so pages of cathartic destructive inertia. Still- what if somebody like Superman just, I don’t know, decided “what the hell?” and decapitated Lex Luthor? And I don’t mean- was hypnotized by Red Kryptonite and went on a rampage, kind of thing. I mean, what if he really just did whatever the hell he felt like. All that power. Ooooohhhh- right? Well, he wouldn’t be Superman, if that is what he did. But the other problem we run into is the proposition that a character with that magnitude of power, doing whatever they wanted, would end up changing the world. And superheroes don’t do that. Well, I mean, that’s always what they’re trying to do, that’s what these stories are about, but superheroes don’t upset the natural balance of economics, international relations, the outcomes of non-fictitious wars, etc. As I’ve spoken about many times, the stories need “homeostatic-comic-environments”. Things can change…but not too much. Of course, a couple of writers have gotten on board the train heading the other direction. I was a big fan of Warren Ellis’ Authority for the first twenty issues or so. I still like it, just haven’t picked it up lately. But Ellis’ claim to fame was that, unlike other superheroes, his enacted change. Serious change. Like, upset the balance of world power kind of change. And of course, the cast is usually starkly unapologetic about taking such actions. One of my favorite scenes involves them coming face to face with your typical bizarre, super-smart, freakish body type villain that’s been out to get them- and instead of killing him off, offering him a chance to work with them. It’s a really cool comic, I have to admit. I’m real hit or miss with Ellis. I either love him or he freaks me out. Of course, even when he freaks me out, that’s, at least, what his goal was from the start. He’s just a little too good at it. If you want to put my words to the test, you are welcome to read Strange Kiss or Stranger Kisses by the man. Although I wouldn’t suggest it. How can I describe it? It’s sort of a combination of a Ridley Scott movie (Alien, Blade Runner, Etc.) and…porn. That wasn’t a joke. Anyway, this longwinded, roundabout introduction I’m writing is all just to showcase one character that I’m really into- so I might as well just bite the bullet and do it. The award for most cathartically destructive (anti-) hero in the last few years goes to? Black Adam. Can’t get enough of the guy lately. You know how you know if an antihero is an antihero worth their weight? It’s when the hero(s) go to fight the antihero? And you can’t keep track of who you’re rooting for. I mean, who do you really want to have win the fight? It’s like Magneto- you didn’t always agree with the things Magneto stood for, but sometimes you wanted him to get away with whatever he was doing. You wanted him to smack the X-Men around like red-headed school children (I’m just cursing to offend people with the article, apparently). You didn’t even know why you wanted it. You just did. I was never that into Captain Marvel (DC) as a kid. The idea that a child morphs into/switches places with/whatever never really made a lot of sense to me. Of course, nowadays, I’m totally fascinated with the guy. See, my favorite interpretation of Captain Marvel isn’t that he’s a child running around in an adult’s body, it’s that he is simultaneously a child AND an adult. Like two beings with one body, or soul, or…well, like I said, whatever. So Captain Marvel could go out and beat up some monster, but later, he might cry himself to sleep at night as Billy Batson because he’s in a dark room and monsters are scary. At the same time, Captain Marvel has a penchant for being brave, or heroic, or just good in that way that only a child could ever be. The whole comic is really an amazing metaphor about growing up, not losing your innocence, hope…all that jazz. Now… Black Adam. For a long time I was just sort of like: “Okay, so there’s a guy, with all the power Captain Marvel has. Only he wears black and he’s a bad guy. And they fight.” Frankly? It seemed kind of trite. Justice Society doesn’t sell the way Justice League does, but it’s a hotly underrated comic. And it’s where I started to really get what Black Adam was all about. See, Shazam, that zany interdimensional wizard that’s hooking Captain Marvel up with all that power…originally, Adam was the guy he chose to be his champion. But as the saying goes- “Either you die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Years and years of trying to do the right thing- and then finally, the murder of his entire family…Adam snapped. He stopped believing the world is a place worth fighting for. He started believing that people were corrupt and ignorant. And the only way to do what was right for the world was to force it change. See, that’s why he’s Batson’s nemesis- because he’s jaded. Disillusioned. Nowadays, there’s a lot less of Marvel and Adam duking it out and a lot more of them debating about philosophy. He isn’t a villain in the strictest sense of the word- but he’s warned Batson again and again that there isn’t anything about people worth believing in. And that's when Batson grows up: he’ll stop being such a foolish idealist and realize what a terrible place the world is. What does all of this have to do with cathartic destruction? Well, I highly recommend World War III- a spin-off of the events of 52. What’s the conflict and who’s on what side? Well… Black Adam is on one side. And everyone else is on the other. Everyone. In the world. I’m serious. I won’t spoil 52 for you if you haven’t read it- but when Adam finally breaks, you are right there with him. But then- he just goes nuts. He fights tanks. He fights planes. Armies. Entire sloughs of superheroes, by himself. Literally, there are scenes with him throwing costumed figures off of him like they’re dolls. And he just doesn’t stop. Also? The finale and how Batson finally brings him down is pretty brilliant. Again, I won’t say how. Still, even though Adam is on the outs with the superhero community, you can kind of see some hero, a champion, buried deep down in there. So needless to say, the story with this guy and what he stands for isn’t over and done with. But just giving you a heads up- worth keeping your eye on.