Hero vs. Hero

I have no idea what got me thinking about this, but as I was drinking my morning coffee, it occurred to me that all the superhero movies were missing the point – or points, I guess.

First, they seem compelled to retell the origin of whatever hero or heroes they portray in each film. As if most/all viewers aren’t already familiar with who the Hulk is or where he came from? As if Superman’s origin isn’t force fed into our brains as infants? As if any human likely to see a Batman or Spiderman movie isn’t already in on the Secret Origin tm of its star?

Come on, Marvel and DC, have some conviction that you’ve done a good job taking over 21st century culture, that your creations are part of the cultural zeitgeist. And have some faith in us that we’ve been paying attention. Just get on with the story, will ya?

What else are the comics companies doing wrong when they bring their work to the screen This is what really got me worked up this morning:

Unless I miss my guess, every superhero movie has been about a Hero fighting a Villain. Sometimes, there’s a secondary plot about the Hero fighting Himself. (Someone’s been reading Joseph Campbell again…)

Well, what’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, I say, but there are other kinds of super hero stories that comic books do routinely and well.

The ones I’m most find of are the “Hero mistakenly versus Hero before realizing their mistake and THEN going after the real baddie” stories.

I get that this is just a subtle (okay, maybe even trivial) distinction vis a vis the Hero vs Hero story I was just complaining about. But subtleties matter and they can determine whether a story resonates with an audience or not.

A straitforward statement like, “How is Hero X going to defeat Villain Y” is way, way different than “When are Heroes W and X going to figure out that they should be defeating Villain Y instead of beating each other to a pulp?”

I mean, think about it. If you’re like me (at least 10 year old me though truth be told I haven’t changed much since then)… if you’re like me, your favorite stories were the classic Thing vs Hulk battles in the old Fantastic Four books… the Avengers vs X-Men tales… the Batman vs Superman stuff… the Flash and Superman racing to see who’s fastest… the original X-men vs the new X-men… the original Averngers vs the new Avengers… and others my fading memory can’t call to mind right now.

Interestingly, some games do a better job than movies of recreating this sort of Hero vs Hero magic. I’m thinking of some recent beat-em-up games that allow players to pit hero agains hero. Yeah, I know, the narrative content is pretty weak. But at least games offer something like the classic battles I loved as a kid and still love today.

Now, if we could get some narrative games going that played with the “who’s the real enemy” idea, maybe we’d be onto something I’d be first in line to play a Thing vs Hulk game!

I realize there are other superhero stories to be told – the “do I save the world or pay my rent” stories… the “hero who walks away before being dragged back into the fight” stories… the ” can a hero love a villain” stories… and (another favorite of mine) “can the hero overcome his or her limitations or vulnerabilities” stories.

I’d love to see some of them dealt with in movies and games. But the Hero vs Hero stuff is my favorite and it seems underrepresented in all media other than comic books. And I’m bummed about that.

Anyway, that’s a look at the kind of silliness I think about while downing my morning coffee. What are your thoughts on this? Do you hate Hero vs Hero stories? Have I forgotten any movies or games that deal with that idea, whether badly or well? What are your favorite comic (or other stories) along these lines? What kind of superhero stories do you love or hate? I’m all ears.

Maybe someone in Marvel or DC’s film departments will listen up and try something different.

Nah! What was I thinking?!

5 Responses to “Hero vs. Hero”

  1. Neil Harris Says:

    Avengers featured some hero-vs-hero scenes, and SpiderMan’s origin has hero-walks-away as a key element of the story.

    Personally, I’d just like to see less fist fighting in these stories. It makes for great FX but doesn’t move the story along.

  2. Mark Capers Says:

    The animated guys tend to stick closer to the books. They did a couple movies like you describe around the time the Avengers came out.

    This is the stuff they make for the real fans! The movies are probably more focused on general appeal and pulling people in?

  3. Kimberly Unger Says:

    The “origin story” rehashes always seem to be about trying to hit a broader audience, to bring in the non-superhero fans, if you will. The fact that the hero (lookin’ at YOU Batman and Spiderman) gets rebooted every 10 years doesn’t help with that in the least. However, Marvel is doing something interesting with their “multiphase” plan which I hope means they will have more room to try new types of hero stories. Avengers brought in a huge base of people who were not tried and true fans, and familiarized them with the universe. As long as they don’t go back and try to reboot, they won’t have to revisit Iron man’s origin or Thor’s or the Hulk’s, they can move forward, which is where all the really interesting stuff is.

    There are other “superhero” stories out there, not just the DC/Marvel buffs in tights material. Look at Unbreakable, for example. Very much a superhero origin story, very much “the hero vs himself” and “who is the real bad guy here” but, much like “The Handmaids Tale” wasn’t marketed as science fiction, Unbreakable wasn’t marketed as a superhero movie. The more interesting stories seem to be slipping genres, but the basic, clear-cut “good vs bad” seems to be strongest in the big ‘splodey with tights movies.

  4. Lukas Irwin Says:

    The topic of hero v hero was always one of my favorite. Punisher v.s. Wolverine… Terminator v.s. Robocop… Henry Rollins v.s. Glen Danzig.

    If Heroclix didn’t have such horrid mechanics I would have played it a lot more.

  5. Joel Shepherd Says:

    I love stories where the hero has to figure out who the good and bad guys are. But Hollywood have a formula now where there must be a protagonist, an antagonist and a ‘relationship character’, and that breaks down into a series of increasingly predictable story structures that make us feel like we’ve seen the whole thing before.

    This is why I like stories that draw character motivation from things other than the personal. Most of these heroes draw their motivation from something personal — death of a family member/personal regrets and redemption/revenge, etc. But an external motivation, be it political, ideological etc, can set good people against good people, like those old samurai stories where two good friends serving two different masters must fight to the death because their masters have a falling out. THAT’s drama. Maybe they’ll do something like it in Superman vs Batman… only of course, they’ll overcome their differences to unite against the real bad guy in the third act…

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