Against Origin-ality

Note: This isn’t a post about EA’s Origin. I could probably write one eventually, though honestly EA’s handling that fine on its own.

I’m watching a lot of cartoons lately. I watch a fair quantity of cartoon in general–One Piece is always there to give me a new dose of pirate crazy, and I’ve got oodles of Narutos to slog through–but Netflix is really hitting things hard. I started watching The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes due to a mention in some list article that my Google-fu apparently cannot retrieve. The show’s dope, though canceled. People die in summary ways (which I feel is tremendously important for selling the severity of a supervillain), Ant Man has ants eat dudes, and they’re even tackling some surprisingly complicated storylines like a version of Secret Invasion that is set up at the tail end of the first season and then left fairly dormant for much of the second. Givenhowthey set things up, that’s pretty insane…if you were a kid who missed the key scene of setup, you’d have no ideawhy certain things were happening. In fact, you wouldn’t even knowin some episodes that things were awry at all.

Also, there’s an episode with Beta Ray Motherfucking Bill.

Awesomely, the episode of Justice League I’m watching just had a scene where the villain sarcastically remarked “Earth’s mightiest heroes,” right as I was typing the same line in reference to the JLA’s competing Marvel property. I’m thrilled Netflix finally has some seasons of Justice League, since I always loved watching it as a college student but have never been particularly adept about catching tv on the reg. Now, instead of needing to worry about scheduling, I’m going to consume both seasons over the course of the next three or four days, because I can.

While Justice Leaguegives you a condensed form of the origin of the group (with pretty sparse introductions for several characters, notably Hawk Girl), Avengers devotes a significant chunk of the first season to introducing the characters, mostly separately. They only gradually draw together, and by the time they do you have a decent sense of each hero’s powers, abilities, and personality. I love that, since it lets the heroes get their own screen time without the supersoup that sometimes muddies such shows.

However, what really struck me was an episode of the latter program which involved Ant Man contracting The Heroes for Hire, specifically Luke Cage and Danny Rand. Danny’s better known as Iron Fist, but “better” is more accurately “I love the dude and don’t think most people know who he is.” Cage specifically warns Danny in the episode notto call him Power Man, after Rand suggests he go get his tiara.

It’s fucking GREAT.

The thing is, they never go out of their way to explain either of these heroes. They don’t give you their origin, their dark pasts, or anything of the sort. The heroes’ respective powers are presented in the simplest possible way: they beat up a couple of thugs in an alley. One guy punches Cage and hurts his hand, and Cage says “Unbreakable skin.” Later, when Rand is about to hunt down a robber using powers, Cage complains that he should be using his Iron Fist to hit things, not harness his chi for whatever he’s doing.

That’s it. That’s all the introduction you really need. The audience sees these two dudes being awesome dudes, gets that they’re awesome dudes, and then gets an inkling of their powers. Then everyone is free to move on to punching crooks in the face!

With the recent Spiderman flick, the end of the Nolan Batman trilogy, and the upcoming (yawn) Superman film, there’s a lot of discussion about the necessities of the heroic trilogy, the need to retell origins, and our current fascinating with reboots. But after enjoying the Heroes for Hire being quietly awesome, I’m wondering just how critical such origin stories are. I know that I’m ensconced in a warm bubble of culture I enjoy, but I’m not sure that I’m overestimating how many people already have an idea of who Superman or Batman is. That aside, though, even if you use a hero people don’tknow, I’m not sure it’s critical to do the long drawn-out training montage and inciting tragedy before you can give a shit about the character.

I look to the CW’s Arrow as an example. They took a relatively unimportant and unloved character whom most of the broader audience wouldn’t know, and they played with him and made him awesome(ironically, given my previous sentence, they do this through the use of several training montages). Would I watch a program where Luke Cage goes down for crack possession (because, you know, obviously) and puts a corrupt prison guard’s head through a wall with awesome punching? Would I take in a program where a man fights a dragon with his bare hands in order to sear its heartsblood on his chest?

Would I watch a DARKHAWK movie?

Are these questions rhetorical?

EDIT: Found the article that put me on Avengers. It’s here, at Screened.com

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