The Best of Everything's Opinions Are Righter Than Yours. This appeared there first:
Superheroes seem to me to be a particularly American literary phenonemon. A review of literary history around the world shows that European literature tends to focus on stories in which old women eat children. Japanese literature tends to focus on cartoons having sex and stories that are both interesting and mind-bogglingly incomprehensible like Kafka on The Shore, which I would say I loved but I'm not so sure I get it yet.
American literature, by contrast, is pretty much limited to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and guys in tights beating up other guys in tights. I know that there are guys like John Steinbeck, who I'm pretty sure wrote that cartoon in which Bugs Bunny gets picked up by the Abominable Snowman, but nobody reads anything John Steinbeck wrote, because we're Americans, and we cannot imagine spending our time reading this:
When we could be reading this:
That's why all those writers in the past have failed. How much better would The Great Gatsby have been if Daisy Buchanan had been on the cover, wearing a skin tight leotard and holding the green light over her head? A lot.
American superheroes break down into two categories: Those who have actual superpowers, and those who get them from gadgets. There are a lot more of the latter than the former, and a review of them shows that Americans don't really care for heroes with inherent powers. While we have some heroes who have inherent powers, heroes like Superman, Spider-Man, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyclops from the X-men, those kind of heroes tend to be outsiders. They come from another planet or wear glasses or both, or they breathe water, or they have a tendency, if they don't wear sunglasses, to send scorching bolts of power wherever they look and destroy everything around them. While Americans want to think we embrace outsiders and the poor and cold and weary, etc., we'd really prefer if the newcomers to our society were less horrible mutant with weird eyes and more David Beckham.
I think what that is showing, that tendency to make heroes whose powers are inside them be outsiders and jerks, is that Americans don't really like people who get ahead by virtue of their birth. Being born under a red sun, or with a weird kink in your x-chromosome, is, to us, the exact same as being born the son of King George, meaning that American will let such a hero save them from Lex Luthor's giant city-destroying robot, but they will always secretly suspect that the hero is just waiting to tax their tea or pry their gun from their cold, dead fingers. (For the purposes of his discussion, "getting bit by a radioactive spider" is the equivalent of being born with superpowers, since Americans don't like people who get ahead by the luck of insect bites any more than by the luck of birthright.)
On the other hand, heroes whose powers come from gadgets are one of us: Iron Man, Green Arrow, Booster Gold, The Atom, Captain America -- all regular people who through some gumption and luck and the backing of major corporations become famous heroes, just like we all could if we ever stopped eating Cheetos and got a job.
By my estimate, there are about 30 superheroes whose powers come from gadgets for every "natural" superhero. That estimate, of course, requires that I discount the Legion of Super-Heroes, whose members all have inherent powers, but I can discount them because they are in the future, and also because their rules prohibit anyone whose powers come from a gadget from joining them, and also because they once let in a hero named "Quislet."
The gadget superhero meets all the criteria for success in America: They're clearly not "better" than the rest of us, because we'd be just as super if we had that fancy suit, too (and if we could suck in our stomachs enough to fit into it), they have weaknesses -- great superheroes have to have weaknesses or they're just boring -- and they show us that corporate America really is holding us down and keeping life from being really good.
America is rife with stories about how there are cars that get the equivalent of 150 miles to the gallon of gas but they actually run on candy corn, about how Japan has jet packs while Dubai has skyscrapers that walk around the city so that in the morning you wake up in your apartment but it's right next to the office, while on weekends your apartment is at the beach. We secretly believe that there are flying cars ready to go in Europe and that corporations, if they're not saving all the neat stuff to put on Donald Trump's yacht, are just lazy, like the government is. We go around saying If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they... (in my case, that sentence is usually finished with find a way to let me watch Three's Company on demand for free) but we might as well be saying If they can have a husband and wife team have antigravity belts and big wings so they can fly around and fight crime, why can't they... (and I'd still finish it with the Three's Company thing.)
Plus, Americans are always coming up with gadgets. I myself in my brief time as a part-time inventor have come up with numerous great ideas, ranging from soundtracks for books to the in the cupboard dishwasher to my ingenious EZMOVR, which is a bar on legs; the legs lock in place to hold the bar and you put it in your closet and hang clothes on it, but then, when it's time to move, the legs fold up over the bar and hold all the clothes-hangers on while you move it around, then the whole thing stands on the moving truck, and so on until it's in your new closet. That's an invention I came up with one time when I was stealing a bar from my apartment closet to move my clothes without folding them, only to have them keep slipping off the bar as a form of instant karma to get me back for stealing the bar while secretly intending to tell the landlord I'd never had one.
Of all the gadgets that have ever been loved by Americans, and of all the gadgets that have ever made someone a superhero, no gadget should be more loved, and no gadget is more powerful than, Green Lantern's ring.
Green Lantern, for those of you who did not read comic books until you were 19 and accordingly have real jobs and the respect of those around you, is a superhero whose power comes from a ring of power and a Green Lantern which he uses to charge his ring every 24 hours. Earth's Green Lantern is one of a larger force of Green Lanterns who were appointed by the Guardians to watch out for the universe and make sure that evil doesn't win. It's not clear to me why the Guardians sent a Green Lantern to Earth, which already has a lot of superheroes, but they presumably know better than I do.
Green Lantern's ring runs on willpower, and with that willpower, he can will the ring to do anything, provided that whatever the ring does is green. He can make it shoot green blasts of power. He can turn it into a giant green anvil and hammer to pound the bad guys against. He can create a green spacesuit to protect him and a green shield for when people shoot missiles at him. He could, presumably, make it create a green iPod for long space journeys, although that raises the troubling question of whether he could will the ring to also put green songs onto the green iPod and if he did that, would he be in trouble for bootlegging them? Would he be better off hooking his green iPod into his green computer and willing the ring to download them legally? Would Apple be upset that he created a green iPod? They didn't like it when people hacked their iPhones, you know.
Green Lantern raised some serious issues, all right.
On that subject, think about this: Apple is always bragging that there are no viruses or junk that screw up Macs, whereas there are hundreds of viruses that screw up real computers. But why is that? Because Apple is so great at avoiding hackers? Wrong. It took hackers all of 38 seconds to hack into the iPhone and mess it up. The reason there's no viruses for Macs is because only 0.000001% of the computers in the world are Macs. If you're a deranged hacker who's dangerously isolated and trying to get back at the world in an obscure, email based way, are you going to target that 0.00001% of society? Who would notice? It's not likely to make headlines when Justin Long's computer goes down. iPhones were popular and got hacked. If Macs ever become popular, they'll have just enough spyware and adware and viruses to qualify as the Paris Hilton of personal computers. So Apple ought to just quit bragging.
Green Lantern's ring was the best gadget because, as demonstrated above, because it was so versatile, and avoided all the problems that other gadget-laden superheroes suffered through. Spider-Man had to keep reloading his webshooters, which meant that he had to keep making web fluid and carry it with him. Batman had to have a whole utility belt to carry his batarangs and bat-smoke-capsules and bat-snorkel, and so he had to anticipate what an adventure might entail; God forbid he not bring along the bat-pitons and end up having to fight the Joker in the Rocky Mountains. Wonder Woman's invisible plane couldn't go into space; her lariat and bracelets were pretty much just one function, too. Hawkman could fly but couldn't swim. Wolverines claws weren't much good against an enemy on another planet. Green Arrow's arrows would run out quickly and probably fall out of his quiver whenever he was running around.
But Green Lantern: that ring could do it all. Fly, go underwater, order take-out, not even the sky was the limit for the ring of power. The only thing that could hold it back would be a lack of willpower and, for some reason, the color yellow. But assuming that villains were not smart enough to wear yellow suits and shoot yellow bullets (and they never were) the ring of power and some imagination was all any superhero would ever need.
Plus, it had the added benefit of being available to anyone. Other superhero gadgets required training or billions of dollars or scientific know-how. What's American about that? Sure, we don't want people to get ahead by sheer luck or accident of birth, but by the same token we don't want people to have to slave away for years and years and years to get ahead, either. What good is getting ahead if it requires a Masters' Degree or a 20-year-internship or a suit that we've got to constantly polish and check the oil on?
All the great American success stories, all the stories we really cherish, are about people who got ahead without adhering to the usual rules, people who succeeded even though they did not do anything that our parents told us we'd have to do. Go to school. Study hard. Eat carrots. Marry a nice Catholic girl. Blah blah blah. That's all we ever heard. But then the guy from Apple builds a computer in his garage and he's a zillionaire. Those guys who made Google drop out of college and they're zillionaires. Miley Cyrus "accidentally" takes some risque pictures and she's a zillionaire.
What does that tell you? The American Way is this: Success comes to those who stumble onto some great gimmick or gadget and recognize its potential, leaving behind all those workaday suckers who go into the office everyday.
That is exactly what happened to Green Lantern: He was going nowhere because he was a rebel who didn't quite fit into the system, when he stumbles across a dying alien who gives him the ring of power and suddenly he became perhaps one of the greatest Green Lanterns ever, and one of the greatest superheroes ever.
How American is that? As American as all get-out, that's how. Which is the final piece of why Green Lantern's ring is The Best Superhero Gadget.
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