In Superman II Clark Kent famously gave up his super powers to become a regular schlub like the rest of us. At first, Lois Lane was deeply touched by his mortal sacrifice, but that evaporated as soon as Clark ran into his first bad guy at a truck stop diner. Fortunately for Kent, he couldn’t turn off his super brain and, with a little help from his Kryptonian folks, he was able to regain his superhero status by tricking his nemesis Lex Luthor into restoring his crystal-based abilities at his Fortress Of Solitude. And, oh yeah, Lois got hot for him again.
With the premiere of Watchmen over the weekend, the super power genre is still alive and kicking ass, even if with a nasty twist. Super Heroes are a little bored these days, even surly. What’s the point of saving humanity if the unwashed masses couldn’t care less?
As usual, TV has the answer. Forget X-Ray vision and flying high over any number of Gothams. Catching crooks by seeing through their lies and tracking them with the power of Zen is the new way viewers are getting in touch with their inner superhero… after all, it’s something we can all aspire to.
Sure, you say. That’s nothing new. In fact, the trend arguably started with Batman more than 70 years ago. But The Caped Crusader had the advantage of unlimited wealth and the latest advances in technology to help him with his crime-fighting obsession. How can the middle-class compete with that?
In the latest example of merely mortal superheroes, Tim Roth plays super sleuth Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert in the art of Facial Action Coding System. In laymen’s terms, that’s the super human ability to detect when a subject is being deceptive. As we discover in the new series Lie To Me, his arch enemies have plenty to be cagey about, but they’re just no match for the ultimate power of observation. Using high-tech video gizmos and a good dash of old fashioned common sense, he’s discovered the ticking bomb just in the nick of time in every episode. Unfortunately, there’s a down side. It turns out, everybody’s a liar at some point. Kind of takes the fun out of cheating.
The trend didn’t start with Lie To Me. For two years now, LAPD Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) has been battling his own personal demons, and the forces of police corruption on the NBC series Life. Armed only with his burning desire to capture those responsible for his wrongful conviction on trumped up murder charges, Crews sails through his cases by popping bits of exotic fruit in between sessions of his newly aquired powers of Zen, a habit he picked up while slowly going mad and rotting away for 12 years in a California super max prison.
Of course, winning a 50 million dollar settlement against the state has helped ease the pain a bit, but Charlie uses his moral powers to win the battle for Truth, Justice and the un-American way. And it’s not the first time.
Non super powers have popped up on TV before. Especially in cop dramas. Longstreet had an uncanny sense of hearing as a result of his losing his eyesight at the hands of run-of-the-mill bad guys. And The Green Hornet had nothing more than a mask to convey his invincibilty to would-be villains long before we became obsessed with saving the cheerleader and making it off the island.
So we turn full cycle on television and movies are next. Next month a new crop of non superheroes hits the multiplex in Super Capers, with a story propelled by delusional misfits who somehow still manage to travel back through time and save the world from an evil genius lurking in the mists of history. The great twist in this latest super-spoof is that, despite being clearly inept, this new crop of do-gooders possess the ultimate super power – completely unjustified faith in their own abilities. The most famous poster child at the moment is Tatiana Del Toro of American Idol fame.
Where’s Lex Luthor when you need him?