TV Review: Who Wants to be a Superhero?

by Caitlin Servilio

I harbor a secret desire to be a comic book expert. I don’t want to insult true enthusiasts by saying “comic book nerd,” but that’s essentially what I mean. I wish I knew everything about new editions of comic book series and the differences between Marvel and DC and all the hidden motivations and powers of superheroes and villains everywhere. I want to go to Comic Con and wear a costume and get in arguments with other comic book nerds that people who aren’t comic book nerds won’t understand.

As it is, I really know nothing about these matters, but perhaps this will go some way towards explaining how excited and happy I am at discovering Who Wants to be a Superhero? presently in its second season on the SciFi Channel. I tuned in to the first episode, and I think I’ve finally found a show I can love unconditionally even though it is almost certainly a complete piece of crap.

On Who Wants to be A Superhero?, ten ordinary (OK, not ordinary at all) people compete with each other for the grand prize: immortality (according to host Stan Lee). Actually, they’re competing for the chance to appear in their own Stan Lee comic and SciFi original movie. Which is at least as good as immortality anyway.

Each contestant wins a spot on the show by auditioning a superhero character of their own creation, complete with homemade costumes, names, catch phrases, back stories, and of course, powers. For instance, there’s Ms. Limelight, a ditzy blonde with action-hero powers (“A lot of people think I’m kinda ditzy because I kinda act that way but I’m really not tee-hee-HEE!”) Mr. Mitzvah, millionaire who uses the Star of David paddle to fight evildoers (“Hey, watch it, you’re gonna knock off my grindstones!”) and the Defuser, an expert at “gadgetry and invention,” who fights drug dealers (“When the Defuser’s around, bad guys are going down!”).

So far in season two, the would-be heroes have had to rescue Stan Lee from the clutches of Dr. Dark by fighting their way up a wind tunnel, have been tested on their compassion towards those in need, and have had to somehow defeat Bee Sting and her fiendish Spelling Bee of doom. It’s pure camp and comedy, yet what’s really appealing about the show is how well these people, none of whom are trained actors, manage to stay in character over the course of the show.

None of them ever storms off yelling “This is stupid!,” even when it is, and none of them ever pauses in the middle of an “intense” action scene to say “This isn’t real, we can’t really get hurt.” They all seem to be genuinely living a comic book in which they are the main characters, yelling semi-witty banter at the villains and striking poses left and right. Also, most of them seem to actually be pretty nice, although many do also appear to have severe emotional problems.

Theoretically, this is a terrible idea for a reality show because none of the contestants really have any superpowers. But in this case, that’s just what makes it delightful. And after all, the answer to the question “Who Wants to be A Superhero?” is simple—everybody.

(Promotional photo of Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and the cast from the first season of Who Wants to be a Superhero? from the SciFi Channel. To see a video promotion for the program, please check below.)

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Scotus said...

You may think you want to understand superhero comics to the point where you can argue with nerds, but believe me, that's a dark road you really don't want to go down. Besides, DC and Marvel have become so convoluted, Stephen Hawking would have a hard time coming into them cold.

At this point, you'd be better off reading non-superhero stuff like Preacher, Fables, and Transmetropolitan. That way, you get to claim geek cred, but don't have to become an expert on decades of comic book continuity.

Caitlin Servilio said...

Thanks for the advice, I'll try to pick up some when I have some extra cash lying around. It's all about geek cred for me anyway.

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