Letting Go of Our Old Comic Heroes

Pop Culture

Letting Go of Our Old Comic Heroes

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

 

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few days ago, I saw this kid on the footpath while I was having a cigarette. His father was waiting in a queue and this boy, who looked like he was seven or eight, was busy entertaining himself by skipping an action figure along the flower pots that lined the way. At this display of childish imagination, I smiled and thought, “You’re lucky there are people here, runt, or that plastic soldier would be mine.”

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I know, I’m talking about mugging a child and that’s nuts, but I wasn’t really going to do it! Probably… but there’s a part of me that never really grew up. The schoolboy version of me would be delighted with the amount of video game hours I squeeze into a working week. In fact, if we were to meet, I’d sit him down next to me, beat him hollow at FIFA, and then console him by saying, “Listen little guy, in 2016, you’re going to be able to see the first He-Man cartoon made in 30 years!” School-me would then squeal with excitement and run back into the past to do nothing else but await the second coming of the Masters of Universe.

I was a He-Man nut back then. The concept of He-Man was as simple as it gets – he’s really strong and he fights the bad guys, easily identified by their allegiance to a disturbingly buff blue guy with a skull for a head. The story doesn’t get much more complicated than that. And it didn’t need to. Those were simpler times, with none of the complexities and escalating darkness and plot lines that say a series like Harry Potter presents. The spectacle of this muscled warrior and his hearty friends battling with the forces of evil across the fantastical planet of Eternia was enough to make up for the lack of dramatic substance.  

A lot of my growing-up years were spent recreating those battles with my friends and cousins. There were no Comic Cons to attend then. Real battles would also ensue, between who got to be He-Man and who had to play Skeletor. For some reason, no one wanted to play Orko. In the run-up to each Sunday’s episode, I would thirst for everything He-Man in between those weekly doses of adrenaline – action figures, VHS tapes, compass box; I had them all. If my mother had let me, I would have probably gotten that horrible haircut and blonde dye-job too.

So naturally, when I heard about the He-Man episode, which released this July, I started feeling an excited anticipation. The makers have captured the look of the old 1980s’ cartoon series faithfully and with that amazing, cheesy theme intact. The embarrassingly bad He-Man movie starring Ivan Drago from Rocky IV or the underwhelming reboot from the early 2000s didn’t come close to what the first cartoons achieved. So when the new episode came out looking old school, I was a happy guy. Let them green-light a whole new season, I hoped.

Wouldn’t it be nicer if there were new heroes and stories that better document our times?

But then, something sad took place. June 20, the premiere date of the new episode, came and went. It was shown to audiences at San Diego’s Comic Con and, being too poor to fly across the world, unfortunately I couldn’t attend. So I hunted high and low for a link to the episode. I failed. I would have had to be part of the pass-holding audience to have seen this episode. I hadn’t got the dough to drop to be in that number, so I missed out. In 2016, if you haven’t watched a new episode of any popular show, you’re screwed with spoilers, reviews, and reactions that clutter up the internet soon after. The thrill of being in the audience diminishes the longer it takes for you to get the episode. My excitement ebbed away, and it was replaced with a grim realisation. My memories have become somebody else’s cash cow.

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Ours is a generation that is still clinging to the last vestiges of being a child. We play board games at bars, we love going to Comic Cons with friends, and don’t like going to work. Between office and school, we long for the uniformed days. I’m humming my school anthem writing this.

Now, this kind of longing makes for a great opportunity and purveyors of commercial entertainment begin circling like vultures. Soon, the shrieking of the flock around the carrion becomes the only thing you can hear. I got excited about He-Man, but I’m getting sick of the trend overall. It’s not going away. A new Harry Potter book released on July 31 and drove people mad with excitement. Jungle Book was pretty much an exact, scene-for-scene remake of the original animated film, and it became one of the biggest hits of the year. Pokémon Go, and this sentence needs no other qualifications.

Trends have always been cyclical and I know this is just another example, but the profusion of this 1990s’ media revival is ridiculous. The ’90s generation has reached the age where they can be looked at by corporations as consumers with an income. Buzzfeed is one of the prime examples, which apart from being a procrastination aid is also a champion exploiter of nostalgia. It’s possibly augmented by the fact that our generation chooses to document every aspect of their lives on social media and takes every chance to declare their nostalgia, their claim to a period of time, their ownership of a culture by yelling, “Look at this thing I love, and how much I love it.”

What happens is, of course, that content, that is old thrives and the new never gets a chance. The entertainment properties of what was essentially a very different era in social and cultural terms continue to persist, influence, and inform their consumers daily, creating a break between the world we live in and how we think.

The realisation made me wonder whether we even really need a new He-Man cartoon and what relevance this overtly brawny hero has in our lives beyond reminding us of a simpler time. Wouldn’t it be nicer if there were new heroes and stories that better document our times? Take Ghosbusters, for instance. Merely swapping out the male protagonists with female ones is hardly an update. Why do the four girls have to go ghostbusting when they can fight literally any other problem? Why not the Rapebusters, four Indian girls that drive around on Harleys and chase sex offenders with machetes?

I’ll tell you why, because studios and corporations don’t want to take chances on anything which isn’t proven. Because an already successful franchise has a guaranteed fan base and ensures money for the makers, an increasing number of movies, books, and other storytelling mediums are opting for remakes or adaptations. This leaves less and less room for original ideas and new content to gain an audience, to represent our culture, this moment in our times that is unique and that He-Man sadly doesn’t have much in common with.

A proven formula can only fail when variables in the equation are altered. Maybe it’s time for us, as an audience, to stop popping out the fireworks and champagne every time someone reaches into our childhood for cash. Maybe that means we’ll get new stories to enjoy. For those who feel there’s no harm in buying a ticket to enjoy a little nostalgic thrill, remember what nostalgia means. It’s derived from the Greek word nostos, which translates to return home. We can relive our memories in our imagination, because who the hell pays entry money at their house door?

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