2016 is going to bring no shortage of superheroes and super-villains on both the large and small screens. We’ve got Batman vs. Superman, Daredevil: Season 2, The Suicide Squad, Luke Cage, Agent Carter: Season 2, Captain America: Civil War, and the list goes on and on.
I’m personally a huge fan of such stories, in all mediums, and as a geek/ fan of pop culture I think that we’re living in a golden age of comic book storytelling, both on and off the pages of comics.
What I’m also a huge fan of are those stories of everyday people blessed/ cursed with awe inspiring abilities who don’t necessarily decide to put on a cape and tights to save the day. Folks who find themselves caught up in a set of crazy circumstances, while trying to continue to live their lives.
Pay the bills. Deal with relationship issues. Keep a job.
Now I’m not saying that these stories don’t eventually go the way of your typical tale of super heroics, but most of the one’s that I’ve become a fan of haven’t necessarily gone this route. As in the case of comic books, there’s a huge amount of action and adventure, with a smattering of some of the best elements of great science fiction.
Sometimes some of these examples start off as solid science fiction, but wind up playing within the spectrum of the “regular folks with powers” sub-genre.
At the root of most of these works is a focus on how the characters involved decides to work with the abilities they’ve been either blessed or cursed with. There’s no immediate call to save the day, though we eventually get there in some of these cases.
For a while there have been a number of really notable examples of movies, novels, television programs, and comics that have played within this arena. There have also been some that have been not so stellar.
This will be the start of a list that I’ll try to add on to as I come across more examples of what I think is a pretty interesting sub genre of the tights and fights area of fiction.
The 4400 (Television Series)
The USA Network for me was always the home of comedies like Psych and marathon broadcast sessions of dramas like Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It wasn’t a network that delved too much in the fantastical, at least at the points where I had cable.
So color me surprised when The 4400 dropped. I’m planning on doing another post that will go into detail on the awesomeness of the television series. Needless to say USA surprised me in a very good way.
The 4400 told the story of a group of 4400 individuals who disappeared worldwide over the years, beginning in 1946. In 2004 they are brought back to a Seattle, Washington beach and a division of US government agents are tasked with figuring out what happened to them, why they’ve been brought back, and to basically watch over them.
What is soon revealed is that a large amount of these individuals have abilities, and the show then becomes a mixture of X-Files meets X-Men. For the first season we follow a pair of agents, Agent Diana Skouris and Agent Tom Baldwin who tackle a sort of “ability” of the week story line, while we also watch how this plays out on the larger story being told.
The show ran for 4 seasons, with an abrupt cancellation in the last season. There have been four novels set within the continuity of the TV show which builds the world even further that should also be checked out.
Though the show focused on the concept of people with abilities, as mentioned before, these individuals weren’t trying to be superheroes. You have people who abused their abilities for selfish gain, saw the abilities as a blessing, or even tried to use them for committing disturbing acts.
For example there was one episode during the first season where one returnee attempted to use his ability to simply save his neighborhood, after seeing the state of decay it had experienced in the years that he’d been away. But even then, you see the effects of what happens to an untrained individual who, though they had a set of “super” abilities, paid the consequences of the harsh reality he’d attempted to change, good intentions be damned.
The story grows in scope over the later seasons as we see the true purpose for these individuals being brought back, and definitely throws in a large amount of sci-fi elements. But at the core of this larger story we always come back to how these abilities are affecting these normal, everyday folks who are in essence caught out of time.
Simple synopsis of Chronicle: A group of teens at a party find a glowing rock, investigate, experience nose bleeds, black outs, and develop telekinetic abilities.
And everything else afterwards is f&^%$ing awesome.
What works about this movie is this simple synopsis. Only towards the end of the flick do we get some obligatory, grandiose hero vs. villain fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, but that’s not the strongest part of the flick.
No, before then we simply get a tale of kids gaining super abilities, and just being kids.
They get a handheld camera, and just do what teens nowadays would do: show off, and have fun with these new found abilities. Whether it’s pulling pranks at a grocery store, or just flying through the Washington state skies, the teens are just enjoying these awesome abilities.
We have the popular nice/ intelligent dude (Steve/ Michael B. Jordan), the middle of the road likeable guy (Matt/ Alex Russell), and the sympathetic outcast (Andrew/ Dane DeHaan). Through the gifting of these abilities an unexpected friendship organically grows between the three, and makes you enjoy these characters even more.
In addition to this focusing on the budding friendship between the trio, we also get a really good example of something that I’ll tackle in Jumper: a focus on what a person who has been physically/ mentally abused might do with such a set of abilities.
One of the strongest, and depressing character arcs that we see in this movie is Andrew’s, played masterfully by DeHann. He’s the butt of everyone’s joke at high school, he’s the kid with the alcoholic father who verbally and physically beats him down it seems with every single day.
Imagine what a kid like that might do if granted god like abilities? Put on an outfit and fight crime?
Nope, he’d be more inclined to probably F’ ‘ish up, as he lashes out with a huge well of pent up pain and frustration that’s been building over the years.
Andrew probably should’ve seen a counselor in the years before the events that play out in Chronicle, but that’s not the case. Even as his new friends try to intervene and help him to see the awesome guy that they see, it’s too late.
That’s why this story works extremely well for me. You have a kid who doesn’t go the typical route that teenagers endowed with abilities might go in the world of super heroic tales of do gooders.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit the dude gets a bit too super villain-esque at the end, but the build up to that, and even the final fight make up for this.
Chronicle is a great movie, featuring a believable take on teens gaining super abilities that shouldn’t be missed.
Jumper by Steven Gould (Novel)
First, let’s start with this: get that movie out of your head. The one featuring that guy who played the whiny Anakin Skywalker, and Samuel L. Jackson with yet another weird wig.
The movie was fun in spots, bad in others, but got too convoluted and grandiose in the story that it was trying to tell. Nice special effects, but kind of “blah” at the middle.
Jumper, the novel was much, much, much more in terms of a sci-fi story about a kid who discovers he has the ability to “jump”, or teleport. But David Rice, the stories protagonist, doesn’t do this for the sake of fighting crime, or saving lives (at first). For a large chunk of the book this kid is running from an abusive relationship.
David’s mother left him when he was a kid, fleeing the abuse that her husband was tossing out. Rather than eventually be continually hurt by him, or worse, she decides to leave the household, unfortunately leaving David to be the sole receiver of David’s ass-hat of a father’s abuse.
So when David discovers that he can teleport, he becomes the ultimate runaway kid. And you do nothing but root for him the whole time that he does this. Imagine being able to wondrously get away from a person who does nothing but berate you, hit you, psychologically just break you down to the point where you just want to die.
That’s where David is at in the book, and we see his growth into a stronger individual as the story plays out, the further away he gets away from his father.
Later on in the story David does use his abilities for good, but this is only after he suffers a personal tragedy of sorts. Throughout the book he’s constantly escaping the crappiness that life had heaped on him, and it makes for a compelling story.
Just as Jessica Jones focused on what someone with super abilities who had been psychologically and physically abused might deal with that, I think Jumper does the same in telling a science fiction based story of a runaway who is trying to simply escape a set of crappy circumstances.
That’s it for this round. I’ll add more in upcoming weeks to this list. Thanks for checking it out and happy viewing/ reading.