Monday, July 16, 2018

Legion Homages: Super Duper

A while ago I had an idea to do reviews and profiles about the different non-DC homages and parodies of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Sure there’s the Imperial Guard at MARVEL and some of the versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but what about the Pantheon of Heroes, the League of Infinity, Superduper, or even the Quantum League that’s set to appear from Dark Horse Comics this summer?

The first team I’ve chosen to focus on is Superduper, published in Dynamite Entertainment's The Boys, Garth Ennis' super dark, disturbing, and scathing deconstructive parody of superhero comics. And yet surprisingly, despite all that, Superduper as a team is legitimately endearing and gets off lightly as a superhero parody compared to a lot of the other teams Ennis mocks.

(Top Row: Black Hole, Bobby Badoing, Klanker)
(Bottom Row: Kid Camo, Stool Shadow, Ladyfold, Auntie Sis)
The Roster:
Auntie Sis, the heart of the team and the one the rest of the kids refer to as the defacto leader even after they get an “Official” one. She has no powers other than she’s incredibly compassionate, patient, and dedicated towards protecting her charges. She is aware of what the super community is really like and tries her best to shield her kids from that mess. She's either supposed to be Supergirl or Saturn Girl, but comes off as a blend of the two: Supergirl's kindness with Saturn Girl's assertiveness.

Kid Camo, who has limited camouflage and shapeshifting abilities. He may be the most competent member of the group after Auntie Sis, albeit just as naive as the other kids. He represents Invisible Kid with a touch of Chameleon Boy, in that he can alter his appearance to blend into his surroundings.

Klanker, who turns into random metal objects. He repeatedly attempts to turn into something useful, but has no control over what object he'll become. He has Tourette’s Syndrome and unintentionally blurts out a certain curse word at random intervals. He’s deeply ashamed of his condition, but the team knows he’s not doing it intentionally and try their best to cheer him up when he gets depressed. He's the Ferro Lad of the group.

Bobby Badoing, super fat and super bouncy. Bobby has a childlike mentality, possibly a learning disability, and is also a compulsive eater. He represents Bouncing Boy, with some aspects of Herbie the Fat Fury in terms of physical appearance. The rest of the team tends to be protective of him since he's so childlike and is prone to panic attacks. He needs assistance going to the bathroom because of his weight, and he sleeps with a teddy bear.

Stool Shadow, who can phase through walls and objects. Unfortunately, her control is very shoddy so she often crashes into things. She seems to have suffered some head injuries and has problems with her short term memory. She often forgets what she was going to say in the middle of her sentences. She is their Phantom Girl, but her hood and cloak are reminiscent of Raven from the Teen Titans.

Black Hole, who can eat anything. Unfortunately, while he can EAT anything, he still has to make sure it’s able to fit down his throat. His attempt to swallow a cup of ice cream, spoon and all, leads to needing an emergency tracheotomy when the spoon gets caught in his throat. He represents Matter-Eater Lad, natch, but with a name that's a jab at how Black characters in comics almost always get the word "Black" included in their names.

Ladyfold. I… am not entirely sure what her power is, and I don’t want to think of the implications either when she mentions something about producing some kind of “Menstrual sausage” once a month. That’s Ennis for you, he’s always about the class.
I have no clue who she's supposed to reference, but my best guess is she's a nod to all the Legion rejects with crappy abilities like Estimate Lad or Eyeful Ethel. As for personality, Ladyfold can be sweet and kind and is usually the one to help Stool Shadow when she gets injured. It's implied she's only in the group *because* her power sucks.


The Overall Premise of "The Boys":
The premise of “The Boys” is that all superheroes are owned, created, and controlled by a company known as Vought American, and the majority of these super-powered individuals are really monstrously unqualified, traumatized, horrible people whose awful deeds and actions are covered up by Vought. The JLA knock-off botched 9/11, the X-Men is a cult of brainwashed and abused children, etc. Once a year the heroes go on a weeklong party binge under the guise of some cosmic war. Vought makes money off the superhero brand, licensing comics and merchandising off the different hero groups. Said comics are essentially cover stories for what the heroes really do. The aforementioned Boys are a small organization within the CIA, led by a man named Billy Butcher, out to keep the heroes and Vought in check. Butcher is a knock off of the Punisher, only worse. To Ennis's credit, he's willing to deconstruct the tropes usually applied to the Punisher as well, but not until the very end of the series.

The problem with “The Boys” is that Ennis tries so hard to portray the superheroes of this world as incompetent, self serving sociopaths, rapists, and murderers, so any valid criticisms he could have  made on the genre or the fans get bogged down by the incessantly forced and stupid decisions the characters make. In short, the series basically screams “BECAUSE SUPERHEROES ARE STUPID HERPITY DERPITY DOO,” making it difficult to care about anything Ennis has to say other than that he REALLY needs to dial it back. Not to mention the incredibly bleak humor, excessive use of GRIMDARK, his chronic inability to make the majority of the characters interesting or likable, and Ennis’ borderline hypocrisy. For example, he’ll feature a character getting raped by a dog as funny, but still has the nerve to feature other characters getting raped and playing it for drama. Of course, since I’m a superhero fan and this series admittedly isn’t for people like me, my observations may not be the best suited for discussion.

Superduper’s cover story from Vought is that they’re a group of teen superheroes from the far future. In reality, they’re essentially living in a halfway home for disabled children and teens that are used by Vought to make money off the nostalgia market. They’re also a dumping ground for defective supers whose powers are ineffectual and/or useless. And they’re by far the only likable, genuinely good and interesting group of heroes, if not people, in the entire series.

The Recap:

Superduper is the focus of a four issue story-arc called “The Innocents.” The bulk of the story involves Butcher’s suspicions that Wee Hughie is a mole for Vought. As a test, Butcher places Hughie on surveillance of Superduper when it’s announced that the team is getting a new leader. Said leader is Malchemical, a knockoff of DC’s Metamorpho and one of the worst supers out there. This doesn't make sense since Superduper is sweetness and light. Malchemical makes his awful personality clear at his welcoming party, where he mocks the other members. The only person aware of his attitude is Auntie Sis.


After a disastrous attempt to rescue an old woman's cat, Auntie Sis asks Malchemical what got him placed in Superduper. She figures that the higher ups in Vought are doing this as a punishment for something. As it turns out, Malchemical’s been demoted from Team Titanic due to some disgusting sexual escapades he got into with his former leader’s girlfriend.


When Auntie Sis takes the team, sans Malchemical, out for ice cream, Hughie is forced to break his surveillance when Black Hole (the Matter-Eater Lad copy) chokes on his food and requires an emergency tracheotomy. The rest of the kids are so grateful that Hughie (who gives the name “Hammish”) saved Black Hole that they declare him to be their new friend. This only makes him seem more suspicious to Butcher.


After Auntie Sis reports Malchemical to Vought for being rude and abusive to their team-mates, he decides to get revenge. Malchemical uses his shape-shifting powers to trigger Auntie Sis’s claustrophobia and nearly smothers her to death. When the rest of Superduper discovers what he’s doing, Malchemical declares that he’s gonna have fun with the girls and force the boys to join in under threat of death. Hughie breaks his surveillance and tries to stop Malchemical, but is of course no match for Malchemical’s powers. Hughie gets severely beaten until Butcher, who’d been tailing Hughie to assess his reactions, finally steps in and rather anticlimactically kills Malchemical by setting him on fire while he is in a gaseous state (which doesn’t make sense, but that’s Ennis for you).

Unfortunately, Butcher almost murders the obviously traumatized Superduper kids as well when Klanker’s Tourette’s Syndrome goes off at the worst possible moment, angering Butcher. Hughie has to beg and plead with Butcher to stop him from hurting any of the kids, saying that they’re harmless. Butcher doesn't kill them, but thinks it’s only a matter of time before they become as bad as Malchemical. Butcher walks off carrying Hughie away and leaving Superduper with Malchemical’s smoldering corpse.

The Analysis:

Superduper is Ennis’s parody of the Legion, what with their cover story being immortal teen heroes from the future and how Vought only uses them for the nostalgia market, a shot at how DC handles the Legion mainly to further appeal towards Silver Age fans.

Superduper truly is as innocent as the arc title implies; the group gets super excited about their cool new uniforms and the prospect of a new leader. Auntie Sis humbly declines the official role even though everyone believes she should lead the team; she's happy just staying with the group. The above image shows Klanker upset when his Tourette's acts up even though everyone assures him he doesn't need to apologize and, after another failed attempt at using his power, they figure out ways to cheer him up.


What keeps Superduper so endearing is most of the team, those who can understand it, know they don't have the greatest or most useful abilities. And yes, they get depressed about it, especially Klanker and Ladyfold, but it doesn't change the fact that they genuinely want to be heroes and do good in the world. Basically, Superduper is happy with who they are and who they are with, and all they wish is to be left alone to keep doing what they've always done. That self awareness stops them from being a bunch of "Family Guy" esque jokes about mental impairments and disabilities. Well, it doesn't stop Ennis from TRYING, but the characters themselves aren't reduced to it.


Their interactions with one another and the ridiculousness of some of the other parts of the story feel like a condensed version of the hi-jinks the Legion got into during the Silver Age.

Auntie Sis in particular is possibly the kindest and most compassionate character in the entire series. She's nothing but patient and understanding with the rest of Superduper; she never gets angry at them or lashes out from frustration when their hang ups lead to embarrassing situations. She understands how nasty Malchemical truly is and does her best to shield her kids from his horrible attitude. In fact, he's the only person she ever gets mad at. She's aware the kids have hang ups and doesn't appreciate people giving them crap about it. In a sense, while her name is Auntie Sis, she's the closest thing Superduper has to a mother figure. This is where the comparison to Saturn Girl comes in.

The true problem, unfortunately, is that for all of Auntie Sis's compassion, she doesn't actually have any powers capable of protecting her kids from the true dangers out there. She's seen how awful Malchemical is, but she underestimates what he's capable of and assumes threatening to report him to Vought is enough to cause a shift in attitude. Instead, Malchemical uses his powers to trick her into revealing what she's frightened of and uses it against her to assert his dominance. Auntie Sis can't prevent Malchemical from hurting the rest of Superduper or herself, and chances are she wouldn't have been able to stop Butcher from harming the team when Klanker unintentionally pisses Butcher off.

In my opinion, there's a lot of wasted potential in Superduper. With the rest of the super community in "The Boys" dominated by hedonistic psychopaths with tremendous power, it would've been interesting to do a deeper exploration of what it means to be a good person blessed with crappy powers in a world where all the bad people get the good ones. Not to mention what could be done with exploring how kid friendly concepts and characters can be ruined when they're forced to become "Darker" and "More adult," or what it means when "More adult" equals trauma and rape. Superduper are the younger generation of heroes and the ones who are simultaneously abandoned by the older generation while still exploited for profit margins by corporations. All that, unfortunately, is lost on Ennis, and Superduper never appears again after the end of "The Innocents." Given what happens to most of the super community by the end of "The Boys," it's probably for the best Ennis did forget about them.


All in all, despite the rather poor execution in how Ennis utilized their potential, the characters themselves are likable and interesting (to me at least) as a Legion homage.

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