Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Galaxy's Mightiest Heroes!

At the start of the 1980's, in part because of legendary actor John Wayne's recent passing, a trend developed for filmmakers to find someone who could fill his larger-than-life boots on the silver screen. Those heirs to The Duke had names like Stallone, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme. All became famous in their own right for their own brand of heroics, and the need to make them just as larger-than-life as Wayne put them in the roles of lone heroes who often had to deal with dozens, if not hundreds of bad guys before they finally won the day. It was overcompensation, especially in terms of sheer firepower, because honestly: how can any guy, no matter how much of a man they were, compete with John Wayne? Those filmmakers of the 80's forgot one important thing, though...more often than not, even The Duke didn't right wrongs all by himself. By the middle of the decade, though, the 'Buddy Movie' emerged for action-adventure fans, first with Billy Crystal and the late Gregory Hines as Chicago supercop partners in "Running Scared", and not long after that Mel Gibson and Danny Glover blasted bad guys with a grin in the first of the "Lethal Weapon" films.

There's strength in numbers. We learned that as kids either reading (or watching!) "The Wizard of Oz", and seeing four very different characters join together to travel along the Yellow Brick Road and find what each of them desperately needed. Dorothy needed a way home, the Scarecrow wanted a brain, the Tin Man yearned for a heart, and the cowardly Lion hoped to find courage. The irony of the story as it unfolded, of course, was that this group already had all of those things they wanted; they simply needed to look within themselves. Even Dorothy was told -- belatedly, and only AFTER she helped bring an end to the Wicked Witch of the West, which I thought was pretty cold! -- that her Ruby Slippers were her means to get back home.

In the realm of geekdom, not too far removed from Oz, science fiction has also shown that for every adventure where it comes down to a lone hero saving the day, like Superman, there are also stories when a group of like-minded souls can make anything possible for the greater good. In comics, there have been super-teams like the Fantastic Four, the All-Star Squadron, the Justice League of America...and then there were the mighty Avengers, Marvel Comics' collection of heroes (and not to be confused with a classic TV series featuring British secret agents John Steed and Emma Peel). You might have heard of the upcoming movie bringing the Avengers to life directed by Joss Whedon. If you haven't, congratulations! You live under a rock.

The comic "The Avengers" was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963...the heroes known as Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp banded together and swore they would fight the villains no single hero can defeat. In the fourth issue Captain America, super-soldier of WWII, was found and revived and made an honorary founding member of the team. Since that time, the roster of the Avengers has changed as often as the seasons, but the approach the writers and artists since has been the same following Lee and Kirby's lead: that there be as much realism and drama between the group's characters as there is conflict between the group and the many, many villains they've faced. Each Avenger has been as different from the other as night and day, each defined as much by their flaws as their virtues. Some team members were once criminals and/or super-villains themselves, and others have suffered everything from alcoholism to nervous breakdowns. (And yes, death. But that's only temporary in comics, as every fan knows!) Perhaps the most infamous subplot to shake up the team was when Hank "Ant-Man or Giant-Man or Yellowjacket or whatever!" Pym physically abused his wife, Janet "The Wasp" Van Dyne, and they divorced as a result.

Ultimately, though, in spite of their flaws and any possible skeletons, what makes the Avengers great has always been their diversity and what each unique hero brings to the team's table. They've repeatedly complemented each other in battle, and with the leadership of heroes like Captain America or Iron Man, they're capable of defeating even the most seemingly unstoppable foes. Yes, there is strength in numbers...and that's a lesson also to be learned in "Mass Effect".

Of course, the crew of the Normandy far more closely relate to the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise from "Star Trek", or the heroes brought together by the Force to fight the Galactic Empire in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, or Joss Whedon's comparatively more humble crew of the Serenity in the short-lived "Firefly". Commander Shepard, whatever he/she looks like, has been as bold and heroic as Captain Kirk, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker or Captain Reynolds, leading a truly diverse team of heroes brought together by the same interest: to preserve all they hold dear from the threat of the Reapers, which is more terrifying than any Empire because they don't threaten a despotic rule, they threaten to take away all life itself. In spite of being very different from Shepard, in spite of being from a world once enemy to Earth like Garrus Vakarian...or a professional mercenary like Zaeed Massani or Urdnot Wrex, or a master thief like Kasumi Goto...or having to wear sealed armor to avoid the slightest infection like Tali'Zorah vas Normandy...or forced to live with a debilitating handicap, like Joker...even those who Shepard called enemies, like Legion and Miranda Lawson, have become part of his/her crew and made it even stronger because of what made them each unique.

Could Shepard have succeeded alone, as he/she was forced to do in the incompetent ending to "Mass Effect 3", all of his/her decisions before that not meaning a damn? No. However, what makes Shepard the lynchpin and hero of the series is that he/she inspires others as a leader to follow her example, like Captain Kirk or Captain America, not because she works alone. That's the reason Shepard rises above the rest, and yeah, he/she would be the first to say (if Paragon!) that he/she got as far as they did because of their crew.

That's why the Avengers may be Earth's mightiest heroes, but Shepard and the crew of the Normandy are the galaxy's mightiest.

Thinking about it, after having to deal with the Reapers, Shepard would call fighting a super-villain like Doctor Doom a walk in the park! ;)

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