I’ve been writing for various comic shop news letters off and on for almost seven years. I’ve written a few columns which have gone semi-viral…though the following isn’t one of them.
This was originally published online on one of the Forbidden Planet NYC blogs. They wanted content that could be searched and create web traffic pings. Anything online with the words “Spider-Man” or “Batman” in it gets a few hits. HEY, now my blog will get some hits, too!
Anyway, here’s my run down on Bird themed superheroes from around 2010. It had the sure fire title of:
“Birds and Gods”
Superheroes are thinly veiled caricatures of our own hopes and insecurities. Finding the right balance between subtly recognizing these deep psychological urges and making the character cool is the entire trick to creating interesting and compelling characters. Think of it like making your first mixed drink: You want enough booze in there to knock your socks off, but put too much in and it will taste like liquorices flavored Scope.
That said you should probably stay away from birds when you’re making up new comic book characters. No one wants to read about birds. Birds ruin everything.
WHY NO BIRDS?
The concept of a super evolved dinosaur with telescopic vision and the power to fly SOUNDS cool until you realize that this is just your average, run-of-the-mill bird. YES, birds can fly, people would like to fly and therefore many people wish they could be birds. Creating a character AROUND a bird theme never seems to embody the freedom we all yearn for, as it underlies poor creativity and too much blatant symbolism; bird superheroes seem half-baked, tacky and fairly pathetic.
Consider two of the “coolest” bird Superheroes around: Marvel’s The Falcon and DC’s Robin. The Falcon has the ability to fly, talk to his pet bird and that’s all there is in the shopping cart. Robin is a taught 13-year-old boy in green satin short-shorts. What’s not to love?
BIRD AIN’T THE WORD
“The Falcon only has flight powers?” Kids might say. “Heck, Superman can fly AND he has lasers for eyes. So he can fly, big whoop-dee-doo. Lots of heroes can fly…hasn’t he got anything else?”
“Well, the Falcon can also TALK to birds…or at least a bird.” You might explain.
“Yippee. One freakin’ laser blast from Superman and his pet talkin’ falcon is lunch. The Falcon is stupid,” the child might then, reasonably, conclude. They might also add “You are stupid.”
Keep in mind, I LIKE the Falcon. His civilian identity was once a US Senator, he’s best friends and crime-fighting partners with Captain America, he once quit the Avengers to protest “Tokenism” and he has found a place in the contemporary Marvel Universe as the experienced voice of reason to the young and brash heroes of today. His character is driven, brave and even-handed.
The Marvel Universe, however, has a cavalcade of steel bending bad-asses, characters of such amazing power and strength that they make the Falcon seems like a third stringer. Suddenly having the freedom of a bird seems insignificant next to having the powers of a God.
He doesn’t fly, he doesn’t hang out in “The Bird Cave” or ride on a “Bird-Mobile.” He doesn’t throw “Birdarangs” or have feathers. Heck, unless he’s on Fear Factor, he doesn’t even eat worms! Like his mentor Batman, Robin is just a regular human being who dresses up like an idiot to punch crime in the throat.
“Robin” as a name evokes a lighthearted, childlike demeanor, but Robin the character is the most popular bird-named comic book character BECAUSE he has nothing to do with birds.
The original Robin, Dick Grayson, later fights crime under the nom du guerre “Nightwing.” What the heck is a Nightwing? Beats me! It sure sounds like some sort of scary, pissed-off vampire bird thing ready to spill blood…ANY blood. That Dick guy is a genius: Evoke birds but don’t BE a bird.
Other bird heroes need to get it together. DC has more then a few: a team called The Birds of Prey which counts a bird member, Black Canary, in its ranks as well as the various Hawkmen and Hawkwomen from planet Hawkulon or whatever it’s called, the horribly costumed Hawk and Dove, the deadly LAVA CROW who I have just made up and many others I’m too lazy to research or remember.
Really DC, isn’t asking people to read about a whiny pacifist dressed in powder blue named “Dove” really adding insult to injury.
No one wants to read about birds in the first place. Does Ornithology Magazine outsell The Amazing Spider-Man?
Villains make out a bit better as birds, probably because we get to hate them. The Penguin, much like Robin, is the first bird super villain to spring to mind and outside of his tuxedo the modern penguin has as much to do with birds as McDonalds has to do with nutrition.
The Penguin works well as a crafty thief with ties to high society, but anytime writers try to shoe horn ACTUAL penguins into his plans it seems horribly campy. Danny Devito’s penguin funeral, anyone?
Marvel has a cool bird villain in The Vulture, the leathery old bank robber who hates Spider-Man almost as much as he hates when Matlock isn’t on TV. Again, the bird aspect isn’t what makes the Vulture cool. The Vulture works as an aged foil to the youthful Spidey. Flying is a nifty trick, but without the angst of the aged the Vulture would be as forgotten as Slyde or Frog-Man, just another gimmick foe for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Guy.
BEST FOR LAST
There is one bird hero I DO like, and before you ask the answer is “NO, NOT Harvey Birdman, attorney at law!”
Eric Powell’s The Buzzard combines the best aspects of Spidey’s denture wearing punching bag, the Vulture, with the zombie craze that has swept through comic like the Spanish flu. You see, the Buzzard is an old west sheriff cursed by a voodoo priest to only eat the flesh of the dead…kind of a reverse Zombie if you will.
Part ghost, part gunslinger, the Buzzard has a weird west charm unprecedented outside of Jonah Hex, but the grizzly “Eat the Dead” twist that gives the character his name WORKS so well I can forgive Buzzard-breath his roots in the otherwise uncreative cesspool that is the aviary of bad ideas.
Birds are pretty. Birds are tasty. Birds and comic books mix like Vaseline and M&M’s: fun in their own particular ways but never meant to be mixed together.
Don’t worry, Birds. We still envy your freedom, and think of it this way; Birds make WAY better comic book characters than fish.