Are Fantasy Heroes “Super”?

As usual, I’m starting this off with a little bit of an update. I was really happy with my first Superhero Shorts article, taking a look at a brand new video that has just come out, and I’ve gotten to talk to two other video creators. This Saturday I’ll be featuring the video “Wolverine’s Claws Suck” by the video team of Greg and Lou from YouTube, and next Saturday I’ll be featuring Batman: Dead End by Sandy Collora. I’ve been really happy with the people that have gotten back to me and answered my questions, I hope the trend continues. As far as upcoming movies, Thursday is Batman: The Movie. I’m hoping to have another video with my daughter Jena talking about it, but I haven’t filmed it yet, so she might not cooperate, and I haven’t yet decided what two movies I’m going to watch to finish out the month, though I may end up watching Sky High and Zoom. But today, I’ll be talking a little bit about a couple other movies.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched two movies that I really enjoyed but I decided they don’t fit my self imposed theme for this site, even though they are a pretty close fit to a certain extent. So I thought I’d take a little closer look at them in a blog post rather than a review and try and deconstruct the fantasy hero and see how he compares to the modern superhero. By the way, the movies in question are Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Between the two of them, I enjoyed Percy Jackson a little bit better, and I’m glad that they are moving ahead with a sequel. And especially when comparing Nicolas Cage movies, I was still pleasantly surprised by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Some people may say that the modern superhero draws a lot from ancient myths and legends. Instead of legendary demigods and warriors, they are replaced by crimefighters and superheroes. Hercules is a classic example, he was half god, had strength greater than any man, and made a name for himself by doing dozens of heroic deeds. Let’s break that down a little bit and see how it relates to a similar superhero, let’s go with Superman. Hercules was half god, in other words he came from a different race of beings with extraordinary powers and was not the same as the mere mortals that he lived with. Superman was Kryptonian, he also came from a different race of beings with extraordinary powers. They both had great strength, were celebrated by the general public as a hero. The two main differences are that Hercules was from ancient times and his story hasn’t really been updated, aside from his Marvel comics version which I am not familiar with except for the fact that it exists. Superman lives in modern times, and his story is seemingly constantly updated. The other difference is that Superman has an alter ego in Clark Kent. Hercules is always Hercules.

But that’s Hercules and Superman, let’s get down to the specifics of Percy Jackson and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And since I can’t remember the character’s name, I’ll just call him Jay imnotgoingtotryspellinghislastname. Both of these movies are what I like to think of as fantasy movies. There’s magic, there’s Greek gods, there’s swordfighting, there’s dragons. At first glance, they are both very clearly not superhero movies. Are they? One of the two differences I mentioned between Hercules and Superman is that Hercules takes place in ancient times, and Superman takes place in modern times. That’s solved easily enough because both of these movies take place in modern times. Percy Jackson’s conceit is that the ancient gods are still around, but they hide their presence from the general populace, and those that are aware of them use illusion when in the real world, or stay together in hidden places within the real world. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s conceit is that there are very few sorcerers left in the world and they conceal their magic within illusions to stay unnoticed by the general populace.

The second part of the equation that is missing to some degree is the secret identity. Both Percy Jackson and Dave use their real names in their movies. Yes I had to look up Jay’s character’s name because that sentence doesn’t make as much sense otherwise. There is a hint of a secret identity in both of the movies, much more so in Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Dave initially hides his magic from his love interest for most of the movie, pretending that Nicolas Cage is merely his Uncle rather than his sorcerer master. But at the end, he reveals his magic to her when she is used as bait by the villain sorcerer. In Percy Jackson, it’s actually the people around Percy that have the secret identities. Both his satyr protector and his centaur teacher are watching over him in the real world before he realizes his true identity, but at the end of the movie, Percy chooses to live in the hidden portion of the real world where everyone knows his true, heroic identity.

Both Percy Jackson and Dave have extraordinary abilities, and perform extremely heroic tasks, and yet at the end of the day, I still don’t really think of either of them as superheroes. When I talked about what defines a superhero, I mentioned the costume, or at least a persona. In both of these movies, neither character takes on a different persona to make them into a hero, instead they find the strength to make themselves heroes, rather than to hide behind a different costume and a name. Aside from that, there’s also an elusive style that’s just not there. I can’t quite put my finger on it, and I don’t believe it’s just about the costume, but there’s just something different between these two heroes and a couple of superheroes. If you have a theory, I’d love to hear it right here in the comments section. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on March 20, 2012, in Blogs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. nevertooearlymp

    Another Great post. There is definitely something a little different between superheroes and fantasy. Harry Potter, for example has many superhero powers, and you could even think of his Hogwarts friends as his personal Justice League, and yet he seems better suited for the fantasy genre.

    I love that you’re paying attention to these definitions, so that you can keep your site pure!

    • I had considered expanding at a few points just for the fact that I love fantasy and sci-fi movies as much as superhero movies, and I quite possibly will stretch the line when I run out of movies that strictly fit into the genre, but that’s a loooong ways away yet. Every couple weeks I find out about a superhero TV or straight-to-DVD movie that I’d never heard of before.

      Also, it shouldn’t, but it still surprises me that these blog posts get more attention than most of my reviews, it puts the pressure on to keep coming up with an interesting topic every week.

      • nevertooearlymp

        I can’t speak for others, but the reason I usually comment on the editorials more is that I haven’t seen some of the films you’ve done recently, so I felt like I could contribute more here. I’m sure that will change once we get to the summer superhero season with The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises!

        I do think the lesser known films are important for you to do, so that you build up a reputation and a portfolio of sorts. In my case, I find a similar think happens when I look at some of the lesser known Oscar categories, but on the bigger categories I get a lot of response. And if I leave out someone’s favorite actress, then all heck breaks lose!

  2. kitsune9tails

    To me, part of what makes a superhero a superhero is the iconic costume. It doesn’t have to be formalized spandex, or whatever, but definitely a costume and name seperate from the normal identity, even if the normal identity is public knowledge.

    Part of being a superhero is becoming an icon that inspires people, and more than just a man. Even though Batman and Zorro don’t have super powers, the costumed identity makes them ‘feel’ more like superheroes than Harry Potter does.

    • I agree that becomes a big part of it. In the end, Harry Potter was still just Harry Potter. Once Voldemort was defeated, he became pretty much a regular wizard just like the rest of them. He was always Harry Potter even though within the story his name was legend before he even knew it, but the important part was that he didn’t care, and on top of that, he didn’t want it.

      I think I realized something else that tends to involve fantasy heroes much more than traditional superheroes, destiny. Most fantasy heroes involve some sort of destiny or involvement with the gods, where superheroes make the choice to become a superhero for themselves. Even if it’s someone like Superman who has a destiny on Earth, it was still a choice that he made for himself to become the hero regardless of what his Kryptonian destiny may have been depending on which version of the story you’re reading/watching.

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