Guest blogger: Is Spock a Superhero?
Welcome to the first guest post here at Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights. When I started this site, it was my idea to have it be a personal challenge to seek out, watch, and review superhero movies. And my overall goal was, and still is, to watch and review every superhero movie ever made. But this site has been growing and expanding as I keep getting new ideas and inspirations. I’m now on a daily schedule, and to help me meet that schedule, I could use a little bit of help. The first person that stepped in was Alan from The Great Movie Project. If you’d like to participate too, I’m accepting any “almost super” movie reviews for sci-fi/fantasy movies that aren’t quite superhero movies, but still have that heroic/comic book quality to them. I’m also accepting “second opinion” reviews, if you have a different viewpoint on a superhero movie that I’ve already reviewed. And finally, I’m accepting blog style articles like this one that takes a more general look at the superhero genre without being about one single movie. Today, Alan is looking at how Star Trek, and more specifically Spock relates to superheroes in cinema. And I’ll be back tomorrow (hopefully) finishing up my bad movie mini-marathon with Superhero Movie.
The Case of Spock
When I saw Bubbawheat’s request for assistance with this feature, Spock was literally the first thought I had. I’m a Star Trek geek to the core, but I did notice how common it was for the various aliens to have abilities that were similar to those possessed by superheroes in comic books. Most notably there was Spock, largely because there are relatively few non-humans that get a whole lot of air time. For the place and time in which the Star Trek shows and movies are set, Spock is almost an average Joe, but there are several things that make him like a superhero. I’m going to mostly compare him to characters from the Marvel Universe, because those are the ones with which I’m most familiar, but I’ll try and throw in some DC characters where I can.
I have five talking points for having Spock join the ranks of the superheroes: his superhuman abilities, his rise from the ashes, tragic events being witnessed in his life, his acts of heroism, and his emotional control.
Let’s talk about what Spock can do that the humans around him generally cannot. The television series shows that he’s significantly stronger than his shipmates, able to put his fist through those old computer stations in one episode, and he beats the crap out of Kirk in Amok Time, my personal favorite of the original series episodes. He is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, as is proven again and again through the original series. Non-canon work, mostly books, describes a man whose stamina and ability to survive in harsh conditions. There are endless superheroes who have similar abilities: Superman, Rogue, Wolverine, Beast. It would likely be a shorter list to say which heroes don’t possess these abilities.
The man is brilliant, even among his own people. This isn’t necessarily a superpower, but it has been the primary ability of a few villains: Brainiac and Arcade both come to mind off the top of my head, Scarecrow is another arguable entry on that list. But brilliance seems to follow around heroes in the Marvelverse: Professor X, Beast, Reed Richards, Henry Pym, Bruce Banner. These are all people who make a living, in one way or another, on their smarts.
And then, there’s the telepathy. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the very last scene is one where we see Spock telepathically implant his consciousness into Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, he communicates telepathically with a whale, learning that she’s pregnant. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country he uses those powers in a terrible way, but for all the right reasons. There are plenty of telepaths in the comic worlds: Jean Grey, Psylocke, Emma Frost, the Martian Manhunter, M’gann, even Aquaman in his own limited way. In the original series, telepathy sets him apart from the humans on the Enterprise crew, although as the show expands into new spinoffs, telepathy seems to be one of the more common non-human (and occasionally human) abilities.
From the Ashes
There’s a running trend for comic book heroes to die and be reborn. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan shows us Spock’s death and funeral. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is all about his resurrection thanks to the bio-energy matrix of the Genesis device. Superman has died (at least once), and Jean Grey dies and is reborn so frequently, she might as well be on a soap opera. In X-Men III: The Last Stand we see the deaths of Cyclops, Professor Xavier and Jean Grey (who also ‘dies’ in X-Men). Periodically, we see a superhero fall for good, but generally, it’s only a matter of time before they return through some effort of mutant or magical abilities.
Tragedy is one of those things that makes a hero great. Would Batman exist if not for the murder of his parents? Would we have Superman if not for the destruction of Krypton? Storm’s parents were killed by a plane crashing into their home, and her time spent trapped in the wreckage has left her with a permanent psychological scar in the form of her claustrophobia. Cyclops and Havok were orphaned due to circumstances that couldn’t be controlled. Rogue is isolated from humanity because of her mutant abilities. In the Star Trek reboot, we watch Spock’s homeworld get destroyed, his people become an ‘endangered species’, and his mother killed. I’m hoping this tragedy does to Spock what it’s done for other heroes: spurn them on to great things.
Acts of Heroism
In Star Trek II, he sacrifices his own life to get the warp drives online and save the Enterprise from getting trapped up in the explosion of the Reliant. In Star Trek IV, he travels back in time to save humpback whales from extinction (and thus saves the Earth from destruction in his present). In Star Trek V, well, I think it took an act of heroism for him not to shove Shatner in a photon torpedo tube and hit the ‘fire’ button. In Star Trek VI, he saves Kirk and McCoy from imprisonment on Rura Penthe and is instrumental in unraveling the mystery around the assassination of the Klingon chancellor, thus preventing the assassination of the Federation president and making it possible for the decades-long alliance between the Federation and the Klingons. In a story arc covered by The Next Generation, and one I’d like to see completed in a future movie, he’s also responsible for bringing about the reunification of the Vulcans and the Romulans, but I think the reboot is going to make that impossible. And, speaking of the reboot, we see Spock sacrifice himself (again) AND future Spock maroons himself in the past to help take on the bad guy.
My final discussion point about Spock as a superhero is the battle with control. We see it in the movies: references to ponn farr are made in Star Trek III, when all Vulcans lose their control, and the reboot has a scene showing him getting picked on (and eventually kicking some butt) because of his lack of emotional control. A number of superheroes have issues with control, particularly the control of their
emotions. Storm, Wolverine, Superboy, Sabertooth and especially the Hulk, as we saw recently in The Avengers, have problems controlling one, some or all of their emotions, and usually it’s a bad thing when they fail. In most cases, that control is what marks them as heroes (with the notable exceptions being Punisher and Batman) whereas villains have a more common feature of control, particularly impulse control.
If these abilities were abnormal for the setting, I’d refer to Spock as a superhero. The caveat comes into play because he manages to have abilities that are superior to human, but they’re the norm for his own people, although there are several superheroes who are superhuman merely because they’re not human, and I’ve mentioned a few of them.