Friday, 20 July 2012

Superheroism: Leave it to the Billionaires?

by Tom Harper

As many of you may be aware, today marks the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the ultimate instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Superhero fans across the United Kingdom will undoubtedly be converging inside cramped cinemas to discover the fate of the Caped Crusader, and I would be lying if I said I won’t be one of them. Although I am normally detached from the world of comic-con-esque flying men in spandex protecting both the world and their identities at the same time, what fascinates me about DC’s Batman is similar to what fascinates me about Marvel’s Tony Stark: these are the superheroes without the superpowers.

True, their extreme wealth is a key factor in their ability to fight crime with such high-tech gadgets and gizmos, but, when one truly thinks about it, their only extraordinary trait is their determination to use every asset they possess to fight injustice when all else fails, and is that not something that anyone can do? Does a lack of X-ray vision or invisibility deny us the possibility of making the world a better place? Should super heroism be left to those whose bathrooms are the size of tennis courts or who have fallen into a vat of toxic waste and survived?

In order to answer this question, I have first had to explore those who live in the world today with special gifts but choose not to use them to ‘beat up bad guys’. After filing through countless stories of men moving mighty masses with their minds, I have put forward three that I believe to be the most extraordinary:

1. The Rubber Boy
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Five time Guinness World Record holder Daniel Browning Smith is the most flexible man alive and the most famous contortionist. He has been in many professional basketball or baseball games and has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, ESPN's Sports Center, Oprah Winfrey, Ripley's Believe It or Not, Cirque du Soleil, The Discovery Channel, HBO's Carnivale, CSI: NY, America’s Got a Talent and even Men in Black 2. Daniel has been suitably named ‘The Rubber Boy’ as he is able to perform such feats as dislocating both of his arms to fit his entire body through an unstrung tennis racquet!

Daniel’s ‘superpower’ is closely related to the ability of Reed Richards, or (as many comic fans know him) Mr Fantastic, who, despite having the upper hand in this comparison due to his ability to stretch his limbs to extreme lengths, still has the trait of marvellous flexibility. Therefore, due to Richards’ role in the Fantastic Four, surely Daniel could also use his powers for a better cause rather than impressing the American public. His contortionism could allow him to squeeze through small gaps to rescue trapped civilians, perhaps.

2.The Boy with Sonar Vision

Ben Underwood is blind. Both of his eyes were removed due to cancer when he was only three years old, yet he plays basketball, rides on a bicycle, and lives quite a normal life. This is because he is the only person in the world who sees using nothing but echo location or sonar. Similar to dolphins, Ben makes several short clicking sounds that bounce off of various objects at various distances away, and, amazingly, his ears can pick up the echoes to tell him where exactly the objects are. Even more incredibly (and unlike ‘the Rubber Boy’) Ben didn’t inherit this trait due to ancestors being able to perform similar feats, but taught himself to do it. Because of this he is able to live freely without guide dogs, friendly help or even the use of his hands!

Ben’s ability, in my opinion, is most similar to that of Daredevil, who, like Ben is also blind and uses sonar to listen out for people in need before intervening. Once again, although this superhero has the upper hand due to having trained for years in single combat, he and Ben aren’t so different, so surely the fantasy of Daredevil could become a reality?

3. The Man with the Incredible Brain

Daniel Paul Tammet is a British autistic savant, gifted with a facility for mathematical calculations, sequence memory, and natural language learning. In his mind, he says, each number up to 10,000 has its own unique shape and feel, so that he can "see" results of calculations as landscapes and that he can "sense" whether a number is prime or composite. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and Pi as beautiful. Tammet not only describes these visions verbally but also creates artwork, particularly watercolor paintings, such as his painting of Pi.

Tammet holds the European record for memorising and recounting Pi to 22,514 digits in just over five hours. He speaks a variety of languages, including English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh and Esperanto and is even creating a new language of his own called Mänti.

I can find no specific superhero with whom to compare Tammet as too many have the ability of ‘super-intelligence’, including both Batman and his upcoming rival in the new film, Bane. However this does not change the fact that this ‘superpower’ is out there, and its use for justice is a real possibility.

4. Masked Marvels

During my research I then even came across some real masked vigilantes who strive to uphold the law despite having no particularly incredible traits. For example,  Superbarrio (Mexico) leads protests, rallies and challenges unjust court decisions, while Terrifica (New York) protects inebriated women from being taken advantage of by similarly drunk men in the dead of night. On the other hand, Citizen Prime (Phoenix) mostly just spreads the word of justice due to a lack of actual crime in his local area!

Looking at these passionate people confirms the fact that you really don't need 'superpowers' to be a hero, just a can-do attitude and a little bit of bravery. Consider firemen, the police, even members of Neighbourhood Watch; these are all REAL people who do REAL things to stop REAL dangers from threatening their communities! Although we may not realise, we are surrounded by superheroes every day; they are the people who put themselves in harm's way to help others.

Therefore, in conclusion, perhaps Bruce Wayne is not the only person capable of protecting Gotham City. Perhaps Wonder Woman can step aside. Perhaps Spiderman has more help protecting New York than he thought. ‘Super’ is not needed. ‘Hero’ is enough.

(image: Coventry Evening Telegraph)

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