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Heroing Through the Ages

September 23, 2010
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The way I see it, Heroman’s something of a primer for the history of comics. Marvel comics to be exact. Watching the three arcs of Heroman play out is like seeing three distinct eras of Marvel comics play out in anime form.

The first bit, where Heroman is born and the Skrugg make their first foray into alien invasion territory plays like a throwback to the 60’s era. There’s a certain degree of optimism at play– all black and white, good and evil, hero and villain. A lot of the old school Marvel comics got their start in similar scenarios. The Fantastic Four’s first villain wasn’t Dr. Doom, it was Mole Man and his legions of underground dwelling monsters invading the surface world. A lot of this is due to Marvel doing a lot of monster comics before they hit it big with super heroes, so all of that makes sense. We also get a simple origin story for Joey and Heroman: lighting strikes, kid gains powers, robot hero is born. The invasion proceeds, fighting takes place, and Joey and Heroman find a way to win in the end. The world is saved and everything’s good. All in all, that first arc would fit right into those 60’s Stan Lee/Jack Kirby years perfectly.

The second arc moves us into the 70’s and 80’s. Comics started to get decidedly more world-weary, untrusting, and cynical. This was when X-Men started delving into the idea that the government wanted to control the mutant population like they were an unwanted minority (Something touched upon in the 60’s, but it didn’t come to a head until later.), characters like Punisher and Wolverine appear that outright question authority– the utopian, hopeful feel of those early comics is making way for viewpoints that are more willing to question and doubt.

When the government decides to track down Heroman as if he’s a potential threat to the United States, that’s where this mindset settles in. Despite evidence showing that this “ghost” helped defeat the Skrugg, they don’t trust the idea of a rogue agent acting on its own behalf– if it isn’t on our payroll, it must be neutralized. Joey and the gang have to go on the run from the very people they helped save, and to some degree they become resentful of their situation. Despite all of this, they do their best to prove to the world that they’re the good guys. This era wasn’t completely nihilistic, though, and this shines through when Heroman is able to prove his innocence by defeating the real rogue agent: Dr. Minami and his whacked-out science crew.

So, the 60’s were all about optimism while the 70’s and 80’s were about the eroding of those values (while still maintaining that internal goodness of the previous era). You’d think that the third act, which does indeed mirror much of the 90’s era of comics, would reflect a complete collapse of these themes. Right? Well, something does collapse. It just isn’t a thematic thing.

The 90’s were a fucking mess. I’ve talked about that before. This was the era of the anti-hero– where everyone toted around a phallic gun and killed their mom’s because they could. We get that in the guise of Will. He’s a carbon copy of Venom if there ever was one. Starts off as a villain looking to get revenge on the hero only to “grown” into someone willing to fight the good fight despite his anger. Doesn’t help that he’s all cloaked in dark clothing and trying to do his best to look menacing and brooding.

But the way Heroman mirrors the 90’s the most is in its plot. This was the era of Apocalypse and Thanos and “each villain has to be bigger and badder than the last.” When one world-shattering villain wasn’t powerful enough to threaten the universe, they didn’t resort to crafting a new storyline that went in another direction. Nope. They created yet another multi-comic crossover dealing with the latest “I want to do something really, really bad to the Marvel universe and I also have spiky armor.” It was around the time when Onslaught and similar “not really any different from the last guy save for my skin tone” villains were all the rage that I gave up on super hero comics.

Heroman falls into this pattern. For the third arc the story decides that the Skrugg aren’t a powerful enough villain. Instead, they create the SUPER-Skrugg. Kogorr comes back from the dead (in typical comic fashion) and is super powered. He’s no longer a conquering marauder looking to invade Earth. Now he’s gone all Galactus on us and wants to drill into the Earth’s core and drink our collective milkshakes. And just to show how much of a bastard he is, he’s willing to make light snacks out of his fellow Skrugg. He falls into the same pattern than all of the other major crossover villains did in the 90’s.

And despite Heroman mirroring some ugly bits of comics, I really dig the series. On its own it’s a great kiddie series that doesn’t waste a lot of time on drawn out conflicts. It gets to the point and tells a snazzy action story. It isn’t on the same level as Air Master or something like that, but I’d consider it a hell of a lot better than most shounen action series. It isn’t a personal favorite, but it’s one of the better series of the year so far. Not as awesome as Tatami Galaxy, Occult Academy, or Cobra, but about on par with Working! and Dance in the Vampire Bund.

Damn shame this tanked in Japan. I SO want to see Dr. Minami enact his revenge. I also want to see chubby Cartman wannabe kid from the first arc come back from the dead and harbor some nasty feelings for Joey and Will. He’d make an awesome arc villain. C’mon, Heroman! Get on Cartoon Network or something like that, become a success, and get us a new season just like Big O. That would rock.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2010 11:35 PM

    I didn’t know there are other enemies besides the giant cockroaches. Hmm maybe I’ll be able to complete this after all.

    • Landon permalink*
      September 26, 2010 10:31 PM

      Just for the second third of the series, yeah. Then they get back to the buggies.

  2. September 25, 2010 7:23 PM

    That’s a very interesting interpretation of Heroman. I recognized three distinct acts but I didn’t have the comics knowledge to read it in that context. Good to know.

    I am terribly sad that Heroman did so poorly in Japan. It’s the kind of earnest action-hero show that built Toonami back in the day, and could still find success if it got any traction on US airwaves today.

  3. October 2, 2010 2:31 PM

    I never even thought of that. That’s really interesting.

    I remember this theme also being pointed out in The Incredibles, first everyone loved the superheros, then the government turned on them. The Incredibles was definitely not set in the modern time frame, but the past, so it could work.

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  1. 90′s Antihero « Mecha Guignol

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