Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Superheroes and their music: DC (Part 1)

As promised, we follow up on last week’s examinations of the musical tastes of Marvel superheroes with the DC Universe. Like last time, these are scientifically accurate down to three decimal points and are based on in-story “canon” (the only word a geek needs to know), gut feelings, and “I think it would be great if…”

Assigning the DC heroes their favorite bands and musical styles isn’t as easy as doing the same for Marvel, I found. This may be partially because while Marvel’s schtick early on was to give their superheroes distinct personalities, DC heroes tend to be more conceptually based (and what some people—and we can debate the appropriateness of this—call “iconic”). Also, DC tends to revamp and reboot far more often.

Take Superman, for example. He requires two separate entries:

Pre-Crisis Superman: The Man of Steel you see in Silver Age comics, Superman: The Movie, and All-Star Superman. This is admittedly my favorite version of Superman: the pseudo-messiah “sun god” sent to Earth and raised as a human, who upon reaching adulthood re-embraces his alien heritage, while never forgetting what it’s like to be a common man (via the Clark Kent persona). This is a Superman in love with humanity, as well as being a scientist’s son. He experiences as much music as he can to learn the workings of the human heart through it. There is therefore a certain intellectual remove, and he is less interested in specific bands, genres, etc. than is he is with capital-M Music. This Superman also appreciates the great works of Kryptonian culture (whatever that would sound like—thought-controlled violins, harps played via holographic interface, Phantom Zone pan-flute) and music from other alien civilizations. What a rad guy.

Post-Crisis Superman: If Superman is, on some level, a metaphor for the immigrant experience (in addition to being a colorful trademark found on children’s lunch boxes), John Byrne’s rebooted version is the ultimate assimilationist. He spurns Kryptonian culture where his pre-Crisis equivalent embraced it (though in his defense, Byrne turned Krypton into a cold, rather unlovable society). The post-1986 version thinks of himself as Clark Kent—a mild-mannered, but urbane and self-confident reporter—first, and as an alien second. So what would a Kansas farmboy who grows up to be a sophisticated Metropolitan like? I suppose Pa instilled a love of classic country and a little bit of bluegrass in him; maybe some classic rock—John Mellencamp and the like. Out on the town in Metropolis, however, I see him going to small-venue shows by classic rock artists, usually solo acts (Peter Gabriel, latter-day Elvis Costello, maybe the guys from Steely Dan if they still tour).

Let's do this "Goofus and Gallant" style:

Pre-Crisis Superman is reverent of popular culture.

Post-Crisis Superman does not appreciate your taste in music.

Lois Lane: Who do you think introduced post-Crisis Clark to all those classy classic rock artists? But her favorite band? Creedence Clearwater Revival; perfect for an army brat with a healthy disrespect for unquestioning authority.

Wonder Woman: This is a tricky one, too. What does a goddess listen to? I’m going to cop out and say “world music” here.

Green Arrow: Okay, this is pretty easy. Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, John Lennon (“What about Paul McCartney?” you ask. “Paul?” comes the reply; “That hack?!”), Phil Ochs. Rock ‘n’ Roll, belligerent and/or political. Of course, with the sliding timescale, this would probably include at least some early punk, but … I don’t know, maybe it’s the way Ollie’s been portrayed as sort of an ageing radical, but I really can’t imagine him enjoying much musically after about 1976. Maybe the Clash and Sex Pistols, but anything more than that he’d just say “Well, I appreciate what you kids are tryin’ to do, but you should learn to play your instruments better.”

Hawkman: Some sort of austere Thanagarian chamber music? Or is he a human man now? See why this is so hard with DC continuity? Anyway, I’m sure Carter Hall, as a conservative foil to ultra-liberal Green Arrow, likes classic rock, but he just hates it when artists get too political. “We pay you to play music,” he says, “not push your agenda!”

Aquaman: I went out to lunch with my brother, and he said it would be real funny if Aquaman buys those “Sounds of the Oceans” kind of new age CDs you can get at Target with whale calls and ocean sounds. He listens to the dolphin clicking and is all like, “These lyrics are idiotic!” Haw haw.

Martian Manhunter: See the pre-Crisis Superman entry, except J’Onn listens to Earth music less out of affection and curiosity, and more to further his ability to blend seamlessly into our culture(s).

Flash I: Jay Garrick was a college student in 1940. He’d take his best gal Joan dancing and really cut a rug before the evening wound down with some Perry Como-kinda pop ballads.

Flash II: Barry Allen was huge into swing. He was briefly fashionable during the 90s revival craze, but he had no clue whatsoever. He thought everybody was just coming around to his taste in music. Now that he's alive again, he's going to be very disappointed.

Flash III: I’m a big Wally West fan; Mark Waid’s Flash run of the '90s is what got me into DC Comics in my early teens. The thing about Wally is he’s a full-time superhero and has been since he was a kid. The Teen Titans were probably passing whatever music was cool back then around, so Wally probably still looks back on that pretty fondly as a reminder of simpler times. He doesn’t pay attention to trends as an adult because, well, there’s a crisis in the 64th century, and it’s not going to stop itself; Wally has no idea what’s been going on in popular music for about ten years. Also, Waid wrote him as '90s cynical, but with a romantic edge. I imagine he quietly likes Peter Frampton and Electric Light Orchestra. Geoff Johns wrote him a little Midwestern conservative, so we’ll throw in some John Mellencamp.

Part 2 will have to wait till after the Thanksgiving holiday. So come back here Friday for the Green Lanterns of Earth and the Batman Family.


Michael said...

Hey i am a big fan of Steely Dan, but Mr Walter Becker has a new album called Circus Money, What a great album it is, just had to share that with all the Steely Dan Fans.


Your Brother Zach said...

Thanks for the Aquaman cred...even though it is half-hearted. You know you're just jealous you didn't think of that gold nugget.