Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Superheroes and their music: Marvel (Part 1)

I am somebody who thinks a lot about superheroes. Probably too much. My partner-in-comics Josh will confirm this, having sat through more than a few telephone conversations in which I start rambling on and on about the Elongated Man or Deadpool, or the nuances of Grant Morrison’s dialogue in All-Star Superman (theatrically expository, yet humanized with idiosyncracies).

So you can understand that when I see a panel like this one from New X-Men #121…

And what's Wolverine reading, for that matter? Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

…I am immediately struck by the burning question: “What does Scott Summers listen to on his iPod???

The whole thing kind of snowballed from there, and I drew up a list of not only what kind of music particular superheroes listen to, but also in some cases their listening habits. There’s no specific criteria. A rare few of them have actual in-story precedents I know about (under the influence of the Purple Man, Spider-Man once sang “Oliver’s Army” by Elvis Costello, so I guess it’s canonical that Peter Parker knows all the words to that song). Others are based on the admittedly dicey game of analyzing a person’s personality and matching it to certain genres and formats. Some are just gut feelings, or my own interpretations that I desperately want to be true in a total fanboy way.

Here’s part one of the Marvel list. Part two tomorrow, DC next week:

Spider-Man: Peter Parker has broad tastes (well befitting his “everyman” role, I suppose), but is a fairly casual music fan. I can’t imagine Aunt May letting him out to many concerts or picking him up anything at a Sam Goody’s, so everything he knows probably comes from the radio and stuff his friends have loaned him. His CD collection is made up almost entirely of Greatest Hits compilations, which appalls a music snob like Harry Osborn. But Peter’s a busy guy, so he doesn’t have time to sit down and really listen to an album; he just wants the songs he knows and loves, and skip the deep cuts. He really likes Ben Folds, though, particularly with the Five; the early stuff in particular has a certain “smartass outcast” vibe that probably speaks to a guy like him.

Daredevil: Matt Murdock goes to jazz clubs. In college he liked jauntier piano-based stuff, but ever since Frank Miller put him in a pseudo-noir milieu, he’s had his heart and his life broken too many times not to give in to the allure of the sad, slow saxophone. He might like a little bit of slow blues, too. Nothing real loud — his hearing’s too sensitive to enjoy that sort of thing.

The Thing: Ben Grimm and Matt Murdock could probably get into a long conversation about jazz, although Ben’s all about Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk* and doesn’t have a lot of time for the new stuff. He’s an old-fashioned guy and truly believes vinyl sounds best but, but as he’ll tell you, “when ya got big rocky mitts like these, yer gonna get a few scratches on yer record.”

Human Torch: Johnny Storm grew up watching TRL. He likes all that is trendy and current, be it pop, rock, R&B, rap, or anything else. Ben, of course, insists Johnny has no taste, to which the Torch replies, “If this music wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be so popular.” He’s not above listening to a certain singer just because she’s hot; he gravitates toward blonde pop stars and country singers, but secretly has a thing for the Lisa Loeb type.

Invisible Woman: With the sliding timescale the Marvel Universe uses, she’s a child of the 80s (right?), and I could see her having been really into Joan Jett with fashion to match, which she is today extremely embarrassed by. She loves the Police and had a huge crush on Sting. She once dated a New Romantic kind of guy who she broke up with because he spent more time on his band than her. Hmm…

Mr. Fantastic: Reed Richards isn’t really into particular artists or genres (though he hums Talking Heads songs without realizing it), but he likes music in general. He enjoys “challenging” experimental pieces but also appreciates the structure of I-IV-V three-minute pop songs and hip-hop beats. He’s the king of the shuffle mode. As a sensory-overload kind of guy, he plays music in random combinations in his lab to stimulate thought. One time he heard a Cake song immediately followed by Yanni; that was the day he discovered the Negative Zone.

Tomorrow: The X-Men and the Avengers

* — Author's note: I am dropping these names to cover for the fact that I know next to nothing about jazz.

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