Note: This is a guest posting from Jason A. Fleece, dramaturg for our summer MainStage production of Soon I Will Be Invincible.
In my previous blog posts, I discussed the history of superhero fiction to give a context for the tropes and traditions that inform the world of Soon I Will Be Invincible. The main work that I did for this production, though, was to contextualize the characters of the play by drawing connections to superheroes and supervillains of (mostly) the Big Two, and to give the cast reading lists of the superhero fiction that inspired their roles.
Today I’m going to discuss the two primary characters of Soon I Will Be Invincible: Fatale and Dr. Impossible.
Fatale is probably the member of the Champions who is least derivative of a specific character or archetype in the superhero canon. While there isn’t a one-to-one comparison between Fatale and a specific character from the big two, she is still built (see what I did there?) from two major comic book traditions.
The first is the long tradition of the no-longer-human everyperson who looks at their powers and abilities as a curse, even while using them for good. My favorite example of this is Marvel Comics’ The Thing. The Thing was created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in 1961 for Marvel Comics as part of the Fantastic Four.
Benjamin J. Grimm, a working class guy born on the Lower East Side, was a former Air Force pilot who helped his best friend, Reed Richards, hijack an experimental spaceship (along with fellow scientist Susan Storm and her brother Johnny). When the ship was bombarded with cosmic rays, all four of those on board gained fantastic abilities. Ben got the short end of the stick: while he gained super strength, stamina, and invulnerability, he was covered in a rocky orange hide. He is extremely heavy and has been known to accidentally damage furniture and other objects, and considers himself to be grotesque. Still, he is a devoted member of the Fantastic Four and uses his powers to help his “family” save the world as the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, while hoping that someday his super-genius friend can make him “human” again.
The Thing is the down-to-earth, beating heart of the Fantastic Four. While the rest of his teammates are being famous or making breakthroughs in scientific research, Ben is hosting a regular recurring poker game with the other heroes of the Marvel Universe.
Many of the X-Men fit into this category as well, “hated and feared by those who they are sworn to protect” and suffering from powers that render themselves ugly or dangerous or both.
Fatale, made part machine after a horrific accident, also belongs to a long line of cybernetically enhanced operative superheroes such as Cyborg. Marv Wolfman and George Perez created Cyborg as part of their groundbreaking run on The New Teen Titans for DC Comics in 1980.
After a terrible accident (or an attack from a giant monster, or an attack from Darkseid, depending on the continuity), his father used experimental technology to keep him alive.
Now that technology gives him superhuman abilities, and he’s a member of the Teen Titans. He lives in fear of losing his humanity. In more recent years he has been reimagined as a member of the Justice League and will be getting his own comic series for the first time this summer.
Another example of this trope is Marvel Comics’ Deathlok. The original Deathlok first appeared in Marvel Comics’ Astonishing Tales #25 by Doug Moench and Rick Butler. He was Luther Manning, a soldier from Detroit who died and was reanimated in the terrifying post-apocalyptic future of 1990 as a cyborg assassin, yearning to be human and to have his autonomy back. As Deathlok he had various weapons implanted on him, super strength, augmented senses and brain capacity, and sometimes rocket boots. There have been many different incarnations of Deathlok—most recently Mike Peterson, a character on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—with varying origins and identities, but all have been cyborg assassins being manipulated and forced to carry out missions against their will.
It’s worth noting that the primary influences on Fatale—The Thing, Cyborg, and Deathlok—are all men, while Fatale’s femininity is also an important aspect of the character. While those guys are certainly the template for Fatale’s place in the superhero pantheon, I also recommended that Christina Hall look at the stories of a few important superheroines: She-Hulk and Jessica Jones.
Fatale doesn’t have a secret identity, and her superhero career is just that–a career. There are a number of superheroes in this vein, such as She-Hulk, created in 1980 by Stan Lee and John Buscema.
Jennifer Walters was a promising attorney when an accident required a blood transfusion from her cousin: Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk. Jennifer gained a milder version of Bruce’s condition, becoming super-strong and large and green, but retaining her intellect and control. While Jennifer has been an Avenger, a Defender, a Hero for Hire, and a member of the Fantastic Four, she continues to practice law. She is a trial attorney specializing in Superhero-related cases.
Fatale’s ambivalence to the superhero world and feeling of a lack of connection to it reminds me a great deal of Jessica Jones, created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in 2001 for Marvel Comics.
When Jessica Jones was a teenager, she and her family were in a car accident with a military convoy carrying radioactive chemicals. Her parents were killed in the crash, but Jessica gained superpowers. Jessica had a brief career as the superhero Jewel, but that career was traumatic and not terribly successful. After a horrific experience with the Daredevil villain The Purple Man, Jessica left the superhero business and became a private detective. Jessica is now a member of the Mighty Avengers, primarily in an advisory capacity and without a secret identity. Jessica will be played by Kristyn Ritter in the Netflix series AKA Jessica Jones later this year.
Fatale Recommended Reading:
About The Thing:
Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 by Lee & Kirby
Fantastic Four: Trial of Galactus by John Byrne
Fantastic Four Vol 4: Hereafter by Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo
New Teen Titans Vol 1 by Wolfman & Perez
Justice League Vol 1: Origin by Johns & Lee
She-Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female by Dan Slott & Juan Bobillo
She-Hulk Vol. 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido
(yes, they’re both volume one, comics are weird.)
About Jessica Jones:
Alias Vol 1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos
Alias Vol 2: Come Home by Bendis & Gaydos
Alias Vol 3: The Underneath by Bendis & Gaydos
Alias Vol 4: The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones by Bendis & Gaydos
Soon I Will Be Invincible‘s Doctor Impossible comes from a long line of egomaniacal genius supervillains. These guys are brilliant minds who could probably cure cancer if they weren’t instead trying to take over the world and/or destroy their heroic nemeses. These super geniuses can only be held in prison if they want to be there and tend to have an unending supply of henchmen.
The most obvious analogue to our dear doctor is Lex Luthor, Superman’s archenemy. We’ll start there.
Lex debuted in 1940 in Action Comics #23 and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Alexander Joseph “Lex” Luthor has had many, many different incarnations in comics, television, and movies. Sometimes he’s a mad-scientist supervillain bent on world domination. Sometimes he’s a billionaire industrialist who believes that he’s a pragmatic savior of the world. Sometimes he’s a vaguely comic real-estate magnate who wants to sink California into the ocean. There are three things that all of the various versions of Lex have in common: A massive intellect . . . An even bigger ego . . . And a deep hatred of Superman.
Originally Lex was not bald—he was depicted with red hair—but an art error led to his losing his locks and gaining the iconic look he wears today.
Some versions of Lex’s story—notably the 1950’s Superboy comics and the 2000’s TV series Smallville—gave Lex the added wrinkle of his hair loss being connected to a mishap with a young Clark Kent, tying his hatred of Superman to insecurity over his baldness.
In any case, Luthor often justifies his hatred of Superman by claiming that the presence of an alien savior is causing humanity to become complacent and impeding our progress as a species.
Lex often experiments with cloning, having created a few versions of Bizarro, a new body for himself (he was dying of kryptonite poisoning at the time) and the modern version of Superboy.
In 2001, Lex took office as the 43rd president of the United States. He probably would have been a great president if he hadn’t also been doing kryptonite-laced drugs and obsessing over killing Superman.
Lex has been famously played on film by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey, among others, and will be played by Jesse Eisenberg in next year’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. In current DC Comics stories, Lex is a member of the Justice League, having saved the earth from their evil counterparts from an alternate universe. What could possibly go wrong?
Lex isn’t the only one–there is a grand tradition of super-scientist supervillains whose ego and spite keep them from doing good. There’s a little bit of Spider-Man’s nemesis Doctor Octopus in Dr. Impossible as well. Like Spider-Man, Doc Ock was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko for Marvel Comics.
Dr. Otto Octavius was a brilliant but troubled nuclear physicist. After creating a harness with four mechanical tentacles for use in manipulating atomic materials, an accident fused his invention to his body and gave him telepathic control over the arms. Otto became one of Spider-Man’s criminal nemeses and founded the Sinister Six.
Eventually he died, but not before transferring his consciousness into Spider-Man’s body and spending a year living Peter Parker’s life and fighting crime as the Superior Spider-Man. Peter later regained control of his body and Otto is gone. For now.
Another clear influence on doctor impossible is Dr. Doom. Also a Marvel Comics creation, Doom was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Victor von Doom is the despot ruler of the European nation of Latveria. Doom was a college classmate of Reed Richards and blames Richards for an accident that scarred his face. Doom hates Richards and often finds himself in conflict with the Fantastic Four. Doom wears a metal mask because of his disfigurement, though some believe that his injury resulted in a very small scar, and that Doom’s insecurity and vanity are the real reason he hides. While arguably not as smart as Richards, Doom is still a genius scientist and master of the occult. Despite his hatred for Reed, doom has a deep love for Richards’ daughter Valeria, who was named after Doom’s lost love. Doom is Valeria’s godfather, and Valeria tries to rehabilitate her Uncle Doom. Evil as he may be, doom is always a gentleman.
Doctor Impossible Recommended Reading and Viewing:
About Lex Luthor:
Superman: Man of Steel by John Byrne
Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leniel Francis Yu
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Superman: The Movie directed by Richard Donner
About Doctor Octopus:
Spider-Man 2 directed by Sam Raimi
About Doctor Doom:
Fantastic Four: Unthinkable by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo
Fantastic Four Annual #2 by Lee and Kirby
Other Useful Villain-Centric Works:
Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver (this is a Lex Luthor pastiche but does a great job of deconstructing the mad scientist supervillain)
Wanted by Mark Millar and JG Jones (another supervillain deconstruction, this one a very dark black comedy and is VERY different from its 2008 film adaptation)
Thunderbolts Classic Vol 1 by Kurt Busiek, Peter David and Mark Bagley (this is about a team of villains in the Marvel Universe masquerading as heroes)
When we meet again, True Believers, I’ll dig through some of the inspirations for the rest of the Champions of Soon I Will Be Invincible. Until then, face front, and Make Mine Lifeline!