Friday, December 10, 2010

What makes a Superhero a “Hero”?

As anyone who reads superhero comics can tell you the over-muscled, spandex-wearing, macho, testosterone-fueled colorful hero is the true staple of the genre. Many of us pick up these four-color gems for the pure escapist thrill of the ride, and yes, watching some power-mad supervillain try to wrap an I-Beam around the head of some noble hero is part of the draw of the series. So when a major comicbook company like Marvel — a company that is known for its slavish dedication to the long-underwear set publishes a comic that goes against the grain of the nature of the superhero genre, it captures the attention of its readership.
In October & November, Marvel Comics published a five-issue weekly series entitled 1 Month 2 Live that — while it dealt with the nature of superheroics, it comes at it from a completely different angle. Now that the five comics have passed through the comicbooks shops, Marvel has collected them and is currently re-issuing them as a hardbound collection that is available online and in book stores and comic shops around the country.

1 Month 2 Live is the tragic story of Dennis Sykes a regular guy living in the Marvel world of superheroes. By day he is a mid-level banker, struggling to be a moral man in an amoral, corporate world, when he leaves his office and goes home, he still can’t escape the stress of the real-world as he has to contend with the bitterness of his niece whose parents have both dies. Both Dennis’ brother and his wife have recently died (his brother by cancer and his Sister-in-Law from a car accident), and now Dennis and his wife, Abby have now been saddled with raising the precocious, and morose child, who is bitter that both of her parents are dead.
Still, this is the Marvel Universe, so it is populated with superheroes and villains. Dennis has been given the unpleasant task of revoking the promise of a loan to a children’s hospital so that they can construct a sculpture garden. Upon leaving the hospital, he happens across a pair of thugs who are hijacking a medical supplies truck in the hope of scoring drugs. Even when told it is just medical waste they continue in their nefarious deed.

In an effort to do something, Dennis intervenes on behalf of the driver, only to be assaulted himself. The thugs are literally pouring the radioactive materials down the throat of Dennis, who show up, but Ben Grimm, The Fantastic Four’s Thing. After dealing with the thugs, Grimm brings Sykes to FF HQ so that Mr. Fantastic can help Dennis. Once there, however, Reed informs Dennis that he has cancer, that hat has been exacerbated by the medical waste, and he only has a month to live.

As stated, this is a comic, and the Marvel Universe, so the radiation gives Dennis superpowers as well. What happens next is fairly a-typical for a story of this type, as Dennis doesn’t so much choose to use his powers and abilities to fight crime, but still wants to make the best of the time he has left, and winds up spending much of that time in the company of no less than both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.

Still, this isn’t so much a story about the super-heroics that are De rigueur part and parcel of this particular genre, but about the life that Dennis chooses to live, and the example he wants to make for his niece. According to series editor, Stephen Wacker, the story itself grew out of a personal experience of his own when one of his own aunt’s was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Given that he was looking to develop a very different and very special story, Wacker and his creative crew have, in fact, created something that is not only deeply moving, but extremely unique, and actually quite special indeed.

Underlying the story of folks in spandex is the very personal tale of one man’s quest to do right by the people around him. It is in this fashion that Wacker and his crew have returned to the very heart of what makes up a superhero in the Marvel Universe. Although it isn’t said in so many words, Wacker (who also edits the Spider-Man line), brings the story around to Spidey’s own mantra of “With great power must also come great responsibility.” So now Dennis, with a 30-day death sentence counting down against him, sets out to leave a mark one way or the other — even as he gets to meet  Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Everyone is the hero of their own story…but not every hero gets to survive.

1 Month 2 Live (comics) issue 1-5: $2.99 (each)
1 Month 2 Live (Hardcover) $19.00

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