I read with great interest the Culture Vulture column on Thursday (The Straits Times Life! Wanted: Superheroes, 10/2/11) by Akshita Nanda. I’m a DC Comics fan and was amused and excited when I first read the issue of Birds of Prey that was mentioned in the article, several years ago. Sure, the Singlish was mangled, there was the cringe-worthy yet obligatory Michael Faye reference, and Changi Airport looked more like Paya Lebar Airbase – but at least Singapore got a mention in a mainstream comic book, even if someone else mentioned it for us.
|Madripoor from the Wolverine comics. Hmm, looks familiar.|
Nanda writes that the superpowers all Singaporeans would like to possess include “getting seats in crowded MRT trains, jump queues without annoying others or avoid(ing) traffic jams and ERP gantries while driving”. We are a society that values and is perhaps preoccupied with the mundane. Most Singaporeans did not grow up on a diet of comic book-brand romance: Superman carrying Lois Lane in his arms to the strains of a stirring John Williams melody hold little emotional resonance to us as we go about our daily existences.
Disorder and chaos on a wide scale is so far removed from the lives of everyday Singaporeans that we can’t even imagine or enjoy a fictional depiction of it. The comic book worlds of Sin City and Judge Dredd are dystopian and bleak, realms of grim squalor where the reluctant hero deals out tough justice. I suppose we prefer drama of a more domestic kind, as evidenced by the large followings of television drama serials.
As the readers of comic books grew up, so did the material itself. Many modern comic books are not afraid to make big political statements or depict exaggerated allegories. Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor became the president of the United States. Captain America is the product of a top-secret military super-soldier program. After it was ravaged by an earthquake, Gotham City was cordoned off and left to rot. And of course, the Watchmen are government-sanctioned heroes enforcing the tyrannical reign of Richard Nixon in an alternate-universe 1980s.
Ultimately, a large chunk of comic book superhero fiction is the wish-fulfilment factor. There’s something gratifying about the story of a nerdy, awkward teenager granted superpowers after being bitten by a spider, and the appealing glamour of the rich playboy by day, crime-fighter by night archetype. Here, the biggest wishes we have are to get seats in crowded MRT trains, cut into lines without annoying others and avoiding traffic jams and ERP gantries while driving – and that just may be why there are no Singaporean superheroes.