17 January 2011

Making heroes relevant

Heroes have to be relevant. Sometimes, that means they have to reinvent themselves.

Frank Millar gave the caped crusader his balls back and made Batman relevant again in 1986.

Russel T Davies wrote epic, emotional rollercoaster stories, and made The Doctor relevant again in 2005.

J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman rediscovered character and made the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise more relevant than they’d been in a long time in 2009.

Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss got rid of all the 19th century Victorian costumes and made Sherlock Holmes relevant again in 2010. (Guy Ritchie’s movie the year before came close.)

Warren Spector is trying to make a a character who turned into a corporate logo relevant again... in a Wii game. And has come closer than anyone might have reason to expect.

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes, heroes are too tied to a time, or some particular vision, to become relevant again.

An aimless, gutless mini-series couldn’t make No. 6 relevant again in 2009.

Nobody has been able to put the lightning back in the bottle that made Captain Marvel more popular and relevant than Superman once.

Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg and Michel Gondry are trying to make The Green Hornet relevant again with the release of the new movie this weekend.

I wonder if anyone can anyone make Charlie Chan relevant again.

I’m not very familiar with the character of Charlie Chan myself, but the detective is featured in one of the cases for the 2011 Ethics Bowl National Championships. Some people got offended by a screening of a Charlie Chan documentary last year, and argued that Chan’s character perpetuates Chinese stereotypes. Plus, Chan was usually played by white actors, the first being Warner Oland (pictured).

On the other hand... Charlie Chan was intelligent. He caught the bad guys. He was a hero – and he was a hero at a time when heroes who were anything other than white were in short supply.

But he’s a hero with “baggage,” as they say, given how people are about ethnic sensitivity. I suspect the writers of The Green Hornet had similar issues with Kato. It’s not cool for rich white guys to have servants any more, particularly one who isn’t white. Anyone trying to make The Lone Ranger relevant again will have similar problems because of Tonto.

I wonder what is it that sets apart the characters that people are able to reinvent and make afresh every few years, versus those who have their time in the sun, but are never quite able to come back into public consciousness. And which category Chan falls into.

Because, as I’ve said before, there are few things more satisfying than heroes who haven’t lost it.

1 comment:

FrauTech said...

Oh please don't compare the Abrams Star Trek Lite fiasco to the rest of those.

I remember Kato being very popular in China when the US series was airing over here. And I think that's what the movie is trying to do. But it's disappointing because it's the exception that a minority can "carry" a big blockbuster movie. And this movie is no exception to that rule with Seth Rogen carrying the headlining role even if they show the Kato character more respect and independence.