Friday, August 11, 2006


I wasn't going to review "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?" (WWTBASH) because I have a (very) small affiliation with the show, having done a custom HeroMachine version for their website. But I love it so much, I can't help myself. So with bias firmly established beforehand, here's my review of the new Sci Fi original series, "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?", airing Thursdays at 8/7 Central.

First of all, the show's cheesy. Let's just get that out of the way right up front. But it's a good cheesy, the same level of geeky, harmless fun you find in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", old versions of the "Batman" TV series, or even hopelessly dated episodes of "The Lone Ranger" and "I Love Lucy". It's a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's just the light touch that makes it work.

On the other hand, it isn't farcical or satirical at all, and that's important, too. It's obvious the show was made with love by people who really believe that comics offer something good to the world, and without that affection the show would be too snarky to be enjoyable. It's tough to hit the right balance between cheese and serious, and Sci Fi has nailed it with this show.

For those who do not know already, WWTBASH is a reality TV show that features a number of regular people whose goal -- brace yourself -- is to become the main character in a super hero comic book to be produced by none other than Stan "The Man" Lee, creator of most of the Marvel Comics characters including Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and many more.

Each week features two "Challenges" in venerable reality-TV tradition, seeking to measure the heroes' character and moral fiber. Stan Lee appears in the secret lair's television monitors to announce challenges, eliminations, and plot twists while the spandex-clad participants look on.

And I have to say, Stan himself is one of the main reasons this whole silly schtick works. He's a perfect host, full of enthusiasm but also dead serious about the issues being discussed when the situation warrants it. He's engaging and funny, but like his comic book plots he also can impart wonderful and important lessons. You can easily see how this guy was able to create such memorable characters and found one of the all time great comic book companies.

Then we have the characters themselves, the erstwhile participants in this odd little drama. In almost every face, every week, you can see the same thought racing through their minds:

"What the hell have I gotten myself into?"

Some of them hide it better than others. Major Victory, for instance, plays along and is hilarious to watch. He's got the hair and chin of a bona fide Superman, and the red tights to match. He has a lot of fun with whatever he's doing, and that makes him a pleasure to root for. He's also a former stripper, which makes you wonder if maybe Clark Kent couldn't take some lessons in earning a little extra scratch. Stripping has GOT to pay more than that lame gig at the Daily Planet.

The other major character who seems not to be stunned at finding himself in such a strange situation is the guy who plays "Feedback". Unlike Major Victory, however, Feedback doesn't seem to be having fun at all. Instead he constantly looks like his nuts are being squeezed by some sort of nefarious device. I fully expect that each week this guy is just going to go postal -- he's taking the whole thing VERY seriously. If or when he gets kicked off the show, I genuinely fear he's going to head to the roof and try a little solo flying, if you get my drift. Definitely not a stable dude.

The challenges each week are creative and unusual. Watching these regular folks in spandex trying to outthink Stan's devious mindgames is a hoot. For instance, in the first week their challenge was ostensibly to change into their superhero outfit and race through a gate as quickly as possible. Along the route, however, was a little girl crying because she couldn't find her mother, and naturally that was the REAL test -- who would stop and help her? Sadly, most of our erstwhile heroes pelted past her faster than a speed freak at the express checkout lane with a bag of Doritos. Not pretty.

I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the show yet, but I have to say this is a thoroughly enjoyable series. I look forward to watching it every week, and always get at least a half dozen genuine belly laughs out of it. So far they've been hitting just the right balance of cheese and drama, interesting challenges with great "superhero" lessons, and typical reality show schtick with innovative takes. I highly recommend it.


annie'sbuddie said...

I finally watched some of it last night (during WNBA game commercials) & was definitely surprised at how it grabbed my attention. Reality shows have left me in the dust beginning with the first Survivor series, but I'll be back for another dose of WWTBASH. And now I know who Stan Lee is!

Jeff Hebert said...

Glad you liked it! It's surprisingly good, although to be fair my expectations were very low to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you had to do with the website, I am impressed. I loved the site, and (at first) loved the series.

I'm afraid that I'm one of those that Stan has so disappointed that I just won't be able to stand watching. My household, and that of a family I got interested in it, are both so disappointed with the arbitrary and (comic book)historical inaccuracies in Stan's statements, reasonings, and choices that we'll probably play some video games or watch the latest Avengers animated movie.

Jeff Hebert said...

I can see that -- I assume you're talking about things like "No superhero would ever remove their cape"? He's said a few things like that I found laughable (Superman uses his cape all the time for a lot of different things, Batman's flung his utility belt around quite a bit, etc. etc.), but I'm willing to overlook those gaffes in favor of the honestly good messages he gives about the principles of the heroic genre.

I was disappointed that Major Victory got booted off, because he made me laugh a LOT and didn't seem to be mocking the genre so much as being slightly clueless about it, but I guess not everyone can win.

And I agree with Fat Momma that Feedback seems dangerously likely to go ballistic if he loses. That guy's got a screw or two loose and is frightening in his intensity.

Anwyay, no harm done in watching an animated Super-Hero show or playing a video game, that's also time well spent!

I haven't actually seen the Avengers one, is it any good? I've been generally disappointed with the Marvel animated shows going all the way back to "Spider Man And Friends", whereas the DC offerings (starting with the first Batman and Superman revisions of the DC Animated Universe) have been stellar. Speaking of which, I am looking forward to the new "Legion of Super-Heroes" series, that should be fun. I was trying to figure out a way to contact those guys to do a HeroMachine version for their show but I couldn't get anywhere on it. Sigh.