Scott Brown
October 16, 2006 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Superheroes: For a bubble that was supposed to have burst a couple of Blade sequels ago, they’ve shown remarkable staying power in the fantasy-hungry mainstream. They are, it would seem, what’s for dinner, now and forever.

So let’s talk about them: The Heroes, the Hiro, and, of course, the Hero—Numero Uno, Big Blue, He Who Had Not Such a Great Summer At the Movies but Hey-There’s-Always-Television.

Let me begin by celebrating the passing — or, at least, waning — of a theme: the superhero-as-metaphor-for “otherness,” difference, nerdiness, and purple-nurple-getting. Sure, it’s valid. Sure, it’s a potent idea for the core readers of comic books, who have their own nurples — real, metaphysical and imagined — to display as war wounds. But I’m just not sure I buy it. I’m not sure I buy beautiful, godlike Clark Kent’s 60,000th lament about not fitting in. (Not when he looks like Smallville‘s Tom Welling, pictured.) I’m not even sure I entirely buy Heroes’ Claire bellyaching over how her invincibility clashes with her spiffy 1950s cheerleader outfit. (Though, on a more positive sidenote, I do like the suggestion planted in this Tim Kring interview that Milo Ventimiglia’s Peter Petrelli may be a Rogue-style parasite.)

Basically, I think all people — geek and jock alike, and Americans, especially — suspect they’re superheroes anyway, either as an entitlement or a coping mechanism. So what’s the big surprise when they find out they actually are? Like Hiro, the breakout favorite on Heroes, they knew they had it in them all along. Just once, I’d like to see a character who genuinely can’t distinguish his adolescent license-to-drive self-assuredness from his very real (and possibly dangerous) superabilities.

addCredit(“Smallville: Michael Courtney/The CW”)

Sure, there will always be disenfranchised nerds, looking forempowerment fantasies. But the world has changed. The pop culturecenter has shifted, and the nerds are now the nexus. (Just look at theratings for Heroes.) This new world demands a steady diet of fantasy.Draw whatever religiopolitical conclusionsyou want from that statement, but know this much: The sweaty dreams ofnerd empowerment are coming true, in this world and in the fantasyworlds we’ve created. The question isn’t one of being different: The questionis one of being better. It’s that scary, Nietzschean side of the superheroequation, the more frightening, less attractive side. The hero asaggrieved, ostracized outsider was fine for those first few seasons ofSmallville, but it’s time to grow up, grow out, and face the toughestquestion of all: What does it mean to be “better” in a world where thereal-life X-men are Google guys and, let’s face it, there’s a lot more red kryptonite than green? That was the world hinted at in The Incredibles, the best mainstream superhero distillation to date, which some saw as a Red State celebration of and apologia for unbridled American exceptionalism.

On an entirely different subject: Al Gough and Miles Millar, I implore you, please let the Chlois Theorybe somehow true. I don’t like tortured, multidimensional crises in mycomic-book universe any more than you do, but if that’s what it takesto make Chloe (Allison Mack) the real Lois Lane, then, by Zod, do it. Sorry, Temp Lois (Erica Durance). You’ve been shown up. The Mack Lois is simply a superior being, and ain’t life cruel?

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