HouseTV: Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

By: Thomas "HouseT" Houston

Wondering if the new reality show is worth your attention? Look no further, true believers. I'll give you the big breakdown.

(Note: While I try to steer clear of spoilers for this review, I do discuss some aspects of the plot of the first episode. It isn't anything you couldn't glean from watching the opening, but be warned that there is some minor discussion here.)

When I first heard that Stan Lee was creating some kind of reality show based around superheroes, I was more than a little wary. Actually, I think my response was more along the lines of, "Oh, boy. Here we go..." My biggest fear was that this was just one more reality show trying to milk some abstract concept for all it was worth. If nothing else, it was hard to wrap my head around the concept (which it turns out I had wrong for a long time). At first I thought that it would be some contest for aspiring writers and artists, but it turns out that you don't have to have any skill in either. In fact, it would seem that most of the contestants have skills in neither and are just big fans of comics.

Again, this didn't seem to bode well for me. But heaven forgive me, I'll give anything a shot at least once, so I set my DVR to pick up one of the airings and went about my business. I stopped in my local comic shop and talked to one of my friends there and he all but ordered me to make sure I watch the show before I saw him again. A positive recommendation? This bodes well, methinks.

So I checked it out when I got home and I'm still not sure what happened. I was shocked. I was disturbed. I was amused. But most importantly, I was hooked.

The premise for the show is simple enough. After holding a series of auditions (of which we get to see a short series of rejects during the opening), 12 costumed heroes are selected to live in a secret lair and compete to see who among them is worthy of becoming a real superhero. And become one they shall, because the winner gets their hero made into the star of a Dark Horse comic and a SciFi TV movie (that in and of itself would make you immortal).

So far, so good. But the most obvious question is what kind of challenges will the wannabe heroes face? As Stan himself explains, they obviously can't test their superpowers since... well, they don't really have any. But heroes are not measured by their powers but by their hearts and actions. So the show has a series of challenges designed to test the minds and spirits of the individuals. As one potential hero put it, it might be easier to learn how to fly.

Take for instance the first hero challenge. After arriving at a location in their civilian identities, the heroes were all given the signal one by one to begin. They then had to find a secluded location to change into their hero costume and race to a checkpoint. The one who arrives first in true superhero fashion would be the winner. Sounds easy enough, right? But when an obstacle in the form of a lost child gets thrown in the path of the finish line, which heroes will notice? And which will choose to stop and help knowing full well that it might cost them valuable time?

First of all, the show is corny at points. It has to be, since it's based on a bunch of people running around in costumes. On top of that, the heroes are an eclectic collection of personalities ranging from the gun-toting assassin (like Iron Enforcer) to the idealized heroic personas (like Feedback and, to an effect, Major Victory) to the slightly odd (like Monkey Woman and Creature) to the just right out there (but don't worry, Fat Momma. I still love you). The show gives a little time to let the people behind the heroes give confessionals about how they feel. It lets you see that they do have motivations behind what they're doing, and in some cases lets you know that they're not completely insane (or in some cases the opposite, but we won't get into that now). Most at the very least have a true love for comics or superheroes and want to be a role model of some sort.

If the initial challenge is any indicator, the heroes are going to be put through the ringer. But in a good way, since the challenges are indeed skewed to reward those thinking like a true superhero would. Likewise, the individuals who just have a soft spot or a good all around nature appear to have a chance to excel. Ironically, this show may do a better job weeding out competitors based on the proper criteria than shows more grounded in reality.

But the glue that binds the entire process is The Man. Stan Lee is perhaps one of the best reality show hosts in recent history. Probst may have his moments, but he's never stayed on the island. Trump may have money, but is he really a worthy judge of business acumen? But Stan Lee is comics. Love him or hate him, he has an established history as being one of the founding fathers of comic books. Not only that, but Stan has something Trump could never dream of: a personality. There's just something about the man's voice that makes anything he says entertaining. Whether he's chastising the heroes for some failure or encouraging them onward, Stan has a flair for delivery that gets you pumped up. Seriously, he could say something like, "And now I'm off to take a huge dump in the toilet!" and you'd be half ready to jump out of your chair as long as he followed it up with, "Excelsior!"

Go on. Picture the words coming from him. You know I'm right.

After one episode, here are my early favorites:

Pros: Feedback seems really dedicated to his hero persona and personally motivated to achieve in the competition. One glance at his attempt to stay in his civilian persona until in costume will bring a smile to your face.

Cons: Feedback seems really dedicated to his hero persona and personally motivated to achieve in the competition. I know I just listed this as a pro, but it's possible Feedback may be too motivated. Still, a little heart never hurt anyone. Unless it's an actual medical condition, in which case you may need a transplant.

Monkey Woman
Pros: Like Feedback, Monkey Woman has a true dedication to her hero persona. Anyone willing to climb a tree to stay in character wins in my book.

Cons: Possibly too emotional. Monkey Woman has already gone on record as likely to start the waterworks once people start being eliminated. She might just crack under the pressure. Of course, if she loses too much potassium through her tears she does have a banana handy...

Major Victory
Pros: Very dedicated to his hero persona, the Major is to date the only hero who displays a sense of humor while in hero mode. But behind the wackiness, his true heroic nature manages to shine through. If nothing else, he's hilarious to watch.

Cons: Major Victory may not realize that he isn't actually a super hero. He's that insane. All joking aside, though, if you catch the few moments that they talk to him out of character you'll see that he does appear to be sane. Or is that just him putting on a civilian facade? Hmm...

Here's my list of not so favorites:

Iron Enforcer
The guy looks like he belongs in a comic book. On top of that, I swear I saw someone very much like him in a SciFi movie. Look for IE to be disqualified later in the series as they discover that he stole his weapon from the set of whatever film it was I saw it in.

Cons: Enforcer has an unhealthy obsession with the idea of killing. In another competition, he might have a better chance. But as Stan points out to him, superheroes don't kill people; they help people. That combined with the fact that he seems unfriendly and generally self centered should work against him in future weeks. I'm not entirely sure why he's there except to maybe get a little attention and stroke his own ego.

Pros: ... Er... Well... She has a whip?

Cons: The lack of pros should be enough, but I get the sense that she really isn't a big superhero fan deep down. Every reality show has a few latcher-ons that are just there to be there, and I'm afraid she might be one of them.

In the Middle, but still needing love:

This is a personal point for me, but I have a soft spot in my heart for any member of a fire department. I spent about five minutes trying to figure out if part of his helmet was cobbled from a plastic fireman's helmet. I'm still not sure. I also like that he wants to do it for his kids. And what kid wouldn't want to tell their friends that their dad is a bonafide superhero?

Fat Momma
I can't lie. Part of me doesn't want to like her because she's obviously there to represent the not so fit crowd. In truth, she's the only potential hero to not appear to be in great physical condition. In truth, I'd rather there have been a few more out of shape people in the group just so she doesn't stand out so much. But she does show her caring side, and maybe her compassion is enough to win out in the end. Just so long as there aren't too many physical challenges.

She was the online voter's choice for the competition. Gee, I wonder what they were thinking when they picked her. Probably the same thing I was thinking when she was running through the park. I wouldn't mind double-clicking her hyperlink... ahem, but I digress. The truth is that she enters the competition with something to prove, and she plans to deliver.

All in all, the show is worth a look. I'm so pumped about it that I'm half inclined to do weekly reviews on it. If you're a fan of comics, superheroes, or even just reality shows in general, you should probably give this one a look see, And someone work out an appropriate drinking game for this show already (but good luck not managing to get drunk in the process).

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Words With Waiting: Patton Oswalt, Comedian & Writer

Words With Waiting
Oswalt At My LCS (Austin Books)Interviewer: Gambit
Interviewee: Patton Oswalt

You may have seen his stand-up special, read some of his comics, gone to one of his shows, or caught him on TV, but these days it's hard to not know about Patton Oswalt. He's one fourth of the amazing "Comedians Of Comedy," and a gigantic comic book fan. In fact, he has written quite a few issues from very popular long-time series such as JLA and Batman. Later this year, he will lend his voice as the lead role of Brad Bird's new animated picture "Ratatouille."

Gambit: First off, what have been up to lately? What's on your pull list? Anything your really enjoying or hating?

Patton Oswalt: Trying to go onstage as much as I can and write new material. I’m recording a new CD in November, and I want to generate a lot of new stuff.

My pull list? I read so many comics. Let me just list wheat I read this week:

Ed Brubaker’s having a great time dropping forthright Captain America into the middle of today’s twisty, all-grey area world of espionage and international intrigue. And Daredevil fighting his way out of prison? Holy shit! Plus, he got the artist to draw me and Brian Posehn into it.

Just for Gail Simone’s handling of the sad, funny little scene at Ted Kord’s grave.


Plus about twenty more. I’m a sad man.

Gambit: I attended the SXSW show you did with Brian Posehn, Aziz Ansari and Eugene Mirman, and it was one of the best shows I've seen judging from years of going to the event (I live in Austin, so it's right down the street.) I think you guys made everyone in the cry their eyes out from laughter. What has been your best and worst show during your years of traveling the globe and handing out chuckles and giggles (in a macho way, though) to the masses?

Patton: Best: The recent Chicago show we did at the end of the last Comedians of Comedy tour. Good Lord.

Worst: Getting booed offstage at the Funnybone in Pittsburgh.

JLA: Welcome To The Working WeekGambit: "Welcome To The Working Week" (The comic, not the song) was one of my favorite JLA-related anything in the past few years. You managed to master things that even big names couldn't and haven't. Plus, it had Ambush Bug. Instant classic. What was it like writing it and did you expect to get such great feedback about it?

Patton: I had a little too much fun writing it. I appreciate your praise, but I think the story’s a little thin, especially in the third act. But I had fun shaking out my idea notebook onto the JLA, and exploring all the stuff I’d always thought about them. And, of course, the good reviews felt really good.

Gambit: In all of the years of comic reading you've had, what has been your all time favorite character and writer if you had to narrow both categories down to one? Has any comic material influenced your stand up or overall sense of humor?

Patton: The Golden Age Sandman, as developed by Matt Wagner and Steven Seagle. I don’t know if any cartoonist’s stuff influenced my stand-up. Ivan Brunetti, maybe.

Gambit: So I've been wondering why your Hostess fruit pies spoof didn't make it to the "Wha Huh?" issue. What was the reason it went unused? Did Mahfood do any drawings of it

Patton: I think it was the Hooker Hacker stuff. I don’t even think Mahfood got to the drawing stage.

Gambit: I watched the "Super Nerds" pilot you did with best friend in comedy and life Brian Posehn, and liked it a lot. Why didn't they pick it up? What could we have expected if it was still on the tube?

Patton: They didn’t pick it up because we never figured out a specific viewpoint for the show, I think. It’s pretty uneven. But if they’d given us time to let it live and breathe, it would’ve gone in a very YOUNG ONES direction, which is how we conceived it.

Gambit: You've done a lot of cool voicework, too, such as Toymaker on "The Batman" and Mr. Groin on "Amazing Screw On Head," not to mention the work you did on "Batman Beyond." Any plans on doing any other films or voicework for comic related things? Screenplaying "Planetary" or something?

Patton: Jesus, I’d love to write a screenplay for PLANETARY. Although PLANETARY should be a TV series. I don’t know what kind of comic book v.o. work is coming my way. It’s not something you can plan.

The Master At WorkGambit: I caught the trailer for Ratatouille at the movies the other day, and it looks pretty good. What was it like working with director Brad Bird of "Incredibles" and "Iron Giant" fame and being the star of a Pixar animated movie? Did you have trouble keeping it clean for all the kids out there?

Patton: It’s as amazing as you think it’d be.

Gambit: If you could start writing any title tomarrow, what would you choose, and what would you do differently?

Patton: SUICIDE SQUAD, and I’d make it way more entangled in the hero community of the DC Universe.
You can hear more of Patton's insights, rants and raves on his website which he updates almost dail, or on his "Comedians Of Comedy" tour.

Patton Oswalt's Website
The Unused "Wha Huh?" Story
Ratatouille Trailer
"Amazing Screw On Head" Pilot

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