Super, Ordinary

Since its initial publication in 1986, myriad filmmakers have attempted in vain to film Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic book Watchmen, in which costumed superheroes have been outlawed and are being summarily exiled and executed by an unknown baddie. At the moment Darren Aronofsky (Pi) is set to direct a screenplay by X-Men scribe David Hayter for release next year, but no one has yet been cast; doubtful it will arrive on time, or at all. But perhaps there is no need for a Watchmen movie at this late date -- not when Pixar, of all places, now offers its own Technicolor take on the bleak superhero tale: The Incredibles, the darkest feel-good fable thus far spun by the makers of toy stories and fish tales aimed at kiddies who play with dolls and the parents who buy them.

The Incredibles, written and directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, a masterpiece without the box-office to show for it), is a hybrid of several sources: James Bond movies, the angst-ridden pop-camp comics of 1960s Marvel (especially The Fantastic Four, a forthcoming movie now also rendered moot), the Spy Kids movies and Saturday-morning cartoons starring superfriends and other costumed hangers-on. But its main influence would appear to be Watchmen, among the first comics to wonder about the private, and often troubled, lives of heroes once they shed their Spandex skins and resume their secret identities. They rendered the myths almost mortal -- flawed, troubled humans who became heroes not because they were noble or generous but merely because they liked to flex their muscles. (Or they were megalomaniacs. Or just plain nuts.) Still, they talked like us, bled like us and loved like us, and you could almost imagine these heroes as next-door neighbors going off to their day jobs, which often involved saving the world from Armageddon. | Super, Ordinary | 2004-11-03

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