The Last Son of Krypton, looking a little less brawny than I imagined him to be and with less than enough hair to pull off a spit curl, took center stage while his superfriends disappeared behind the drum riser. Beginning with a stream of soaring harmonic bell tones as his “Up, Up, and Away,” Superman flew into a masterful, effortless guitar solo that encompassed everything from noise rock to hair metal. After the flight of fretboard fancy, Superman returned to his position to the right of the stage, my left, and the lights came back up as the Flash, Batman and Robin reappeared.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a big hand for Superman!”
My name is Mike Greear. I’m a journalist and a drunk, and I like to believe superheroes are trying to exist in our world. I look for moments in the media and in reality that seem to support this belief, and I write about them in a column called Living Fiction.
On September 16, the downtown area of Pensacola, Florida was celebrating a bi-monthly event known as Gallery Night. This is an evening that has something to do with local businesses and art galleries, but many people attend it because there’s lots of drinking to be done in the open street. As part of Gallery Night, Pensacola’s premier music venue, the Vinyl Music Hall, offered a free concert to passersby featuring a double bill of cover bands.
As I passed the Vinyl, I noticed that the flyer outside advertised a band called Superhero (also known as Jukebox Hero on Facebook) that consisted of five dudes in cosplay-quality superhero outfits. I looked inside, and saw The Flash jumping around the stage and singing 80’s hair metal like a man who had been struck by a bolt of lightening onto plastic cups of Jagermeister and Red Bull.
As I entered the venue, I could see Superman on one side of the stage performing lead guitar, and on the other side of the stage was a Christian Bale-era Batman on bass guitar, flanked by a sprightly boy that stood about a foot and a half shorter than him dressed in full Tim Drake regalia and playing rhythm guitar. Behind the band on either side were stripper poles being…er… operated by a curvaceous Catwoman to the right and a rock solid, sculpted-from-marble Diana Prince on the left.
As they wrapped up their song, the Flash introduced Batman to the crowd (as though he needed an introduction) as the Dark Knight Detective made his way to center stage to lead the band in a high-energy cover of the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”
As is to be expected, the band wasn’t exactly playing for respectability. Modifying certain lyrics to make them more frat-boyishly contemptible (the second verse in the Clash’s hit is switched from, “you’re happy when I’m on my knees,” to “I’m happy when you’re on your knees.”) In fact, I can see from a fanboy’s point of view why the performance would have been entirely insulting. Superheroes don’t drink and they don’t sing about sex! Wonder Woman is not some pole dancer in a garage band, she’s a warrior goddess!
But those people on stage weren’t superheroes. They were inhabitants of a superhero culture that we are all now participating in. Their highest aspiration isn’t to go on stage and be a horny maniac like David Lee Roth or a post-Apocalyptic rag doll like Marilyn Manson, it’s to go on stage and be the Flash or Batman.
Maybe in their own way they are trying to embody the characteristics of the superheroes that they are dressed as. The Flash would be the perfect frontman, young, energetic and charismatic. The Green Lantern relies on willpower to harness the power of his imagination and hold the constructs of his power ring together just as a drummer would need to focus his concentration on the rhythm of the music to keep the entire band together as a cohesive whole.
Superman would play lead while Batman and Robin play rhythm, the three of them forming the World’s Finest backing band. It all seems to fit together pretty well. (It’s also worth noting that the band’s roster was consistently DC heroes rather than mixing and matching with a Spider-Man bass player or something like that, which speaks to the band’s familiarity with the superhero universes).
Then there’s the other factor in the equation, the audience. People are going nuts, shouting Batman’s name and taking pictures with their phones as their childhood heroes dance around the stage flawlessly performing the songs of their youth during some free show they stumbled into from off the street. I’m in the audience chortling with glee, as I’ve just been hand-delivered the perfect icebreaking topic for my inaugural Living Fiction post.
The feeling in the air was that both sides were willing to play along. The band was the Justice League, the audience was there to see the Justice League perform, and the illusion was unanimous. I’ve never been a part of anything like that before, and it seemed to confirm what I’ve been thinking for a while now, that people want superheroes. They want them not just in paper pamphlets or in big budget Hollywood films, but live, on stage, bulletproof, whizzing around, kicking ass, and rocking out.
At least that’s the theory. The idea that in a world that has felt like a perpetual comic book cliffhanger for over a decade now, the only sensible way to reinvigorate humanity is to take a few chapters out of the story of super-humanity.
It’s an interesting time for our culture as we have watched superheroes grow from being branded as bargain bin entertainment to becoming immensely relevant and admired with audiences spending billions of dollars every year to see how realistic filmmakers can make them.
For a comic book fan, it’s literally a dream come true. Trust me, there are few things in this world that I have seen that our more surreal than the Scarlet Speedster himself belting out a break-neck rendition of “Footloose.”
Now let’s see how accurate the theory really is.