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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Super Heroes We Can't Live Without

For every lame super hero that we've quickly forgotten over the years, the bad-ass favorites have filled the void with their larger than life abilities. Since super heroes became popular way back in the early decades of 20th century, few have stood the test of time to be considered necessary heroes. Since the super hero universe is becoming an expanding sea of super goodness, with new heroes cropping up all over the place, there are only a select few the world can't live without.

From purely a character standpoint, the super hero world, and metaphoric real world, is a much better place with certain heroes defending the planet. Here's a look at 6 Super Heroes We Can't Live Without:

Captain America

Given the state of world affairs, killing off Captain America in 2007 wasn’t the greatest idea if you’re looking to keep hope alive in a troubled nation, namely America. A hero that literally wears the Stars & Stripes over his entire body and carries an indestructible shield to defend America against the forces of evil deserves respect, especially in this day and age. The fact that Cap’s many wartime experiences and various identities, whether Ultimate, House of M, or What If..., have made him a true defender of America’s fight for freedom, it’s obvious the United States shouldn't be flying solo without their most patriotic super hero. Since world events seem to be heating up by the week, with the U.S. in the thick of it all, it’s too bad Cap was forced back to the 20th Century after wanting to reboot the nation and change America for the better in the year 1602. Think about this for a second... Steve Rogers wears the American flag on his back even though U.S. backpackers in Europe have switched to wearing the Canadian flag just to feel safe. That’s a hero America should never live without.

Witchblade (the many women of)

Although you hear a lot more about other female super heroes, it’s hard to argue that the one in possession of the Witchblade might be the most important of them all, especially if you look back through history. Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Queen Isabella, even Wonder Woman, were all possessors of the Witchblade, which proves that the world can’t live without it and its hosts. For any hero who has worn the ancient artifact/weapon, the Witchblade is like a Swiss Army Knife of gauntlet gear you’d find at Tiffany’s. Not only is it intelligent armor that can produce a multitude of necessary weapons, its female host/hero can create any weapon needed for battle, bring the dead back to life, heal wounds, and experience the lives of its past possessors. As far as females super heroes go, whoever is possessing Witchblade is everything we need to keep the world safe, and then some.

Spider-Man

Would the mild-mannered Peter Parker be as cool without his Spidey persona? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s what makes him so cool. The fact a lonely, inadequate, under-the-radar geek can go on to become one of the greatest heroes the world has ever seen lends even more credibility to his "amazing" tag. Spidey proved that all unpopular high school computer nerds have their own unique special powers similar to Peter Parker. Although Spider-Man’s super-strength and spider-esque powers made him extraordinary to the average world, he’s a hero who’s also had to rely on his own wits and resourcefulness to enhance his abilities. In that regard, Spider-Man serves as an inspiration to all lonely geeks (and the geek within all of us) with the message that having a super power is equally about finding your own abilities to enhance your identity. With power comes great responsibility, no matter what special ability you possess. We have Spider-Man to thank for that.

Iron Man

Okay, here’s where the list gets a little weird. If this was 2003 instead of 2008, we doubt Iron Man would be making many "can’t live without" lists. Can the world live without Iron Man? Maybe. But since Tony Stark made such a huge debut this year on the big screen, it’s obvious the present world can’t live without Iron Man... and won’t be for at least a few years and another movie or two. So, to even suggest that the world could live without Iron Man when industrialist billionaire Tony Stark is among the new and elite generation of cinematic super heroes would be insanely contradictory to the newly created public demand that resurrected the hero from obscurity. No matter how you look at it though, Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark and his Iron Man alter ego even cooler than he was in the Marvel panels.

Batman

Perhaps the more important question might be... Do we want to live without Batman? It’s obvious that Batman’s popularity in the comic book world is clearly defined and established, and has been since his debut in 1939. Batman gained even more popularity as a hero during his stint on TV back in the ‘60s when Adam West took on the live-action persona of the caped crusader and then went on to even bigger reinvented heights when he received an edgy comic book makeover in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in the ‘80s. After the huge success of Tim Burton’s big screen Batman in 1989, Bruce Wayne ran out of cinematic gas after the 1997 film Batman & Robin over exposed Batman and killed any interest in the hero as a feature film super hero. Living on in the comics and in animated form after the live action movies, Batman was resurrected in 2005 by director Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins, which only reinforced his popularity as a timeless hero. Now with Nolan’s The Dark Knight about to explode into theaters, as the most anticipated movie of the year, it’s obvious the world can’t live without Batman.

Superman

Although the question of Superman being the most popular super hero of all time seems to divide comic book fans like a hot knife through butter, Superman has endured all of the criticism. No matter how you look at him, Superman is the most iconic super hero of all time. He’s transcended the comic book pages to become part of our pop-culture fabric. Superman ranks up there with Elvis, The Beatles, Campbell’s Soup, the Atari 2600, the iPhone... you name it. He’s a Norman Rockwell type super hero. Despite becoming somewhat of a walking (or flying) cliché over the years, Superman still stands for all that is good and wholesome in the world, even if the world has changed around him. We can’t think of any other super hero who has had more of an impact on the world over eight generations than Superman. Is he the coolest super hero? To some fans, he is. Is he the most powerful? Not anymore, that’s for sure. Can the world live without him? Absolutely not. Besides, DC tried to kill him off in the 1990s and the entire industry is now finally getting back on its feet.

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Lost Jimi Hendrix Rock Conjured From Beyond

The greatest rock guitarist that ever lived passed away in 1970, but his music lives on.

Literally: According to Jimi Hendrix archivist John MCDermott, a 1969-1970 team-up with CSNY vet Stephen Stills might soon see the light of day. Throw in a sweeping exhibit on Hendrix's towering influence at Seattle's Experience Music Project (EMP), and you've got two more reasons to stop calling Clapton, or any other guitarist, God.

Now the bad news: There's more Stills than Hendrix in the forthcoming collaboration. A source close to the project told MusicRadar.com that "we have tapes in our archive -- Jimi on guitar and bass -- plus Stephen had some from his 1970 solo album that he wanted to finish, fix and mix. From a musical point of view, it's definitely Stephen with Jimi helping -- as opposed to a joint collaboration. But it is still a very nice project."

To be sure, any project with Hendrix on a guitar of any kind qualifies as "nice." But if you want to get a closer look on how the Seattle guitar legend shaped the course of popular music, check out the Experience Music Project's ongoing exhibit "Jimi Hendrix: An Evolution of Sound." You'll have plenty of chances: The exhibit, which features the ax master's guitars, timeline, cultural influence, innovations, sound effects, films and much more in passive and interactive installations, is staying put until 2010.

It's full of insight. A mock stage shows the sci-fi buff reading Philip Jose Farmer's 1966 book Night of Light, from which Hendrix divined the lyrics for "Purple Haze." An interactive display shows off his groundbreaking use of sound effects, which set the table for further experimentation in rock. Better yet, EMP is offering iPod audio guides, rather than its clunky old-school gear.

It's a brave new musical world, thanks to Hendrix. Do you agree? Was Jimi the finest rock guitarist to ever turn a right-handed six-string upside down, re-string it, and change the course of music history?

Photo: EMP/Peter Riches

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