SciFi: Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (Episode 1)

Somewhere in my parents’ house in Upper Michigan is a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. The book taunted me from the shelves of the local bookseller for months before I shelled out the sixteen-dollar purchase price and took it home, fully intending to master the artistic secrets contained within.

Yeah, maybe the next time I’m in the U.P. I’ll grab the book so I can get to work on that.

In the twenty years since I bought How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way I’ve created — but not drawn — quite a few superheroes. In addition to not drawing the superheroes I create, I make a special point not to dress up in their costumes. This, along with a fairly firm grip on reality, is probably what separates me from the contestants on SciFi’s new reality series, Who Wants to Be a Superhero?Plus, I missed the audition deadline.

The series premiere introduced the twelve heroic hopefuls who, over the course of six weeks, will compete for their own Dark Horse comic book and SciFi Original Movie. In the first half hour, Stan Lee summoned the heroes to their secret lair, revealed a traitor in their midst, and booted one of the contestants, all before the competition even began.

The first challenge: find a discrete place to change out of your street clothes and into your costume, then run to the finish line. Monkey Woman, true to her character, climbed a tree for her costume change, while the gladiator-like Tyveculus hid behind a Porta Potty and Creature climbed into a trash can. Even in his street clothes, The Iron Enforcer is the antithesis of discretion, mostly because he’s toting around a huge freaking gun. All of the heroes eventually crossed the finish line, but only four stopped just a few yards from their goal to help the crying little girl who had lost her mother.

The true challenge, of course, was not reaching the finish line quickly, but being heroic by putting aside one’s own ambitions in favor of helping someone in need. Some of the contestants were in such a hurry that they didn’t even glance at the girl (whose pleas were far from quiet); others looked right at her and ran by, not even bothering to return once they had achieved their “goal”. Of the four who stopped to help the little girl, only one — Major Victory — was male.

Right off the bat, Major Victory stands out as having a bombastic, no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to acting the hero. Laura and I both laughed out loud as he leapt onto the scene, all exaggerated movements and cheesy persona. Victory is a cross between Austin Powers and The Greatest American Hero, and it works for him.Laura thinks his costume is a little too reminiscent of The Incredibles, where I felt it could have benefitted from a cape. Ridiculous? Yes. Fun to watch? Absolutely.

Another early standout is Lemuria, who is unique among the contestants in that she was apparently not chosen by Stan Lee, but rather voted onto the show by visitors to SciFi.com. She may also have been voted “Most Likely to Fall Out of Her Costume,” which goes a long way to explaining the motivation of the average SciFi fan.

The elimination ceremony at the end of the episode involves the heroes lining up in front of a billboard-sized video screen from whence Stan “The Man” Lee reveals which three contestants are on the chopping block. Each potential eliminee is required to convince the legendary superhero creator why he should allow them to remain in the secret lair, and ultimately one is asked to turn in his or her costume.

Stan Lee actually fills the role of mentor, taskmaster and judge quite well. An actor he isn’t, but he’s got a good personality for the role and he delivers his messages to the contestants — always via flatscreen television — with a charming-yet-earnest air. Anywhere else Lee’s persona might be jarring, but in the context of Who Wants to Be a Superhero? it fits perfectly, if only because… well, he’s Stan Lee.

I’m actually surprised with SciFi recently. Twice in the span of a week they’ve premiered new shows that have proven to be very watchable; Who Wants to be a Superhero? is the second.Eureka is the first; more on that later. As much as the concept piqued my curiosity and made me cringe all at the same time, the first episode was a lot of fun.