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October 7, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Why Doesn’t New Zealand Have a Superhero?

Superheroes have always been an American creation, and they rightfully ‘work’ there. They embody the American desires for unimpeded freedom, power, and the responsibility to others that goes with it. That’s not even getting into the commercialisation which is innate to their existence. In the ‘40s, Superman and Batman wanted you to buy war bonds; nowadays, they want you to see their movies.

In the Commonwealth, however, any attempt at a superhero will be depicted as either goofy and tongue-in-cheek (the Monty Python sketch ‘Bicycle Repair Man’ being the best example), or as a derision of the American attitudes listed above. Most of the greatest superhero deconstructions of all time, from Watchmen to Kick-Ass, are done by British writers. They took a dagger to the greatest cultural icons of the United States, warping them into ineffectual or corrupted parodies. While it could be marked as a response to the Cold War, I personally think it stems from the Commonwealth-exclusive condition of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, the desire to cut down the ‘super’ to bring them down to the level of the ordinary to show that they should not be (or can’t be) better than anyone else.

Ultimately, it’s a difference in cultural attitudes. For me though, this isn’t about transplanting another culture’s ideals to our own or even about giving New Zealand the hero it deserves, but just giving us something, anything, to aspire to be. There’s a strange and almost scary sort of humility that permeates Kiwi culture. We favour practicality and simple thinking rather than the abstract or intellectual, where any news story about an artist or an inventor brings an almost mournful sigh of “What are they doing with their life?” and the greatest conflicts we ever read about as children involve a sparrow locked in a video store. We don’t have a Superman or a James Bond or a Tintin. There is no triumphant figure, no cathartic embodiment of cultural pride or adventurous spirit left in our mythos. So long as you’re under the long white cloud, all men are equal—or rather, none are exceptional.

Interestingly, this notion doesn’t extend to other parts of speculative fiction. This is why I think The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings hold such an appeal for Kiwis. New Zealand’s mainstream global appeal owes a great deal of thanks for Peter Jackson’s efforts in adapting the ‘Two Trilogies’. Most mentions of New Zealand overseas usually bring up a joyous cry of “Hobbits!”, and perhaps it is not that unfounded an association.

If we were ever to find a modern cultural hero for New Zealand, especially in the wake of The Hobbit trilogy, it would be Bilbo Baggins. Humble, easy-going, and content to remain in his domestic microcosm, Baggins represents the crushing humility and propriety of the New Zealand cultural attitude. This character trait is inherited from the Commonwealth zeitgeist of Tolkien’s era, having modelled his stuffiness on the well-mannered and inhibited country squires of old. Even his adventure serves to continue this metaphor: he is only exceptional once he leaves the safety of Bag End (think of all the New Zealanders who only ‘made it big’ once outside of Aotearoa). Embellished by Martin Freeman’s neurotic and emotionally exasperated comic persona in the film, the Baggins way of life resonates with us down-to-earth Kiwis to such a degree that we have adopted Tolkien’s mythos into our national identity.

Even if we have already found our hero, could we not still create our own? It frustrates me as someone raised on the popular culture and who has himself inspired to create such a character sorely lacking in an audience for one. That still doesn’t say we can’t attempt it. My own attempts begin with a Wellington-based hero with wind powers (inspired, I know), and a budding film-maker friend of mine has already started a web series about a Batman analogue called ‘The Guardian’.

Perhaps our hero lies in our relatively small popular culture and the themes and motifs therein. Darick Robertson’s Blastosaurus and Salient‘s own Dinocop suggest a latent Pangaean obsession, if only due to New Zealand’s ‘ancientness’ and the universal appeal of dinosaurs in trenchcoats. If Marvel is content to publish Thor, we can look to our mythology to find our cultural embodiment. The hero Maui has a great deal of noble feats to expound upon, and his attitude as a trickster could be a great way to explore the noble underpinnings of our native humour and comic self-awareness.

However we go about it, we need to think outside our hobbit-hole. We need to create something that will get us to look up in the sky without commenting on the weather. In the words of comics shaman Grant Morrison, “If your heroes can’t save you, then maybe it’s time to think of something that can. If it don’t exist, dream it up. Then, make it real.”


You can catch ‘Guardians’ at 2icecreamsproduction on YouTube.

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  1. Small note, Darick Robertson is just the cover artist for Blastosaurus. Blastosaurus is by me (Richard Fairgray) and Terry Jones, just quietly.

  2. Ralphi says:

    Lot’s of people out there doing really exciting stuff.
    But, haters gonna hate.

  3. max says:

    what about max spendilten

    you can hear the audio books on youtube

    and you can see the graphic novel art on deviantart

  4. Kiwi Black says:

    Kiwi Black from marvel comics is a superhero from New Zealand. Maybe get your facts straight next time before writing an article. :)

  5. Miles Lacey says:

    Over the years there have been many attempts to create a Kiwi super hero but they were mostly targetted at young kids. A successful super hero has to appeal to a broad audience and they must embody the values of the society in which they operate. The big problem that New Zealand faces is the fact most New Zealanders live in cities but our popular culture and values are firmly rooted on the farm and the great outdoors. It was two cartoons on a public toilet showing which was the Mens and the Ladies toilet in a tiny town somewhere on State Highway 3 between Piopio and Waitara that gave me that eureka moment when I realised that we could create potentially great super heroes who embody Kiwi values IF we ditched our childish obsession with trying to make the “classic Kiwi” super hero and if we looked beyond the American strong-man type of super hero.

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