Hero teams to the rescue
Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Watching my Buffy The Vampire Slayer DVDs, I realized that quite a bit of pop culture I like involves a group of people fighting bad guys, from regular criminals to supernatural big bads. I started to wonder which pop-culture team I would want on my side if I was in trouble. Since people on Buffy have a high mortality rate, I think I’d choose the Straw Hat Pirates off the anime One Piece. Not only do the people they help live, but all you have to do is talk about an unfulfilled dream, and every one of them will be prepared to fight to the death for you. So which pop-culture crime-fighting team (supernatural or otherwise) would you want to help you out in a jam? —Jessica
My instantaneous reaction to this question was “The A-Team, of course!” Because c’mon, if you have a problem, and no one else can help… according to the TV show’s narration, that’s what they’re there for. Then on the other hand, I don’t tend to have problems that can be solved by a smart-ass, a smirking lech, a self-styled lunatic, and Mr. T building a tank in my garage. And that’s about all the A-Team ever did: Infiltrate, get some info, then get locked into a garage and build a tank. I think I’d actually be much better off with The Justice League Of America. (Or the Superfriends, or pretty much any incarnation of DC’s super-team between those two poles.) I mean, c’mon, they’ve got someone equipped to handle the job whether your problem is in space, underwater, microscopic, in another dimension or timestream, or on a mythical island, and yet they have time to handle things like talking a suicidal woman off a ledge or comforting an abused kid (in the Superman storyline “Grounded.”). They have a ridiculous number of members with a wide variety of powers, applicable to any situation, and they tend to be less angsty than their opposite numbers over at Marvel. Also, unlike the A-Team, they aren’t mercenaries, so they wouldn’t even pretend they wanted to get paid.
Hey, if I ever have a problem with, say, evil developers—and I do anticipate having such a problem at some point—there’s no one I’d rather have on my side than The A-Team. When my healthy soda company starts to take off, and some guy who owns a brewery secretly wants to build condos right where my factory is, I will only be able to count on Hannibal Smith (the smart one), Templeton Peck (the handsome one), Murdock (the crazy one), and B.A. Baracus (the black, scared-of-flying, mohawked, jewelry-bedecked, milk-drinking, tough one) to take care of the problem in imaginative ways without killing or seriously injuring anyone. Because while The A-Team—a group of Vietnam vets convicted of a crime they didn't commit—carry automatic weapons around all the time, they usually end up using non-lethal items at hand to fight the battles of the oppressed. I plan on offering them some of my soda, which they can spray at the bad guys. Lesson learned!
Hmm… Do we have any idea what kind of trouble we’d be in? Because the Justice League Of America would be great if we were in some kind of world-imperiling situation. But how often does that happen, really? In my daily life, I’m more often worried about not having enough time or energy to get everything done that needs to get done. So I’m just going to say the team of cloned Michael Keatons from the movie Multiplicity, each of whom I could assign various tasks while I focused on the most pressing and interesting projects. Now, bear in mind, I haven’t seen the movie Multiplicity. I’m just going to assume that once Keaton clones himself, everything goes perfectly smoothly with no consequences, comic or otherwise. Also, I’m going to overlook the problem that everyone might be confused if Michael Keaton look-alikes started showing up in my stead. It could work, right? Maybe I haven’t thought this through.
In spite of Joss Whedon’s involvement, I don’t have high hopes for the upcoming Avengers movie. Granted, Whedon may be able to inject a modicum of dysfunctional angst into the onscreen Marvel Universe—but nowhere near as much as is displayed in the film The Specials. The 2000 superhero farce is as flawed as its characters, a ragtag gang of deeply damaged, superpowered do-gooders with chips on their shoulders and a tendency toward self-sabotage. Why would I possibly want them on my side in any kind of crisis? Besides the fact that I identify with their stripe of ambitious loser, I just hate the idea of accepting divine assistance from demigod-like heroes whose neuroses and hang-ups never extend beyond minor girl troubles. Keep your Avengers; I’d rather give the underdogs a shot. And if we all go down together, so be it.
They’re error-prone. They’re idealistic. They fight among themselves. Their influence seems to be in perpetual decline. Yet if I were in a bind, I would place a call to the White House staff from The West Wing without hesitation. Their superpower: earnestness that can cripple any foe. Say I’m a God-fearing dad who just needs a little help paying for my kid’s college education. They’ll pass a law that gives me that little help, because what use is the legislative branch if you can’t use it to grant personal favors to a guy you met in a pub somewhere? And what if my leg is caught underneath the low bar set by modern American electoral discourse? Why, they’ll grab that bar with both hands and raise it up high, freeing me and teaching me sensible Keynesian fiscal policy in the process. Hell, one of them rescued a bunch of guys who were trapped in outer space. Now that’s government that works for me! Just don’t give me those humps from season five. That bunch of sad-sacks couldn’t save one lousy North Korean concert pianist if his life depended on it, which it kind of did.
It isn’t exactly a team, per se, but I’ll go with Doctor Who and whatever companion he has with him at the time (K9 included). The man is ageless, can travel across the universe and through time, has one hell of a sonic screwdriver (a Swiss Army knife with expanded powers) and a seemingly endless knowledge of history and science from around the never-ending universe. No matter what situation he’s in, in whatever universe, facing whatever monster or evil, be it Cybermen or Satan, the Doctor always has his wits about him enough to figure a way out while also being charming (and stopping just short of creepy). If for whatever reason the Doctor is indisposed, the companions can step in and usually work things out for the better; if not, there’s the aforementioned super-smart robot dog that shoots laser beams. The whole idea of him regenerating into different incarnations is a bit unsettling, as is his uncanny ability to always show up where something’s going wrong, or some evil force/alien/beast/etc. is lurking in wait. But he always survives, and what else do you really need from a guide across time and space? And, if nothing else, he’s defeated the Daleks—supposedly his most fearsome enemies—so many times, they’re going into cold storage for a bit.
The fun absurdity of this question finds me wanting to respond in a similar vein and suggest that I’d want to call upon the combined efforts of the Inferior Five and the Legion Of Substitute Heroes to rescue me if I found myself in a sticky predicament. But I won’t. No, ultimately, if I was in a tight spot and needed help getting out, there’s only one group I’d want sent in to save my sorry behind: the original Mission: Impossible team. Screw that Ethan Hunt guy. I’m talking about the real deal: leader Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), electronics and forgery expert Barney Collier (Greg Morris), team muscle Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus), femme fatale Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), and master of disguise Rollin Hand (Martin Landau). What’s that? Rollin isn’t available? Then bring in The Great Paris (Leonard Nimoy) to sub for him, dammit! This is serious business, people! Don’t you understand? They’re going to kill me!
I yield to few in my love for Mystery Men. It helps that there aren’t a lot of Mystery Men super-fans out there to yield to. There was no possible way that the blockbuster-that-wasn’t was ever going to live up to the hype that greeted it or its cast (Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Tom Waits, and everybody else cool in the history of the universe) but I was impressed by the idea of a superhero team whose superpowers are fuzzy at best and nonexistent at worst. If I were ever in a bind, I would derive great comfort from knowing that somewhere nearby, Ben Stiller’s character would be getting really, really angry, while if I ever needed anyone to shovel really, really well, William H. Macy’s The Shoveler would be up for the job. And I would derive wisdom and strength from the words of Wes Studi’s “The Sphinx,” thoughtful-sounding but ultimately empty bromides like ”He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.”
If I’m really in trouble I simply can’t get out of, I’m probably being confronted by a threat so grave it would require superpowers to dispel. And if that’s the case, I need to go with a superhero team. And if that’s the case, then I need to go with one I know will be able to overlook their inherent personality differences to get the job done. So I’m going to pick The Incredibles from Brad Bird’s Pixar film of the same name. Having Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack arrive in the nick of time would be, I have to assume, exciting, particularly if they were accompanied by that awesome Michael Giacchino score and Fro-zone (assuming he could find his super-suit). Also, it would mean I would be animated, so I would immediately wander off to drop a piano on my own head.
I know they’re a band more than a “team,” but still, if I were in a spot, I wouldn’t mind being rescued by Jem And The Holograms. Even though Jerrica Benton is technically a businesswoman/rockstar, the mere fact that she possesses a holographic computer, micro-projecting earrings, and an alter ego pretty much puts her in superhero territory. When I was a girl, Jem And The Holograms were everything I wanted to be when I grew up: beautiful rock stars with huge, colorful hair and outfits, plus a charitable streak. But I have something shameful to admit: The real reason I’d want Jem & Co. to come save me would be to gain proximity to their rivals The Misfits. What can I say? Their songs (and names, clothes, and hair) are better.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the folks at Hanna-Barbera created cartoons built around teams of young kids and anthropomorphic animals/cars/cavemen that you would want to have with you if you needed to get out of a jam. The template for these groups, of course, was Scooby-Doo and the gang. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne could solve a mystery like nobody's business. But if you asked me (and no one really did) the gang I'd really want to have my back was Josie And The Pussycats. Why? First of all, they could bring the power bubblegum pop like nobody’s business. But unlike their Mystery Machine-driving predecessors, Josie and company know how to fly a spaceship, which is a handy skill if you happen to get in trouble in deep space. But the key to the group is the conniving Alexandra Cabot and her equally scheming cat Sebastian. Both have the knowledge and the disregard for all human decency that’s necessary to do whatever it takes to spring you from wherever you may be trapped. She also does a good job of keeping the group’s requisite Casey Kasem-voiced scaredy-cat, her brother Alexander, in line.