Monday, February 28, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

In a long line of superhero films that deconstruct and comment on superheroism comes Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The protagonist is a supervillain. A geeky, sweet, kind of awkward supervillain named Billy, who has the same idea a lot of people do—that the world would be a better place if we were in charge. Billy lives in a world where superheroes and supervillains are common enough that people recognize their names on the street. His nemesis is Captain Hammer, whose muscles are only matched by the size of his ego. Hammer's a sadistic bully who uses his status as superhero to get away with some pretty horrible things, including stealing Billy's crush away from him. Of course, we only see him through Billy eyes, which are probably skewed, but still.

There've been other supervillain-as-protagonist stories, including Despicable Me and Megamind, and as far as I can tell, Soon I Will Be Invincible. I'll be talking about these later, but Dr. Horrible's the only one to cast the superhero as a bully. Antagonist and thorn in the side, sure, that goes for most stories, but a bully? A guy who gets his kicks from making other people hurt? I'd say "only Joss Whedon" but I'm not convinced his mind's that unique. (The ending's pure Whedon, though.) It's also interesting to note that civilian blindness to Hammer's actions can be read as a metaphor for civilian blindness to the actions of governments and corporations, who say one thing and do another all the time—or at least that's how I see it. Billy refers to Hammer as a "corporate tool", after all.

Enough about the hero. Let's talk villains! I've already mentioned a lot of what makes Billy particularly endearing. He's trying so hard to succeed, and he has a lot of false starts, and there's a girl he can't get the courage to talk to… Billy's speciality is ray guns and building things. I like all supervillains, but mad scientists are more fun for me than any of the superpowered villains I've met*. There's something about their drive and the way they think that speaks to me. Possibly this says things about my own personality, I don't know. Let's just say I really, really like Billy and move on…

There are superpowers in this world. Moist, Billy's henchmen/friend, makes things damp, but so quickly it can't just be sweat. We don't know how common powers are, because we only get glimpses of the Evil League of Evil and never see another superhero. We don't even know for sure if Hammer has powers. He could just be naturally strong. (I'm leaning towards powers, though.) Mad science, however, is totally possible.

Other bits of deconstruction: Billy knows he shouldn't monologue during the climax, but he can't help himself**. There's a superhero, Johnny Snow, who keeps asking Billy to be his nemesis. The henchmen have a union. Hammer has a fan club. There is singing. Singing. And it works. Nobody has a cape.

For me, Dr. Horrible ties with Firefly for Best Whedon Show. (Sorry Buffy and Angel. You're #2, promise.) There's evident delight in the world and the story, and a perfect balance of light and dark overtones, and it's really hard to decide between supervillains and space cowboys. I mean, how can you? So if you're reading this as a review rather than a commentary on the super-world, take note that I'm not unbiased.*** And if you haven't seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog yet, what's keeping you? Go watch it right now!

* Except for my supervillain, because he's mine. Mwahaha.
** I think there's a fairly long tradition of villains knowing not to do this, actually.
*** I've also seen the stage musical. Just sayin'.


Rosie Lane said...

Dr Horrible = Best. Show. Ever. A man's gotta do...

Anonymous said...

There have been multiple examples of Heroes that are really villians, two of the worst that come off of the top of my head are "the homelander" a superman like character to the public but caught on photos eating babies. And "Irredeemable" a comic that follows the aftermath of a superman-like character, Plutonian, that goes berserk after some of his mistakes are discovered.