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Who Wants to Be a Superhero?
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2006

Format: TV
By:   Stan Lee (producer, host)
Genre:   Reality show
Review Date:   August 02, 2006
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

"Climb into my arms! WHO IS THIS CHILD'S MOTHER?" -- Major Victory

I'm not really one for the reality shows. But every reviewer who ever reviews one says that, so, fine: I admit it. I've watched them. I like the ones with the incompetent singers.

They all fall into two categories: A game show to win money, or a game show to win sex. So naturally I was struck with terror the day that a reality show was announced called Who Wants To Be A Superhero?, since geeks, sex, and money are a somewhat rare combination.

My assumption was it'd get the goofiest-ass cosplayers, line 'em up, and allow the normal populace of Earth to giggle at and prepare wedgies for the Geek Nation.

Then the show never happened. It was first announced a couple of years ago, but nothing ever appeared, so we forgot about it and relaxed. Then the murmurs started again, and now the thing actually exists and you can see it.

To my surprise -- it's not bad. It's clever and genuine, and does something I've never seen a reality show do: The contest tries to change and reward behavior. The winner also gets a comic book and a Sci-Fi Channel movie. Which could also lead to money and sex, but at least the path is crookeder.

The Man

The players made up their own hero characters and dressed as them at the casting call. Why didn't they pick Ice Bitch? Her catch phrase was "Freeze, motherf**ckers."

Every week they do physical things, but there's a hidden challenge to do the heroically correct thing, not what'll win the contest. Of course, super powers would require cosmic rays or spiders, so the show focuses on heroic behavior. So far the players haven't exactly figured that out. So they get lectured by the host of the show, Stan Lee.

They could've gotten Adam West, I'm sure, but Stan "The Man" is inspired casting. He co-created Marvel Comics, and he's always been a bombastic, high-energy goofball. He's already been the party host at Marvel for over 40 years, now he gets to be on TV every week. Here, he comes to the players on monitors, and sternly lectures them when they screw up. Which they do.

On the first episode, the challenge is to race to change into their hero costumes -- but along the race route is a lost child. The camera accusingly went to slow motion as nearly every single player ran right past the crying girl to the finish line. Brilliant. The way every mortified player's jaw dropped when they watched the replay was hilarious.

So far the only one who seems to get it is Major Victory, who stayed in character while saving the girl. I'll give points to Monkey Woman, who climbed a tree to change into her costume. One guy just changed clothes out in public. Duh. What about the safety of your loved ones?

Iron Enforcer has the most "heroic" look, and by that I mean, big muscles. But just like comic books, his anatomy is wrong. He's got one pectoral that looks weird. Stan's already lectured him twice about how heroes aren't supposed to kill. And he admitted he didn't know what Stan's catch phrase "Excelsior" means. That's just not cool.

The show doesn't look down like these people are all goofy-looking dorks. The one avowed comic geek gets booted in the first show, but he ran past the girl and bragged about his quickness. Most of the people on the show seem genuinely intent on improving themselves -- and if dressing up like a superhero does it, I'm for that.

[Your Name Here]: The Movie

The winner gets his own comic book and a Sci Fi Channel original movie. Somehow though, Marvel itself, Stan Lee's own baby and comic-book movie character generator, is not involved in this. Dark Horse is doing the comic. I don't know if the show's a hit, but this seems like a gimme. Marvel has been associated with worse.

Instead, Stan's office on the show has posters not of Spider-Man, the X-Men, or Hulk, but Stripperella. I'm all for Stan doing his own thing. But I feel like somebody fumbled that ball.

Worst of all, when the opening credits introduce Lee, Spider-Man is spelled "Spiderman." Like his name is Murray Spiderman. I'm a copy editor, and I see that all the time, mostly in stories about Spider-Man. And it hurts me. It's Spider, hyphen, capital-M-a-n, people!

The true test of the show's enjoyment level, however, is this: It looks fun. It looks like a thrill. I would love to hang out in a neat clubhouse and play superheroes all day long. I dreamed about that when I was but a young lad. Including the part about Stan Lee yelling.

Humor editor Joe Crowe knows what Excelsior means, but besides all the chicks, it gets him nothin'.

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