​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Greetings, mail-darling! I hope you had a better week than I did. I've gone on a diet for my New Year's resolution... okay, it's a less a resolution than it is "it's winter and there's no @#$%ing food anywhere" but the results are kind of the same. As with most of my resolutions, I'll be breaking it the minute the first opportunity arises.


Inner (and Outer) Strength


I've gotta believe that this question/issue has been addressed before, but if it was, I didn't catch it, so here goes…

Most superheroes are drawn super-fit, with muscles out the yin-yang, and that makes sense for many of them. Hulk. Batman. Wolverine. Wonder Woman. Beast. Aquaman. Hawkeye. Black Widow. Etc., etc. Based partially on strength and physical condition.

But for many, "superior athletic condition" doesn't seem necessary.

Green Lantern – its all about strength of will, not muscles.

Flash – fast because of the "Speed Force", not his own musculature.

Superman – unless the radiation from yellow sunlight also increases and tones his muscle mass, he should be all fat and flab, right? There is nothing on Earth that is heavy enough to give Superman's muscles any kind of resistance-based workout.

Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Kitty Pryde, Jean Grey – none of their abilities are based on physical strength, do they really need to be well-muscled?

The list goes on and on… So what gives?

They don't, but since comic books are traditionally adolescent male fantasies, it means the guys are all going to be super-muscled behemoths and the women will be trim and sexy. But I wouldn't say Kitty Pride or Jean Grey are as much muscled as they are trim, just like most female superheroes. Anyways, this comic (#9) explains it perfectly.

But it's not completely incongruous that some of these characters would have muscles. For instance, the Flash has the Speed Force, but it's not like he travels standing still. He still has to physically run no matter what speed he achieves, and that would in turn give him muscles. As for Superman, he's likewise still lifting airplanes and continents and shit; super-strength or not his body needs muscles to channel that strength. Or maybe the yellow sun gives him the muscles that gives him his strength. It's not absurd.

As for Green Lantern… all I got is that he's a fighter pilot, and for whatever reason they all seem to be in pretty good shape. I don't recall ever seeing a fat fighter pilot. But that said, Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider and the rest still fight bad guys, physically. Even if you're powered by an alien ring or the power cosmic or hellfire, you're still physically battling people, and getting a workout that way. It's like boxing. Maybe you have a deskjob all week, but if you decide to fight a dude in a ring for 20 minutes every Saturday you're going to get some muscle definition.

Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Ants Ants Revolution

Jeff C.:

Wait a minute Mr. Postman...you're gonna want to hear this.

Lately there has been disgruntlement over the fact that Peyton Reed directed Ant-Man and not Edgar Wright. As far as I can tell, Marvel invited Mr. Wright to leave the project because his vision for one movie did not fit in with the company's vision for a shared cinematic universe. That's the past, what's done is done.

Over on the Fox side of things Josh Trank is directing a Fantastic Four movie. He wants a "grounded, realistic" take on the FF. In a past "Postal Apocalypse" column you have said that distancing the FF from their weird, cosmic and far-out comic stories is a mistake. Fox should be celebrating and reveling in how weird the Fantastic Four can be.

What Edgar Wright ultimately wants is to put his creative spin on a Marvel property and make a big, weird, and really fun superhero movie. What Fox wants is to make a Fantastic Four movie that will please an audience (for once) and make a lot of money.

Edgar Wright should be directing Fantastic Four.

I'm not sure this entirely tracks. Yes, I believe the FF movie should be weird and fun and out-there, but its not Josh Trank who wants this, it's Fox, and they hold the purse strings. They're the ones who hired Trank. So regardless of what the people want or what one genius says on the internet, Fox wouldn't have hired Wright in a million years, even if it does sound like a pretty stupendous idea.


Second, I don't think we can say with any authority that Wright left Ant-Man because he wanted to make the movie "big, weird, and really fun" and Marvel didn't. Yes, there was a difference in "creative vision," but that could be anything, and I'm pretty sure Marvel didn't read Wright's original script and say to themselves, "Well, this is just too fun. Dammit!" I would bet money that Wright wanted to make Ant-Man weirder and more individual than Marvel felt comfortable with for an installment in the MCU, but the bottom line there is that if Wright was too weird for Marvel he'd be several hundred times too weird for Fox. I'd have watched the hell out of an Edgar Wright Fantastic Four movie, to be sure, though.

Power Up


So I just saw DC's new Power Girl. And I was struck by what you said last week. I'm a big Power Girl fan, so I'm probably biased, but what's the benefit in changing PG to this new girl?

Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Well, by the standards of last week's conversation — wherein race can be used to add depth and reinforce certain thematic issues of a character to make them more interesting — declaring Tanya Spears as the new Power Girl doesn't have an obvious specific benefit. However, there's still the fact that now we have another character of color in the DC universe, and that's good!


And to be fair, Power Girl has never been the most prominent DC character. Hell, she hasn't even been part of the main DC universe for a while, having been restricted to Earth-2, so it's not like this "new" PG is stopping on the toes of the original. Plus, by introducing this new Power Girl into the main DCU, DC has potentially replaced a less interesting character with a more interesting one, although this remains to be seen.

Of course, it's kind of a bummer that DC has to wait until a character is pretty much abandoned in the main DCU before they try a change like this, but it's still a step in the right direction. Hopefully it's not the last one.


Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

The Incredible Kush

Daryl S.:

In the Age of Ultron trailer, folks have noticed that the Hulk has a mad case of red eye. One of the commenters suggested it's weed and it got me thinking...

...If you got the Hulk high, would he mellow out and turn back into Banner? Could Stark create a THC grenade to lob at Hulk? Could Banner get a medical marijuana card and go many, many days without incident? Or would a paranoid high cause an incident worse than Harlem?


Huh. Well, as a weapon to neutralize the Hulk, there are a few problems. First is that Hulk can hold his breath for some crazy long amounts of time, which means he wouldn't necessarily be caught by such a smoke grenade; plus he could use his sonic clap to blow most of the smoke away at any point. More problematically, the Hulk has demonstrated on more than a few occasions he can get so angry as to basically ignore the effects of tranquilizers, so I imagine the same is true of weed.


Iron Man's best bet would be to airlift a big palette of THC-laced brownies to the battle and hope the Hulk is feeling peckish.

But as to whether Bruce Banner could toke up and go Hulk-free for a while… yeah, that stands to reason. But I imagine it would mostly prevent him from hulking out in annoying situations, like someone cutting him off in traffic, or the lady in front of his paying for her groceries with a check. If General Ross is going to send in the Hulkbuster squad into capture Banner, then I have zero doubt he'd still manage to Hulk out and raise hell.


Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Art Carnage


Sir - I hope this reaches you in good health. Our own era is certainly less than entirely safe, sad to say. In an unintentionally timely program the BBC world service's documentary series Assignment focused on freedom of speech and the right to offend, specifically in the context of how anime and manga permit sexualized underage material. Contrary to legislation in my area, and frankly everywhere in the world outside of Japan, my position is that anything which is clearly identifiable as a product of the imagination is perfectly ethical. So is the bright side of the apocalypse that people are too preoccupied with staying alive to go around imprisoning / shooting / cannibalizing cartoonists and doujinshi writers?


Well, this is a complicated, deeply divisive topic. The rights of free speech versus the disgusting content it by necessity allows… the arguments that such material is either a release which prevents people from acting on these impulses or actually encourages them… and yet you didn't ask me to weigh on the issue specifically, so I'm going to take that out. (It's kind of a heady topic for a fake mailman.)

But, to your question: Um, if you're looking for the post-apocalypse to be a bastion of First Amendment rights, uh… don't. People are mainly worried about survival, but they always have time to be disgusted by the dude who has a massive pile of underage-themed hentai in his basement. Modern civilization may have some draconic censorship laws where you live, but it's also what keeps an angry mob of peasants from burning you at the stake because they don't like your taste in comics.


Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Get Carter

Cara S.:

I'd like to reiterate a question I saw posed on Twitter: Where the fuck is my Agent Carter action figure?


In the Hell of Awesome Female Characters Who Never Get The Toys They Deserve. You'd think that in this day and age it wouldn't get as much attendance as it did back in the '80s or so, back when a Princess Leia figure was kind of a minor miracle, but nope, toys of badass women are still getting corralled there at a disturbing clip. Hell, we barely got a Gamora figure for adult collectors, and she was a major character in one of Marvel's biggest movies. Goddammit, we barely got an Agent Coulson figure, and he's starred in pretty much every Marvel movie AND has his own show. What chance does poor Agent Carter have? Which sucks, because I would buy her and like a dozen Hydra Agent figures just so she could kick them all in the balls. Sigh.

No fooling, I enjoyed the two-hour Agent Carter premiere probably at least much as I enjoyed Captain America 2. Seriously, this shot alone beat the crashing helicarrier sequence.


Illustration for article titled ​Why Are Superheroes Never Out-Of-Shape?

Walking the Tightrope

Ryan M.:

Dear Postman,

Hope the radioactive mutants are treating you well in the future. A few weeks ago there was an article on io9 talking about how people are growing tired of the "Smartest Guy in the Room" trope we have been seeing a lot of in television and the movies these past few years.

And I was wondering what is the trope you feel is the most overused or tiresome? For me its the ultimate badass. The character, be it hero or villain, that just kicks the crap out of everyone and is always 5 steps ahead their adversaries in any situation. While these are usually fun to read/watch there are just so many of them lately that the bloom has come off the rose.

In the meantime thanks for writing a great column. Enjoy the rest of your week. -


I'm afraid the tropes I'm sick of are the ones most of us are sick of, but that still pop up with aggravating frequency.

• Nerds who are completely unable to function in society

• Nerds and fat people who are completely unlovable except to other nerds and/or fat people


• The "ugly" girl who becomes "beautiful" once she takes off her glasses

I'm also sick to death of the trope where heroes can't tell their friends/family/loved ones about their secret identities because it'll endanger them, because it's obviously dumb. Easy cases in point: Arrow and The Flash. The people who don't know Ollie and Barry's secrets are in no less danger than their friends who do. Actually, they're probably in more trouble because they don't know they have goddamned superheroes they can call in times of need. Sigh.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!


Angrier Geek

They don't, but since comic books are traditionally adolescent male fantasies, it means the guys are all going to be super-muscled behemoths and the women will be trim and sexy.

Boom. Knowledge dropped.