Midlife Review

By | Wednesday, April 17, 2024 Leave a Comment
As a rule, I don't care for superhero origin stories. It's not so much that I don't want to know how they got their powers but rather, there's a general tendency to focus so intently on how they got their powers that there's no "why" attached to it. As in, why does this person decide they're going to take up superheroing? We get all this exposition on some bullcrap "science" to explain how someone shoot electricity out of their hands, but precious little on why they choose to then zap bad guys instead of anything else. As a counter-example, that's the beauty of Spider-Man's origin: he starts off by using his powers to try to earn some money and it's only after the death of his Uncle Ben -- a death that he could have prevented but actively chose not to -- that we understand the persistent guilt that drives him to be a superhero. That's not to say motivations are entirely ignored, but they're often pretty weak and feel more like a writer's excuse to get to the superheroing part of the story. If you don't have a good motivation story and just want to do the superheroing part, that's fine -- just skip right to that then. As I've pointed out repeatedly in the past, one of the best superhero movies produced to date leaves the audience with zero indication on how any of the characters got their powers.*

Midlife (Or How to Hero at Fifty) by writer Brian Buccellato and artist Stefano Simeone takes a different tact. Ruben is a fifty-year-old firefighter, experiencing something of a mid-life crisis. While the whole mid-life crisis idea itself is an overly used trope, it does seem to be explored relatively reasonably here. He doesn't go off to buy a sports car or cheat on his wife with a younger woman or any of the usual go-to cliches. Instead, Ruben is just wrestling with the "what have I been doing with my life" idea. And you might ask, "the dude's a firefighter -- how do you question yourself like that if you've been saving lives for the past quarter century?" And that's precisely where he's coming from -- he's not the guy to go running into a burning building, he's on the administrative side of things, dealing with HR related crap from behind a desk. Necessary work, but not of the "putting his life on the line" variety like his father, who had been a firefighter before him.

Of course, it's not just a fifty-year-old man moping about 100-some pages! They do address why he suddenly manifests powers later in life, and there's a plot around some government agents trying to capture him once he does start exhibiting powers. So there's a decent amount of action scenes as well. Not to mention some family drama rolling around in the background, some of which does directly tie in with how he got his powers. So there's clearly a lot on Ruben's plate.

Having hit fifty a couple years ago myself, I thought the premise sounded interesting. Most hero stories start with the character somewhere between their teens and around thirty, so seeing a quinquagenarian in that role could offer some perspectives and considerations that wouldn't occur to someone younger. Ruben does indeed have that outlook of an older man, but we see enough of his backstory to understand that the superpowers themselves are acting in something of the same role as that sports car or younger girlfriend. While he doesn't seem to carry much geek cred as an adult, his youth was spent on comic books and sci-fi movies, so taking the role of a superhero is as much about trying to recapture his youth as it is helping people.

Weirdly, though, things didn't quite click for me. I mean, I get where Ruben's coming from and the story was executed ably enough -- some elements of it are quite smart, in fact -- but it didn't register as emotionally as I would've thought it might. The story opens with a flashback with Ruben and his friends coming out of the theater, complaining about how bad Batman & Robin was; most of the flashbacks had cultural touchstones like that that were very easy for me to identify with. But Ruben's current situation -- tired of his day job, considering retirement, trying to co-parent two kids with his drug-addled ex-wife, finding out his current wife is pregnant, even just regular contact with friends he had in high school... -- was different enough that it didn't really click. My fiftieth birthday came and went with nothing even remotely like any of that.

Which isn't to invalidate the story, mind you! I'm just saying that my experience turning fifty was different enough that I didn't relate to Ruben as the story premise and, even the flashbacks in the story, suggest I would.

Overall, it was a decent and interesting take on the superhero origin, and a different enough one that it stands out from most others. The sixth issue came out from Image last month, and a trade paperback collection of all six issues comes out in June. The monthly issues (with a cover price of $3.99 US each) are recent enough that they shouldn't be too difficult to find, but the TPB has an MSRP of only $9.99 US so if you're interested, you coud save a few bucks by waiting a bit longer before trying to pick it up.

* It can probably be safely assumed that Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack were born with mutant genes thanks to their parents, but Mr. Incredible's, Elastigirl's, and Frozone's origins aren't even hinted at in either of The Incredibles movies. We have literally no backstory whatsoever on any of them prior to their first appearances on screen, and they're all established heroes "at the top of their game" already.
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