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Behind The Cape

What if there really was a superhero?

As high concepts go, that's a question that Marvel, DC and many other comic book creators ask with each hero. After all, it's finding the man in super that brings us back month after month.

But still, no matter how "real" they may claim to be, few comics are willing to look that closely at the question. To answer it adequately, we have to look hard at ourselves, and might not like what we see. Writers/directors Bill Lae and Mark Teague took that look, set the boundaries for their hero, and unleashed SuperGuy upon the world.

The resulting film, fully titled SuperGuy: Behind The Cape, has as much to say about society as it does the fantasies that fuel it. We create heroes out of celebrities, and celebrities out of heroes, but we love discovering scandals for them, too. No matter how great we make them out to be, we'll find a way to push them down. All of that's here in a satirical mockumentary that is in turns funny and poignant, and ultimately, yeah, super.

Warmly narrated by Peter Stacker, the film captures the rhythms of an A&E Biography, with occasional dips into E! True Hollywood territory. Though pretty much restricted to Los Angeles, SuperGuy (Teague) has become something of a global phenomenon, so naturally it's time for a documentary. The production team has only marginal trouble putting it together, as SuperGuy, Inc. refuses cooperation.

In a clever and ruefully realistic story point, the hero doesn't actually own the rights to his own name. All merchandising profits this faceless corporate entity; in the real world, the Luthor types win by simply ripping off the hero's father, Sam Trent (Charles Dierkop). They control SuperGuy's image, but they can't control him.

From this conceit, Lae and Teague take shots at their central question from a variety of angles. Because of its independent origins, the film is freer to spotlight certain issues than a book published by DC (controlled by TimeWarner) or Marvel ever could.

A religion springs up around SuperGuy, funny and a little bit sad, while mainstream Christianity fears his role in society. Hesitant to call him savior, it's easier to brand him the Anti-Christ. And yet, the script allows the televangelist leading that crusade to sound fairly rational about it. Heck, it seems only recently that Marvel got around to noticing that a Norse God running around New York might earn some worshippers. And though Superman has acknowledged he has spawned a religion, it's always uneasy and offhand. SuperGuy: Behind The Cape presents it far more cleanly.

Of course, in American society, we make more of a religion out of celebrity, and that takes its shots, too. The fame machine sucks SuperGuy in and chews him up. Having a man who can fly inspires pop songs in a variety of genres, and the film includes videos for many.

Among SuperGuy's effects on society, of course, is the birth of would-be supervillains. Most are treated as jokes, but the filmmakers do not shy away from dark turns. It is, in fact, one of the deft things about this film, how each element provokes thought as much as laughter. If a guy leaps off a building hoping for a flying rescue, it may be slapstick funny, but they intercut that with a woman grieving that SuperGuy arrived too late at the scene of an accident. It's risky, bold and heartfelt as an artistic choice.

In the most poignant moment, the "documentary crew" enters the basement domain of Ronald Pittman (producer Tim Peyton), SuperGuy's biggest fan. Still living at home with his mother, this undernourished postal carrier starts off as an object of derision. But he has a dignity that shines through, and if fans recognize themselves in him, it really underscores the reasons we love comics.

The finished film offers a few snippets of Pittman's nervous adulation as he shows off some of his memorabilia, but the DVD extras include a complete interview. Not only does it demonstrate some incredible improvisation from Peyton, who refuses to be thrown for a loop, the footage is outright funny. In the context of the film, it would have slowed things down, but it serves as a great featurette on its own.

Thankfully, the DVD is not bogged down with too many extras. In our interview, Lae acknowledged they had a lot of extra footage, but what they chose to see the light of day is just enough. Besides Pittman, the DVD has an extended look at a chilling terrorist threat and a couple of music videos.

If you're sharp-eyed, you'll notice that one of SuperGuy singing the blues made a brief appearance in Comic Book: The Movie. It works better as a standalone bit, and yes, Teague really is playing the guitar. But what right does he have to sing the blues after this film's positive reception?

You may want to skip over the blooper reel, as like most such things, it really serves only to prove that the filmmakers had a good time most of the time. A repeated bit with SuperGuy trying to help an old lady across the street during high winds is actually much funnier in the film, when it has a planned but lightly tossed off punchline.

By all means, SuperGuy: Behind The Cape (see our sidebar for the Amazon link) is a must for any Fanboy's DVD collection, and not just for completion's sake. The filmmakers, Teague in particular, know their subject, hit all the right touchstone moments, and still create something fresh and new. More importantly, SuperGuy may just refresh your love of heroes.

Derek McCaw


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