Superheroes get on my nerves. Enough already. In our fan-boy, Big-Baby-Man culture, where Batman and Spiderman are given as much significance and gravitas as King Lear and Hamlet, action figures have become prized status symbols, cialis online pharmacy and Comic-Con has become the main place to measure pop-culture significance, it’s easy to see why.
But even more insidious and horrifying is what happened July 20, 2012: a psycho-killer named James Holmes, in Joker costume, burst into a Colorado theater during the midnight debut of The Dark Knight Rises, shooting and killing 12 people. I went to see “You Are My Superhero,” which closes September 23, 2012 at the Dayton Art Institute, in the shadow of all that Dark Knight horror, and it was a little hard to shake off. The Dayton Art Institute’s innocent deification of all things kitschy and superhero has a twee pep and vigor, cheery to the point of no escape. The museum walls are lined with shelves filled with Batman/Superman/Spiderman/You-Name-It-Man ephemera (animation cells, masks, books, comics, etc.), and the wall-text buoyantly narrates the history of superheroes like an Entertainment Tonight segment, no irony or apology needed.
Before the shootings in Colorado, the subject matter felt a little exhausted to me, but now the ephemera on display seemed like party decorations left behind after an apocalypse that took everyone by surprise. An existential taint had spread across all things super now, but “You Are My Superhero” was so keen on celebrating both the hyped-up super and the phony heroic that it all came off like product placement in Hell. The superhero memorabilia and action-figure exaltation had hardened into an old-school, creepily patriotic/paternalistic nostalgia, and I kept thinking, Haven’t we celebrated this shit enough?
Then I saw a knitted Captain America costume by Michigan artist Mark Newport, and I just smiled. The highlight of “You Are My Superhero” is that costume. Newport knits superhero costumes (both from actual comic books and from his imagination) in effigy and in satire. The satire has both (no pun intended) a homespun authenticity and a sense that Newport understands the complicated joke of hero worship. Newport’s crafted costumes unravel the freaky overt masculinity of superhero identity, as well as shedding a slightly cynical light on the awestruck Comic-Con Nation. In merging the pseudo-masculinity of the costumes with the time-intensive craft of knitting, Newport leaves us with an empty suit on a wall – flaccid and colorful and kind of, well, impotent. Newport deflates the hype with knitting needles.