So whilst idly flicking through the Sky box over Christmas, you'll perhaps understand why a show titled 'Who Wants To Be A Superhero' caught my eye! It transpired that the Sci-Fi Channel were doing a marathon run of this US reality TV show, screening all 8 episodes over a couple of days. At 1st glance it looked like the very cheesiest of the cheesy, but it was hosted by one of my all time heroes, Stan Lee (creator of the X-Men, Spiderman, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Daredevil and more), so I thought I'd give it 5 minutes… 3 hours later I kinda realised I liked it!!
The programme started off much like a lycra-clad X-Factor. An arena full of hopefuls in home-made costumes, all vying for a place in the finals. The rules were simple, contestants needed a name for their superhero, a costume and the 'origins' of the character. And what a prize on offer for the lucky winner… a brand new comic title would be released, staring our very latest hero (and written by Stan himself), and a special Sci-Fi Channel movie would be made featuring the character (played of course by the winning contestant).
Pretty soon we were down to the final 12, ready to enter 'the lair' (a cross between the Big Brother house and the Batcave!). Once encaserated, Stan started to set our heroic ones daily task, to help him whittle down the numbers. The tasks were the real genius of the show, and almost always had an alteria motive…. One in particular saw the remaining contestants (about 9 or 10 by this point) in what looked like a theme park. It's common knowledge that nobody ever sees Peter Parker or Clark Kent transform into their alter-ego. Therefore the task was for them to change from their civi's into their superhero costume (by this time, Stan had replaced all the homemade costumes with professional, film quality ones) without being seen, then belt it to the finish line as quickly as possible. A test of cunning, agility and speed (or so it seemed). One by one, each contestant was dropped into the park and the stopwatch began. Some very inventive 'changes' took place, followed by some pretty nifty speed. However, what most of them failed to see was the small distressed child, conveniently placed on the route of their 'home sprint'. Only 2 heroes spotted the child, forfeiting their race against the clock to safely escort her to security. Of course, it transpired that it was only the two who stopped who 'won' the task - as Stan pointed out to the team afterwards, real superheroes always put others before themselves, no matter what the consequences.
And in some shape or form, all the tasks were geared like that, and it soon became apparent that the essence of this programme wasn't really about finding the next Spiderman at all, it was actually about finding what used to be called in England an all round 'bloody good egg'! Not so much super-human abilities, more inner qualities. Maybe I was still immersed in the Christmas spirit, but it was this celebration of old fashion values that really made the programme (and SOME of the contestants) so endearing. We are so used to reality TV shows that bring the worst out in people, with their staple diet of back-stabbing, bitching and appalling behaviour in a effort to screw the other contestants and grab the prize. Wonderful role-models for our young indeed.
By the time the show had got down to the last 4, I'd have been happy for any of them to win it, but in the end, I think the best man really did win. Matthew Atherton (with his alter-ego Feedback) conducted himself impeccably throughout, and was genuinely a fan of comic book superheroes. In fact it transpired that tragically he had lost his father when he was a child, and in his absence, adopted Peter Parker (Spiderman) as a role model and father figure in his early years. A throwaway line from Stan in one episode, where he said something like "nice work son", reduced Matthew to genuine tears, as he pointed out to Mr Lee that nobody had called him that in a very long time.
Fast forward to a week or two ago, and I'm messing about on MySpace and genuinely stumble on Matthew's page. I drop him a quick line, not really expecting to hear anything back, but receive a wonderfully warm reply. It seems Stan really did pick the right guy, as Matthew excitedly told me of everything he'd been up to since winning the show. He pointed me to his website, and in particular his merchandise page, and requested that if I was thinking about buying the comic, would I consider buying it from him. The reason? Matthew is donating profits from all his merchandise to the 'Make A Wish' charity, and told me that from sales so far he'd "raised enough money to grant two entire wishes for kids who might not be with us much longer". Matthew has been keeping pretty busy since winning the show... In between numerous personal appearances, he's appeared in a Sci-Fi Channel movie (part of his prize) and been working with the audio drama company BrokenSea, producing free podcasts of the continuing adventures of his character. Shocker Toys are currently producing a Feedback action figure, due out any time now!
In answer to the question I posed back in September 2007, "when will we ever have a real-life superhero?" I think I've found him, his name is Matthew Atherton.
Vist the official Feedback website here
Visit Matthews MySpace page here
Download free Feedback audio adventures here