Thursday, July 10, 2008


I was thinking the other day about one of my favorite super-heroes, Captain America, and the conflict between his "steroid abuse" and my Theory of Seminal Integrity in Super-Heroic Fiction. Haters like to point out that Cap got all his abilities out of a test tube, making him no better than all those athletes who shame sports by "juicing up." Mark Gruenwald was very conscious of this, and being a part of the "Just Say No" 80's, repeatedly addressed drugs over his long tenure writing the Sentinel of Liberty. For instance, there was the time Cap accidentally overdosed on a variation of cocaine, went nuts, and beat up Daredevil. In a bid to negate the issue, Gruenwald had the Super Soldier Serum removed from Cap's system, so he could build himself back to fighting form with nothing but heart. Didn't take, because everyone knows Cap's career started in a secret laboratory where he was the only recipient of a glorified steroid that he only needed to take once, with none of the negative effects and a wealth of additional benefits. You either have to accept that, or reject the character at his core.

Bodybuilder turned documentarian Chris Bell appropriately brought up Cap in his new film "Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (*The Side Effects of Being American,) and even chatted with Stan Lee while wearing a signed shirt. Bell had always believed in the dream of training hard and eating right to become like his idols, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone. One-by-one, along with an increasingly large number of professional athletes, these heroes were revealed to have been created and sustained through doping. Bell knew this, and though disillusioned, remained clean. Both his brothers did not, out bulking him and deluding themselves with visions of grandeur. One of his co-workers at Gold's Gym was 50, living in his van in the parking lot, and still expecting his second shot at greatness after his small role in 1987's "Over The Top." Bell seemed intent on waking them all up with a film that would explore the dangers of steroids. What he found, or at least ended up with, was persuasive propaganda in favor of decriminalizing the stuff.

Sold as coming from the producers of a couple of Michael Moore's movies, you can definitely see the influence of his philosophy all over "Bigger*." It's very much like "Bowling For Columbine," which seemed like it was going for your guns, but really was after opportunistic politicos and the media. Bell always gives the impression of being a deer caught in headlights, but between revealing editing and the occasional ambush, the guy's obviously playing up the vulnerability. Even still, Bell is effective at exposing the hypocrisies and outright lies of American society as a whole, especially the macho end of the spectrum. It's also highly accessible, with enough sports and action film coverage to hook the guys, but an emphasis on the human interest and personal drama for women and girly men like me. The odds don't favor catching a showing outside a major city, as the film's only grossed a quarter-mill, with only one theater showing it here in Houston. If you don't have access where you live, I highly recommend feeding the title into your NetFlix queue for later viewing.

As for the Captain America question, well, Bell put the lie to one muscle-head's claim that he could knock a baseball into orbit. So many athletes are using these days, it isn't so much an advantage as a practicality. Regardless, you can't stick a needle in and a jersey on expecting to equal Barry Bonds. It's only a Super Soldier Serum if the right man is on the receiving end, at least if you expect proof in advertising...

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