Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Superhero Theme Project Part 12: Wrapping Things Up

For those of you just tuning in, a few months ago, I began an experiment on my daughter. It was not as ominous as it sounds - I noticed that she made some connections between several superhero characters and the attendant soundtracks from their more visible cinematic adaptations. I encouraged this and went so far as to create a playlist that included other superheroes, adopting obscure themes from movies, TV, and orchestral repertoire. We listened to it in the car. A lot. I kept up with her expanding repertoire in a series at the end of last year, but as her enthusiasm began to wane, there were a few undocumented themes that I’d like to go back and catch.

As the Little One was becoming familiar with various superheroes, it was inevitable that their foes would arise as well. I decided early on that I would avoid giving these characters themes, with one exception. When she was an infant, she received a Catwoman “Funko POP” figurine that stood alongside Superman and Batgirl. Catwoman has been characterized many ways, from brilliant thief to hypersexualized vixen. When she began to ask about how “Catwoman’s song” went, I obviously wanted to emphasize the former. I settled on Funeral March for a Marionette, which felt playfully sinister in a way that suggested Catwoman creeping in the shadows and surreptitiously grabbing loot.

As her imagination began to expand, the more intense themes of superhero cartoons seemed less and less appropriate. The last jag of superhero programming she was into was, oddly, a show I used to eagerly watch on Saturday mornings – Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. Although not without its own somewhat violent overtones, the type of 80’s “zap” violence felt a bit less visceral than the “pow” violence of more contemporary programming. What this meant for the project, however, was that Iceman and Firestar, a couple of relatively obscure characters from the Marvel universe, needed themes.

Both of these characters were a clean slate, so I was free to render them in any way I saw fit. I also had a back log of excellent musical themes that had found no character. On the path that ultimately led to Robin’s theme, I acquired some familiarity with the long tradition of outstanding themes from the Star Trek movies. The passage from the mooring sequence on The Wrath of Khan made a particular impression on me, mainly because I remembered it so vividly through the music. It shimmered evocatively and developed in ways that made it distinct from many of the other songs in the playlist, so I adopted it for Iceman.

Firestar was created specifically for the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends in lieu of the Human Torch, a character who was embroiled in the usual legal disputes. She was later retconned into the Marvel universe. On the show, she was predictably flat, like any cartoon character from that era. She was relatively freewheeling, though, and quick with a bad joke, but selflessly heroic in her own way. I ended up using the theme from Back to the Future for her for two reasons: to acknowledge her heroic but lighthearted attitude as well as the 80s era that spawned both her and the movie’s theme.

These themes rounded out a sixteen track playlist that consumed the Little One’s listening habits for several months. For awhile, she would ask for the pieces by the character’s name. Later, we would put it on shuffle and name the characters as the various themes came up. I only ever did this by request, though, and I started to notice that the requests became less frequent. Even today, she sometimes asks to listen to the playlist, but certainly not on a daily basis.

The goal of this project was twofold. From a superficial standpoint, I had hoped to familiarize her with some of the superheroes that inspired me as a kid, so that later on we could share in the wealth of reading material that is out there. From a different perspective, though, I wanted to open her ears to the narrative capacity of melody and the wide array of sounds that the orchestra can create.

The Superhero Theme Project was, and is, really only meant to plant seeds that may not take fruit for a very long time. I can say, however, that it has made an impression. When she is playing by herself, I can often hear her humming the theme from The Great Gate of Kiev. When I ask her what she is singing, she will smile as if caught in the act and shyly say “Aquaman.”


But this wasn't the end.  GO ON....
To see the previous post, click HERE.

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