Q&A #70: What historical era would you make even more awesome by adding superheroes?

In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments:

What historical era would you make even more awesome by adding superheroes?



Anika

So, it is widely accepted that the first appearance of a “masked vigilante” (aka superhero) in fiction is The Scarlet Pimpernel. And golly, if any time and place in history is just begging for superheroes it’s late eighteenth century France. The French Revolution was insane and its history is over-populated with colorful characters from the royalty to the radicals to the guillotine itself. Paris in the years before, during, and after the Revolution is the stuff of legends — it is high romance and melodrama that is made only more fraught by its reality: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Baroness Emma Orczy knew in 1903 the only thing that could make the French Revolution more awesome (in all senses of the word) than it already is, is superheroes.

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel exists in his stories already — but imagine if it were akin to the Justice League. Imagine idealistic people’s champions named Bastille and Versailles… a charismatic young trio called Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité… the terrifying Guillotine, is he on anyone’s side but his own?

And of course: IMAGINE THE UNIFORMS!



Caroline

It’s not a big secret that I have a thing for ancient Romans. Partly because of Shakespeare, partly because of the history I studied in college, and partly because of costume dramas involving a lot of good-looking Englishmen.

But seriously. Look at the power struggles of the late Roman Republic and the early empire, and you just know these guys (Julius Caesar, Pompey,Octavian, Mark Antony) would be building giant mecha robot suits to fight each other with, given half a chance.

And Cleopatra would have been a great telepath, and probably a telekinetic to boot. In fact there’s no solid evidence I can dig up that she wasn’t a host for the Phoenix Force.



Jennifer

I’ve probably said this somewhere before, on the public internet record, but I’ll say it again: I’d love to see a fusion of the Founding Fathers and Marvel characters. It all stems from my realization that Hank McCoy, an incredibly literate scientist and eminently quotable wit, is essentially a blue, furry version of Benjamin Franklin, complete with inexplicable popularity with the ladies. Then there’s short, foul-tempered, but well-respected John Adams, a Revolution-era Wolverine. And how about universally-beloved leader figure George Washington, the original Captain America, who liked to team up in battle with a precocious military orphan? (Yes, I did just make the Marquis de Lafayette Bucky Barnes.)

The era is simply screaming for a superpowered AU, and whether it featured Marvel characters in place of the American icons or simply showed those icons fighting with the powers and skills of their superheroic spiritual descendents, I know I’d read it.



Sigrid

This question is my fault, because I’m on this big kick of reading a ton of history. I just finished Other Powers: the Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith. And I can’t help thinking how the great scandals of Victorian America would have gone if they’d been occupied by the cast of Gotham City and its affiliates.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is obviously Dinah Lance, which makes her ineffectual and sabotaging husband Ollie Queen. And makes Susan B. Anthony Barbara Gordon, obviously. Henry Ward Beecher is clearly Bruce Wayne, who I intensely dislike. Theodore Tilton, the protege-now-estranged, is Dick Grayson. The analogy breaks down a bit, here, because Lib Tilton was loved and pursued by both Beecher and Tilton, and I don’t think there’s anyone Dick and Bruce both tried to date. I could be wrong, though!

My point, buried somewhere in all of this, is that the intensely intermeshed and emotional relationships of the Bat-family haven’t got a chance of competing with the entangled drama of the suffrage and spiritualist movements. And that drama could only be made even more awesome by the presence of superpowers. I mean, Victoria Woodhull is clearly Poison Ivy, and her sister Tennessee Claflin is manifestly Harley Quinn. Victoria was said to ensnare audiences with the power of her speech, she was said to entice men into sin by words alone. Who’s to say what she could have done with a little help from Ivy’s pet plants?


What historical era would you make even more awesome by adding superheroes?

  • Caroline

    I read all of these and say, “Well *of course*.”

  • Anika

    I want to know why the ancient-roman-mecha-anime doesn’t exist already. It seems so obvious now!

    I would read or watch any of these and enjoy them immensely.

  • Caroline

    I know I’ve seen steampunk alternate history with Roman settings but just nothing quite on the SCALE of Caesar and Pompey armoring up and beating the crap out of each other. Which is a shame!

  • Dan

    These are all awesome ideas and, except for Caroline’s suggestion (which really should have occurred to me before today), I’ve probably turned each one of them over in my mind on more than one occasion.

    I think superheroes during the Napoleonic Wars could be interesting–if the Brits could have wizards working for them, why not superheroes?

    Or, would the English long bowmen be any match for French superheroes during the Hundred Years’ War? Probably not.

    Also, I haven’t totally abandoned my Austen heroines-as-spies idea. Georgian era mysterywomen anyone?

  • FaveCarr

    Favorite post on the internet this week? Quite possibly. I’d love to see Hank MCCoy hanging out during the French Revultion. And orracle as lounge singing flapper from the roaring twenties.

  • daveCarr

    I cannot even spell my own name

  • Wally East

    I love all of the ideas presented.

    A team of costumed heroes that went wherever they were needed most in the British Empire to help the locals rise up and throw the English out. They’d be in Ireland in the 1850s (or, hopefully, long before that). India. The US and Canada. Africa. Would they ally themselves with criminals in Australia?

  • Caroline

    @Dan I’m not sure I had an “idea” so much as I had an “excuse to Google ‘James Purefoy Rome’ and see what pictures came up.” But glad you enjoyed.

    Again I love everybody’s suggestions.

  • I’ll have to agree with Jennifer on this one. I would love to see superheroes emerge during the Revolutionary War. My second choice would be during the Japanese feudal era.

  • Ahahaha!! Beast IS just like Ben Franklin!!! Now that you’ve said it, it is blowing up my mind! You are ABSOLUTELY spot on! This moment may have just changed my life and perception of Hank McCoy for all time.

    Caroline beat me to Rome, but I’m going to cheat a little bit and say I would add Superheroes to Mycenaean/Homeric Greece and same-era Egypt. I mean, they kind of already had them embedded in the culture–Achilles, Hercules, Theseus, Perseus, Hector! I say, make ’em real, and let them have their heads!

    (This post might be brought to you by the fact that I am absolutely and completely in love with Theseus already, so if he were a superhero it would just be the icing on the cake.)

    You guys have the best questions on your blog!

  • @Dave Well, you’re MY “Fave” Carr. 😛

    I love all of the ideas posted here, both in the original post and in the comments. Why aren’t comics like this written more often?

  • JennyN

    Jennifer – So does that make Paul Revere Iron Man?

  • Menshevik

    Well, since quite a few superhero stories like to rework various conspiracy theories in their plots, the second half of the 18th century, about which conspiracy theories abound (frequently connected with the then-thriving secret and semi-secret societies like the Freemasons, Illuminati, Rosecrucians, the Sons of Liberty etc., but also with the genuine conspiracies of the era) is a natural. I just had a thought – Mozart and Schikaneder alias Wolferl and Bird-Man; court composer and stage entrepreneur at day (and the evening), crime-fighters by night!
    This reminds me that as a kid I rather enjoyed the b/w French TV series “Les compagnons de Jéhu” (1966), which was about a group of French royalists who wore white masks and fought the forces of the First Consul Bonaparte with great derring-do, swashing of bucklers and cunning disguises in 1799. I’d say it sounds a bit like something inspired by “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, only it is based on an 1857 novel by Alexandre Dumas and Dumas used the name of some actual counter-revolutionary armed groups.
    It could be interesting if someone used this scenario, although I would hope it would not be a simple case of good vs. evil and one would not gloss over that George Washington aka Captain America in real life was a slave-owner. I am a bit mystified about John Adams as Wolverine, but then I have wondered if maybe the Wolverine we know and love may not be descended from people forced to emigrate from the United States (some of his white ancestors could have been Loyalists, and IIRC he is part Native American, so some of his ancestors on that side could also have fled north in the 18th or 19th century). Also, since we are talking Marvel characters here, we just know the Hellfire Club will be involved prominently…

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