OF A SUPER POWER
As far as the Big History of Cartoons goes, we owe to early sixties Stan Lee’s fertile imagination the relevant epiphany that would radically transform the evolution of one of the main genres of the medium: the creation of the fallible and humanized superhero, tormented by the great power that, for sure, always implies a great responsibility, and which found its most perfect incarnation on the dual Peter Parker/Spiderman character. The superhero as an amplified mirror image of the fragility, insecurities and mutations of the teenage body. Let’s undertake a re-writing of this history, though: two years before Spiderman hung from a spider web for the first time, Peyo, the father of such legendary characters as the Smurfs and Johan et Pirluit, created one of his most charismatic creatures, Benedict Ironbreaker. A tiny kid wearing a beret, blue scarf, red jacket and shorts, Benedict, born on the pages of Spirou in December 1960, was the French-Belgian cartoonist’s picturesque response to a super heroic mythology, represented by the foundational figure of Superman, that he found particularly fastidious due to its mechanistic and predictable rhetoric of infallibility.
Little Benedict has astounding force, but cannot control it. His Achilles’ heel is not kryptonite, but the much more prosaic colds he catches while going up and down modest Vivejoie-la-Grande, the village where he lives. The vignette illustrating these lines belongs to the fourth page of his first adventure, The Red Taxis, edited back then by Argos Vergara –translated by future script-writer and director Joan Potau– and recently reprinted by Dolmen on the first volume of the collected works devoted to the character, with a no less remarkable translation by Alfons Moliné. The three first pages of this story are a series of gags around the incapacity of the character to control his enigmatic power: Benedict destroys several pieces of crockery, jolts a wardrobe door, breaks a broom, bursts a ball and breaks a hole on a wall, all with a clumsiness that reminds us very much of Tati’s… until we get to this magnificent vertical cartoon and we see him successfully achieving his first super heroic mission: recovering the balloon a little girl has lost. On this vignette, Peyo synthesizes the happiness of the mini hero, who, at last, has managed to take control of his force. Pay attention to the lovely design of the trees, done by Will, the author in charge of drawing the backgrounds to help the then super busy Peyo with his tasks. And let’s leave this question up in the air: did Stan Lee read Peyo’s cartoons?