A few days ago I used Popeye as the basis for a discussion about myself in that I am what I am. It made me think about Popeye and why I used him.
I enjoy super heros. We all do. Say what you will, I know you have a favorite super hero. It may not be a popular one like Superman or Batman, or even Jesus, and yes Jesus is a basically a super hero character. Your favorite might be more arcane, like Spawn or Zena or the Powderpuff Girls or Samurai Jack or Rorschach, or any of a host of other larger than life characters. But we all have a favorite super hero.
I have a bunch of super heros that I enjoy. But there is something a bit unique about Popeye. Superman has an interesting uniqueness pointed out in the movie “Kill Bill.” Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and others many others wear their disguises to become a super hero. They are normal people who, at the donning of a mask become a super hero. Superman, however, is Superman. He wears his mask to become a normal person.
Some super heros are a bit like Popeye, in that they are what they are. The Powderpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Spawn, and a host of others are always what they are. They do not disguise themselves at all. They make no attempt to hide. They are what they are.
Popeye is much like this group, after all, he is what he is. But there is still a different quality about the Popeye character. Most super heroes save the world, or they protect freedom or justice, or the save their country or city or town. They battle masterminds and criminals to give balance to law and order.
Popeye, however, rarely battles real criminals. Only in a few old Fleischer Brothers cartoons did Popeye battle the Nazis. Popeye generally does not save the town or the country. He generally does not battle mastermind criminals or evil villains. For the most part, Popeye battles Bluto, a simple bully. His major enemies are the twists and turns that pop up in everyday life. He fights to keep a date with Olive Oil, and keeping bully Bluto from messing up the date. He has to coral his young nephews into bed, or keep his house from falling apart. At some point, he pulls out his trusty can of spinach and pops the ropes that Bluto has tied him up with, or quickly lays the bricks that his home needs, or gets the pesky youngsters tucked in bed.
In short, Popeye battles everyday life and love. He is like me, or I am like him. He is like you, or you are like him. We do not fight criminals. We do not risk ourselves to protect the country or our town. We fight to get our lives in order and keep things straight and win love. In so many ways we are all Popeye, and that may make him the most real of all super heroes.