This American Life

Built around the innovative vision of Ira Glass, this program documents and describes contemporary America. Using radio monologues, mini-documentaries, “found tape,” and unusual music, it is radio storytelling at its best.


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Friday, May 8, 2015 Permalink

Superpowers 2013


This is an updated version of a classic episode, featuring a new story from Snap Judgment

We answer the following questions about superpowers: Can superheroes be real people? (No.) Can real people become superheroes? (Maybe.) And which is better: flight or invisibility? (Depends who you ask.)

Chris ware's comic mentioned in the episode is here.

Prologue: Host Ira Glass talks to comic artist Chris Ware, who thought about superheroes a lot of the time as a kid. In grade school, Chris drew superheroes, he invented his own character named The Hurricane (not to be confused with Reuben Carter), and he made a superhero costume. Sometimes he wore parts of the costume to school under his regular clothes, which went fine until he realized he would have to change clothes for gym class. Click below to see the comic Chris made about this story. His book, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, is also inhabited by a "superhero" of sorts.

ACT 1: John Hodgman conducts an informal survey in which he asks the age-old question: Which is better: The power of flight or the power of invisibility? He finds that how you answer tells a lot about what kind of person you are. And also, no matter which power people choose, they never use it to fight crime. 

ACT 2: Kelly McEvers with the story of Zora, a self-made superhero. From the time she was five, Zora had recurring dreams in which she was a 6'5" warrior queen who could fly and shoot lightning from her hands. She made a list of all the skills she would need to master if she wanted to actually become the superhero she dreamed of being. Sample items: Martial arts, evasive driving and bomb defusion. She actually checked off most things on the list...and then had a run-in with the CIA.

ACT 3: Ira talks with Jonathan Morris, the amazingly funny and charming editor of the website Gone and Forgotten, an Internet archive of failed comic book characters. Jonathan explains what makes a new superhero succeed, and what makes him tank. 

ACT 4: Of course you can’t be a superhero without a supervillain trying to destroy you. And the most interesting supervillains, of course, are the ones who think that they're the real heroes, not the guys in the capes. Glynn Washington tells the story of Evil D. This was first heard on Snap Judgment.