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A Superhero for Size Activists?

May 5, 2014

I recently attended two Popular Culture Association (PCA) conferences. One was the regional conference in Albuquerque, where I filled in as the Chair for the Fat Studies track, while the other was the The Dursleysnational conference in Chicago. At both conferences I presented to audiences about fat activist literature and the importance of infiltrating popular culture with fat positive prose and poetry. One of the points I stressed was how vital it is to remember children and young adult audiences in order to help developing minds realize that people of all sizes deserve to be respected and honored for their abilities and contributions to society. If you think about some of the fat characters in children’s books over the years, you will find that the norm is assigning them negative character traits. For example,
Piggy in Lord of the Flies, Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and most recently Dudley from the Harry Potter series. All three of these main characters are written as flawed boys and their flaws are directly related to their body size. They are all either bullied or bullies with few redeeming mannerisms or reasons for child readers to admire them.

The PCA Conference is a huge event and its scope is enormous. It covers not just literature, but television, film, body art, cartoons and anything else you can think of that would fall under the massive umbrella of what is considered popular in our culture. In between tours of film sets for Breaking Bad, are sessions about contemporary music, advertising, and more. So although I spent most of my time attending everything that was in the Fat Studies niche, I tried to bop around a bit to some of the other sessions. One thing I found was the area of superheroes.

When I was growing up, you were either a DC or a Marvel fan. Little crossover was tolerated, and you could identify people based on whether or not they were Batman or Superman devotees. As a girl, I was more drawn to the Archie comics and took a secret guilty pleasure in the occasional “romance” comic. As a fatter kid, however, I was painfully aware that there were no chubby or fat girls in the comics I read, unless they were the unpopular girls or the ones destined for an extreme makeover, which then landed them in the coveted world of boys, proms, and romance. I learned early on that if I was going to have any kind of a “life” in high school and beyond, I would have to be thin and long-legged… and with my 5’1″ stature, both were unachievable.

Superhero comics were no better. All of the men were sculpted and buff, while all the women were bombshells with “perfect” bodies — huge boobs and thin, small, everything else. So imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a superhero whose superpower was getting big, fat, and round!

Meet Bouncing Boy! First appearing in DC Action Comics #276 May 1, 1961, Bouncing Boy received his powers when he accidentally drank a super plastic formula which he thought was soda pop. Okay… that’s a bit negative… fat kid is too stupid to know what he was drinking and, of course, he was drinking a sugar-laden, obesity-causing beverage… but then again, didn’t Spiderman accidentally get exposed to something as well? Anyway, according to Wikipedia:

Bouncing Boy!

Bouncing Boy!

Bouncing Boy has the ability to expand his body to form that of a spherical ball of sorts. In his normal form, he is overweight to a medium degree, but when he “inflates” his overall dimensions increase to resemble that of a human sized ball. allowing him to bounce with great force. Originally thought of as a useless power by his Legionnaire peers, he has adeptly demonstrated many times how he can use his body’s shape and rubber-like consistency as an effective ballistic weapon. His “go-to” move is to use surrounding walls to ricochet back and forth and bowling over his opponents as he does. Normally, an inanimate rubber ball will slowly lose its kinetic force due to friction, gravity and bouncing off surrounding objects or walls, but Bouncing Boy can use his own muscles to maintain his velocity and power as he bounces about. His power also allows him a limited degree of invulnerability since bouncing off walls and nearby objects have yet to injure him as they would a normal human. He is also invulnerable to electric shock while in his inflated state.

Who knew????

Bouncing Boy is described by Comic Vine as “30th century hero Bouncing Boy is the Legionnaire with the heart of gold and girth of a basketball. His sole power is the ability to inflate and bounce with amazing agility and resistance.”

Heart of gold and girth of a basketball … amazing agility … resistance … no negative fat comments anywhere in sight! I love that!

His transformation is described in the following citation from Comic Vine:

Bouncing Boy's Transformation

Bouncing Boy’s Transformation

While working for a scientist on 30th Century Earth, Chuck Taine accidentally drank an experimental super-plastic fluid while watching a sports event. The fluid drastically altered his body, giving him the power to inflate into a spongy round shape that could bounce and ricochet without harm. Accidental interfering with the event, he quickly made his exit and decided to try out for the Legion of Super-Heroes.

But even Bouncing Boy didn’t have it easy.

Chuck Taine tried out twice for the team and was rejected both times. After defeating an electrical villain because he wasn’t grounded (no I am not making this up!), Chuck changed his name to Bouncing Boy and began to save the world from evil alongside the other Super Svelte Heroes!

But before we get too stoked about having our own super hero, in the spirit of full disclosure, the writers couldn’t resist perpetuating one of the less offensive fatty stereotypes (but a stereotype nonetheless): that of the jolly fat guy.

His good humor and charming personality eventually led him to proclaiming himself Legion “Morale Officer.”

Sigh … well, that’s a hell of a lot better than having him become a superhero and using his fat body to spread evil and infect children with the dreaded disease of obesity! In fact, I have a feeling that if this comic were written today, he would most likely be a villain and vanquished by a special task force of DC and Marvel superheroes uniting to fight against the scourge of the fat epidemic. But for now we are safe from that scenario and from many other electrical evils that surround us and threaten our health, happiness, and The American Way.

So join me as I raise my flag and say, “I salute you Bouncing Boy!”

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Twistie permalink
    May 5, 2014 11:29 am

    Cool! I didn’t know about Bouncing Boy.

    BTW, have you ever heard about Herbie? That was another superhero comic about a fat guy.

    Herbie sucked special lollypops to gain his powers of traveling through time and space to defeat baddies. His best weapon was the fact that literally EVERYONE in history knew and loved his surly self. He’d go back in time and Abraham Lincoln or George Washington or Napoleon would wave and say ‘hi’ to Herbie.

    Herbie rarely spoke more than two or three words in a row and always looked kind of grumpy. he wore what looked like longjohns with a blanket cape and a mask (IIRC), when out superheroing. He was a lone wolf, but much beloved, as I said before, by EVERYONE in history. They were always glad to help him out.

    Mr. Twistie has long dreamed of coming up with enough money to make a Herbie movie.

    • May 5, 2014 11:37 am

      Wow! No, I never heard of Herbie! What year was he created?

      • Twistie permalink
        May 5, 2014 11:42 am

        I’m afraid I don’t know. I’ll see if I can find that out today and get back to you.

        • Twistie permalink
          May 5, 2014 11:56 am

          Okay, I did a little searching and apparently Herbie was only a superhero half of the time from issue #8 in which he christened himself The Fat Fury. This was in 1965. But his comic ran from 1964 – 1967, when the company that published it (American Comics Group) folded. He also appears in several issues of Forbidden Worlds.

          The lollipops allowed him to: fly, talk to animals, become invisible, and travel through time… and were handy for threatening to ‘bop’ people. As it turns out, said lollipops (and the powers that went with them) were featured throughout the series.

          Oh, and I forgot that his superhero costume included a plunger on his head.

          Seriously, if you can find one, read it. Herbie is made of awesome.

  2. Dizzyd permalink
    May 5, 2014 7:08 pm

    I checked with my husband about Bouncing Boy and he was part of the Legion of Super Heroes (DC). Yeah, that’s pretty awesome to have a fat character who’s a superhero instead of a superblight on society’s otherwise perfect perfection (sarcasm). Another character who’s a superhero of sorts that I’ve seen recently was a character on a Cartoon Network show called “Steven Universe”. The main character and another character were both fat and happy to be that way (and never got told to diet). The premise was that the boy Steven and his three female friends were holders of sacred gems that allowed them to access powerful energy weapons and keep the universe safe from alien invaders. (Well, he was only half through his mom who was a Gem – that’s what they called them, his dad was human). The other character was Amethyst, and although she was a bit sloppy and a chowhound, she was an integral part of the team, AND had a way cool energy whip! The cool thing about her was even in fanart, she was depicted as fat (except for one or two here and there that would try to portray her as skinny – I HATE when they take strong positive fat characters in shows and try to make them more socially acceptable by putting them on a diet and making them svelte – happens all the time in fanart and fanfiction). One more beef before I go, the library I go to has now put you guys as a website that you can’t access except through my email, they blocked it with SafeSearch! Yeah, right. They did that with Fat!So?, yet they will allow other things through that WOULD be considered adult content with no problem. Could it be a subtle way of trying to silence the FA community? Has anyone else had this problem with their library suddenly going all Porn Police only to block sites that promote Fat Acceptance? Cuz if so, I see a REAL problem looming!

  3. May 5, 2014 8:05 pm

    Hi DizzyD, thanks for letting me know about the Steven Universe! I also hate when they take positive fat characters and try to make them socially acceptable by putting them on diets! Re: the blocking, is there a language component as part of the decision making process? I only ask because we do use the other “f” word that isn’t FAT quite liberally here on FFF and the word asshole as well. I know I’ve been blocked and labeled as spam by IContact if I use the word kickass! I’m just curious about that?
    Thanks so much for commenting!

  4. May 5, 2014 10:15 pm

    Total Legion Fan here. If you liked BB in the comics, see if any of the first season cartoon episodes are still on YouTube. Animated Chuck is great. Yes, when he first appears he’s doing the stereotypical eat-like-a-space-horse thing. However, he develops a real personality and kicks butt at the same time– as the season progresses. (In the second season, he and a lot of other good characters got unfairly sidelined, but he still appears from time to time.)

    • May 5, 2014 10:42 pm

      That’s so cool that you know that ms xeno!! Thanks for the info!!

    • May 6, 2014 9:22 am

      I totally remember Nancy and Sluggo Susan! And Nancy had no probs with body image from what I recall! She was also prepubescent. I can only hope she kept her body confidence as she headed into her teens with her adorable self!

  5. Happy Spider permalink
    May 6, 2014 2:59 pm

    Bouncing boy’s power is pretty silly, so the panache with which he uses it sets a good example, showing people not to be afraid of looking silly.

    Back when I read comics, I liked Volstagg the Voluminous from Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. However, he wouldn’t do as a fat superhero role model because he’s older. Simonson’s concept is that although Volstagg hangs out with the warriors in their prime– Thor, Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim– his glory days as a fighter are in the past. “Not as glorious” is not the same as “useless” so he still has his moments.

    Volstagg’s life seemed pretty good to me. The most typical image is him boisterously carousing, sitting at a feast table overflowing with food and drink and people, holding a huge mug in one hand and a turkey leg in the other, loudly telling a grandly exaggerated story of the adventures of him and his friends. A less typical but still common image is him waddling around in the daylight, surrounded by laughing gamboling children, one or two being held in Volstagg’s arms or climbing on his shoulders, while he declaims to them tales of glory. A third image is that of his fat, serene, and dignified wife looking fondly on at his grandly exagerated behavior. Sometimes the exagerated behavior is aimed at his wife (“The flower of Asgard! Jewel among women!”) and she just turns her nose up at him, but there’s always a receptive look in her eye that says she’s sort of pleased and that this conversation will be continued in private later.

    Simonson must have loved drawing Volstagg as over time he got fatter and fatter. Exagerated,space-filling, voluminous rolls of flesh. After many years of reading comics I was used to the way artists drew men with weirdly exaggerated and contorted musculature and the women similarly exagerated but with giant balloonish breasts, so it was sort of a revelation to see fatness exagerated instead. To have an artist get carried away with the aesthetics of flesh instead of muscles.

    Volstagg predated Simonson but before Simonson he was a joke,a fat coward who was always bragging about how great he was but then beng a coward in actual battle. My description of Volstagg above makes me think that Simonson must have keyed in on the “bragging” idea and started to develop Volstagg’s storytelling abilities more and more. Maybe he saw himself, a teller of stories, in Volstagg, and that’s what brought the love in.

    I don’t know what’s happened to Volstagg since. What with comics being all grim, they probably murdered his wife and stuck her in a refrigerator, causing him to turn his life to vengeance and to embark on a drastic warrior training routine and change his body type back to superhero standard.

    The other day I saw the first Thor movie from a few years back. I was thrilled to see the Warriors Three in it! They didn’t have much of a part, but there is one scene where Thor is tring to rally them to go on a foolhardy adventure and he says a few sentences to each in turn. That felt like a gift to the old-time comic book fans and I enjoyed it. Hollywood wimped out and made Volstagg much too thin. Granted, it’s reasonable to decide that he’s a warrior and should have muscles. It’s reasonable to show him to be charismatic, since I love Volstagg and want his overwhelming personality to come across as exciting instead make-your-ears-fall-off boring. Also you have to change a character’s looks when you put him in a movie because the exagerations of a stylized drawing would look weird in a live-action movie. But still, much too thin. Man, Hollywood really hates fat people.

    • Dr Deah Schwartz permalink
      May 6, 2014 4:14 pm

      As Pepe le Peu would say, “le sigh le sigh” Hollywood does indeed hate fat people. If only there was a logical reason for this perhaps a constructive dialog could take place that would explain it Ll. But alS, it is senseless, mindless bigotry, plain and simple! And that is reason enough for me to “accentuate the positive” and work hard to continue to, “eliminate the negative,” thanks for joining in the conversation Happy Spider!

      Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz


  6. May 6, 2014 4:18 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I always felt that Piggy was the hero of Lord of the Flies. He knew right from wrong. I cried when he was killed.
    On a happier note, I love Bouncing Boy! It’s too bad that he seems to have been lost to time. Thanks for bringing him back into the light!

  7. May 6, 2014 6:54 pm

    Piggy was a hero, no doubt! His death was tragic!

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