Find out why Mark Millar's comic book Wanted really should have had singing mice and a pumpkin coach.
Cinderella is an uber-girlie movie (I am using the movie, primarily in this comparison.) aimed at preteen girls. Wanted is Mark Millar's violent and cynical comic book aimed at adult men. Although the atmosphere of each is different, the two stories' structures, caveats, and appeals to their audience are incredibly similar. Is a glass slipper and a pumpkin coach all Wanted needs? You be the judge.
Both stories are initiated by loss. Wesley, the hero of Wanted, and Cinderella both lose a loving father. Not only that, but they lose the protection and the inheritance they should have had from that father. Cinderella's father, in story and in the movie, was wealthy and loving. With him gone, at the time the story was set, she's powerless. Wesley's a man in the modern era, but the power he has is taken away from him by his upbringing.
Cinderella might have done fine on her own – she was a rich orphan of noble birth after all. Her stepmother stood in her way, abusing her and reducing her to an unpaid servant. Her stepsisters joined in the abuse. Wesley's mother loved him, but she took away his power by raising him as a pacifist. That's not a dangerous way of life in the real world. In the world of Wanted, in which no one has any morals and most people are outright sadistic, preaching pacifism is almost abuse. Wesley's mother doesn't actually torment him, but his girlfriend, best friend, boss, and random passersby do.
Suddenly, into these semi-realistic worlds comes a magical figure.
In Cinderella it's the fairy godmother.
In Wanted it's Fox.
Both basically ‘gift' the heroes with a new life. In Cinderella it's about dresses and shoes and in Wanted it's more about shooting and raping, but the result is the same. They're powerful. They're admired. They can do things they've always wanted to do. They can reclaim what was taken from them when their fathers died.
And in the end; they both get the guy. Wanted and Cinderella are for different genders, but for both, it's about meeting and making a connection with Mister Right. For Cinderella it's the Prince. For Wesley, it's his father. Both offer the only real love that we see in either story. Both also offer untold power, money, and freedom. It's that reconnection and the fantasy of wealth and power that comes with it, which forms the emotional arc of both stories.
Both stories make it clear that that arc isn't for everyone, though.
Not everyone can be Wesley or Cinderella. While Wanted is more explicit about that, with Wesley deriding readers for their pathetic ordinary lives, both stories are pretty up front about being pro-monarchy. Cinderella was the daughter of a rich nobleman. Wesley was the son of a rich supervillain. Both inherited their positions. Cinderella could be stripped of her father's riches by her poor and ignoble stepfamily, but she still had grace, beauty, charm, a beautiful singing voice, and small feet. (In fact, the scene of stepsisters embarrassingly trying to squeeze into the glass slipper is almost as blatant a slam against ordinary folks as the ending of Wanted.) She was born to be in a position of power. Other women were not.
Wesley was a pacifist vegetarian office worker, and the moment he picked up a gun he could shoot flies out of the air. He was trained for months after that to be a perfect supervillain, but for most people a few months of intensive training leads to being anywhere between a talented amateur and very good at what we're trained to do. Wesley was the best in the world, and it was made clear that that was because of the traits he had when he was born.
No one in either audience was blessed with the genetics that either of these protagonists have. That's made clear. Yet the stories are meant to appeal to the audience, and do. Why?
They both play a double game. Yeah, people can never be Cinderella. But they can work tirelessly and uncomplainingly, stay kind and upbeat even when things are going badly for them, and get a feeling of superiority when they think about how special their good nature makes them. People can't be Wesley, badass extraordinaire and newly-crowned king of the world. But they can tell themselves that empathy and pacifism is for chumps, the violent and sadistic will always win out over the good-hearted, and the best way to get ahead is naked aggression. And they can think about how much smarter and more worldly-wise that makes them than anyone else. Cinderella plays to the way we sometimes like to feel saintly and kind. Wanted plays to our free-floating anger and resentment.
Both offer that much-beloved escapist fantasy; that we're going to magically get every petty little thing we want in life because we deserve it. It was taken from us, and it should be returned. And any moment now – when someone shoots a lot of people or sings Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo – it will be.