A superhero must, by definition, be virtually ageless and immortal, capable of rising from the grave even after being killed (or, for that matter, canceled). Not only are superheroes unable to die, but they also can not retire, quit, or decide to radically change themselves in any fashion (be it their costume, general appearance, or disposition). Superheroes must remain, to a large and significant measure, forever static. Sure, as readily Fingeroth acknowledges, some “permanent” changes do seem to have occurred in popular superhero narratives over the years. Superman and Lois Lane have gotten married, as have Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, and Dick Grayson has retired from being Robin. But these changes, as Fingeroth claims, “are merely the illusion of change . . . they could be classified as actual changes, but they are the exception rather than the rule” (34). Indeed, every dramatic change in most every superhero narrative is eventually undone-even Captain America’s long dead former sidekick Bucky Barnes has recently returned from the dead (at least seemingly), as has Jason Todd, the second, and infamously murdered, Robin. Superman has also died and returned; Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) has turned evil, committed genocide, died, been resurrected, redeemed and returned to his original status quo (though it took the better part of ten years for all of that to happen); Spider-Man has retired, been replaced by a clone of himself, and then returned as if nothing significant had actually occurred; the list goes on and on. And someday, certainly, Superman and Lois will no longer be married and Spider-Man will once again be single. That’s simply the way comic book superheroes work—nothing is ever permanent. In superhero stories, everything is possible while nothing is possibly permanent.

Fingeroth argues that the nature of a great story involves, at least in a traditional respect, “characters com[ing] into conflict-physical and psychic-and through dealing with that conflict grow and change. Ishmael is a different character at the conclusion of Moby-Dick from what he was at the beginning. Tom Joad is a different character at the beginning of The Grapes of Wrath from what he is at the ending” (34). But can it be said that superheroes change and develop in any significant way over the course of their narratives? Can superheroes actually grow and mature? No, not really, Fingeroth claims, for such would involve closure and some measure of significant transition, and after all, “too many real people’s dreams… too many real people’s incomes … depend on the heroes staying evergreen” (36).

...Still, Frank Miller’s decidedly deconstructive visions of Batman has had a tremendous influence on both Tim Burton’s Batman films and Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman Begins, undoubtedly the versions of the Batman character that the public is now most familiar with. In this respect, can it not be said superheroes can and do, in fact, change, despite Fingeroth’s suggestions to the contrary? After all, the Batman featured in Batman Begins bears hardly any resemblance to the Batman seen in the TV show in the ’60s. Moreover, the Batman that first appeared in the late 30s (with a gun attached to his hip no less), bears only a passing resemblance to the Batman found in current comics continuity. Changes do occur for superheroes, but on a wider social and cultural scale than Fingeroth considers. He suggests, interestingly, that this deconstructive movement actually began in the early 60s with Stan Lee’s books at Marvel Comics, after which “it became de rigeur for characters to question their reasons for existing” (156). In that respect, the self-consciousness and anxieties of such early 60s Marvel characters as Spider-Man, The Hulk, and the X-men can be seen as having ushered in an entirely new breed of superheroes that were quite unlike the virtually infallible and all-powerful superheroes that had come before, a breed of superhero that served to completely shift the superhero paradigm and the manner in which the public perceived and incorporated them.

At our first meeting, I played about 20 brief sound samples for Horner and we discussed their suitability for our purposes. Over the next few weeks, I brought him approximately 250 additional samples. He is quite well versed in non-Western music, so I had to dig deep to find “new sounds” for him. The samples I chose ranged from ten seconds to a minute long. They came from cultures all around the world, illustrating different musical devices, vocal and instrumental timbres, vocal performance techniques and textures, extended instrumental techniques, and song structures. In some cases, the samples were from relatively well known cultures such as India or Sweden. But I also delved into field recordings and the repertoires of lesser known minority cultures...

Horner then met with Jim Cameron for his input on our musical ideas. Cameron is a very hands-on director and wants to be kept in the loop about all major decisions. Most of the ideas we presented were dismissed by Cameron out of hand, rejected with appropriately blue language as either too recognizable (“Oh, that’s Bulgarian”) or just “too fucking weird!” Half a dozen examples were approved as possibilities. Our next step was to begin creating alien music that was informed by the timbres, structures, textures, and styles of those samples. In today’s world, there are few musical cultures that have not been heard by outsiders. Musically uneducated ears can now readily identify Bulgarian singing or Indonesian gamelan. Faced with this increasing awareness of global cultures, we realized that no one musical culture would work. Instead, we created a library of musical elements and performance techniques that would eventually be melded into a global mash-up, fusing musical elements from the numerous world cultures we had explored into one hybrid Na’vi style. Combining unrelated musical elements could evoke the “otherness” of the Na’vi without bringing to mind any specific Earth culture, time period or geographical location.

“Extremely radical departures in musical style risk alienating audiences” (Hayward 2000:25). Similarly, Horner noted: “I couldn't go off into some weird world and present a whole new scale system or a whole new theme system; I had to try to glue everything together... No matter how dense it is on the screen or how alien it might be, there is a thread in the music that keeps it grounded for the audience so they know what is going on and how to feel” (Boucher 2009a)...

In January 2009, Horner emailed me: “[Cameron] rejected most of [our demo recordings] saying one thing sounded like something from Japan, another from China, another was too weird, etc., etc.” (Horner 2009a) ...Eventually, Horner realized the musical culture of the Na’vi using what Cooke calls a “generalized timbral exoticism” (Cooke 2008:505) inspired by the sound samples I presented and the demo recordings we made. Hayward notes that, often, “alienness and otherworldliness are expressed through selective ‘othering’ of cultural conventions” (Hayward 2000:25). Avatar’s final score evokes that otherness.

"Had I been more avant-garde in my musical choices, I believe I would have pushed the audience further away from an emotional centre. . . . I chose beauty, heart, and emotion over trying to radically expand the audience’s musical capacities” (Horner 2009e). “Audiences seem to be much more capable of absorbing new visuals and things that are much more outrageous or avant garde [sic] visually – aurally, audiences are much more conservative,” Horner says. “If I went as far as Jim [Cameron] did visually, and started to use all kinds of weird scales for the music and made it too avant garde [sic] or too out-of-the-box, I would be ungrounding the film. . . . Obviously I’m still writing film music, so it still has to appeal to a film audience in a conventional way” (Horner 2009c).