Once upon a time, a young Sammy J fished a randomly-issued comic book from the tooth-rotting contents of a Royal Melbourne Show showbag. He wasn’t to know it back then, but at that precise moment, a terrific Melbourne Fringe Festival show was born. Intriguing, touching and hilarious, Hero Complex concerns Sammy J’s childhood infatuation with all things The Phantom, a famous purple-clad comic book hero, and the absurd-yet-honest chain of events that ensued.
Expectedly, an eyebrow-raising audit of Sammy J’s all-in obsession with “The Man Who Cannot Die” features early on, tracing archived photos, footage, newspaper articles and diary excerpts. An amusing crash course in all things Phantom, set to music, quickly emerges a highlight. A meticulous collector, Sammy J’s gleeful fandom is immediately infectious. Hero Complex will likely hook anyone who’s experienced their own fiction-rich childhood, or indeed anyone who has ever stuck fast to an unpopular fad in their formative years. You don’t have to be, specifically, a comic book nerd to get this show – it’s the passion that’s important.
But Hero Complex has more still to offer. Its relatability reels you in, then its story leaves you gasping. The show evolves beyond a simple love letter to a comic book hero rather spectacularly, the real-life tale that soon assumes the focus boasting twists and turns aplenty. In an effort to preserve each surprise, it’s difficult to document the show in much greater detail. Suffice to say, Hero Complex is a pretty personal offering from Sammy J, revolving around a bizarre and brilliant chain of events, his childhood hero at the heart of everything.
While a good story is one thing – and this one is an absolute cracker – it’s nothing without an exceptional storyteller. Best known for his collaborations with purple-felt-friend Randy, the especially charismatic Sammy J is perfectly capable flying solo. He spins a yarn with such precise comedic timing and commands the room with ease – whether it’s indulging in bouts of self-deprecation, lamenting the various dorky behaviours of his younger self, or examining a cryptic clue happened upon at a comedy festival show once upon a time. It all seems to come so naturally – which is no huge surprise, given the personal nature of Hero Complex. This show is striking as a labour of love and it’s this that likely permits some incredibly precise details, too, such as the lighting – a shade of purple, emulating the tones of Sammy J’s idolised comic book hero. It’s very minor, but it’s these touches that speak to what makes the show great.
Hero Complex only gets better and better as it unfolds, ultimately gifting the audience with a hilarious and unforgettable tale. The only mystery remaining is how Sammy J managed to sit on it until now. Whatever the case, he’s hatched a winner, Hero Complex an outstanding, must-see show.
BY NICK MASON