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Superheroes are a cornerstone of the comics medium. To the mainstream, they may as well be the same thing. Over their 75 or so years of existence, the concept and execution of super people has changed a dozen times over. Today, while it’s fair to say that there’s an undeniable self-deprecating tone to the super-landscape, on the whole most comic fans take our superheroes very seriously.
We revere these characters. We put their mythos on pedestals. We incorporate them into our personal identity. I’ve seen people get teary-eyed over Batman. I know people with superhero iconography tattooed onto their skin. These characters have a huge following.
Should they? Is there a case for giving these characters such a large amount of credit?
At their core, most superheroes are goofy. Their powers often make little sense (Flash’s Magic Speed, Green Lantern’s Do-Anything Ring, Hulk’s Inexplicable Shape-Changing, and on and on and on) and their origins are often irrational and dream-like. Superheroes began as children’s fiction and the presence of the mindset lingers to this day.
Powers and origins are ancillary; it’s really about the stories, isn’t it? Most of the stories of silly too. The idea of a rogue’s gallery is nearly laughable. No one would allow that to persist–no one sane, that is–and would be a much bigger deal to anyone on the actual law-side. It’s not like that’s even important as, in the end, most superhero story arcs, even the most highly revered ones, boil down to over-the-top soap opera plots.
When seriously looking at supers, it becomes apparent that they’re fascist characters. It’s never really mentioned, for obvious reasons, but the fact is undeniable. They work unilaterally, free of commonly-agreed-upon laws, in a super authoritarian manner. They literally beat violators into submission.
Of course the lines get blurred a bunch when these characters are fighting alien gods and genocidal madmen instead of street crime, but the core principal remains the same. The idea is that we should put total trust into these powerful figures, and that they should be given the power to act however they see fit, whenever they see fit. Even stories that deal with this issue can’t really seem to solve it. More often than not it comes down to the characters being proven right and everything just kind of going “well it has worked out so far, I guess!”
Is this a good message to put out there? I’m not saying Spider-Man is authoritarian fascist propaganda, but all those stories add up. Look at Nolan’s The Dark Knight, you can still find people who wonder why Batman allows the cell phone imaging… sonar… thing to be destroyed. It would have helped him so much! Invasion of what now?
Grant Morrison rants aside, it seems that the darker and more violent the story is, the more “adult” or “mature” it’s considered. Things are changing, of course; we’re seeing more and more variety of superhero stories. Still, the trend remains. I’m not anti-fictional violence by any means, it’s fun, but, c’mon, it’s not something to use for merit.
So why do superheroes so widely and deeply affect us? For starters, I think people just find them fun. Plus, they speak to people. Even in inherently goofy world of power fantasies, there’s a subtext that resonates to people. It’s similar to most myths.
Should they be taken seriously, though? I don’t know. Let me know what you think in the comments below.