Monday, February 7, 2011

Being a Superhero Ain't Worth the Costume

As a folklorist (anthropology student + creative writing student = folklorist) I am intimately fascinated with the stories we as a species create, whether to fill the void in our hearts, share the joys of our lives, the fears in our stomach, or even the lust in our... loins.

Among the most interesting of these stories are those found in comic books. Something about the mixed-medium of animation and writing that fixates my ever-wandering mind like few things do.

Maybe my nickname should've been "Sparky", because I love comics as much as the next fanboy.

But while watching a random rerun of Spider-Man 2 (the one with Tobey Maguire as your friendly neighborhood actor who can't act!) I stumbled upon a most disconcerting thought...

After giving it some careful thought, I've realized that we as storytellers in America are reaaaally fucking mean to our heroes.

Call me a cynical-pessimist. Call me a negative Nancy. Call me anything (but don't call me Shirley).

Take Superman. The most powerful man in the world, able to leap tall buildings, stop bullets, fly, fire lasers from his eyes, etc & so on. He's saved the world more times and in more ways than are necessary to reiterate.

But what do we do to him, story after story?

Make him a stereotypical loser. Beat him up. Have him lose his job, get fired, suck at work even when he is rehired. We give him love problems -- his girlfriend falls in love with other guys, or he gets cheated on, or his relationships continually fail, or give him a love triangle, let his lover(s) betray him. We make the people hate him, fear him, lose respect or forget him. We make his commitment to saving others a handicap. We let his arch-nemeses constantly ruin his personal life

Basically, we never allow Superman to be happy.

And this goes on for year after year after year after year! Over half a goddamn century!

Same with Batman. Same with Wonder Woman. Same with Spider-Man.... Oh gawd, so the same with Spider-Man. He's one of the worst.

Spider-Man is basically a timid schmuck who constantly gets his personal life effed up -- his relationship with Mary Jane, his friendship with Harry, his family, his work, on & on!

I mean, WHY do we create our heroes, and tell their stories, only to make them miserable? I don't mean that they never have to go through challenges, or have to deal with drama, but just that because of the capitalistic need for constant consumption (in this case, of stories) we're always having to keep our superheroes in Craptacular Land. They never get a break. They never get to ride off into the sunset or live happily ever after.

Why can't we just end the story? Why do we tell these tales only for them to be neverending suffering for our supposed heroes? Is it our culture? Is it our economic system? Is it something in our DNA?

Whatever it is, it's something depressing that I can't wrap my head around. What's wrong with human nature? What's wrong with us?

Hell if I know. Suggestions?



[Awesome takedown of various Superheros]

2 footnotes:

Anonymous said...

I think originally, it was to humanize them. Until Marvel Comics came a long in the 60's there had been a period of a good 10 to 15 years where, due to the Comic Code of Authority most of the Superheros had been "sterilized" so to speak. As an example,Batman was originally a very dark story, but not the Batman and Robin comics of the mid 40's through mid 60's. Oh no. There hadn't been "death" in mainstream comics from the Weird Tales days all the way through to the death of Gwenn Stacey in Spiderman in 1970 or 1971.

Anyway, originally Spiderman was a hit because people could identify with his more "normal" problems. Now, ever since the death of pretty much any type of censorship at all in the early 1990's, comics have been free to explore and try to make a place in a far more fragmented market place. Sometimes anti-heros and shades of gray get old, but at the same time, a hero needs a challenge. That, and there's something reassuring about knowing that no matter what life throws at him, Superman will always win in the end, so he can deal with a different problem the next issue and save the world again.

Zek J Evets said...


hey! thanks for the comment, but next time can you pick a name so i know who i'm speaking to? =)

you're correct about the sterilization of comics during the post WWII period. but there was some upheaval during the counterculture in the 60's. i think particularly of the explosion of the underground comix scene.

the problem for me is the rehashing of the same tropes in many superhero comics, and the fact that the story NEVER ENDS. ("it just goes on and on, my friends!")

sure, it's cool to see spiderman having to deal with "normal" problems like i'd have to deal with -- while simultaneously saving the world every so often -- because it does make the character more relatable. but what doesn't make him relatable, is how much of a doormat he is. he's not realistic enough, honestly. the attempts to portray him as a round-character were cliched and overblown to the point that now most people scoff at the spiderman movies as much as the comics!

and this is true for many superheroes. (ryan reynolds as green lantern anyone?) the writers at DC AND marvel need to get their heads back in the game, and make some original stories instead of drawing out the same unrequited romance theme that's been going strong for over 5 decades.

because yes! sometimes shit does get old.

anyhoo, sorry for my mini-rant. and thanks for your comment!