Thursday, September 22, 2011

Superhero Complex



When I was a child, superheroes were silly, and I hated them.  On television, Batman fought villains’ bizarre schemes for world domination.  Spider Man spent half of his weekly cartoon adventures swinging down the same streets, shooting the same webs, and (oddest of all) just staring into space.
"I love swinging down this street!"
Superheroes didn’t live in our world; they were absurd heroes with absurd powers fighting absurd bad guys.

Then along came Frank Miller (the comic book guy, not Junie B. Jones’s dad from the popular children’s books) and The Dark Knight Returns.  The Dark Knight Returns was dark, scary, and incredibly good.  Those four graphic novels changed the way comics were made.  Suddenly, they became brutal, and they began to mean something.  Bad guys became terrifyingly logical.  Good guys were forced with tortuous moral decisions.  I started buying comics and storing them in boxes that still plague my wife.
Oooh, I could add SHELVES!
Then, something went wrong.  The villains in the comics became so popular, they got their own comics where they murdered as a form of justice.
Because murder is the same thing as justice.
The stories became about real-world problems: racism, government abuse, terrorism.  In onestory The Thing finds out a bad guy is tunneling under Paris to destroy it and a tear comes to his eye; it’s just so uncomplicated.
Actually, the French heroes seem a bit... Complicated.
And there are the movies.  When Sam Raimi started the Spider Man movies, he gave Peter Parker web shooters that didn’t come from devices he had invented, but from out of his arms.  That’s right, he caressed his palms and sticky white stuff shot out.  Ew. 

When asked why, Raimi said he thought it lacked realism for a kid to invent something 3M couldn’t have invented.  Really?  You’re trying to make Spider Man realistic?  He couldn’t invent web shooters but he could see bullets flying at him from behind his head? You’re saying he couldn’t invent web shooters, but he could sew together a costume that took your wardrobe designers months of work to create?
On second thought, I could whip that up in my spare time.

And don’t even get me started on the new Batman.
"Why, hello Miss Moneypenny."
Okay, just one comment: he’s not Batman in the movies.  He’s James Bond with a funny helmet.

The latest example of this over-realism in superheroes is D.C. comic’s attempt to make all the mental illnesses displayed in their books reflect real-life mental illnesses.  Now, I have all the respect in the world for trying to make people have a better understanding of the mentally ill (I personally inspired the first third of the DSM).  But, come on.  The Joker?  How are you going to make The Joker make any sense at all?

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