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Genre Deconstruction: Comicbooks

  • Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns takes straightforward superhero action and makes it look absurd by having real-world politics interfere. Batman's work becomes a tool for debates about "toughness on crime," while Superman's idealism makes him an easy dupe for the US government's plans for nuclear war. It also asked the question: "What sort of a man would dress up in a bat outfit and fight crime?" The answer: "A man who isn't very pleasant or sane." Though, it's not really clear the work is intended or often taken to be a deconstruction.
  • Alan Moore's Watchmen deconstructs the entire Silver Age Super Hero genre. The premise of the comic is exactly like any other Super Hero comic; some people put on strange costumes in order to fight crime. However, it didn't start with an alien child coming to earth, but rather, with a bunch of off-duty cops wearing masks to counter mask-wearing criminals. Along the way, every trope associated with Super Hero comics of the time is deconstructed: Impossibly Cool Clothes turn out to be fatally impractical, politicians get involved and deputize and weaponize superheroes, these superheroes end up changing the course of history, and the main cast of Super Hero characters are all rather screwed up. Specifically...
    • Rorschach embodies morally absolutist vigilante Super Hero characters like The Question. He is so morally absolutist that he will stop at nothing to enforce his view of justice and will commit heinous acts as a means to an end; ultimately it turns out he is a Straw Nihilist with a Woobie-worthy past.
    • The Comedian is the Unbuilt Trope of the Nineties Anti-Hero. Big guns, wisecracks, big muscles, and badass mannerisms abound... as do attempted rape, misogyny, murder of innocents, and moral nihilism. All these are merely his emotional shields. He has a breakdown when he discovers Adrian Veidt's plot because it was so horrifying even to him and Crazy Enough to Work. The Comedian also deconstructs the idea of superheroes like Captain America who embody patriotic ideals and work for the government — he's a black-ops agent who does highly unethical things, and as noted, couldn't give a damn about any ideals.
    • Doctor Manhattan is a true superhuman with control over matter, the ability to teleport, see the future, see subatomic particles, and is so detached from the human condition that he is indifferent to human life, out and out saying "A dead body and a living body have the same number of particles, there's no difference". He also deconstructs the Omniscient Morality License. One of his superpowers is his capacity of living in the past, the present, and the future at the same time. Instead of having more freedom of choice than the average human, knowing that everything he will do will turn okay, he has none. He knows what will he do in the future and cannot change it, becoming True Neutral. He is still a puppet, like everyone else, but (only) a puppet who can see the strings.
    • Ozymandias, the "smartest man alive," and a Marvel-style super-genius in the mold of Reed Richards and Professor X taken to the trope's logical conclusions. He becomes a superhuman athlete through sheer force of will and a training program he designed himself, and is also the world's wealthiest self-made businessman. He's driven by such ruthless consequentialism that certain actions of his can be... morally debated. Ozymandias also deconstructs Surrounded by Idiots by showing us how detached from humanity a true super genius would be. He feels right with himself being alone, but has rage about the whole world being so stupid to be engaged in a Cold War that only will end in Mutually Assured Destruction. How would you feel if you were the smartest man alive and Richard Nixon sent you his enforcer, the Comedian, to tell you not to mess in his business? How much of Ozymandias' actions are trying to save the world, and how much are nothing more than petty revenge?
    • Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II, the most healthy individuals in the team, are driven not by moral ideals but by, respectively, fanboyism and a desire to follow in one's mother's footsteps.
    • And the rest of the superheroes are shown to have great flaws and the common prejudices of their time, many being racist, sexist, homophobic (and hypocritical homosexuals themselves) and equally riddled with issues and neuroses.
    • It also showed that there would be far less 'costumed criminals' since they would either be in jail, killed, or even found redemption. Many criminals would go into more profitable and yet less showy pursuits, like drug trafficking.
    • The idea of the Nebulous Evil Organisation was also targeted for deconstruction. Who has the resources to kill The Comedian, engineer Dr. Manhattan's exile, frame Rorschach for murder, and engineer the destruction of several major cities than Ozymandias, the world's smartest man?
  • Youngblood tries to answer the question "What if superheroes were real?" The answer? They'd basically be reality TV stars. The series deals with similar themes found in Tiger & Bunny, such as the use of corporate sponsors and the pressures of stardom that a hero might encounter in the real world. A shocking number of the "heroes" are also shown to be outright assholes, especially in later volumes that tried to comment on the Nineties Anti-Hero tropes that the title initially played straight.
  • Moore's earlier work, Marvelman (Miracleman in the United States) deconstructs many aspects of the Captain Marvel mythos and superheroes in general. In one particularly memorable instance, it deconstructed superhero battles by showing just how bloody and devastating they would be in a more realistic setting.
  • Deconstruction in comics is even older than that, dating at least back to the Bronze Age. In The Seventies, DC came out with Green Lantern/Green Arrow, in which the title characters do superhero stuff while at the same time, arguing about the morality and political implications. As a result, the more lawful Green Lantern and the more chaotic Green Arrow butted heads many, MANY times.
  • Hell! You could even argue that it dates back to the Silver Age! When Stan Lee first pitched the idea of a superhero with real life problems his editor replied "Don't you know what a superhero is?"
  • A 70's storyline in The Avengers tried to deconstruct the concept of the Token Minority. The Falcon is forced into the team in order to fill a diversity quota, which not only leads to friction with Hawkeye, but causes Falcon to doubt his own worth as a hero. He eventually quits after growing to resent being thought of as the Avengers' token black guy.
  • Freedom Ring was created by Robert Kirkman as a deconstruction of the teen superhero archetype. Specifically, he wanted Freedom Ring to struggle with his new abilities and ultimately die early on his superhero career in order to contrast how easily most teenage characters adapt to their powers, which he saw as unrealistic. Unfortunately, the decision to make him gay meant that when his deconstruction-mandated death occurred, it took about 20% of Marvel Comic's homosexual population.
  • While Kingdom Come was part of the mid-90's wave of Reconstructionist comics (made in response to the above-mentioned wave of deconstruction), its reconstruction of the Silver Age was accomplished by deconstructing the Dark Age, bringing it to its most extreme conclusion: the Nineties Anti Heroes, having killed all the villains, have become crazed Knights Templar and pretty much taken over the world.
  • The entire Marvel Comics Siege macro-crisis was a Deconstructor Fleet of the entire Marvel Universe, the Reed Richards Is Useless trope and the idea of the superhero in general.
    • It first starts with Avengers Disassembled showing what happens when you entrust the world to a set few ultra powerful humans. It then goes into House of M, proving what happens if the super humans took over.
    • Civil War addressed the stupidity of having the government let walking A-bombs blow themselves up in New York everyday while simultaneously showing how said government control plans would fail. This is shown in the deliberate Flanderization of Captain America and Iron Man showing how both sides are pretty stupid. This was also explained in the what if story arc when both sides find a balance and thus achieve peace.
    • Dark Reign then deconstructed the entire "Lone Cop saves the world and get promoted" genre by showing exactly what would happen if said psychopaths were really appointed to such positions of power. Thor, Reed Richards and Iron Man's tenures as God, Guardian and Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in each of their individual story arcs show how each quest to "fix" the world leads to disaster. Then, the New Captain America saga had a deconstruction of the Sidekick. The idea of power and potential is again brought up in The Hood's recent story showing what happens if all the D-list heroes in the universe eventually got together and actually applied their powers, while the Current Mighty Avengers show how these super teams affect the political climate.
    • The Illuminati is in itself a deconstruction of large hero collaborations (and how they lead to failure i.e. World War Hulk & the Secret Invasion) and its counterpart "The Cabal" showed just how incapable a society of villains would be at functioning.
    • All this is paralleled by the Annihilation and War of Kings series depicting exactly what kind of galaxy is filled with empires that invade and blow up planets on a daily basis and exactly how disillusioned it makes characters. Seeing Black Bolt turn to insanity was just further reconfirmation of what a world Cosmic Marvel is. The Nova Corps pretty much deconstructed all Space Cop tropes with its nigh-omnipotent run band of non sanctioned super soldiers and exactly how that would affect any political situation.
    • The Decimation arcs in X-Men show exactly how humans would react to mutants if the odds were evened. And The Secret arcs show how exactly what being a real spy means and all the details it entails.
    • And finally, Siege shows that after all this, heroes are still heroes, no matter what.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starts out with slightly-darker takes on Victorian heroes, but the second volume shows them sinking really low under pressure (and the ugly sides of Victorian culture that they each represent). The third volume reconstructs them during its own deconstruction of 20th century heroes.
  • The Ultimates attempts to put a more realistic spin on the superhero genre, specifically by trying to show what would happen if a team like The Avengers existed in real life. The Ultimates become used as a tool of the government and end up causing a group of foreign countries to attack America with a Legion of Doom-type team consisting of superhumans from nations that the U.S. has attacked. Subsequent storylines deal with the idea of a superhuman arms race between the U.S. and hostile nations.
  • Even before The Ultimates, the Captain America character William Burnside (the Captain America of the 50's) was created as a deliberate response to the use of Politically Correct History for Golden Age superheroes. He and his sidekick Jack Monroe (the 50's Bucky) were depicted as being just as racist, sexist, and xenophobic as the average white male from the 1950's would likely have been.
  • Another interesting example by Grant Morrison is Fantastic 1234. At first, it seems like a traditional deconstruction of superheroes by way of the Fantastic Four, highlighting their 'real' personalities via highlighting their worst aspects as they would be in real life; Ben Grimm is a self pitying misanthrope with a violent temper, Reed Richards is a emotionless autistic who seems to value his inventions more than his friends and family, Johnny Storm is a brooding Greaser whose tastes for fast cars and fast women can't fill the void inside of him, and Sue Storm is an insecure, passive-agressive neurotic who feels she is trapped in a loveless marriage and is severely tempted to run off with Namor, who is presented as a coldblooded sexfiend willing to do anything to make Sue his own. However, it ends up being a subversion of such a deconstruction; Reed Richards has realised that Dr. Doom has been using a reality altering device to 'deconstruct' the Four and bring out the worst possible aspects of the four's personalities in order to destroy them and gain ultimate revenge on Richards. Richards builds his own variant of the machine to 'reconstruct' the Four and save the day, the point clearly being that the standard portrayal of the Four are their real personalities. In fact, for his arrogance Doom ends up being the one who's deconstructed, and rather painfully at that, where it is revealed that he is a lonely, pathetic man-child with a ridiculous speech pattern who is not even remotely on Reed Richard's level of genius and whose vendetta against the four is petty and stupid. Also, he seems to be going bald. Ouch.
  • Marvel comics Marvels and its Evil Twin Ruins similarly focus on the impact of superheroes on an "average" person.
  • DC Comics' Jonah Hex: Sounds like old fashioned Cowboys and Indians hijinx on the wild frontier, right? Riiight.
  • Princeless deconstructs a number of tropes pertaining to European fairy tales, such as the black lead becoming angry after a potential suitor refers to her as a "fair maiden". There's also some skewering of Stripperific superheroine costumes and impracticality that would come with them.
  • The Valiant Comics flagship title, Harbinger, featured a groups of super powered teens on the run for their lives from an seemingly unbeatable business man who, at least at first, seems to be an Expy of Charles Xavier. While the man seemed to genuinely care for his subordinates, he never hesitated to mistreat them for the sake of what he felt was the greater good of humanity (which is to say, a better world that would be completely under his control). He was desperate the hunt down their protagonist because their team leader has the same powers as him - the near-unlimited telepathy and telekinesis and ability to activate superpowers in others. The hero, incidentally, wasn't exactly pure either - early issues in particular showing him using powers in selfish and potentially dangerous ways. It also does a good job showing the mental and emotional toil this kind of thing would have a group of teens, constantly moving from town to town, and being the only thing keeping this guy from becoming dictator of the world.
    • Most of Valiant's titles were Deconstructive in nature. For another example, Shadow Man. The classic comic book plot "Heroes travel to the future to fight evil" is deconstructed in the Unity Crisis Crossover, where Shadow Man learns he's going to die in 1999. Shadow Man's book takes this and runs with it, showing him growing gradually more reckless and angsty as 1999 grows closer. In 1995 he even tries to kill himself, thinking that this at least will let him choose his own destiny. Sadly, the line was discontinued before 1999, so we never learn how this story arc ends.
  • Astro City is a deconstruction and a reconstruction. Like Marvels, it focuses on the impact of superheroes on regular people, but also on the inner thoughts of heroes and villains.
  • Planetary, as an archeological survey of comic books, pulp fiction, and B-Movies, deconstructs any sci-fi trope it doesn't reconstruct or parody. The Hulk was captured by the army after his first rampage and took decades to starve to death in a silo. The Narmy B-Movie monsters are the result of horrifying Cold War experiments in American concentration camps. The Fantastic Four didn't just come back changed, they came back wrong. And Reed Richards isn't useless. He's the American Doctor Mengele.
  • Warren Ellis did a "thematic trilogy" for Avatar Press in which he deconstructs the superhero genre (yes, again). The first part, Black Summer, shows us what would happen if superheroes were too human. The second part, No Hero, shows what would happen if they put themselves above human laws. The third part, Supergod, shows would happen if superheroes weren't even remotely human.
  • Kick-Ass in regards to superheroes in their teens. Sure, the main character doesn't die but his life becomes even worse after donning the mask, his only super power is that he has a metal plate in his head, gets beaten to a bloody pulp after every battle and would actually be far more responsible if he quit vigilantism altogether.
  • After all these superhero deconstructions, one might expect a supervillain deconstruction. Wanted (the comic book, not the movie) is about an Unlucky Everydude who gets invited to join a society of supervillains known as "The Fraternity." It's a world filled with eccentric, costumed renegades who spend their days doing just as they please, with nothing to fear from law enforcement - and what they please is decidedly unpleasant. Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds with a Dark and Troubled Past comes under fire as the Villain Protagonist goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against all the people who ever wronged him... including guys who made fun of him back in high school, and culminating in killing his own father. And looming over it all is the death's-head visage of Mister Rictus, who makes sure that we never forget the true face of Nightmare Fuel, or the consequences, both moral and aesthetic, of a life without concern for boundaries. In the end, it turns out that the only thing worse than This Loser Is You is This Loser Is Having Delusions Of Grandeur While Fucking You In The Ass.
  • A story from the comics series Animal Man (noted for its Post Modernism) deconstructs Looney Tunes and similar cartoons: in "The Coyote Gospel," a grotesquely anthropomorphic coyote is repeatedly and brutally killed by an Elmer Fudd-style hunter obsessed with his destruction, and continuously reforms/regenerates in a most disturbing manner. Finally, in a scene reminiscent of the classic "Duck Amuck" short, the malevolent animator paints his blood in as he dies for the last time.
  • While a few elements are questionable, The Unfunnies is still a clever commentary on how writers are corrupting the once-innocent world of comics by injecting their own perversions into it. The story begins with a stereotypical Hanna-Barbera cartoon world of talking animals, then introduces prostitution, child pornography, and violence. Then it's revealed that the world's creator is a child rapist and murderer who's on death row, and created the world so he can switch places with a character there, and thus live forever. The whole "man in prison creates cartoon world that turns out to be real" plot is also lifted directly from Cool World. The Unfunnies asks the questions, why is he in prison? Wouldn't the world he created be just as insane as he is?
  • Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald, Flight 714, and Tintin and the Picaros are deconstructions of the Adventure genre and of the Tintin series in general.
    • The Castafiore Emerald is a intentional Random Events Plot in which Tintin and Haddock stay at Marlinspike Hall. It is full of anticlimaxes, such as Haddock's attempted escape to Italy being foiled by an accident, the Roma community's plight is immediately solved by Haddock’s generosity, Haddock never has the chance to make An Aesop about tolerance because of various distractions, the emerald’s thief turned to be a magpie, and said emerald is lost again by Thomson & Thompson, found again by Snowy, and then dismissed as a mere McGuffin.
    • Flight 714 has Tintin and Haddock swept into a plot to blackmail a millionaire by a Contrived Coincidence. The recurring villains Rastapopoulus and Allan suffer intentional Villain Decay, ultimately coming off as ridiculous and stupid. And all of the characters would have died in an eruption without the bizarre, out-of-the-blue intervention of aliens. Only Snowy remembers how they were rescued, making the whole thing something of a Shaggy Dog Story.
    • Tintin and the Picaros: Tintin, formerly a classical Gentleman Adventurer, no longer enjoys adventure and refuses the call for several days, and now wears a pair of quite ungentlemanly bell bottoms instead of his iconic plus fours. Reality really hits the tale in the second to last panel of the album, in which San Theodoros is shown to be no better off than it was when the story started.
  • Frank King's long running comic strip Gasoline Alley was originally intended to be this; King believed that the idea of comic strip characters not aging was unrealistic, and set out to make a strip where they did. Unfortunately, adherence to the policy has made the strip even more unrealistic as a result due to its longevity; the original protagonist, Walt Wallet, is still included in the cast after it's run of just short of a century, and is almost 111 years old. To make that worse, a few characters are exempt from this rule, like the comic relief characters Joel and Rufus, who never age a day.
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