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Central Theme / Comic Books

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Remember, a Central Theme is not the same as An Aesop; a theme is a question, idea, topic or concept that the text explores, while an Aesop is a conclusion the author reaches about the theme or a lesson they wish to impart to the reader. As such, you should try and avoid phrasing your examples as conclusions.

  • 300: No one man is above anyone else.
  • Albedo: Erma Felna EDF: What could happen if you decide to give animals the same sentience, emotions and quirks as shared by the human race? The answer is basically the animals will still do the same things the humans do, complete with wars, racism and even genocide.
  • All Fall Down: Bad things happen. You deal with them, because they're not just going to fix themselves.
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  • All-New Wolverine - Moving on with your life and not repeating your predecessor's mistakes. Pretty much every story is Laura either stopping her own past from ruining her life or learning to avoid Logan's bad decisions.
  • Annihilation How even the most flawed, weak, failed and underestimated of us can still rise to the call.
  • Astro City: The ordinariness of the extraordinary.
    • Multi-issue arcs tend to have their own central themes as well. Confession, about a sinister superhero training a sidekick while public opinion turns against supers, is about doing the right thing regardless of what people think. The Tarnished Angel, a noir mystery about lowlife supervillains being murdered, is about shame and the hold of the past.
  • The Authority: How far are you willing to go to make the world a better place?
  • The Avengers: No matter how great you are, there are problems you will not overcome alone.
  • Avengers Academy: Choosing to do the right thing, even if other options are easier.
    • Also, acknowledging and learning from past tragedies without letting them define you.
  • The three different series of Batgirl each have three different overarching themes:
    • The 2000-2006 series featuring Cassandra Cain is about innocence and redemption; specifically, about how innocence can be corrupted and what is required to redeem someone for the wrongs they've done in the past.
    • The 2009-2011 series featuring Stephanie Brown is about heroism, and what it takes to be a hero even if no one else thinks you're capable of it.
    • The post-New 52 series (2011-present) featuring Barbara Gordon is about healing the wounds of the past, whether physical, emotional or psychological.
  • Batman: How the traumas of the past affect the choices we make, and thus how they shape us into the people we are in the present.
    • In particular, practically every member of Batman's Rogue's Gallery either reflects a part of Batman himself and/or like him has an over-arching trauma that has shaped their lives ever since — except where he has used his trauma to make himself a better man by defending the innocent to try and prevent what happened to him from happening to others, they have succumbed to despair and evil and use their traumas as an excuse to hurt others.
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  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: To bring justice, do you have to operate outside the law, or become enslaved by it?
  • The Boys: The pathetic inadequacies of superheroes and the futility of relying on them (both in-universe and, in a meta-sense, as wish-fulfillment figures) to solve the problems of a complex world.
    • Alternatively, horrible ways in which corporate greed destroys everything by applying half-baked, poorly put together, but easily marketable and profitable solutions to complex problems and using corruption to make them first choice options instead of something that would actually work.
  • Captain America: Is truth, justice and the American way old-fashioned?
  • Champions (2016): Young people can change the world for the better.
  • Carol Danvers has been described by one of her writers as an exploration of being The Determinator even after a series of traumas:
    Kelly Sue De Connick: Carol falls down all the time, but she always gets back up — we say that about Captain America as well, but Captain America gets back up because it's the right thing to do. Carol gets back up because 'Fuck you'.
  • Doctor Strange - The self-defeating nature of Pride and superiority of knowledge and wits over raw power.
    • Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment: There is a price for every victory.
    • Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme: No matter how weak or toubled we are, we can still contributte to a group being greater than a sum of its parts.
  • Carl Barks' stories in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe, deal with several recurring themes:
    • The stories surrounding Donald Duck often deal with luck, the fact that some are Born Unlucky like Donald, others are Born Lucky like Gladstone Gander. Many of the stories such as "The Magic Hourglass" or Scrooge's Number One Dime deal with the idea of lucky charms and whether these objects truly bestow luck.
    • More broadly the stories deal with adventure. The treasure hunt plots as in "The Golden Helmet" come from wanting some yearning for adventure and excitement in the mundane everyday life but the adventure stories don't free you from day-to-day problems of work/family/friendship and rent. Likewise, daily life is often quite adventurous in its own right.
  • Warren Ellis' run on DV8: A really dark take on Power of Friendship - World is a harsh place you won't survive in without real friends.
  • Ex Machina: Do the ends justify the means? And, does anything ever really end, anyway?
  • Fantastic Four: The nature of family.
    • Also the sheer bizarre wonderfulness of the universe and the dangers — and opportunities — that exploring it can hold.
  • Flex Mentallo: Don't throw away things you love because they are seen as immature, silly or stupid.
  • From Hell:
    • The fundamental interconnections that exist between everything and everyone, and how a serial killer is both a product of society and culture as a whole and something which goes on to shape that society further.
    • The conflict between rationality and spirituality, masculinity and femininity, and chaos and order—and the idea that all three are just different shades of one single overarching conflict that pervades all of human history.
    • Humankind's trade-off of passionate spirituality for coldly rational knowledge, and whether or not that trade-off is ultimately for the best.
    • The role of violence in shaping human society, and how no great change can ever come without pain and sacrifice.
  • The work of Geoff Johns frequently revolves around themes such as family, managing your emotions and finding your place in the world, with the theme corresponding to the overall motif or theme of the character(s) he's writing for. For example:
    • His Green Lantern run spanning pre- and post-New 52 revolves around overcoming fear and accepting your emotions.
    • His Justice Society of America run focuses on family.
    • His The Flash run explores the character's need to 'slow down' (i.e. take time out every now and again).
    • His Aquaman run looks at what it is to be an outsider.
  • Global Frequency: The extraordinary things that ordinary people can do if given the chance and resources to do them. Also, how no skill or ability is truly worthless, and how even the most seemingly trivial or obscure forms of knowledge can, if applied in the correct setting, do amazing things.
  • I Hate Fairyland: The dangers of the "Never My Fault" mentality. Particularity in volume 3.
  • The Incredible Hercules: What does it really mean to be a god?
  • The Incredible Hulk: The dangers of repression and the need to accept all sides of yourself.
    • Totally Awesome Hulk: Hubris of thinking you know yourself and that you can solve problems your predecessors struggled with, without making the same compromises and mistakes they did.
    • Immortal Hulk: How we're all shaped by our relationship with death.
  • Irredeemable: How far a man has to go to become truly irredeemable?
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: Who is more messed up? A serial killer or society too apathetic and stupid to stop him?
  • Journey into Mystery, Kieron Gillen run: Is true change really possible? Or do all things have to revert to their former state sooner or later?
  • Judge Dredd: The law, no matter how harsh, really is there for your protection.
    • Alternatively, the extremes that unthinking, unyielding and over-oppressive fascist law-enforcement can go to... and the kind of society that would need this kind of law-enforcement in order to function.
  • The Killing Joke:
    • One bad day can drive a normal man to madness, but we have the choice to stay sane even when confronted with tragedy and suffering. Truly evil people are often convinced that everyone is as bad as they are, and they'll go to extreme lengths to prove it. That doesn't make it true.
    • Can you actually help the mentally ill by treating them? If you can't treat them and if you keep them them alive knowing they will keep killing, can The Hero be considered saner than the villain who realizes the absurdity of the situation?
  • Kingdom Come: What exactly are the differences between The Cape and the '90s Anti-Hero?
    • The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Culture is both a reflection of the society and context in which it creates and an expression of its genius and ambition. Art is not only a product of life, but something which in turn shapes and influences society itself and its very bad when culture merely regurgitates old tropes and ideas out of empty nostalgia and lack of creativity.
    • The Nemo Trilogy deals with the change in mores from 19th Century Science Fiction (centered on exploration, searching for new lands, filled with mystery and adventure) to 20th Century Science Fiction (centered on limits, horror of discovery, filled with doubt and fear).
  • Lex Luthor: Man of Steel: Might even a monster be convinced he's the hero of his own story?
  • Loki: Agent of Asgard: How truth can hurt and be used as a weapon.
  • My Friend Dahmer: The consequences of ignoring a cry for help.
  • Ms. Marvel (2014): Faith, friends, and family are every bit as important as battling super villains.
    • It's your actions that define who you really are.
  • Nemesis the Warlock: Humans can be bastards, but don't have to be.
  • New Super-Man: Balance, be it between western and eastern systems of values, progress and tradition, focusing on the past and focusing on the future, detachment and emotion or strength and weakness.
  • Nextwave: When the world is completely insane, the only way to handle it is to go a bit mad yourself.
  • Paper Girls: We only have one chance at life, better not waste it.
  • Planetary: The world is full of wonders and we should do everything we can to stop anyone who wants to hoard them for themselves
  • Phonogram: How art influences, inspires and changes but sometimes also destroys it's consumers.
  • Punisher: Do the experiences learned from war have any application towards criminal justice?
  • Preacher: God Is Evil. Why else would the world be like this?
  • Princeless Raven The Pirate Princess: Women creating a safe community for each other in a patriarchal society.
  • Revival: Nothing in life can really prepare us for death.
  • Rogue Trooper: War Is Hell
  • Runaways: Creating your own family.
  • The Sandman: All things change, all things end. Neither of these are terrible. And there is always more to everything (and everyone) than you expect.
  • Scott Pilgrim:
    • Fighting for the one you love. It's tough, but it will be worth it.
    • Admitting your mistakes and flaws in confronting them.Otherwise, you will keep making the same mistakes over and over again, even if the circumstances are different.
    • Relationships are a two-way street, and sometimes so are break-ups. The end of a relationship can't always be blamed on the faults of one person, but rather both people involved, and to have a meaningful, long-lasting relationship, both partners need to put in some kind of effort.
    • The consequences of infidelity.
  • Scott Snyder's work on Dark Nights: Metal, Justice League: No Justice and Justice League (2018) are all connected by a theme of there always being more to everything than you think. Things we thought familiar might hide a Dark Secret, hope might shine even in the Darkest Hour, we might find strength in our failures and even if it's true Humans Are Bastards by nature, they can rise above it.
  • Spider-Girl - carrying on your parent's legacy, even if it means going against their wishes.
  • Spider-Gwen: The horrors you experience (or, in certain cases, experienced by versions of you across multiple Alternate Dimensions) do not define who you are. You can carve out your own place in the world.
  • Spider-Man:
    • With great power comes great responsibility; what it means to have power and to use it in a socially and morally responsible way. It could be said that this theme applies to most, if not all superhero stories to some extent, but none more so than Spider-Man.
    • With Spider-Man, it's being a hero even when there is no reward for being one; it won't get bills paid, it won't help your love life and it won't get you fame and respect. But you do it anyway, because it's the right thing to do.
    • Your actions and choices have consequences, including the ones you didn't intend or expect, and you have to live with them whether you like it or not.
    • Everyone has some kind of secret, either a big one or a small one, and there's always more to people than you assume. Just as the world assumes little of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, Peter himself often underestimates or misjudges people around him.
    • You have to work for every thing in your life, whether it's your job, your superhero calling, your marriage, your relationships. People are complicated, messy and demanding, and you have to be there for them and make things work and never take people for granted.
    • Spider-Man: Life Story takes the theme of responsibility and explores how to balance conflicting responsibilities, like those of a superhero with responsibilities towards one's family or country, what happens if we neglect some in favor of others and how the idea what that means has changed over the years.
  • Superman:
    • What it means to be a hero, a good person, and an inspiration to others — and how these three qualities are not necessarily the same.
    • One doesn't need powers to make the world a better place, just the will to do so.
    • Hope and idealism always beat brute-force and cynicism.
    • The complex nature of identity—secret or otherwise. The writers have gotten a lot of mileage out of exploring the fact that Superman is essentially three different people: "Superman" (a superhuman crusader for truth and justice), "Clark Kent" (an unassuming journalist from Middle America), and "Kal-El" (a tempest-tossed refugee from a dying alien race). There are many different possible interpretations of which of them—if any—is his "real" identity...which is kind of the point.
  • Swamp Thing: What makes us human? Is there a part of our humanity that will not disappear even if everything else is taken away from us?
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: There's more to people than they appear. It's in the name. The Hidden Depths of many characters are brought to the forefront - Whirl, Brainstorm, Swerve, Ultra Magnus, Cyclonus, even friggin' MEGATRON.
  • The Transformers: Robots in Disguise: Won the War, Lost the Peace - Autobots find the hard way that life-long soldiers may not be best suited for dissolving history of grudges and crimes on two sides and maintaining order. And that individuals that might've been ineffective in time of war can become much more dangerous during the peace, like, say, Starscream.
  • Transmetropolitan: The ways in which societies remain the same even in the face of inconceivable and massive-scale technological advancement, particularly with regards to social and political corruption, greed, prejudice, class systems and apathy.
    • And, by Word of God, the idea that it will always be the people willing to stand up and raise their voices who will change society.
  • The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Don't expect your journey to be easy just because you're the hero of your own story.
  • Unstoppable Wasp: Helping others help themselves is better than either forcefully trying to "fix" them or expecting them to "fix" themselves on their own.
  • V for Vendetta:
    • What does it mean to have freedom? What price is it worth?
    • Can justice ever be attained through revenge?
  • Watchmen:
    • What would inspire someone to dress up in an elaborate costume and fight crime as a vigilante outside of the fantastical world of comic books.
    • Also, explicitly: "Who watches the Watchmen?" (Who protects the people who protect us? And if they go wrong, how will we know, and who'll protect us from them?)
    • The choice between living without morals and letting your morals define you, and the inevitable pitfalls that come with both choices.
    • "Who makes the world?" When even a Physical God doesn't have all the answers, when the "world's smartest man" is filled with doubt and the Presidents and businessmen are equally confused, why do ordinary people keep believing that they are more powerless or that they need heroes?
  • The Wicked + The Divine: Accodring to Word of God, the relationship between art and its creator, how choices and compromises artists make influence their creations, their audience and their very lives.
  • Wonder Woman: The conflict between the desire for peace and how it may be sometimes necessary to fight in order to ensure it.
  • X-Men:
    • Choosing to do the right thing in the face of prejudice and injustice.
    • Is it better to protect the world that you have or to fight for a better world? Who is ultimately more heroic: those who defend the innocent and fight for peace, or those who strike back against injustice and fight for change?
    • New X-Men: Academy X: People and their rivals probably are Not So Different as they would like to belive.
      • Craig Kyle and Chris Yost's run: Innocence Lost, especially loss of trust in your idols and authorities.
    • X-Men: Legacy vol.2 (Legion's book): Are you really in control of your life? Or are you controlled by your past burdens and people around you?
  • Y: The Last Man: What does it really mean to be a man?

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