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Are we cynical about superheroes?

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GAP Formerly G.G. from Who Knows?
Formerly G.G.
Dec 1st 2014 at 5:16:32 AM

I might be wrong but it seems that some of us are deeply cynical about heroes as well as the fact they even exist. It seems that what most people interpret from superhero deconstructions is that 'being a superhero is bad and you should feel bad for wanting to be a hero'. I know that some of those superhero deconstructions do indeed have some points but it seems that some people take them to far in the other extreme. My question is that, are we really cynical about the heroes? About wanting to be heroes? And what they represent?

"The King Slime. The Cureslime edition!"
Dec 1st 2014 at 7:55:20 AM

The way I see it, some elements of the classic superhero mythos can rub people the wrong way, and/or are no longer seen as noble in and of themselves. For one, the concept of self-appointed anonymous vigilantism, where the cape in question can always ultimately escape responsibility behind a pair of glasses or somesuch, doesn't really spell genuine heroism to me. Good Samaritanship maybe, but not really respectable crime-fighting, let alone a stand for truth, justice and all that jazz.

Second, the notion of superpowered individuals being relied on over regular armed forces, be it police or military, can only be taken so far before the powers in question have to be constantly inflated to match technological progress. Also, presenting the world as holding out for a hero, as well as the frequent disparaging of non-title characters gaining superpowers, can be taken as a somewhat misanthropic view of regular humans, who seemingly always need rescuing and are never capable enough to handle themselves.

Last, in the modern grey moral landscape, the idea of supervillains - easily pinpointed targets the sound thrashing of which solves every problem - seems rather unconvincing. Especially as real life politics propagating such ideas tend to be problematic on their own, or altogether gone out of style.

Per these examples, I find the classic superhero mythos itself to be rather cynical in its treatment of crime, punishment, major social issues, and use of executive power. The modern age of comics has gone some great lengths away from the classic trappings of the genre, which I consider most beneficial. For instance, the tale of Deadpool - a hideously scarred, mentally and morally disturbed mercenary who still tries to be a hero, despite this gaining him nothing but trouble, rather than fame and appreciation - is a testament to how far the genre's evolved.

In short, the classical superhero mythos is outdated and deserving of criticism, but the idea of costumed heroism in itself isn't. It has just shifted to rather unusual latitudes.

edited 1st Dec '14 7:59:04 AM by indiana404

WaxingName from Everywhere
Dec 1st 2014 at 8:32:45 AM

[up]In other words, it's why DC has stagnated since the 60's while Marvel has always kept the model fresh and interesting.

Even when DC tried to copy Marvel, they still managed to go back to their old trappings.

(NOTE: There are a few beefs I have with Marvel, but I think this is true for the most part)

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Jhimmibhob from Where the tea is sweet, and the cornbread ain't Relationship Status: My own grandpa
Dec 1st 2014 at 9:01:54 AM

The central concept of "superheroism" is a shade naïve and kids-story-ish by definition. Scratch the surface even the slightest bit, and you raise issues that kind of call out either for deconstruction, or at least for a little self-aware Lamp Shading. Now, neither of those approaches has to descend to outright cynicism ... but for an untalented or hackish creator, cynicism is usually the shortest cut. Factor in Sturgeon's Law, and it follows that cynical approaches to the genre will characterize way too many superhero titles.

"She was the kind of dame they write similes about." —Pterodactyl Jones
Dec 1st 2014 at 9:41:56 AM

Even when DC tried to copy Marvel, they still managed to go back to their old trappings.
I find that true for DC's big three centerfolds, but fortunately others have developed better. For example, Harley Quinn and associated teams show quite a bit of anti-heroic flavor that doesn't really sound like DC's usual fare. This is again the idea of heroism shifting well away from the traditional square-jawed morally impeccable strongman, and into stranger tides.

To contrast, an issue I frequently encounter is blatant Messiah creep, wherein once low-profile costumed adventurers suddenly have to act as walking icons in-universe. Superman has it the worst, but the Dark Knight saga got a bit too anvilicious about how Bruce Wayne intends for Batman to be a symbol, inspiring... nothing too specific, really. It's this sanctification that I find to be actually grating and self-righteous, especially when played with a straight face. For all their faults, at least the Schumacher films portrayed Batman as quite aware of his fetish for dressing up like a bat in order to beat up petty crooks - something the current line of comics desperately needs.

edited 1st Dec '14 9:47:14 AM by indiana404

IndirectActiveTransport You Give Me Fever from Chicago Relationship Status: Coming soon to theaters
You Give Me Fever
Dec 1st 2014 at 11:04:02 AM

Superheroes are still popular, just not a particularly industry that's dominated by superheroes. And yes, many modern superheroes eschew some part of the genre but even traditional superheroes have their place, as the Ironman movies have proved. Okay, that in itself is an example, as Tony disregarded a secret identity but I think you get my point.

Did anyone see Lego movie? That was one of the more enjoyable depictions of Superman in my opinion.

That's why he wants you to have the money. Not so you can buy 14 Cadillacs but so you can help build up the wastes
Canid117 Relationship Status: Hello, I love you
Dec 1st 2014 at 11:19:44 AM

I'm cynical about some of the people who are saved by superheroes. At least the people saved by Marvel superheroes...

edited 1st Dec '14 11:20:57 AM by Canid117

"War without fire is like sausages without mustard." - Jean Juvénal des Ursins
IndirectActiveTransport You Give Me Fever from Chicago Relationship Status: Coming soon to theaters
You Give Me Fever
Dec 1st 2014 at 12:38:25 PM

Oh, and let me add that super powers becoming more ridiculous with time to keep up with technological advancements is a false, false statement.

Okay, it may be true when one takes a historical approach to comics books but that trend hit its peak back in the 1960s when Superman started juggling planets and pulling entire galaxies with regular chains.

Most of the more powerful superheroes nowadays are the ones in areas where modern technology wouldn't even apply (Silver Surfer, Thor) or is merely an optional, cosmetic trapping(Ghost Rider, Green Lantern). Perhaps some other elements of the genre (secret identities become much less of a thing with the ever expanding populations of cities meaning most people won't see you twice unless you're particularly famous and if someone really, really wants to know who you are, there are numerous ways to find out) but super powers themselves are sliding towards more tame levels. Compare movie Hulk&Thor to comic Hulk&Thor, for instance. The former two could probably be beaten by Neo, the latter two would have crashed The Matrix. The effectiveness of human armies and law enforcement has been going up I think, so instead we get a lot of threats that are not of a particularly criminal nature.(Axis powers, fifth dimensional imps, diplomatic immunity, symbiotes, legacy virus, hell the very concept of super villains themselves rather than watching superheroes curb stomp gangs, political bosses, corrupt executives and such mundane fair)

edited 2nd Dec '14 12:27:32 PM by IndirectActiveTransport

That's why he wants you to have the money. Not so you can buy 14 Cadillacs but so you can help build up the wastes
Dec 1st 2014 at 1:19:21 PM

The Lego superheroes are by far the best versions I've seen to date, rivaled only by the Marvel vs. DC shorts. Exactly the right amount of tongue-in-cheek comedy that comics either lack, or horribly overplay like in some Deadpool or Lobo stories.

In terms of powers, some stories simply hinge too much on having a particular powerhouse one-up the abilities of regular armies, Man of Steel being a recent example. As much as it would have been quite a short story if Zod's forces were precision-bombed with ease while their ship was nuked to orbital debris, fact is this particular Metropolis only needed Superman due to the film's severe underestimation of human military might.

To contrast, the Avengers were explicitly treated as a penultimate defense line, with a well-guided nuke actually winning the fight. Sure, it took an Iron Man to guide it, but the point stands - there is a functional limit of how powerful a superhero can be, before they encroach on the real heroes' territory. This is why the Spider-Man concept still works - he operates more like a rapid-response SWAT team, acting before the regular forces can be mustered to handle the task.

Not to mention the Spider-Man mythos being all about an ordinary man gaining powers, rather than being born with them, and inventing simple gadgets rather than being rich enough to afford a Bat-cave's worth of advanced weaponry. And note how every film so far has regular people standing up to his support when he needed help. Forget symbolism - that's inspiring.

Dec 1st 2014 at 2:26:48 PM

Although the current Spider-Man movies kinda bungle the 'ordinary young man' angle by making Peter the son of two like super secretive and awesome scientists hiding DARK AND IMPORTANT CONSPIRACY MYSTERIES DUM DUM DUM...

The Lego Superheroes have the problem they rely too much on what they are parodying/homaging. Basically, they work because of the contrast with what they are trying to deconstruct and then reconstruct, but they don't stand too well on their own terms (and then, ask yourself, how do the original Lego characters do in the collective consciousness compared to their franchise branches. The Lego Movie's original characters DO work, but do you think the movie would have had the same degree of success without all the cameos from well established characters propping it up on the public eye?)

Dec 1st 2014 at 3:10:52 PM

I dunno, I thought the best bits were the literal cloud cuckoolander ponycat and especially the 80's astronaut; though maybe that's because I happen to own one myself. Characterization-wise, the Lego superheroes were mostly throwbacks to the campy era, only more streamlined... which isn't a bad idea in general, as TBATB showed.

As for Spider-Man... yeah, that sort of thing also happens in the comics; a lot. Still, the bare-bones concept is decent, and his power-set is limited enough not to warrant immediate military concern, while being particularly tailored for dynamic fights against much stronger opponents - he's an underdog hero through and through, and that's a pretty enduring sell.

Dec 1st 2014 at 5:25:26 PM

So what about the likes of Adam West Batman which, for all the flak it takes from certain directions, is still looked back on fondly?

Dec 1st 2014 at 5:40:33 PM

What hurted that show the most was the rigid and repetitive plot structure. Batman The Brave And The Bold and even the recent Batman 66 comics do it better than the TV series, despite the actors' fine handling of what they were given.

Aldo930 Professional Moldy Fig/Curmudgeon from Quahog, R.I.
Professional Moldy Fig/Curmudgeon
Dec 1st 2014 at 5:44:10 PM

To be fair, they got some damn good celebrities to be the villains, and they really elevated the material.

edited 1st Dec '14 5:44:40 PM by Aldo930

"They say I'm old fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast."
RavenWilder Raven Wilder
Raven Wilder
Dec 1st 2014 at 10:43:29 PM

@indiana 404: I don't know where you're getting the idea that superheroes used to be a lot less powerful, but have been written as more powerful to keep up with technology.

I mean, there's a story from The '40s where Captain Marvel grows larger in size so that he can interact with people whose bodies are made up of solar systems the same way our bodies are made up of atoms. And once he's on a similar scale to these people, he single-handedly beats up their version of the German army.

Then of course there are guys like the Spectre or Dr. Fate (also from The '40s) whose powers were always the ability to do whatever the writer felt like having them do.

"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
Dec 2nd 2014 at 12:36:09 AM

I don't know where you're getting the idea that superheroes used to be a lot less powerful, but have been written as more powerful to keep up with technology.
From how Superman started out without flight, X-ray and heat vision, superbreath etc, and could still be taken down by artillery. Living in a world of cardboard, he was not. Similarly, Bruce Wayne being a rich idiot with no day job was mostly a means to explain his crime-fighting resources; nowadays however, he's a bonafide Fiction 500 member who could by all means have legally dismantled Gotham's underworld years ago. A guy rich enough to covertly afford a space station, is more than equipped to reduce crime rates by way of social investments alone.

But like I've said, and also why I give the more lighthearted earlier tales a free pass, this sort of inflation is only relevant in stories like the JLU Cadmus arc, or MOS, where the capes are apparently not just the most powerful people on the planet, but indeed, more powerful than the rest of it put together, and this is milked for dramatic effect. In an age of increasing wariness about unaccountable yet powerful organizations overriding public authority all while claiming to enforce it, it's no great mystery why that idea would spark unease rather than awe - thus tying with the topic at hand.

edited 2nd Dec '14 4:55:51 AM by indiana404

Aldo930 Professional Moldy Fig/Curmudgeon from Quahog, R.I.
Professional Moldy Fig/Curmudgeon
Dec 2nd 2014 at 4:30:17 AM

[up][up] Then again, from what I can tell, Captain Marvel's adventures were more lighthearted like that.

"They say I'm old fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast."
GAP Formerly G.G. from Who Knows?
Formerly G.G.
Dec 2nd 2014 at 5:30:35 AM

[up][up] The Cadmus Arc would had been a better deconstruction if they didn't decide that Brainiac was behind the whole thing.

"The King Slime. The Cureslime edition!"
Dec 2nd 2014 at 6:51:56 AM

Tell me about it. Kinda like how the MCU issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. overstepping their bounds in the name of world peace was revealed to be a Hydra plot all along. Perish the thought there's an actual honest discussion of means-versus-ends policies in a superhero story... Watchmen notwithstanding, of course.

For what it's worth, Marvel does seem to have evolved in terms of stories and characterizations, with the current universe feeling like a tangled free-for-all of ambiguous stances and complex relationships. I consider this a good thing, really, since it shows how every character has grown in their own ways, breaking out of the once strict face and heel archetypes. It helps that very few of their capes actually follow the traditional costumed vigilante mold - I only recall Spider-Man and Daredevil off the cuff, and those are hardly threatening powerhouses.

To contrast, DC comics seem to reboot and snap back to formula whenever such complexities threaten to shake up the status quo too much, while games and cartoons never stray away from it in the first place. From what I've seen, the DCU doesn't have actual difficult issues like Marvel's mutants, and instead relies on tired old murderous maniacs and alien warlords. Any ambiguity with regard to its main capes is avoided like the plague, or, as with the case of Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord, expunged via reboot.

In a way, despite its reputation for the contrary, I find the DCU to be the more cynical of the two, precisely because otherwise complex issues are scapegoated onto unambiguous villains, while heroes remain rightly self-righteous, frequently propped by very contrived developments. Like, for instance, Red Hood pointing a gun at Batman rather than just shooting the Joker, or Superman magically depowering the Elite, thus completely nullifying the entire point of the story. To me, it showed that the company couldn't handle criticism and stooped to punching strawmen over it - that's a major turn-off for any genre, let alone one supposedly based around highly moral heroism.

edited 2nd Dec '14 7:13:43 AM by indiana404

IndirectActiveTransport You Give Me Fever from Chicago Relationship Status: Coming soon to theaters
You Give Me Fever
Dec 2nd 2014 at 12:39:29 PM

I don't think face and heel mean what you think they mean. Unless you're talking about The Unlimited Wrestling Federation The Thing and Deadpool worked for or something.

Since we're on that topic, has anyone read Místico's comic? It's pretty surreal and another argument against people generally becoming cynical about the genre. Cynical about Marvel and DC, definitely, but that's what happens when you're the biggest names in town, even more so when you've spent a better part of the last three decades backsliding till you got bought out.

edited 2nd Dec '14 12:43:30 PM by IndirectActiveTransport

That's why he wants you to have the money. Not so you can buy 14 Cadillacs but so you can help build up the wastes
Dec 2nd 2014 at 1:43:03 PM

Given how comics themselves openly use the terms superhero and supervillain like they're job descriptions rather than literary archetypes, I figure the equivalent wrestling terms are quite an apt comparison. It's not too far-fetched to say that, for instance, Cyclops and Iron Man are currently doing heel runs while Catwoman and Captain Cold are on the face roster. Thankfully, most character inter-relationships are more complex than that, but occasionally they still default to such simple extremes.

Other than that, the perpetual nature of the genre can be interpreted as sets of separate stories where the roles of hero and villain can be quite distinct from the characters' official designations. It's just that DC has more hang-ups in that regard, with nigh-permanent face runs for most of its capes. On the whole, it's not that different from the Super Mario cast, who fight in one game and go carting in another. But like I mentioned, its not well-suited for the overly serious attitude some stories put on, with underwhelming results.

Dec 2nd 2014 at 2:03:01 PM

@Title of thread: Yes, we are. This isn't even slightly debatable.

The world will look up and shout "Save us", and I'll look down and whisper "Too bad, Waluigi Time" Vote Loki 2016
Dec 3rd 2014 at 12:43:09 AM

Here's a related question: Did fans become cynical before or after superhero comics themselves went too far on the darker and edgier route? It just seems to me that, even without the aforementioned conceptual issues, there's only so many pages of grim and jaded wangst that one can stomach before bailing out, or at the very least switching to the more lighthearted iterations still in print.

Dec 3rd 2014 at 4:19:21 AM

A little cynical before the comics themselves, then a lot more cynical afterwards.

Dec 3rd 2014 at 5:42:16 AM

And that's why I only like the kid friendly comics most of the time! I'd rather read something lighthearted, even if it's full of Silver Age silliness.

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