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Are we cynical about superheroes?

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Dec 25th 2017 at 12:21:15 AM

So why are you telling us all this instead of, I dunno, the guys actually in charge of making comics?
You may as well ask why the site has discussion threads on media to begin with, considering a lot of them are filled with criticism, albeit hopefully of the constructive variety. Why complain of the flaws in the DCEU if Zack Snyder surely won't bother fixing them? Why opine on the quality of the new Star Wars films if their creators are less than likely to listen to any of the contradictory comments on what's right and wrong with them?

I find the more intriguing question to be why such criticism, particularly elements challenging established dogma, is seen as so heretical as to regularly cause a dog-pile on People Enjoying Different Elements of the Show. Could it be that, as comics are a perpetually ongoing medium subject to all kinds of trends, the actual source of anxiety is that creators occasionally do react to fan opinion, but perish the thought, not always listen to the "right" fans?


Not to detract from the actual discussion, the elements mentioned above, combined with traditional superheroes being unwilling to kill do anything of consequence against their enemies, leave the overall impression that they simply aren't interested in protecting anyone, but are more engaged with fighting their own personal demons at the public's expense. That's the ultimate source of cynicism regarding their operations - the sense that when they don the capes, they aren't actually trying to accomplish anything, but are merely going through the motions, with the respective stories having inconclusive or outright downer endings.

This particular aspect, however, I find to be fault not of Moore for a change, but of the X-Men and a few other Marvel staples, who humanized the concept of what superheroes are, but kinda lost focus on what they're supposed to do. This is okay for people justr trying to survive, like the X-Men, or even low-powered vigilantes like Spidey. But ever since DC decided to go with the same approach, prospective fans have been greeted with tales of the dark and bleak life of a freakin' billionaire, never mind his demigod superfriends, now prancing around in spandex with no particular purpose in mind. For all of superhero tales being built around escapism, that's more an impression worth escaping from.

Still, I notice DC's current animated shows are considerably more lighthearted, and at least one focuses on high-flying action rather than personal affairs, so it may yet be that writers are listening to constructive criticism after all. waii

Luminosity ahuhuhuhuhu from the mother of all drills Relationship Status: Lovey-Dovey
ahuhuhuhuhu
Dec 25th 2017 at 4:25:41 AM

Not to detract from the actual discussion, the elements mentioned above, combined with traditional superheroes being unwilling to do anything of consequence against their enemies, leave the overall impression that they simply aren't interested in protecting anyone, but are more engaged with fighting their own personal demons at the public's expense. That's the ultimate source of cynicism regarding their operations - the sense that when they don the capes, they aren't actually trying to accomplish anything, but are merely going through the motions, with the respective stories having inconclusive or outright downer endings.

Funny thing, in my fanfic, this is exactly the criticism Octavia(female Doc Ock) delivers to Spider-Gwen, which she can't argue against and has to reevaluate her methods.

I dunno if you would enjoy my shit as it's a bit too cynical, but there's something :D

Obviously fanfics can focuse on persoal stuff all they want, because they're fanfics and thus nothing bars them from having conclusive endings.

I will say one more thing - the big difference between Moore's work and what his countless imitators are trying to do is the conclusive endings. He dared to present solutions to the problems he brought up, even if those were controversial as all hell. Killing Joke is the only exception, unless you believe Batman killed the Joker in the ending.

edited 25th Dec '17 4:26:56 AM by Luminosity

Dec 25th 2017 at 7:24:33 AM

Or went insane himself, laughing at his own inability to break out of the cycle. Either way, it is an ending.

But yeah, I'm generally not fond of superheroes going out of their way to antagonize their enemies, only to fizzle out when it comes to anything decisive. Gimme the opposite - like, say, someone like Wonder Woman - generally nice, amiable, not too concerned over her iconic status or what have you... and perfectly willing to slice someone in half if they go over the line. Her animated feature is my personal gold standard as to how DC superheroes should be written, never mind also having the best Steve Trevor to date.

Dec 25th 2017 at 12:50:31 PM

[up][up][up]Never mind, that was a lot meaner than I'd intended. Please accept my apologies and carry on...

[up]That, on the other hand, is an utterly immoral and unforgivable position and I'll thank you to not sully my sight with it.

edited 25th Dec '17 12:56:19 PM by Rubber_Lotus

Dec 27th 2017 at 11:07:26 AM

Don't worry about it - between my alleged allegiance to the alt-right, and the insinuation that finding some characters unrelatable is somehow my fault, the idea that this might not be the best venue to share certain observations may actually have an empiric basis.waii

Continuing with the aforementioned loss of purpose, one aspect I find even Moore mishandled is the idea of superheroics being a matter of status rather than of function... which unfortunately carried over to the industry proper. It's easy enough to trace that line of thought - who wouldn't want to be free of social mores and legal obligations, adhering only to personal conscience, and of course, beating up criminals socially acceptable targets at leisure... Thing is, eventually this mentality grows toxic, and writers find themselves justifying it with increasingly inane developments - everyone in a competing position of authority is incompetent or corrupt (hence why the judicial system is usually exempt), any civilian would best not interfere either (unless they're adopted into the non-ego-challenging position of sidekick), and even when other superheroes cross into one's territory, an obligatory fight ensues. After such displays, it's prety hard not to think of some superheroes as self-absorbed primadonnas, perfectly mirroring their writers.

To contrast, if you start with the idea of supervillains - which are notably missing from Moore's signature work - or otherwise matters who require an extraordinary approach to handle - the resulting heroes and their attitude are vastly different. This is not only the idea the Punisher is built on - yet despite his extremism, you can see his appeal in that regard - but also far more family-friendly heroes like the Green Lanterns and Doctor Strange - whose respective orders are also far more egalitarian. They are defined by their purpose far more than by their power... and considering the kind of baddies they fight, you can't say they're lacking in that regard either.

I call this the inverse law of function and exclusivity - the less people have something to do, the more they are glorified for what they are. You can see this exemplified in films like the The Incredibles or Sky High, which focus a lot on social status, yet feature barely any proper superheroics to speak of. To contrast, series like Ghostbusters or Men in Black feature superheroes in all but name, yet feel little need to present them as anything more than blue collar workers or government agents, people just doing their job... but what a job it is! That's what I read superhero comics for as well - the sense of dealing with things wondrous and exciting, and that such dealings aren't exclusive to those born into wealth and power or gaining the latter by sheer luck. I'd be all over the SHIELD and Checkmate books if they didn't waste half their page-space on internal squabbles. And having mentioned Doctor Strange, I kinda want to see an independent Kamar-Taj series as well... though I reckon there's always the BPRD series for that too.

edited 27th Dec '17 11:13:18 AM by indiana404

Dec 27th 2017 at 12:08:05 PM

For all that show's problems, Gotham actually does a far better job of justifying Batman's existence by having the villains come first.

edited 27th Dec '17 12:44:32 PM by windleopard

Dec 27th 2017 at 12:31:58 PM

[up] I'd say Batman's existence is inherently justified... not by Gotham, but by the existence of Ra's al-Ghul. That guy pretty much shuts down any conversation on "Must there be a Batman?" before it even starts, unless you're a genuine Utopia Justifies the Means kind of reader.

EDIT: Wait, shit, I thought you meant Gotham in general, not Gotham the Fox show.

edited 27th Dec '17 12:32:27 PM by Rubber_Lotus

GAP Formerly G.G. from Who Knows?
Formerly G.G.
Dec 28th 2017 at 3:00:55 AM

Even with that Gotham show, there are still villains like Joker or Hugo Strange who could really give people a bad time.

"The King Slime. He's awesome."
Jan 5th 2018 at 6:16:13 AM

I'd say the question nowadays would be if it's just a Batman that Gotham needs, never mind the rest of the world. The Joker alone would have earned a federal shoot-on-sight order by now, the military has every excuse imaginable to mount stingers and patriots on every high-rise in Metropolis, and Marvel's New York is by all accounts an open-carry city considering how little attention is given to the likes of Deadpool walking about in full battle-gear.

Instead, most of the time when a civil organization gears up to defend against the kind of threats superheroes face on a daily basis, the story is meant to deconstruct their violent and manipulative ways, or devolves into infighting and mole hunts. Perish the thought for people to have options other than the spandex brigade for matters of global security.

Same goes for the lethality issue - gruesome as it can be, lethal force is still the one form of self-defense that's reasonably available to most people, meaning its obligatory disparagement in comics can have the unfortunate implications that it's morally better for a person to be a victim, than get on the designated heroes' bad side by *gasp* picking up a gun and shooting a charging axe murderer. (And given the Max Lord incident, you can't say that's an exaggeration either.) What longtime fans may see as their heroes nobly standing up for their ideals, to the casual observer or newcomer it appears that they're actively defending mass murderers, knowingly perpetuating the danger they pose to ordinary people, all while being dismissive themselves of any possibility of rehabilitation.

Essentially, this presents an arbitrarily perpetuated problem, which anyone would grow weary of. Every other form of action fiction is built on the framework that villains cause problems, and heroes prevent or solve them. Thus, there's nothing more cynical than the impression that the heroes aren't really interested in solving problems, but are more involved in their own personal affairs and self-styled crusades. Now, this can work for anti-heroes and amoral mercenaries, but for otherwise celebrated paragons, it's just not a sustainable attitude to work with.

Jan 5th 2018 at 9:11:15 AM

In light of the title of the thread, I'm forced as well to remember a quote from Grant Morrison:

"People say that kids can't understand the difference between fact and fiction, but that's bullshit. Kids understand that real crabs don't sing like the ones in The Little Mermaid'. But you give an adult fiction, and the adult starts asking really fucking dumb questions like "How does Superman fly?" "How do those eyebeams work?" "Who pumps the Batmobile's tires?" It's a fucking made up story, you idiot! Nobody pumps the tires!"

Jan 5th 2018 at 9:17:57 AM

Difference is that cartoons don't usually try to make stories reviloving around why crabs can talk. But writers like milking necessary weasels for drama.

Jan 5th 2018 at 10:19:38 AM

Precisely. When a story posits a problem, and then presents a hero visibly able and supposedly dedicated to solving it, most viewers would expect to see the problem solved at the end. If the problem is that a villain is wrecking stuff downtown, the solution is to stop him from wrecking stuff, and usually put him in jail. But if the problem is that putting him in jail doesn't work, it's only fair to expect for the hero to try something more effective. I have nothing against darker tales where unrepentant villains live to fight another day, but there's no pithy speech melodramatic enough to convince me this is supposed to be a good thing.

Mind you, children take talking crabs for granted because they tend to take everything for granted. It's how people learn stuff early on. And we have a nice fun page about how that also tends to backfire, never mind the slew of social representation threads. You'd think that amidst all the complaints about superheroes' race, gender, sexuality etc., the idea they could expand their methodology to cover more extreme villains wouldn't be all that heretical either. It's not that all of them should become like the Punisher in more colorful costume (though I did like it when he wore Ant-Man's helmet, Doc Ock's arms and the Goblin glider all at once), but that it would be nice to see, say, a Huntress story where her wanting to put a crossbow bolt through some pimp's jugular isn't treated as the worst thing in the world, and she doesn't have to go through half the Bat-family to get it done.

edited 5th Jan '18 11:08:32 AM by indiana404

Jan 5th 2018 at 1:18:36 PM

Edit

edited 5th Jan '18 1:19:07 PM by comicwriter

Nikkolas Politically Confused from Texas Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
Politically Confused
Jan 6th 2018 at 12:22:44 AM

Cynical is one word for it, I have been on forums like this for years and the absolutely zealous hatred some people have for the No Kill Rule is a little alarming. Batman and Daredevil have been branded cowardly and then further insulted for trying to save villains.

I personally can read a Daredevil comic where he refuses to kill Bullseye and nod in understanding of his position. I can then go read a good Punisher issue and nod in agreement with his position. It's like the end of Watchmen - everybody has a legitimate argument. (except that Ozy should have been killed.Not really negotiable on that point)

I read the last few pages of this topic and it was mentioned heroes are put into situations where they don't have to compromise. That's largely untrue in my opinion. Heroes like Batman and Daredevil suffer immensely under the weight of doubt and regret that their moral code puts on them. If anything, the screaming masses who want Joker crucified and demonize Batman for his weakness are the ones who refuse to compromise.

edited 6th Jan '18 12:27:07 AM by Nikkolas

Jan 6th 2018 at 1:13:28 AM

I consider it a matter of tailoring the actions of the hero to the respective villain. I cut Spider-Man a lot of slack, since most of the people he fights are genuinely disturbed rather than unambiguously malicious, and the few complete monsters like Carnage can still wipe the floor with him, so it's not often that he even gets the chance to do anything about them. I'm also understanding of the Kingpin situation, since he benefits from Vetinari job security - New York is slightly better off with him in charge of the underworld, so even the Punisher occasionally opts to give him a wide berth.

With Batman, however, the problem isn't so much his personally chosen code, but that he also practices a doctrine of "my city, my rules" (quoting verbatim from the last Red Hood annual), wherein he often ends up outright defending the villains from other heroes. Remember when he gave the Joker CPR so that Dick wouldn't be branded a killernote ? If not for Deadshot awesomely owning the clown in Assault on Arkham, I'd have thought the writers only use him as an angst tap whenever they want to punish people for taking an interest in the stories.

And then there's Superman practicing virtually the same philosophy worldwide... except around Wonder Woman, since she can tell him to take a hike and defend her stance physically. In all other cases, there's the paradoxical framework where a villain can rape, pillage and burn at leisure, while such heroes are often not only too late to prevent most of the damage, but end up defending him from retribution. Not exactly an optimistic impression, I reckon.

Ikedatakeshi God of Worf from singapore Relationship Status: Singularity
God of Worf
Jan 6th 2018 at 3:06:09 AM

We have people in real life who debate the death penalty. What's the problem with some people not being okay with Superman killing?

Luminosity ahuhuhuhuhu from the mother of all drills Relationship Status: Lovey-Dovey
ahuhuhuhuhu
Jan 6th 2018 at 3:21:32 AM

Exactly. And if a hero wants to murder suspects without ever facing accountability, they could just become a cop.

Jan 6th 2018 at 3:48:53 AM

[up][up]People who are against the death penalty typically aren't known for committing torture, privacy violation and use of child soldiers. People also debate the death penalty in real life without worrying about killers breaking out of prison every five minutes.

[up]Or they can join a superhero team. That seems to work just fine in comic universes. Just ask Magneto, Jason Todd, Catwoman, Emma Frost and the Maximoff twinstongue

Sigilbreaker26 Serial Procrastinator
Serial Procrastinator
Jan 6th 2018 at 3:54:12 AM

To be honest, in this universe the grave really isn't a better container than Arkham.

"And when the last law was down and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat?"
Ikedatakeshi God of Worf from singapore Relationship Status: Singularity
God of Worf
Jan 6th 2018 at 4:18:50 AM

The problem with superheroes is that there are never permanent consequences, which also applies to anti-heroes. Punisher's kill count must be in the thousands by this point, yet by the next issue new criminals show up for him to gun down. It doesn't change the fact that by their very nature superheroes live in a Crapsack World since they need villains to continue making stories. If every superhero start killing their supervillains, they either get revived more frequently or even more new villains take their place. At a certain point we might as well agree with Injustice Superman.

Jan 6th 2018 at 4:27:05 AM

To be honest, in this universe the grave really isn't a better container than Arkham.
Don't give Rasputin any ideas.

Like I said, I'm fine with Superman not killing, so long as he doesn't go out of his way to outright defend villains against whom there might be no other practical option. The last time was when he fought Deathstroke over a murderous dictator who had ordered the killing of every witness and investigator the last time he was imprisoned. Really, given the various other privacy violations and ordnance regulation infringements routinely committed by the League, not to mention their abject brutality against not-quite-human yet still clearly sentient opponents, you'd think they'd at least look the other way when dictators and terrorists get the deep six. Dunno about cops, but that sort of sudden arbitrary adherence to the law is most often practiced by amoral attorneys rather than noble paragons of virtue.

As noted above, the matter is that the stories themselves present problems, milk them for drama, and then refuse to solve them and consider this to be a sign of morality. Killing in itself is a viable option primarily for the most reprehensible villains unperturbed by legal means - and nobody asked DC to style its staple baddies as such. Consequently, nobody can be blamed for regarding the likes of Deathstroke and Deadshot as, if not exactly more heroic, then at least more suitable to handle them.

Ikedatakeshi God of Worf from singapore Relationship Status: Singularity
God of Worf
Jan 6th 2018 at 4:32:07 AM

So we're in agreement that bad writing is to blame, right?

Jan 6th 2018 at 5:15:43 AM

Pretty much, yeah. Other than bonafide campy alt-verses, DC tends to devolve in cynicism for cynicism's sake. Fandom inertia appears strong enough to ignore criticism regarding the books themselves, but you see what happens when this is exported in film - I don't think reactions to MOS would've been all that different if Superman hadn't killed Zod in the end, ditto if Batman's vigilante sprees in BVS had a "luckily nobody got killed" statement afterward. For all of Marvel's own problems, I've never set out to read, say, a Deadpool or Punisher book with the expectation that Iron Man or Thor will suddenly appear and defend Carnage or Bullseye. Daredevil maybe, but at least he operates only in Hell's Kitchen, and guest-starring in other books tends to treat him as an ineffectual butt monkey.

edited 6th Jan '18 5:19:17 AM by indiana404

Ikedatakeshi God of Worf from singapore Relationship Status: Singularity
God of Worf
Jan 6th 2018 at 5:38:49 AM

True Art Is Angsty is a huge problem that probably contributed to DCEU's current situation. I'm pretty sure it's not Superman killing that's the problem of MOS, considering Superman II, but since Snyder focused on it, everyone just attributed that one scene as a culmination of their problems with the movie because they can't phrase it better.

Nikkolas Politically Confused from Texas Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
Politically Confused
Jan 6th 2018 at 5:56:43 AM

I love Man of Steel because it explores everything I want in a superhero story. Namely, what the hell is a superhero?

Far as I'm concerned, other people didn't want that. They didn't want the very idea of Superman to be questioned. Notably, I recently saw a bunch of comments complaining about Superman killing Zod because Snyder's reasoning for that scene was that Superman adopted his ethical position by being put in this terrible situation. As in, he came to realize how he felt about killing when he had no choice but to take a life. People were shitting on Snyder because they've never tried to create a coherent ethical philosophy or system. "I just know what's right and so should Superman."

A juvenile, philosophically bankrupt view of the world.

edited 6th Jan '18 5:58:32 AM by Nikkolas


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