Monday, August 15, 2011

Blogathon 02: Superheroes

Because I always have.

That's my first response to the question: why do you read superhero comics? I always have. I have read them before I even knew how to read. My dad collected them (still does) and they were just there. Just like TV, movies, books, music... there was no sense that they were less than those things or something you shouldn't read. That's one of the reasons I've always been a little out of step with everyone else in comics it seems with their need for outside validation, for comics to leave the fringes and gain mainstream acceptance. They had it in my house, so they've always had it in those places inside that matter. I was the kid who did projects in school on superheroes. I remember in grade ten(!) doing an 'independent study project' in my Canadian Studies class (think civics, combination of history, geography, politics, etc.) using Superman and Batman to explain the relationship of Canada and the United States. 'Fuck you if you don't like it, that's how it is' was my attitude. So, yeah, superhero comics are stuck in me deep. Moreso than just 'comics.' Which is kind of sad in some ways, but... I like what I like and fuck you if that's a problem.

But, just because they've always been there isn't a good reason. It's a reason, just not a good one. Far too many stupid things have been justified by the 'that's how it's always been' excuse. There has to be something more to it by now then.

I've gotten into an argument over the purpose of superheroes and their stories a few times with Tim Callahan. In his view, they're meant to be fantastic and unrealistic and have escapist adventures. His argument is a bit more nuanced, but that's the jist of it. I, on the other hand, since being a teen, have wanted realism and the exploration of philosophic/theoretical ideas, of some idea that these books are going somewhere that they haven't been before. Now, obviously, for both of us, there are exceptions and crossovers, it's not a hard and fast line. It was when I was reading Supergods by Grant Morrison that I realised what I wanted. Morrison discussed the ideas that Tim often put forth, arguing that the real world is already here, so why should superheroes be limited by that? Why not have them do anything and everything and set an example for us? Show us the limits of our potential and a better world?

I admire that argument, I do. I think where I disagree is the means. Superheroes are, for all intents and purposes, advanced humans. A step beyond us. By god, yes, let them show the way. Let them act as little bubble worlds that show us how things could be better. But, simply presenting that final world, that world that's already been changed does no good. That's skipping some steps. By putting them in situations that mirror those in our world a bit, they offer chances to think out theories and ideas on how to take what's here and make it better. Being so divorced from reality is fine for escapism, something which I enjoy and need just as much as anyone else, but give me something with a bit more meat. That doesn't mean limiting one's imagination -- it means applying it in a more focused manner.

I like heroes that have to try. For me, there's never been any valour or virtue in those that are naturally good. I think that's a reason that's always limited my appreciation of Superman. He's so good that there's no struggle and, therefore, no real virture. The example I always give is: if it never occurs to you to lie, then there's no virtue in your honesty; if it occurs to you to lie and you choose not to, there's virtue in your honesty. Virtue needs to come from the struggle to not slip into vice. I like superheroes that need to struggle to be good, to be heroes. That could mean overcoming the inclination to simply kill people at random, or it could be as simple as Peter Parker sacrificing a date to go save midtown from Dr. Octopus on a rampage.

Warren Ellis tends to write the type of heroes I like best: the bastards. The people who aren't nice and aren't clean, but they still dedicate themselves to getting up every day and making the world a little better. That's admirable. Those are people I can get behind and root for.

I guess what I need are heroes that are human, not quite gods yet.

Today, a lot of the books and ideas I look at will relate to that. Some won't. But, that's where my interest lies.

In 30 minutes, I'll begin my examination of different interpretations of Superman.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative (Details in this post)! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]