Sunday, October 23, 2005

Superheroes, Realism And Darkness - A Snippet

I'm finally back with something to say. Hopefully, I'll update this more frequently. Apologies to all.

At a message board I frequent, the subject of superheroes and realism has come up. I won't point you in any specific direction or to anything specifically as it isn't exactly a new discussion.

The basic premise of these discussions is "Why is it every time superheroes are done in a more 'realistic' manner, that automatically means extreme violence, darkness and generally depressing stories?"

Firstly, let's dismiss that stupid argument that superheroes cannot be portrayed realistically because superheroes don't exist. That argument is inane and assumes that realistic means representing the world as it is rather that attempting to manufacture a world that follows the basic rules of human behaviour in as realistic manner as possible. At the core of realism in fiction is the portrayal of characters, not the surrounding world itself. Dismissing a genre from being possible of realism based on things like superpowers is missing the point.

That said, the rest of my argument is pretty brief. The reason why "realism" in superhero comics often means "violent, bleak and messed up" is because of the nature of superhero fiction.

Superhero fiction is based upon the concept of people solving every problem via physical force almost all of the time. When you take that mentality and place it within a so-called "real world," the outcome is obvious: brutal, disgusting and quite depressing.

But, that would also only be the first stage in realism, as having every character continue to solve problems exclusively with physical violence would make no sense. Soon after the consequences were seen, some characters would try different things and try to avoid physical violence--something that "realistic" superhero comics has not really tried (that I've seen--if I'm wrong, please point it out). (Although, in his final year on Adventures of Superman, Joe Casey explored the concept of Superman being a pacifist. But, Superman has never really been realistic.)

The basic problem is that realistic superhero fiction begins in a logical, realistic manner, but then fails to carry through to the next logical steps. It quickly becomes unrealistic.