Big Sexy Arune.Com

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nerd Bling- The Love of Super-Heroes (Part 2)

When we last left, the question was posed: What's so bad about being a comic book fan? And what's so bad about super-heroes?

We'll start with the latter question first, as it seems that comic book fans are automatically assumed to love super-heroes with an unholy passion reserved only for the Super Bowl and/or sex; unfortunately, most people don't realize that comic books are a medium, not a message unto themselves, and there exists within this medium a variety of books from a variety of genres for a variety of readers. Now super-heroes are fine and dandy if they're brought to life on the big screen it seems and box office figures of the X-Men and Spider-Man films seem to support that, though small screen shows such as Justice League Unlimited and Smallville seem to not be as "acceptable" ways to experience super-heroes, even if thousands upon thousands of people more watch Smallville than will ever pick up a Superman comic book in this lifetime.

One can't forget that super-heroes are rooted in simplistic, child like fantasties of power and pleasure, action and adventure, even if some seem to have subtext, for example, the bondage subtext in Wonder Woman stories and the pro-immigration stance of the original Superman stories. This of course doesn't count to infamous "imaginary" subtext imagined by Dr. Wertham in the 50's, as chronicled in his Seduction Of The Innocent book, namely the theory that Batman and Robin were gay lovers. This was derived all from the way they stood with their legs apart and the lack of women in their life. That 60's Batman episode where Batman can't tell that a girl has dressed up like Robin to infiltrate the Bat-Cave adds layers to the discussion... but I'm wandering. Most people were introduced to super-heroes during their childhood and associate them with that part of their past, especially with the inherent simplicity of the characters at times. Clark Kent disguises himself with glasses. Batman breaks the law... to punish those who break the law, except his breaking the law is o.k. The X-Men are hated and feared even though they all look like super-models and on the outside seem to be normal people. Spider-Man is angsty because he's got a super model girlfriend, a maternal figure that loves him and solid work as a photographer (or whatever job they give him). I'll concede that it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief, but that's part of the fun of reading about super-heroes: they're incredible people in incredible situations who do good. Modern comic books have a lot more gray areas and philosophy integrated into their tales, but at the end of the day we're reading about good people overcoming tragedy to do what is right and improve the world.

I can dig that.

And because most people read comics during the 60's and 70's (a time of simpler stories, which isn't to disrespect the classic work, but a time of simpler stories) or the early 90's (the time of excess marketing and "speculation" gimmicks), there's a skewed view of comic books in general. I can understand that to a degree- it makes sense that you'd judge super-hero comic books based on your experience with them. But to extend that judgement to the whole medium and current storytelling- not to mention all the classic work from the last century- is pure folly. Let's say you saw the film Elektra and hated it- does that make all action movies bad? Or super-hero films? No, and I can't think of a single person who'd presume to make such a judgement. But people often flip through a comic, dismiss it as "crap" and then proceed to use that as evidence of the medium's worth, or lack thereof in this case.

It's utterly insane.

The other problem with super-hero comics is similar to any niche product- it can be hard to get into it all. Especially with any major character such as Spider-Man or Batman, you're looking at dozens of books just about that character every month, not to mention all the cameos or appearances in other books. You're also talking about an industry that can seem SO navel gazing and introverted that it turns away people, creating bitterness and resentment within those trying to learn about comics. "Genre" fiction, whether it be Buffy The Vampire Slayer or super-hero related tales have been a hard sell since the 90's, as an entire generation found super hero comics and related genre fiction to be vacuous- right or wrong, the emphasis was on "collectors' items" or "foil enhanced chromium cancer curing covers with artificial intelligence." Regardless of merits, X-Men #1 didn't sell 8.1 million copies (thus the best-selling comic of all time and most comics have a hard time breaking 100k these days) on the strength of the brand alone. It was seen as a new #1 issue, believed to have higher value and the 5 different covers didn't hurt sales at all for "completisits" and speculators who are no doubt sitting on hundreds of copies of this book at home. So we've had an entire generation miss out on comic books because they're parents or older siblings were "burned" on their purchases and concurrently, the video game market drove itself into the homes of many. Now the mainstream acceptance of video games has been very recent, but I can remember that even in my high school days, loving to play the new Madden game on Sega Genesis wasn't un-cool at all. But then again, there's the sports factor that we'll be addressing soon as well.

From talking to comic book "skeptics," it's also clear that many feel there's something inherently immature about super-heroes and based on the visuals, it's understandable. From women in thongs fighting crime to men who'd put Adonis to shame, there's a definite male power trip aspect to super-heroes that hasn't been addressed. There's a reason that Elektra shows more skin that Captain America. Can you imagine him dressed in the Wonder Woman costume?

It's interesting that people can gather in bars with alcohol to celebrate the end of Sex In The City and while some catty comments will be made about those gathering, it isn't socially inacceptable- after all, it's being done in a large public area and no one's really walking by to ridicule them. Or what about the large parties people had on Thursdays to celebrate new episodes of Friends? Regardless of the merits of the show, one can't deny that the series hinged on coincidence, hyperbole and entirely unrealistic lifestyles, but it managed to become a cultural phenomenon and net the involved parties more money that any of us reading this will ever see. Was it the lack of costumes or powers that made it more acceptable? Or was it the pretty people? As with many comics, the focus of the series was the relationships between the main characters and how they worked to achieve their goals. Much like super-hero comics. Look at how people can watch re-runs of Seinfeld day after day after day without overt ridicule (generally), but if you're caught reading a comic book, you're meant to feel like the 10 year old whose mother just caught him spanking the monkey to a new issue of Playboy (which really does have good articles by the way).

I'm not going to pretend to be some expert on human psychology or provide an answer to why super-heroes are viewed so poorly. I'd like to think we all make decisions for ourselves and somewhere along the line, the masses have decided that super-heroes on the printed page or small screen are not as cool as seeing them on the big screen. Maybe it's the event mentality of seeing a film or that in some minds, a concept as a film has added legitimacey.

Or maybe we just need to give people some good comic books and by golly, there are lots of them.

Tomorrow: What's so wrong about comic book fans? And what's a good list of comics for the new reader?

Coming Soon: A day by day spotlight on some of my favorite super-heroes and explaining why they resonate with me so deeply.