The Hero Bag of Tricks

Hmmm, well most of what you've been said has been said before. This is at it's essence what the deconstructionist and reconstructionist movements are all about. It's also at the heart of why a lot of current comics are increasingly sucking.

The deconstructionist movement involved things like say "Wild Cards" (a series of shared universe story anthologies, and a few novels) which got into the whole question of "what of heroes existed in the real world" in a way that went beyond what "The Watchmen" accomplished. It goes into the whole idea of the grays of real life, how amazing power doesn't let you deal with real issues, and ultimatly how a lot of the super-hero crap is just circular because it wouldn't matter if there weren't super beings around mandating that they wind up opposing each other. Basically the major problems that require super beings to solve them, wind up being created by other super beings and wouldn't have existed otherwise.

The reconstructionist movement is all about acknowleging those points, but demonstrating how following things logically the comics logic winds up re-asserting itself. In a deconstructionist work questions like "why would this knock over banks, instead of becoming a celebrity?" form the bread and butter of the narrative when you get down to it. In a reconstructionist work the point is raised that most people want to change things in the world, and super powers give them an oppertunity to actually do so. The world is such a deadlocked mess where nothing gets done with any real speed or effectiveness, especially in civilized countries like the US, that the lure of making things happen is going to motivate people. Avoiding backlash and wanting people to be unable to target you while you do your thing is going to result in people hiding their identities. Likewise there is only so much you can do with destructive power (though you can do a lot), lasting change takes money and resources along with the directed force, and that basically means your going to wind up wanting to get money and resources while concealing your identity to use for other things... so we go back to the thing with super beings knocking over banks. It's just that in a reconstructionist story the super-human bank robber or thief rarely has the motive of simply wanting money for the presumed purpose of retiring on it or whatever, he's doing it for a cause.

This leads to shades of gray where it's all about perspective. Some rampaging super gang banger might very well justify himself in the ways common to black culture and the whole "gangsta" culture. You might have an Islamic out to destroy the great western Satan, or a Black Muslim out to free his people from the evil creations of "Dr. Yacub", or any one of a million other things that we pretty much know about but ignore and tolerate because in general nobody has the power to do anything on a major scale. Guys like Malcolm X and Bin Ladin and their major followers didn't have the abillity to level city blocks. Outside of that, simply on things like the Liberal/Conservative divide in the US we'd have people trying to change things "for the greater good" (with both sides being able to justify themselves from a certain perspective).

Over the years we've had reconstructionist comic series like "The Authority" which more or less raised the issue of very powerful, Justice League type heroes trying to build a "finer world" in something akin to the real world, which put them into direct conflict with pretty much every nation and culture on the planet. At one point "The Authority" wound up literally taking over the USA (even if they later conceded it was a mistake) towards that end. The super team took it's name from pretty much declaring itself the final word on Earth, basically "follow these principles" (which are pretty much an idealistic version of left wing principles) and anyone on the entire planet that doesn't can look forward to getting their heads busted by a super team made up of guys who each individually could in theory bring about an extinction class event on the planet. The stories largely revolving around this idea as much as the super heroics themselves... and raises questions like whether these guys are REALLY the good guys or not, regardless of whether you agree of their principles. Pretty much a very honest, and straightforward take on what such powerful beings might decide to do.

In reconstructionist comics, more traditional types of super heroes do tend to exist, but the point is made that they wind up being totally reactive. With all these other beings trying to do things for good or ill (depending on your perspective) there are going to be those who are going to try and shield people from the resulting fallout. With this though there is the constant question of "is it worth it" because in doing so they usually prevent anything from getting done, maintain a broken status quo, and just create more problems down the line.

Again to mention "The Authority" when they relaunched Stromwatch a few times there have been a few conflicts between the teams (especially given the origins of The Authority). A very valid point occasionally raised is that Stromwatch, which is like a UN sanctioned version of The Avengers, ultimatly winds up acting to preserve a broken status quo, rather than making anything better. Sure they intervene to stop things, and sometimes fight The Authority (with mixed results) but in the end a lot of the central issues still exist guaranteeing more problems down the road. One point made by The Authority is that it doesn't have much of a "rogue gallery" or record of enemies and movements it opposes because when it gets involved it rarely leaves anyone alive and gets things done for good or ill.

The thing is though that I've noticed an increasing trend, even in comics that "went there" at one time to want to avoid dealing with any kind of realism because of the power of the left wing media. Basically presenting anyone as the bad guys is considered to be insensitive and politically incorrect, even if deserved from a mainstream perspective. Presenting Russians, Chinese, Islamics and other groups opposed to the US gets a lot of pressure, even using the Nazis is getting a degree of scorn because of the current state of Germany. You use gang bangers that's considered to be racial stereotyping and insensitive to that perspective where "in the ghetto, what choice do they have", Mafia and organized crime groups get criticisms for being offensive to the ethnicity that spawned them (there was tons of protest from Italian-Americans over shows like "The Sopranos"). This is one of the reasons why in video games you see so much focus on Zombies, Aliens, and other politically neutral fodder (which also backfires, I mean Capcom brought Resident Evil to Africa after people QQed about them using more international locales, and then got crap because showing the area pretty much as it was wasn't flattering and perhaps racist since the recurring protaganists are white and a lot of the bad guys/zombies were black given the region)... and this comes out in comics, where increasingly the "reconstructionist" movement and an attempt to mature comics has been dying out, in favor of wanting to focus on increasingly outlandish situations that don't risk political commentary or backlash.

To use one of your examples, could a super-hero "catch a falling 401k" so to speak? Well in a reconstructionist comic, yes he probably could. This would involve some angry guy losing all of his money due to the scams, corruption, and pure greed perpetuated by out of control big business (the same thing that motivated Occupied Wall Street) deciding to take out the bankers and corrupt business interessts after obtaining super powers. The thing is though that flying in and say murdering Citigroup executives, blowing up corperate HQs, and similar things, especially if the actual names are used (or we see an intentionally obvious analogy), is going to generate backlash because "OMG, your work is offensive and threatening towards those people". As a result in comics you aren't going to see a super-hero "catching a falling 401k" by going after those crashing the market (and enough superhuman mercenaries purchused by the elite to protect them and make it exciting), if there is going to be an evil corperation it's going to be more than simply insensitive and greedy, it's going to have to be evil beyond belief. To be acceptable you need high camp like the equivilent of "Umbrella Corp" doing things that are so evil that they don't even make sense anymore... like you know some CEO deciding that it would be fun to overrun the planet with cybernetic Angler fish or something for no paticularly good reason (justified under the general heading of "insanity" with everyone under him being too stupid or insane to realize how pointless that is). Of course then again I'd imagine that would only last until Greenpeace caught on and started complaining about the unfair portrayal of angler fish.

Basically, while there are some hold outs, it seems comics are increasingly unable to deal with real issues, unless it can be done under the umbrella of political correctness.

Mur Lafferty:

The other side of the whole "questioning the superheroic world" coin is what if you DO have amazing powers, but the world pretty much stays the same? What if you're not in a major metropolitan area? I mean, Durham, NC has a downtown, but I think the most terrible thing that happens there is the local popsicle place failed to open up for summer. (Seriously, it was a big deal. There was almost a riot of one.)

Sure, there's petty theft and drugs, like any city, but we have no Lex Luthor that I'm aware of. We don't really need a superhero. Obviously, for there to be a superhero, there has to be a supervillain. Either someone cursed with weird powers or disfigured or so smart he or she goes mad. If there's one without the other, the world will be largely lopsided.

If you haven't already you should read Batman #686 by Neil Gaiman. It is the first part of Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? And during it there is a section called "The Butler's tale" which is pretty much what you are talking about here only replaced the idea of someone with superpowers with Batman.

Anyone knows, is there comic book that is set in Marvel or DC universe, but is about Police or SWAT officers, or even about ordinary people?
It would be interesting to read.

blackrave:
Anyone knows, is there comic book that is set in Marvel or DC universe, but is about Police or SWAT officers, or even about ordinary people?
It would be interesting to read.

There have been a few, set around the cops of places like Gotham and Metropolis. There was also (a few years back) an excellent Stormwatch series called Team Achilles, essentially an anti-metahuman SWAT team.

As they liked to put it, "we aint superpeople. We KILL superpeople"

Mur Lafferty:
The Hero Bag of Tricks

I love superheroes.

Read Full Article

I think they're equal parts wish fulfillment and modern Mythology. Superheroes are meant to be the exemplars of what we believe to be "best." And, in the post-modern superhero world, we got into the "But is that really best?" game -- just the other side of the same coin.

I think the next step (and hey, we've really already been there awhile) is the "Do we need superheroes?" superhero stories. Are they worth the trouble that follows them? Are they really the beacons of light and hope they sell themselves to be (or that we build them up to be)?

I feel like that last question is exactly why so many superhero storylines include a problem that the superhero must solve without their powers. It's not enough for them to win by being stronger than the bad guy -- that just makes them the bully that happens to be on our side -- but rather by virtue of being smarter or more empathetic or whatever other qualities aside from the powers.

We've separated the virtue of a hero from whether he/she is on our side, and we've separated the worth of a hero from what powers he/she has. Take away the powers and the moral alignment, and what do we have left?

 

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