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Author Topic: Holy Superheroes  (Read 18202 times)
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Defender
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« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2005, 03:55:11 AM »

It could be that because comics were originally created as an entertainment medium for everyone--much like the pulps they were based from--that of course the superhero stories would follow the mold of more traditional pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Spider. In the '30s there was more of an emphasis on justice over law, and that kind of mentality was tapped with characters like the Shadow who didn't so much reform scum as riddle them with bullets.

 As time went by, comics were seen as children's fare, and thus the champions depicted in the superhero stories were made larger than life and pure of virtue. But as time has gone by comicbooks lost track of who their target audience was supposed to be, and the medium fell out of step beside television and film. As a result, the companies have pandered to the graying of the audience and thus produced fare like Identity Crisis and Countdown to Infinite Crisis, in which the heroes have feet of clay, or kill, or mind-wipe their enemies into harmless caricatures of themselves.

 I think there's a bit of a need to bring our paragons down to our level. It's a bit much to expect that the world's most powerful being would put on a red cape and fight crime rather than make himself a celebrity or a despot of a small island paradise in our cynical day and age. We want good role models, but we hate them a little too. What makes them so pure? As a result, I think most comics today have fallen into the deconstructionist trap that leads to more and more violent characters.

 I'm not saying we should throw out mature-minded stories. We just need to realize that certain literary constructs within the medium (i.e.  the superhero) are meant to be inherently juevenille. And that's not a crack, it just means that these stories are meant to speak to kids. To show them morality plays writ large, that there is Right and there is Wrong and the distinction is not difficult to make. I mean, face it, if your average 10 year-old is getting his morality from Spawn we're all in some serious trouble.  :?

 -Def.
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« Reply #9 on: June 08, 2005, 07:49:48 AM »

Ironically, it's the juvenile nature of many comics creators (and fans) since at least the 1960s (I know that many cartoonists and writers were teens in the 1940s --but that made them more innocent/idealistic, not less) that is largely responsible for the current state --ironic because both are supposedly more "adult" in terms of actual age and point-of-view.  I don't think it is a really mature point of view that decrees superhero comic books as the stage for bloody morality plays and adolescent revenge dramas, or that thinks it artistically daring to graft the concept of the anti-hero or the post-WWII pulp thriller onto a comics-code-approved book (not that I'm a fan of the code) --problems with format, packaging and labelling.  Problems that truly adult material that deals with superheroes, like Jimmy Corrigan and Dan Clowes' The Death Ray (Eightball #23) do not have.

Anyway, this thread seems to be drifting slightly off topic, into the sphere of the various anti-Iron Age threads: maybe because the writer of the book does seem to have a misapprehension of the current state and morality of superheroes like Superman and Batman vis a vis their various incarnations in years past.  I wonder how the author would differentiate between mythic and Christian themes in the comics?
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« Reply #10 on: June 08, 2005, 09:01:26 AM »

Quote from: "Maximara"


I think this varies on the character and culture. Rambo stayed pretty much the same through out his popularity and Wolverine still can turn somebody into hamburger and the Punisher is as much a loose cannon as he was when he first appeared his releative growth in popularity. Japanese manga heroes are all over the map and many of the popular ones have killed.


You're right. Consider that Superman was created as a champion of the weaks, who CAN use violence, while the Punisher is basically a villain-killer... He hasn't other ways to fight.
About Rambo: "First blood" featured a desperate man who couldn't insert himself again in a society that doesn't want him anymore. It was very interesting. The other two movies, instead, have removed the complexity from the character... The're videogames, not movies. Here's a situation where the character, more becomes popular, more he becomes violent (anyway, "Rambo II" wasn't so bad... But I really like only the first movie).

I could say something similar about mangas. Do you know Hokuto no ken/Fist of the North Star? It's the story of Kenshiro, a young martial arts master living in a post-atomic age. He is the master of "holy Hokuto Shinken", a fighting arts based on the presence in the human body of tsubos, usually translated as "pressure points". Hitting his opponent's tsubos, a master of Hokuto Shinken can make explode him! It's really a violent series, I guarantee it. In Italy Kenshiro is very popular since the 80s (the same age of Rambo... And Ken is very similar to Sylvester Stallone). I like him, too. The fighting  are spectacular, and I like the characters, too. The plot is simple but interesting: Shin, former friend of Ken, has kidnapped Julia, Ken's girlfriend, and left him with seven scars in his chest similar to the "major bear" constellation (er... I don't know how you call it, sorry. In Italian, this is "orsa maggiore" -Edited to add: it's Ursa Maior in Latin: what a smame, I should to know it!-). Ken is the last heir of a lore started 2000 years ago, but he doesn't love to fight. He'd like to live in peace with his girlfriend. Then, he knows 2 children, Lynn and Burt, and he take them with himself (they're alone). A lot of things happen since that meeting, if you want I can tell you the story.
Let's face it: Ken is a violent character. He kills his opponents with no mercy. But, seeing the series, I understand that, if he could, he wouldn't do this. He lives in a terrible age, where only the strongest can survive, and he has to adapt himself to this rule.

Of course, if someday someone will make the same with Superman or Spider-Man turning them in merciless killers, I'll be very upset. Kenshiro lives in a particular situation, with no rules anymore. Kal and Peter live in a society which consider the homicide a crime. Killing the villains is NOT the solution.
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« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2005, 01:44:15 PM »

Quote from: "Defender"
It could be that because comics were originally created as an entertainment medium for everyone--much like the pulps they were based from--that of course the superhero stories would follow the mold of more traditional pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Spider. In the '30s there was more of an emphasis on justice over law, and that kind of mentality was tapped with characters like the Shadow who didn't so much reform scum as riddle them with bullets.


This is totally wrong as a trip to The History of Comic Books will show. Comic books have existed all the way back to 1837 (The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck) long before the Shadow and the Pulps he appeared in even existed! This "Victorian Age" (which also saw the first graphic novel) lasted until the Yellow Kid came out in 1897 and actaully coined the term 'comic book' and kicked off the "Platinum Age" which saw the first monthly comic book, the first hard cover comic book, the first massive printing of free comic books (mainly to keep presses running) and first original story (as opposed to simply reprinting the dailies)

Quote from: "Defender"
As time went by, comics were seen as children's fare, and thus the champions depicted in the superhero stories were made larger than life and pure of virtue.


Again this is historically inaccurate. The superheroes genre started to decling right after WWII and that is when the perception changed. This is like the view cartoons were always seen at children's fair when in reality this view started in the late 1960's.

Quote from: "Defender"
But as time has gone by comicbooks lost track of who their target audience was supposed to be, and the medium fell out of step beside television and film.


But this is a releatively recent development coming after Crisis and Secret Wars I when they publishers went after teh collectors with gimics like multiple #1s, Issue #0's, special covers and all the other nonsense.

Quote from: "Defender"
As a result, the companies have pandered to the graying of the audience and thus produced fare like Identity Crisis and Countdown to Infinite Crisis, in which the heroes have feet of clay, or kill, or mind-wipe their enemies into harmless caricatures of themselves.


Yet Japanese manga which has all the elements above is taking the US audience by storm. Just as the white-black hat ideal died in the Western the idea of the 'perfect' hero with no faults (or worst didn't admit to the faults they did have as per Silver Age Superman) got put out of its and everyone else's misery.
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« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2005, 02:06:47 PM »

Quote
More accurately they did not kill things that had a 'soul'. In his first appearance Superboy tried to kill Bizarro with Green K and latter did kill him with the remains of the machine that created him curing a girl's blindness in the process. Then you have the ocxational self will machine criminal that superman happily turns into scrap metal because it is 'not alive' These cop outs are only worse than GI Joe cartoon where no one every freaking dies in combat.


My favorite (if you can call it that) example is "The A-Team," which offered machine gun firefights on a weekly basis without anyone ever getting hit, good guy or bad guy.  And the villains were forever driving their cars off a huge cliff, only to get out of the vehicle at the bottom of the ravine and shake their heads as if to say, "Boy that was a rough ride."  And of course the entire show was so juvenile it was obviously aimed at 8-year-olds.  Message: "be as violent as you want, kids, there will be no ramifications."

Yes, there's a lot of examples of Superman and others "killing" androids and other "borderline" life forms, then musing, "...and it's not really killing, because he's a robot" or whatever.  (I always felt these asides were being made to the arbiters of the Comics Code rather than to me as a reader).  

Quote
Not always. Little Big Man case in point. Also the Spagetti wester was natorious for having 'heroes' who were just as bad as the villians. Watch the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly some time for an example.


Granted, but here I'm comparing the *traditional* Western with old-style superhero comics.  Both were at their most popular when their heroes were straight-shooting good-guys.  "Little Big Man" and the works of Sergio Leone were a purposeful poke in the eye to the traditional Western.  They were deconstructionist re-tellings of America's most cherished myths, with notions of good and evil turned upside down.  In that way, these 60s and 70s era Westerns were very much like the comic books of the 90s and today, which are similarly concerned with taking the air out of icons and bringing formerly virtuous heroes down into the gutter with the rest of us (which further assumes WE are in the gutter, of course).  And notice what happened to the Western after those films...for all intents and purposes it disappeared as a film genre.  There's a lesson there, I think.

Quote
In a way it was a whole back lash against the Vietnam war and Watergate messes. A war where it was Amercian soldiers seemingly shooting helpless prisoners and burning villages (Mei Li). A president who though he was above the law. Rumors of an FBI head named Hoover who had a file list that would have made Himmler of the SS green with envy. As early as the 1960's you had the decline and my 1970s it became mainstream


Yes, but in World War II you had the US firebombing of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, Japanese-Americans interred on American soil without due process, and for years after that cross-burnings, lynchings, and other not-so niceties.  And as far back as the Revolution, you had guerilla fighters among Tories and Rebels alike who torched, dismembered and skinned their neighbors.  Darkness and evil have been with us since Day One, from the guy next door to the White House.  But the real question is why we stopped striving for better in our heroic mythology.  Once, our heroes represented everything we hoped to be -- good and virtuous -- even when we weren't...no, especially when we weren't.  They weren't supposed to be like us, they were supposed to be better than us, an example to us.  Now if you try to write about a superhero who knows right from wrong, respects life in all forms, etc it's dismissed as "juvenile" and simple-minded.

Quote
Rambo stayed pretty much the same through out his popularity


Only if you mean he always had long hair and was played by the same meathead actor.  As Genis points out, Rambo starts out killing sheriff's deputies and federal agents in "First Blood"...he's shown as a guy as pitiful as he is "cool"...he's a killing machine the government made and now he's come back to haunt them.  By his last film, he's mutated into more of a hero and less of a head case.  He only kills Russians, so it's okay for us to enjoy it.
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« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2005, 10:52:23 PM »

Quote from: "Maximara"
Quote from: "Defender"
It could be that because comics were originally created as an entertainment medium for everyone--much like the pulps they were based from--that of course the superhero stories would follow the mold of more traditional pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Spider. .


Obviously he was talking about the U.S. pamphlet-sized comic (1930 to present) in general and the superhero/adventure genre of comic book (1938-present) in particular.  I think that, despite what actual sales figures show (ie, that servicemen and other adults comprised a large part of comic book readership at least until the mid-50s), a large part of the public perception of comic books was that they were for kids.  The moral panic that Wertham contributed to would not have been as severe if adults were seen as (or actually were) the majority of comic book readers.

That a writer like Marston (Wonder Woman) specifically targetted his work to a child's psychology should be an indication of the target audience for super-hero comic books in general in the 30s/40s/50s.

That being said, I think it enriches all of our experiences of ALL comics to think of the art form as existing at least since the 1830s, if not earlier.  And that most comic art historically has been adult in flavour.  A rich heritage of cartooning!
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« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2005, 03:46:46 AM »

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Not always. Little Big Man case in point. Also the Spagetti wester was natorious for having 'heroes' who were just as bad as the villians. Watch the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly some time for an example.


Granted, but here I'm comparing the *traditional* Western with old-style superhero comics.  Both were at their most popular when their heroes were straight-shooting good-guys.


Actaully  the *traditional* Western played fast and loose with this turning the likes of Billy the Kid into heroes and the Earps into villians. While the Earps got a better shake in 1946 many 'villains' of old west history were still (and many still are) being portraid as heroes.


Quote
"Little Big Man" and the works of Sergio Leone were a purposeful poke in the eye to the traditional Western.  They were deconstructionist re-tellings of America's most cherished myths, with notions of good and evil turned upside down.  In that way, these 60s and 70s era Westerns were very much like the comic books of the 90s and today, which are similarly concerned with taking the air out of icons and bringing formerly virtuous heroes down into the gutter with the rest of us (which further assumes WE are in the gutter, of course).  And notice what happened to the Western after those films...for all intents and purposes it disappeared as a film genre.  There's a lesson there, I think.


Well considering the Western had been chugging along for well on to 50 years by that itme it could be the genre had simply reached the end of its lifespan and thanks in part to Star Wars/Star Trek the Scifi genre took its place.

Much the same thing happened to the Enlightenment and Gothic genres - the public simply got tired of them.

Quote from: "nightwing"
Quote
In a way it was a whole back lash against the Vietnam war and Watergate messes. A war where it was Amercian soldiers seemingly shooting helpless prisoners and burning villages (Mei Li). A president who though he was above the law. Rumors of an FBI head named Hoover who had a file list that would have made Himmler of the SS green with envy. As early as the 1960's you had the decline and my 1970s it became mainstream


Quote
Yes, but in World War II you had the US firebombing of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, Japanese-Americans interred on American soil without due process, and for years after that cross-burnings, lynchings, and other not-so niceties.


Except for the most part the US govenment helped keep a lit on such things. And if you tried to bring up such unpleasenties during the war you could have risked treason charges and after the was there was old Republican Sen Joe Macarthy and his House on Unamerican Activities Commity to stomp on your sorry head. Many people who would have brought such images to the screen were blacklisted and had to write and make movies under assumed names.

Quote
But the real question is why we stopped striving for better in our heroic mythology.  Once, our heroes represented everything we hoped to be -- good and virtuous -- even when we weren't...no, especially when we weren't.  They weren't supposed to be like us, they were supposed to be better than us, an example to us.


I think the problem is that we woke up to the fact that mythic heroes had flaws that various forces had tried to cover up despite the truth sometimes being better. I ask you which is better - the idea of some perfect man becoming President of this nation or of a man who failed at nearly everything he did and was at one point was even suicidal but overcame everything and became President and strove to hold the nation together.

The first is the mythic Lincoln while the second is a far more realistic picture of the man. I ask you who is the more inspiring version?
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« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2005, 04:11:32 AM »

Better the lies that exalt us than ten thousand truths.
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