Super

I’m tapped out on superhero movies. There. I said it.

While I love comics, and I do occasionally dig into back issues of Batman or Judge Dredd, I’ve never been a huge fan of superhero genre. It’s not out of some sense of snobbery or a hipsterish shunning of the mainstream. There’s just something about the writing and universe of these stories that seems flat, or maybe just the opposite–too cloying, too processed. The epic battles between good and evil have always seemed more like super-cops flouting due process and beating the tar out of guys with undiagnosed mental illnesses. At least Batman has the balls to equate evil and severe mental illness. But that’s not why I’m tired of superhero movies.

The film versions condense these sprawling, decades-long stories into digestible chunks of sound and colors, which is great until you ask what exactly it is that all these unkillable protagonists are fighting for. As in other stories, the superheroes have all lost something, mostly, but unlike other stories, that something rarely factors into a good motivation for the action.

  • Iron Man: Lost his heart, sort of, but only because he lost control of his empire of wealth. He fights for that and for America, because America. Atlas shrugged, and so do I.
  • Green Lantern: Lost a multimillion-dollar test plane, but got a ring of unimaginable power. Fights for Earth (read: America) because an alien he never met said so.
  • Superman: Lost his parents to crazy ol’ Zod. Fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, if truth can be etched in stone with laser vision, justice can be served with a sonic boom, and the American Way is to punch something until it stops moving.
  • The (Incredible) Hulk: Lost his humanity. Fights for whomever he wants to smash the least.
  • Thor: Lost his hammer and powers for being an arrogant dick and refusing to understand that his brother is not to be trusted. Fights for daddy issues and Earth girls.
  • Captain America: Lost a bunch of fights and his dignity as a wimpy kid. Fights for America because there’s always still nazis to punch, apparently.

Batman, is the odd man out. He lost his family to crime and dedicated his life to punching crime in the face. He does a pretty swell job of it, too. But that leads me to the real trouble with superheroes. Very few of them worked hard to get those abilities. Tony Stark was a born genius, Hal Jordan had the lantern fall into his lap, Superman, an alien, is invincible, the Hulk suffered a horrible accident, and Thor is a god. Even Batman was born into unimaginable wealth, but at least he had to learn how to beat ass and fight ninjas the hard way.

Instead of rooting for the Rebels who have everything to lose, we’re idolizing the Empire. It feels like rooting for Terry Benedict in Ocean’s Eleven. And, in a way, it feels more like propaganda than art. But I don’t hate the movies, the comics, or characters. I wouldn’t bother to criticize them if I did.

That said, I’m really enjoying Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series. Check it out, and his other, more esoteric Casanova.

Hawkeye 18 Cover

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One comment

  1. While I’m certainly tapped out on the grimdark DC adaptations and the non-Marvel Marvel movies (Spider-Man and X-Men), I still find the Marvel Studios films quite fun and refreshingly varied. (For example, I love that the gonzo sci-fi/fantasy elements of Thor: The Dark World feel nothing like the international espionage elements of Captain America: The Winter Soldier–yet they take place in the same universe.)

    To address your other point, I agree that the fascistic and Randian strains in superhero stories are a good reason to tread cautiously. Not all of the films can quite overcome these underpinnings. It’s hard not to read Batman as fascist (Nolan’s films don’t even shy away from this fact), and a film as innocent-seeming as The Incredibles is teeming with Randian philosophy. So I can sympathize with your sentiment; it does feel like rooting for the Empire occasionally. Captain America is a good example of a character who doesn’t really fit into these categories. He wasn’t born with his powers (one can even argue that he earned them), and his politics place him squarely at odds with fascism in both the 1940s and in the present day. Another good example is the version of Banner/Hulk from the 1970s television series.

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