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Saturday’s Irrelevant Relevance

I’ll just tell you up front — there’s a fair amount of profanity in this one, so if that bothers you, or you read these at work (on your lunch hour, of course!) and your workplace has filters, well, there might be an issue.

Yes, I could have used some work-around with asterisks or whatever, I suppose. The plain truth is that I didn’t because it irritates me beyond belief when people do that.

For example, every week I see some idiot ad on CBS where they say, “…William Shatner in Bleep My Dad Says.” They don’t really bleep anything; instead, the announcer actually says the word “bleep,” which makes it even sillier. Lately they’ve raised the ante by having Shatner himself say, “And stay tuned for my new hit show, Bleep My Dad Says.” Still just saying the word.

It’s completely absurd. We all know the title of the show is Shit My Dad Says. The reason is because it’s based on the Twitter feed of that name. CBS pays the guy a royalty. We should just all get over this as a nation and let the show’s real name– that CBS paid a ridiculous amount of real money to get the rights to– be used on the air without anyone freaking out.

Therefore, this week, in an effort to help us get over our national neurosis, I will not be bleeping anything. Or typing silly shit like, uh, $#!+. (Our international readers, who are already over it, are probably already wondering why I bothered to spend this much time talking about this.)

So there’s my pre-emptive preamble. Okay? Actual column follows. Oh, yeah, NSFW.

*

Not too long ago our other Greg did a really rather magnificent survey of all DC’s January books. At one point, and I’m paraphrasing, Mr. Burgas opined that it’s idiotic to introduce real-world problems into a superhero comic, because obviously the hero can’t solve them and just comes off looking like an ineffectual tool.

This neatly sums up the problem I’ve had with a lot of superhero comics over the last decade or so.

Maybe even longer than that. Really, you can trace it back to the famous O’Neil/Adams run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

Yeah, yeah, it's all famous and groundbreaking and stuff. But it's still dumb.

That run of books launched what comics historians like to call the “relevance” period of the Bronze Age, wherein superheroes sought to deal with real-world issues.

Look, the O’Neil-Adams stuff is rightly regarded as classic and groundbreaking and all of that. But the ugly truth is, it doesn’t age well, and if you really look at the stories over the course of the run, the heroes are shown as being more and more clueless and ineffectual.

This was such an amazing thing to see in a DC comic it's easy to overlook how ridiculous and ineffective the actual title heroes come off looking.

At the time, no one really noticed because we’d never seen anything like it. But reading the stuff today, the two things that leap out at you are that Green Lantern is a self-obsessed whiner and Green Arrow is a self-obsessed douchebag. They never actually solve any of the real-world problems they encounter– because they can’t. O’Neil was smart enough to know that wouldn’t work, even though one of the heroes has a magical wishing ring.

In fact, Denny O’Neil twisted himself into knots trying to get around that part of the Green Lantern premise, and his solution was to make Hal Jordan– who was, remember, chosen by the ring itself as the most fearless man on the planet– whiny, hesitant, and full of self-doubt, so that he often couldn’t muster the willpower to make his ring work. Or else Hal thought using the ring was cheating. Or the Guardians said he couldn’t use it. Always something.

What's really kind of stupid is that Green Lantern, who's managed to cope with outer-space firefights and plugging live volcanoes, can't use his ring because of a tummyache.

Rereading those stories today, it struck me that the genuinely heroic characters to emerge are Black Canary, who is more interested in helping people than in winning ideological arguments, and Roy Harper, who despite his drug addiction manages to come off as more of a grown-up than his jerk mentor.

Not to go on and on about it. The point is that the genie was out of the bottle. It was now permissible to put superheroes into real-world situations, and writers did so with varying degrees of success. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Mostly it was kind of embarrassing.

Sometimes it was even at official government request, or because a worthy charity partnered with a major comics publisher to try and get the word out to the Youth of Today about Something Important.

Hey, if BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN want you to wake up and pay attention to this stuff, it MUST be Important!

I’m not denigrating the effort and the craft that went into these stories, or suggesting that the creators’ intentions weren’t pure. But nevertheless, the stories themselves always end up looking faintly ridiculous. Even the ones starring Batman, who’s about as close to a ‘realistic’ superhero as it’s possible to get this side of the Punisher.

Batman doesn't actually have superpowers, so naturally he gets saddled with most of the real-world, relevant stuff.

The bottom line is, no matter how beautifully done the “relevant, real-world” superhero story might be, you still have to sell the reader two ideas– first of all, that a guy in tights and a cape is believable in that setting, which is very nearly impossible, and secondly, that it’s okay to have the story’s resolution not actually resolve anything.

It’s the second one that’s the killer. Readers know that Batman isn’t really going to solve the problem of the Bangkok child-sex trade or of Asian peasant kids getting blown up by land mines. We know this. No matter how skillfully the writers of these stories come at it, we know that by the end of the story, Batman (or the Teen Titans, or Spider-Man, or whoever) is going to be standing there saying something like, “I hope humanity realizes the horror of this [insert real-world problem here– drugs, gangs, etc.]… people need to wake up before it’s too late!” I see that and invariably, my subconscious adds, “… but me, I’m going to go kick the crap out of some guy in a silly outfit robbing a bank. THAT, I can deal with. This is too hard.”

Whether it’s something as hamfisted as Spider-Man recounting where the bad man touched him or something harrowing like Andrew Vachss’ Batman story about child prostitution, the end result is the same — a vague aura of embarrassment over having a superhero in that situation.

I can think of one time that this superheroes-in-the-real-world idea actually worked. Where I believed it absolutely. Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

…but here’s the thing. Alan Moore made the conceit of superheroes believable by subverting it. He ruthlessly extrapolated out all the different costumed-hero personality types we’ve grown used to over the years — the masked avenger of the streets, the hero beloved by the people, the tough government soldier, the hot babe in the skimpy outfit– and deconstructed them to the point that it was actually uncomfortable to read about them. Moore makes the point, over and over, that if you are putting on a mask and costume to fight crime then there’s probably something wrong with you. And he doubled down on it by positing that if there really were people with super powers out there, they would immediately be seized upon by government for political purposes and generally just deform the shape of human history.

It’s often brilliant and remarkably thorough in its extrapolations. But it’s not very much fun. It’s hard for us long-time readers of superhero comics to get our heads around that aspect of Watchmen — that superheroes, if they really existed, would be kind of creepy, and maybe a little pathetic.

It's telling that the WATCHMEN movie kind of glams up every character in the story. Because no one REALLY wants to see real-world superheroes.

It’s interesting to note that when the comics were first coming out, Alan Moore said in interviews that he expected readers to latch on to Nite Owl.That he thought that would be the breakout character because Nite Owl is the least disturbing.

Instead, it was Rorschach. Who in many ways is the most disturbing character. Certainly, Moore intended Rorschach to be the most disturbed.

One of these guys is KEWL. Which one, do you suppose? The realistic one? Or the badass?

Why? Because he’s a badass. Rorschach may be smelly and deranged and living off garbage, but he’s still tough and scary and cool. He has most of the best lines in the book. “He’s hardcore,” is the expression I often see comics fans use when talking about him.

And that’s what we want in a superhero story. Not “realism.”

Dave Campbell, of the late and lamented Dave’s Long Box, has a wonderful term for this phenomenon. He calls it the “Fuck Yeah!” moment.

We all know what a “Fuck Yeah!” moment looks like. It’s that shining moment in a story when everything you like about a particular character crystallizes, where it’s all right there and you realize Oh, yeah, there it is. You go.

Like in The Warriors, when Ajax whirls to face the leader of the Baseball Furies and snarls, “I’m gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle.”

Fuck yeah!

If you’ve seen the movie, you remember that up until that point Ajax is really kind of an asshole. He’s not terribly bright. He is surly and rebellious and possibly even an admitted rapist. But in that moment, all that falls away. We love him and we are rooting for him to clean the Baseball Fury’s clock. That’s the power of the Fuck Yeah! moment.

Superhero stories, as I’ve explained above, are terrible at realism. But they excel at the Fuck Yeah! moment.

Fuck yeah!

In fact, you could say that it’s what they’re designed to provide. You pick up a book about a super-strong guy who can fly, you’re not there to see him address racism or industrial pollution. You want to see him throw a few cars around and see some damn bullets bounce off his chest.

Fuck yeah!

The great superhero comic moments, the ones we remember most fondly, aren’t realistic at all.

Fuck yeah!

But I’m willing to bet, if you are honest with yourself about it, that every last one of them is a “Fuck Yeah” moment of some kind.

Fuck yeah!

Certainly, mine are. Hell, that was what got me interested in superheroes in the first place, long ago. In 1966, when I saw Batman and Robin leap into the Batmobile, and Robin says, “Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!” and Batman coolly responds, “Roger, ready to move out,” and they go roaring out of the Batcave– I’m telling you, that was a total Fuck Yeah! moment for six-year-old me.

Fuck yeah!

Might have been the very first one. (It was either that or Space Ghost bearing down on Metallus or Brak or someone, yelling “Time to use my HEAT FORCE!”)

Fuck yeah!

That exhilaration, that moment when you lean forward and something in the back of your head says, oh, it’s ON! …that’s what I fell in love with. That’s when I dived into the superhero fantasy and never looked back.

I think that’s true for most of us. And I think that even those creators who made their rep doing “realistic, grim-n-gritty” superhero stories know that too much realism is going to sabotage the whole enterprise.

Look, I’ve said this before, but when fans talk about wanting more “realism” in their superhero stories, I don’t think that’s what they mean. I think they want verisimilitude. Which is a ten-dollar word that translates to, more or less, “fake realism that I can sort of believe in even though I know it’s silly.”

We don’t want actual realism in our superhero fiction. That brings all the uncomfortable truths that Alan Moore gave us in Watchmen. We just want enough nods to real life that we can get swept up in the fantasy without feeling like we need to apologize or make allowances.

Fuck yeah!

The reason this all came to mind this week is because, the same day I read about Greg Burgas being annoyed with Superman trying to address real-world concerns of industrial pollution and organized labor, the Ghost Rider omnibus with all those great Jason Aaron stories arrived.

No realism here.... but a whole lotta FUCK YEAH!

Reading it, with Greg’s comments about Superman still swirling around in the back of my head, I realized something.

No matter what your superhero story might be, if it doesn’t deliver a fuck yeah! in there somewhere, I’m probably not going to hang in there with it.

I have lots of books around here that offer realistic fiction. But for pure fist-pumping adrenaline-fueled adventure, there’s really nothing to beat superheroes.

Understand, I’m not advocating a return to the simple-minded superheroics of the Golden Age or anything like that. Sure, you can tell superhero stories about adult concerns. Sure, there are all kinds of ways to talk about real-life problems using superhero characters as metaphor and all of that stuff. I’m not discounting that.

I’m just saying that, if you’re writing a superhero story and you leave out the fuck yeah!…. well, then, what’s the point of doing it as a superhero story at all? Because that moment is what superhero comics literally were built around.

Even Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams knew that, back in the day.

Fuck yeah!

See you next week.

46 Comments

Rorschach is who comic book nerds want to be. Nite Owl is who we actually are.

“Are you man…or FIEND from HELL?”

Comic writers can be so poetic sometimes.

Yup…. you gots it. FUCK YEAH!

There’s no real reason why superheroes can’t enact real-world change… except that you would then have to follow through on it, and let the setting become more of an ‘alternate reality’ than it already is. If anything, the idea that superhumans don’t directly alter and change the world around them is the truly absurd part of superhero comics.
But the people in charge of Marvel and DC want to maintain the illusion that, despite guys like Superman and Thor hanging around, that their stories are otherwise grounded in what we laughingly call the ‘real world’.

There’s no real reason why superheroes can’t enact real-world change… except that you would then have to follow through on it, and let the setting become more of an ‘alternate reality’ than it already is.

I think that IS the reason… and we all know it’s editorial mandate, so why go there at all? Find a different way to make the point, or maybe even a different genre. That’s my feeling.

Fuck yeah!

That was what everyone should have started their comments with.

I agree with what you’re saying, but I do think some of the “PSA” comics you show do help, in very little ways maybe, but they raise awareness. I read the Batman Ultimate Evil novel by Vachss, and I certainly wouldn’t have been aware of the Bangkok child sex trafficking without it. And when I noticed that a certain product I was getting was made in Thailand, I quit buying it. As I said, it can be very little ways, but every little bit can help some.

Although you could also say that if you see that SUPERHEROES can’t even solve these problems, what hope do NORMAL people have to fix things? and then have it lead to total inaction…

Great piece Greg and I can’t disagree with your premise. Kirby, my favourite creator, revolutionized comics on the backs of such moments. Yet he always insisted on making his comics relatable, on an empathetic level, to the sentiments of his readers. He would insist on this verisimilitude you mention, and have his characters (and Stan Lee’s) act as you or I might.

The only sense in which I diverge from your article comes with the unlikely fact that, though endorsing your premise, I yet love stories of comic book relevance. As foolish as these stories are I embrace them since they themselves are in embrace with their times. Comic book relevance are wonderful pop cultural mirrors of yesterdays hopes and fears. They are frozen artifacts from the least likely corner of our past that magnify in rich and absurd measures those those great moral perturbations (drugs) or more temporal sagas (Watergate) with which our collective narrative is written.

No matter what your superhero story might be, if it doesn’t deliver a fuck yeah! in there somewhere, I’m probably not going to hang in there with it.

You nailed my reasoning as well about the reason New Teen Titans declined and X-Men didn’t. I think it’s not enough to have a Fuck Yeah! moment but also to deliver on it afterwards. Wolfman would have a lot of fuck yeah moments with cool team shots by Perez, but then the following panels would be the Deathstroke or Brother Blood handing their asses to them with ease like rank amateurs. For example Judas Contract had Dick debut his Nightwing persona, great Fuck Yeah! moment, followed by him being ineffectual as usual, getting captured, unable to beat up Deathstroke, unable to decisively beat or rescue Terra, and winning due to falling rubble. Superhero comments need fuck yeah! moments but also the follow through. All your examples, after the fuck yeah! moments, the heroes gave decisive beatdowns with serious badassery.

To continue on what I was saying before, some of those human interest superhero stories actually did have Fuck Yeah moments, but they’d be immediately followed by the heroes realizing the problem was bigger than they originally realized and unsolvable, and they often had to settle for a pyrrhic victory. The Fuck Yeah Moment is awesome but the Fuck Yeah Followup is crucial too.

T’s comment about Dick Grayson being ineffectual as usual makes me realize that Dick as semi-competent apparently comes from the New Teen Titans. I mentioned (I think…) on Brian’s post about Tim Drake that I was puzzled as to why Dick is so unconfident. (Now that I think of it, it was Greg’s massive January DC post that you mention at the start of this, and why I didn’t like B&R 17-19.) Now I see from T that it comes from NTT and Wolfman. And they STILL use it! Dick’s been trained by Batman! He’s been a superhero most of his life! Why is he so unconfident!!!!???

Anyway.

I like T’s comment, though, that you have to follow through on the Fuck Yeah moment and deliver through on the awesome after. Although I suppose that here and there, a Fuck Yeah moment leading to the hero ending up NOT succeeding could work as a storytelling device, if used sparingly.

It also occurs to me that the term “Fuck Yeah” was used/popularized in the movie Team America, although I imagine it was probably in use prior to that.

I think some month this year, Brian should do a month of Fuck Yeah moments. He’s entirely too nice a guy to do so, though.

kisskissbangbang

February 5, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Fuck yeah! (following Travis’s advice)

These are the kind of scenes that you’ll also find at TV Tropes under the rubric “Crowning Moment of Awesome”. They’ve got plenty of similar moments from movies, television and other media, too.

And in their comics citations, you’ll notice that the Batman gets more than just about anyone else. Seems about right.

My personal favorite in comics? Spider-Man 33, depicted above. In any medium? Probably Inigo Montoya finding the Six-Fingered Man.

Fuck yeah!

kisskissbangbang

February 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Guess I should have mentioned above (for the criminally deprived) that Inigo ‘s moment comes from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (both book and film), which is so great largely because it’s stuffed full of Fuck Yeah! moments.

Actually, wasn’t the Squadron Supreme 12-issue series built around just how fucked up things got when the heroes DID actually go out and start affecting realistic changes (then got so full of themselves that they started crossing lines they’d never considered crossing before then)?

There’s all kinds of alternate reality takes that follow the whole “what would happen if heroes actually created real change”: Squadron Supreme, Watchmen, The Authority, and tons of indie superhero titles. It’s just the fact that you can’t do it to a mainstream superhero universe that causes most of the problems, and why books like GLGA and JMS’s Superman can fall flat on their face so easily.

It’s notable that Superman keep coming up so often. He is the poster child for “Why do bad things still happen in a world with superheros?”

It’s ironic that Greg Hatcher mentions the Golden Age as the period he doesn’t want comics to regret to in regards his criticism of relevance, since the Golden Age had all superheroes fighting the Axis, the greatest real world evil of them all. And Marvel’s Silver Age had lots of heroes fighting communists. So real world relevance is something that is with superhero comics long before GLGA.

What really started in the 1970s wasn’t relevance in superhero comics, but the growing conviction that the world’s problems are unsolvable. Whether you’re super or not.

Rene,

That’s a great point. The first year of Superman stories had him solving all types of problems from slumlords, to wars, to urban renewal. The difference was that there was no impotence issues, he was portrayed as capable of fixing these world problems, it’s a naive viewpoint, sure, but at least the stories were exciting.

Travis, yes Wolfman is the reason why the status quo for depicting Dick Grayson is impotence, semi-competence and self-doubt.

Interesting. It’s utterly true that we should expect heroes to do nothing but rescue us from certain perils (fire, car crash, kitten up a tree). The rest of the shit is our problem.

I find it interesting during the 1970’s, comic strips and comic books had often started to deemphasize the galactic aspect of their stories to try to ground them somewhat. Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow with its attempted social relevance serves as an example of this. They deemphasized the cosmic and galactic aspect of the series.

This occurred around the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when adventure films and prose literature had started to turn away from the intentional camp of the 1960’s to more relatively grounded, “socially relevant” fare (Shaft, Billy Jack, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Death Wish, the various Vietnam vet vigilante films and novels such as Zebra Force, etc.). Around that time, the Doc Savage film flopped, while Tarzan and Godzilla went away. (Some of the Godzilla films also featured some rather dated attempts at relevance, too.)

However, while Green Lantern deemphasized its galactic aspects in the early 1970’s, then Star Wars came out in 1977, reversing this trend away from grounded fare. Rather obviously based on the Flash Gordon serials, Star Wars stood as least grounded as one could get. Though more grounded adventure films held on for roughly another ten years, possibly due to Star Wars success as a rerelease in the 1990’s, they have ended up marginalized. In fact, you sometimes hear of people saying that other than Christian Bale and Zorro, they find films with a nonpowered hero or one who does not wear an elaborate costume boring!

In fact, I seriously doubt that the upcoming Green Lantern film or its prospective sequels will try to mimic O’Neil’s social relevance.

http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/sreply/597045/THE-GREEN-HORNET
http://supidity.informe.com/classic-conversation-40-lucas-s-whore-dt524.html Scroll down to third entry
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReedRichardsIsUseless

My all-time favorite “relevant” comic is the mid 90s issue of Green Arrow where Anarky talks him into blowing up a gun plant. I’m pretty sure it’s been retconned but it’s just a surreal read.

I suspect the implication of the DCU is that heroes have more pressing concerns on their power levels to deal with. But I have my doubts that the society is the same as ours. That UN summit on pollution is going to play out somewhat differently because the oceans aren’t just a natural resource but a sovereign entity.

Greg, as usual, you absolutely GET IT. This also crystalizes why the new Hollywood trend of making superheroes “realistic” isn’t working for me. I DON’T CARE if Captain America’s costume doesn’t look like a standard WWII issue uniform with all sorts of pockets, straps and pouches. I just want to see him toss the shield around, fight the Red Skull and save the world. Are a few live-action “FUCK YEAH!” moments too much to ask for?

And “verisimilitude” was Richard Donner’s keyword for the first Superman movie, which goes a long way towards explaining why that film works so well. It introduces just enough real world elements to help you buy into the fantasy, but not so many that your suspension of disbelief comes crashing down.

Very good column. Especially enjoyed the shout out to Dave Campbell. Dave’s Long Box is still my favorite
blog of all time. Some great shit there including “FUCK YEAH!”
Anybody who’s never read Dave’s Long Box should google it and go start reading, you won’t regret it.
Not sure what happened to Dave. I haven’t seen any blogging anywhere from him in a couple of years.

Ah, The Warriors – just re-watched it recently. What a great fucking movie…
Great column by the way. You pretty much nailed it on the head, although I have to wonder: even though I’m as much of a super-hero junkie as the next guy, why are stories like the Watchmen still some of my favorite?

Whenever I think of a “fuck yeah” moment, that Avengers panel you posted above is the first thing that comes to mind. I loved that storyline.

Fuck yeah! That’s why a series like Secret Six, which has just enough ‘realism’ in it to sustain interest, strong character interaction and dialogue, and great FUCK YEAH moments, is so awesome.

I’m surprised you didn’t mention Gerard Jones’s cringeworthy Batman: Fortunate Son, in which Batman takes on his most nefarious foe of all: Rock and roll!

Just for the sake of balance, some of us actually love Wolfman/Perez’s New Teen Titans and think Dick Grayson is an awesome hero just as he is.

I also think that if all superhero comics are “Fuck Yeah” moments, it’s devolved into something no better than WWE smackdown. I come for those moments but also for the characters, as flawed as they might be.

Fuck yeah, that was a great column!

‘Dark Knight’ and ‘Watchmen’ are both deeply schizophrenic works. Each deconstructs the whole idea of super-heroes pretty definitively, yet both are totally overflowing with ‘Fuck yeah!’

I must mention that Nite-Owl has his own ‘Fuck yeah!’ moment, albeit a low-key one: rescuing all those people from the tenement fire. My favorite moment in the whole series is when Laurie asks him if he’s ok up there on top of Archie and he just says ‘I’m fine,’ but seeing his face you know he’s waaaay better than fine.

Maybe the low-key equivalent of ‘Fuck yeah!’ is ‘Damn straight.’ And Graeme Burk is right, there’s nothing wrong with the Wolfman/Perez Dick Grayson. One of my favorite one-and-done issues ever is ‘Who Is Donna Troy,’ where Dick, in about the most low-key way possible, proves he’s a good man and a great detective. Damn straight.

Fascinating as always, Greg, and I thoroughly agree. I especially like your comment about the desire for verisimilitude, not realism. What I want in comics are stories that are ‘real’ to the situations and settings therein, not necessarily real to my world.

Sure, something like Watchmen, that specifically sets out to examine super heroes in the real (our) world needs realism, but in your average issue of Superman I just want realism consistent with the world of Superman as previously depicted, which is distinctly not the same as our world (first and foremost being the presence of a super powerful alien from Krypton).

Please let me know what the Fuck Yeah moments for Batman were in Dark Knight because I don’t remember any. The story was more like the stories Hatcher described were the whole point was to highlight the heroes ineptitude, impotence, and ultimate realization that he couldn’t change anytrhing in the big picture. Unless you mean fuck yeah moments for the Joker, in which case I agree. HE had plenty.

I also think that if all superhero comics are “Fuck Yeah” moments, it’s devolved into something no better than WWE smackdown. I come for those moments but also for the characters, as flawed as they might be.

No one is saying that a work should be all Fuck Yeah moments. You’re presenting a false dilemma:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma

It’s not like the only two choices are WWE smackdown like a Liefeld book or Hallmark Channel Movie of the Week like New Teen Titans. There are plenty of other choices that are a mix of the two.

funkygreenjerusalem

February 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Fuck Yeah!

>> Please let me know what the Fuck Yeah moments for Batman were in Dark Knight because I don’t remember any. <<

Batman defeating the gang leader in the mud, Batman's full-page appearance on horseback, Green Arrow making his impossible shot, Batman clocking Superman. Among others.

Oh I totally agree. My bad, thought he was talking about the movie because I’m now used to the graphic novel being called The Dark Knight Returns.

Good point about relevant comics, Greg, but doesn’t it apply equally to non-relevant comics? Every major act of destruction is over with and forgotten in a couple of issues. Every mad-scientist plot is foiled with no lasting effect on the world. Every villain is captured and imprisoned and escapes to torment our heroes again. Every death (with the possible exception of Uncle Ben) is retconned out of existence.

I’m not sure how anyone takes the umpteenth defeat of Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, the Joker, Ultron, et al. seriously. I don’t. The genre seems pretty tapped out to me. The only superhero comics that seem to work are ones like SECRET SIX where the characters don’t have the power or desire to save the world.

Incidentally, the best “Fuck Yeah!” moment in GL/GA was the final panel of the final issue, #89, when Green Lantern destroys a fleet of airplanes and says, “Send me the bill.” So it’s possible to have such moments in “relevant” stories.

I figured revelshade was talking about the comics, T. But I figured you figured he was talking about the movies. ;-)

P.S. I’d say DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN (the comics, not the movies) are a perfect blend of real-world relevance and superhero escapism. Which is why they’re the perfect comics. Discuss.

I think it comes down to balance. All the bad stuff in Watchmen took place over decades. For the DCU, it’s about an average month.

Good point about relevant comics, Greg, but doesn’t it apply equally to non-relevant comics? Every major act of destruction is over with and forgotten in a couple of issues. Every mad-scientist plot is foiled with no lasting effect on the world. Every villain is captured and imprisoned and escapes to torment our heroes again. Every death (with the possible exception of Uncle Ben) is retconned out of existence.

Not equally, and here’s why.

Everything else you mention as an example is something that is a result of bad or lazy writing. It’s fixable. But having Superman run headlong into a situation where he has to confront industrial pollution and corrupt corporate executives who think it’s easier to pay the fines than to stop poisoning the wetlands… that’s an un-fixable premise. All through the story you’re going to have to find reasons why Superman can’t actually solve the problem even though he’s Superman and routinely addresses problems that are physically harder to deal with. We’ve seen him plug live volcanoes, straighten up and sometimes even rebuild collapsing skyscrapers at super-speed, etc., etc. So to suddenly have him balk at getting toxins out of a swamp makes him less than a hero AND less than super. The problem’s built-in. It’s the same as Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern thing– the whole story becomes an exercise in figuring out the answer to the question, “How am I going to dial down the powers to a place where the hero still has to struggle?”

All of Grounded is plagued with this. The thing is filled with writer’s work-arounds to explain away why Superman’s not doing stuff he should be easily capable of doing, in order to make points no more subtle than the average “The More You Know” PSA spot on NBC.

If you want to tell stories about real-world issues in a superhero story, you have to do it as metaphor. You have to do it the way Kurt Busiek talks about them in Astro City, or the way Brad Bird did in The Incredibles. The Incredibles had all sorts of stuff to say about marriage and family and mid-life crisis and how to be an adult but it managed to do it within the fantasy context it was in– and they still remembered to bring the Fuck Yeah! Like when Dash is running away from the island guards, or the family’s fighting the monster robot. It echoed the real world we live in, but was still firmly in the superhero genre and it never broke the believability bubble. That’s what I’m talking about.

Mr. Hatcher, do you find it interesting that, as I pointed out above, just a few years after GL/GA ended its original run, adventure films, which had turned “relevant” as that run of GL/GA had, suddenly turned to the type of galactic “irrelevant” Lensman style adventure that GL had followed previously?

<>

Man, i wish i could beat people up as good as Nite Owl…

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 9, 2011 at 3:56 am

P.S. I’d say DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN (the comics, not the movies) are a perfect blend of real-world relevance and superhero escapism. Which is why they’re the perfect comics. Discuss.

They also leave their worlds in very different shapes to what they began with, something superhero ongoings are loathe to do.

[…] will be absolutely true-to-life, at least not any fiction I would find conceivably enjoyable. This opinion piece has an interesting discussion on realism as applied to superhero comics, which includes the […]

FUCK.

YEAH.

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