Superheroes and Superegos.

Since the last comics rant was largely negative, I’m going to talk about something a little more positive this time – The things I like in superhero stories.

I already mentioned the last time how important characterisation is to me. As a writer and a reader, I feel that it’s of paramount importance that people drive the events. This can occur on multiple levels, with societal stuff (ie large groups of people) driving parts, and individuals or smaller groups driving other parts. But the action as we read it should be driven by the heroes and the villains of the tale. Characters, no matter how minor, should never be mere Macguffins. They should all have a voice and a mind, even if we barely see it.

Many writers talk about times in their writing when characters “tell” them things, or do things they never planned for them to do. This seems to be something that happens to most good writers – they found the character’s voice, defined it, and set it loose in the world.

I think this is a common failing in contemporary superhero comics. Ongoing titles are bound by editorial whim, and the voice from on high can lead to a character doing something that doesn’t fit because the big bosses want a new direction. I’m loathe to mention the most maligned of recent examples, but I have to – One More Day. It’s the perfect example of character getting tossed out of the window for the sake of a plot device designed to shoehorn the character into a place the editors wanted him.

The thing that really irks me about One More Day though – they could have accomplished the “end Spiderman’s marriage” goal using actual character motivations. There were certainly enough good solid character reasons that might have led to a degeneration of the marriage. On both sides. In fact, I could easily see Peter pushing MJ away to protect her. And that’s one of the “classic” superhero relationship enders, almost too easy. But at least it would have been driven by the character, not by some Deus Ex Machina.

Oh, wait, I said I was going to be positive here, didn’t I…

Onto something other than characterisation…

Entertainment. It’s that simple. For the most part, I don’t read superhero comics for their intellectual value. Intellectually interesting superhero comics do exist, but those are generally self contained stories written to be collected, rather than part of ongoing series. I’m not saying ongoing series can’t have themes, messages, and the rest – I do appreciate when these things are present and treated intelligently. But in the end, I read superhero stories for entertainment.

Superhero stories are a modern mythology. They are our epic heroes, and I want to see them doing epically heroic things. The templates for the superhero are (the mythological) Hercules, Achilles, Gilgamesh, Cuchulainn. They do great things, suffer through great labours.

Those are the kind of exploits I like to see. I like to see epic battles, great feats. I will mention at this point, that after never caring about Black Panther, I have decided (thanks to the Secret Invasion tie-in) that he is awesome. Batman level awesome. That’s what I want to see. Green Lantern and GLC are another example of consistently entertaining superhero comics. Space Opera superhero adventures, with good solid characters and interesting villains, and  epic action. On the “grim and gritty” side, I really enjoyed Ennis’ Punisher run. Again, an entertaining, intelligent action comic, driven entirely by the Punisher’s persona, but informed by actual military tactics. (I knew I’d love it from the point where he took out that whole mafia wedding. “Front towards enemy”)

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~ by Anthony on September 13, 2008.

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