META: Notes on a Genre I Love

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Thu Mar 5 17:54:47 PST 2009

On Mar 6, 12:33 am, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:

>    As Warren Ellis, Chris Ware, and other cynics will no doubt tell you, superheroes are inherently ridiculous.  Accepting as a postulate the idea that if people found themselves gifted with incredible and weird powers that they would use them to fight crime (or commit it), there's still the question of code-names, gaudy skintight costumes, secret identities, law enforcement agencies and lawful citizens who either celebrate or at the very least tolerate the massive property damage incurred during your average superhero slobberknocker-- and that's just for starters.  That's not even getting into talking apes and parallel dimensions and, yes, giant typewriters.
>    And, you know what?  I'll give them that.  Absolutely, superheroes and the universes they inhabit are ridiculous on their face.  But rather than seeing that as a liability, or as a reason to endorse "campy" material (shudder), I see it as a source of great strength.  Like its "bastard" origin, it allows the superhero genre to go places and do things that other genres can't; the best superhero stories use the ridiculous to approach the sublime.

I see it more as something that needs to be fixed.  Superheroes are
ridiculous?  Okay.  So how would it really work if people had powers?
Or if they, without powers, doned costumes and fought or commited
crimes.  When the superhero genre is extended to media other than
comics (movies and TV) the problem is particularly obvious: when
characters put on spandex or leather and jump around the city it looks
silly and laughable.  Let's face it, the only reason we accepted it in
comics was because we were exposed to it when we were kids.  Movies
like Spiderman, the X-Men, the Dark Knight and Iron Man all worked
because they didn't (mostly) have aliens or talking apes but were
instead set in the real world, albeit a world in which people had
either superpowers or high technology at their disposal.  By setting
these stories in the real world, we can then deal with the issue of
how real people would react to them and what the implications of their
existance would be.  And that's more interesting than two hours of
people punching each other.


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