Sunday, January 13, 2013

On the Deconstruction of Superheroes

A small post today on a point that has alway bothered me about modern comics. It's no secret that ever since Watchmen, a ton of derivative comic-books were published, tripping over each other in an attempt to deconstruct the superheroic archetype. I won't say all of the books were bad. (Just most of them). But there was a take on the genre that always bothered me as it's premise seemed fundamentally flawed.
These books were often centered on the premise "What if the Earth's greatest superheroes were secretly complete and utter bastards?" The quintessential example of such books are Marshal Law and The Boys. In these books, written by writers who publicly proclaim their hated of superheroes, the heroes weren't flawed and human as they were in Watchmen. Instead, they were pretty much complete monsters. In public, they stand for Mom and apple pie, basking in the media spotlight but in secret, they indulge in every illegal activity known to man.
Naturally, it falls to the protagonist of the series to reveal the truth behind the so-called heroes. His is a lonely task, playing Cassandra to a world that doesn't want to hear what he has to say. To aid him in this task, the protagonist, of course, has powers of his own usually from the same source as the so-called "heroes." Heck, in Marshall Law, the main character even wears a costume designed to mock and strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. The protagonist in the course of his job  often commits disturbing and morally ambiguous acts but, given the ludicrously evil nature of the "heroes", the audience knows who to root for.
If any of this sound somewhat familiar, it's because these stories follow have the same basic plot as almost any random "90s antihero comic that weren't supposed to be ironic or anti-superher polemics. Angry disturbed anti-hero beats up, maims, and kills his way through thousands of terrible people. Calling character who in another work  would be called a "super-villains" "super-heroes" does not  reveal a fundamental flaw in "super-hero" stories.  It merely uses the old trope of the bad guy who everyone thinks is good. That trope have been in thousands of works of fiction. Heck, it even appeared in Superman. I think you'd be hard pressed to say that there's any comic thats more of a traditional comic then Superman. Just because a people in the comic say that Lex Luthor is a hero doesn't make him one.

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