You’ll Pay For Your Crimes! …at a later date.

January 30th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

I had a fascinating conversation with Esther a few weeks back about how most superhero characters, if taken as a whole, are pretty much entirely unlikeable. Batman has let dozens of people die, made plans on how to disable his friends, and been a jerk to everyone under the sun. Spider-Man’s hit his wife, tried to kill her, had nervous breakdown after nervous breakdown, and lies to everyone he loves. Superman took over the world at some point in the past eight years, even.

But, you can’t have consequences for these actions in corporate comics. These characters are intellectual properties, which means that they must be available for exploitation. So, Batman does not go to jail for his killer spy satellite, nor for his plans to destroy the JLA. Spider-Man is “hunted” but never really has to pay for anything he’s done, despite the whole world believing he killed Gwen Stacy. Superman has destroyed half a dozen government task forces geared toward his capture but whoops he’s Superman and he was the good guy and just defending himself.

These characters make the same mistakes, over and over, in a cycle of mean-spiritedness and myopia. It makes reading comics without being extremely picky kind of a hard thing to do, doesn’t it?

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8 comments to “You’ll Pay For Your Crimes! …at a later date.”

  1. “These characters make the same mistakes, over and over, in a cycle of mean-spiritedness and myopia.”

    Replace “these characters” with “their writers/editors” and you have the problem. Almost every new Batman creator wants to make their own Dark Knight Returns. Every new spiderman creator was desperate to work some drama into Peter’s “married to a Supermodel/Actress” life. Every Superman creator wants… well hell if I know what the hell their problem is, but I guess if America turns against him, it’s one enemy he can’t punch into space.

    And very few of the writers pay lip service to the notion that all these stories have been told before. I mean look at Newsrama every time a big “event” in some superheroes life is taking place and they’ll show the half-dozen times or so a similar event has occurred in the past.

    Then again, I guess if a Soap Opera ran for 70 years with the same lead character, they’d run out of ideas too.

  2. I imagine this is why most of the superhero-loving sides of the comics internet have declared continuity a dirty word. Can’t cope with Batman’s spy satellite in your view of the character?

    Eh. That story sucked. Didn’t happen. If you complain, you are some sort of mental midget who cannot comprehend higher art!

  3. I’m glad someone wrote about this. Brian Clevinger (8-Bit Theater) wrote how in Superhero comics, a truly satisfying story is hard to do because superheroes are in a never-ending second act in comics. If they ever do reach the third act, some deux ex machina has to slingshot them back. Even worse, when they DO change, part of their story becomes dead, like Superman’s marriage Lois Lane. He got married to Lois, and suddenly the “Who am I? Clark Kent or Superman?” struggle becomes very moot, since Lois loves both, and Superman is a job Clark Kent he feels he needs to do.

    Just like Spider-Man’s story. Just when it seemed like his core value of “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” gets TRULY challenged, they move him back to living with bullet-free Aunt May. And if they actually did have Spider-Man face his responsibility, then a lot of what people identify as Spider-Man would go away. He would settle down and make a family or join SHIELD or actually try to make a stable life, and it wouldn’t be a Spider-Man story anymore. It would have to end. It’s a situation where you can’t win for losing, and it’s partially disenchanted me from a lot of mainstream comics and made me like Walking Dead and 100 Bullets more.

  4. Well, Spider-Man did have the public against him for the longest time. And Superman saves the world like every other week. I’d give him some slack, too. Batman is…

    Ok, yeah. Batman is a douche.

    What about the villains, though? Doesn’t it say something about their worlds that Norman freaking Osborn and Lex Luthor could basically be running the country?

  5. I still think the best “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” story that could be told for Spider-man is Peter Parker: Father.

    That is to say, Gwen gets pregnant. Gwen has baby. Parker wrestles with the dilemna of whether or not to stay in the superheroing business, with the eventual and inevitable result of him deciding to stay. Then the tension of him dealing with his career as a superhero and the need to raise a daughter properly.

    There’s a lot of good stories that can be told there, and frankly, “Oh noes Aunt May” is done. Finished. Caput.

  6. Eh. So what? People into all interests have to take their lumps, and part of the lumps that superhero comic fans take is this. It’s good to acknowledge and discuss it for sure, but I hope that there aren’t people who seriously let their enjoyment be tripped up. Cherrypicking is the solution.

  7. You know I still enjoy several Marvel and DC books, but there ARE creator owned super-hero comics. Marvel and DC aren’t the entirety of the genre…

  8. I used to love continuity, but there would be too much of it by now to bother with. For one thing, the numbers don’t add up — there’s just no TIME for all of this stuff to have happened. And then there are the reboots, which they’ve often stopped even pretending to make excuses for (think Superman:Birthright; the anti-Skrull ‘gamma-cannon’ Hulk origin; or the new Black Panther).

    Despite occasional pretenses otherwise, the Big Two aren’t really doing continuity, they’re doing approximately 5-year runs of each book and then starting over, with a re-told and updated origin retrofitted to the front end. The popular characters have more-or-less fixed foundational events after the actual origin story, but everything else might as well have been erased. Spider-Man always has Gwen Stacy’s death, Norman Osborn’s faked death & eventual return, and Venom; the rest is basically irrelevant. Daredevil always had Elektra and the feud with Kingpin. The Avengers had the Kree-Skrull War. All else before the last 5 years is up for grabs, and most of it never happened.

    This is a big improvement for storytelling from the days when each issue or at least each 2-3 issue storyline was standalone, but if you expect more, you’ll be disappointed.