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Just Past the Horizon: Heroic appeal

by  in Comic News Comment
Just Past the Horizon: Heroic appeal

In the last couple of days there’s been a few minor blowups in the superhero fan community that caught my attention. One is centered around a movie reviewer who claimed that women were by nature more interested in romance than heroics, so there wasn’t a need for a female superhero movie.

Our movie reviewer picked up that startlingly unoriginal insight like a chunk of fecal matter hardened by an early January frost (which to say a number of us are wondered just how he brought himself to actually write and post that thought on the internet) and chucked it into the deceptively still waters of female fandom. The result was a beautiful rippling mess of nearly unanimous disapproval, from readers of superhero comics and superhero fans who prefer other media. The young man is still buried under a wave of comments trying to explain that he was just using generalizations. (Please note that a generalization is a logical fallacy, so that’s not a good defense.)

The second matter is currently being discussed on this very blog. I’m referring to Bill Willingham’s editorial against what he saw as the cause of wicked superhero decadence, a de-emphasis on old-fashioned values of certain Superheroes that include favoring the USA as a country specifically representing those values. Willingham has pledged to go all out in this matter, which should hopefully only have a positive impact on his run on Justice Society of America. The editorial has drawn many fine and interesting comments on this blog, on the original editorial, and is now filtering out to the blogging/podcasting communities. The comments that get my attention here are the ones wrapped up in losing “the American Way” as the source of decadence and complaining about things like the Avengers being sponsored by the UN or the JLA using an abbreviated name.

And the last matter that drew my attention was the Obama-Spiderman special story, produced in honor of the Inauguration. That’s received a certain amount of derision from the conservative side of fandom (on their blogs and in comment sections) including those who feel a need to state that the President-Elect is only a “collector”, and judging by the context of the conversation I can only guess that they feel that a center-left political does not count as a Real Fan. (Do they think he’s only saying he reads Spider-man to make himself look cool?)

Now, what do these three incidents all have in common?

Well, let’s boil down superhero stories to their inherent traits. You have a person who obtains through either luck or their own hard work (or a combination of hard work backfiring on them but luckily not killing them, such as with Reed Richards) extraordinary abilities. They choose to use these abilities to combat a force of evil and make the world a better place. There, we’ve got the “super” and the “hero” covered.

There’s nothing in there about what gender you are, about what nationality you are, or about what politics you practice. It’s very simple, someone decides to use their powers to fight against evil and use their powers for good.

Yes, the stories are made up and angled based on factors of background, actual politics of the writer sometimes deciding what’s good and what’s evil, moral relativism or the lack thereof, character mechanics, narrative mechanics, plenty of times when gender, nationality, politics, race, sexuality, religion, and other such categories come into play. But that varies from character to character and story to story.

The thing about all these incidents that caught my attention was that they seemed to all be discussing superheroes and perhaps heroic action literature in general. And the superhero genre at the base doesn’t have a political agenda, or identity traits, it stems from the common human desire to be able to wriggle out of your lowly position and right what you perceive as wrongs, and be able change your life–your world, even your universe–for the better.

That’s a universal desire right there. I’ve seen three instances this week alone where people have forgotten that the genre embodies a universal aspect of humanity and assigned traits that aren’t inherent to the genre as inherent to the genre or assumed that only people from certain backgrounds might share this desire.

And that’s flat-out wrong.

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