Self-Loathing Superheroics

A problem prevalent for some time in the City of Heroes fandom’s roleplay community was that for some, the superhero game was just the perfect place to play a large variety of characters who refused the names of, trappings of, styles of, and ethics of, the actual superhero genre. A non-stop wave of characterisation ala 1995 Spawn, with its notions of the comic book genre and the over-the-top style meant only to fuel characters who wanted to exist in a universe with superheroes so they could both beat the superheroes, and at the same time, smugly declare themselves superior to those superheroes for doing everything they did in a boring grey-brown suit or paramilitary costume gleaned from rewatching the latest hollywood short-brown-hair-a-thon. I grew to resent these people, then hate them, then loathe them, and there’s no clever twist where I wind up pitying them. I just hate them.

I hate them because they’re part of a growing market of all-consuming online presence, people who do not like things the same way I like them, a fruitless reason to dislike anything, yet there it is. I dislike these people because in an era where the rise of the geek has given culture a huge, rich seam of now-common-language superhero media, they are the ones who want to buy these things, as long as they are ashamed of them. It’s this very strange sort of ‘geek-shaming’ cultural appropriation and that sentence immediately makes me feel like I’ve overstepped my bounds.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but this is the problem prevalent in the movie franchises of X-Men and Wolverine. We’re given stories about superheroes written by people who hate superheroes, and as a direct result, these superheroes hate superheroes. When those movies arrived, they were exciting and different because it was the first time I remember seeing superheroics on the big screen that didn’t made me cringe with embarassment. At that age, the whopping era of seventeen, I was desperate to not feel like a dork because I liked a character who wore all yellow. Now, ignoring that at that age, I was a gigantic dork, precisely because of my desire to run away from bright colours and liking things, I failed to notice how that movie was structured. At its core, it is a movie about Wolverine; characters are defined how they appeal to or disagree with Wolverine. In many ways, Wolverine serves as the voice and the movement of the film. What then are we to make of it when this man, rescued from death (well not really) and cold, wakes up in an opulent home, witnesses people with special abilities (like his own), including Shadowcat running through a wall, and the only real thing he wants to do is make fun of the idea of code names.

The movie never makes a case for code names. They just use them, because, you know, branding and merchandising and shit, but at no point does someone turn to Wolverine and say any of the possible good reasons to use code names, not the least of which is they are cool. No. Instead, the movie makes fun of them, and that’s the sole voice of the narrative. Now, ignoring the other problems of that movie, the other successful, good superhero films that have followed in its wake have been things like the Dark Knight trilogy, the Spidermans, the Marvel films, and most recently, Man of Steel. Now, I’ve not seen Man of Steel, so rather than passing my opinion on it, I’ll just defer to Mark Waid and then to Premmy, who will correct us both.

I’m trying to find a good way to put this in my own words.

I would like to see superhero stories created by people who like superheroes. Not people who want to use superhero branding, but people who actually like the ideas of superheroes, characters scaled up in some way or another. Characters who become symbols and characters whose struggles are magnified and made more icon-driven. We can do that, this culture says, as long as we can ignore those things, and take them, hammer them flat, roll them, press them, and turn them into these other things. We can have superheroes, as long as we make them fit the template we already liked. You can’t have multiple female superheroes in your Avengers movie, because that isn’t comfortable. You can’t have brighter colours. You can’t have underpants on the outside. You can’t have, you can’t have, you can’t have, and when your superhero has lost everything that makes them different to what we already had, we will accept it.

One comment

  1. premmy

    I’ be been saying the x-men weren’t very superheroic to begin with since forever. Also: watch first class, now.

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