Superheroes: A Cultural Catastrophe?

Alan Moore thinks Superheroes are ‘a cultural catastrophe’

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

Somebody had to say it.

Despite being an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, I have always found the tropes of superhero genre inherently silly. It’s probably a consequence of not reading superhero comics as a child. So with the excaption of the camp 60s version of Batman (Wallop! Blatt! Kapow!), I only encountered the rest of the genre as an adult. And having not grown up steeped in the genre from a formative age it’s a lot easier to recognise the whole thing as selling adolescent male power fantasies.

If people did have superhuman powers, why would they don Spandex and capes and spend their time having fist fights with equally ridiculous supervillans? Why do they always have to have mundane secret indentities? And why would the presence of hundreds of costumed heroes have absolutely no impact on the world’s history or politics?

I’m not alone in thinking this, given the way this post of mine on Twitter (the cartoon isn’t mine) went viral with something like 400 retweets.


That cartoon neatly sums up my problem with the genre….

This entry was posted in Science Fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Superheroes: A Cultural Catastrophe?

  1. Serdar says:

    I suspect a bunch of far more fervent comics fans are going to chime in any second and say that most all your points were addressed in [insert issue and panel citation here], or [insert name of indie comics title here]. Moore’s own “Watchmen” was its critique of that sort of thing.

    I’ll probably have more to say about this later.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    I await the imminent arrival of Comic Store Guy from The Simpsons with trepidation.

  3. Michael says:

    Well I think it is explained in the Champions (later Heros) rule book.

    You need the mundane secret identity to help pay for your superpowers.
    You don’t get as many points for the Public Identity, and it without one you can’t get the big discount for “only works in Hero Identity”.

    On a slightly more serious note, and only slightly, many years ago the whole absurdity was addressed in the She-Hulk comic. The side-kick was desperate for the job as her own comic finished decades ago and the power “immunity to ageing” only works while your comic is in publication. Likewise the heroine was asked why her clothing was never completely ripped no matter how serious the fight. The answer was a small label sewn in the back or her underclothes reading “Protected by the American Comic Code”.

    These things just are not supposed to be taken seriously!

  4. Comic Book Guy says:

    Worst. Blog. Ever.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    You took your time… :)

  6. Synthetase says:

    Agreed. That Tony Stark would rather spend his billions on a mech suit than to actually tackle the root causes of crime speaks more of him wanting to help his own ego than anyone else.

    All the silliness of the caped cruisaders occupying the real modern world is sent up beautifully in the Venture Brothers TV series.