Interesting blog post by Charlie Stross entitled “The myth of heroism” in which he makes the good point that the superhero genre is essentially classical mythology reminagined in a modern-day setting. He suggests this reason as to why superheroes are more accessible to some audiences than science fiction.
SF—a spiky, chewy, unlovable form that is hard for the humanities to approach. The tools of hard science fiction are much trickier and slipperier to handle than those of the fantastic, because the cultural divide in our educational systems deprive many of the people following the literary and cultural track of the tools they need to engage with science and technology effectively. Whereas myth and legend comes naturally to the hands of people whose education, even if it doesn’t directly engage with the Greek and Latin classics, is pervaded by the writings of the literary elders who did.
I’m not completely convinced by that argument myself. But maybe it’s because I followed the science and technology track in education, and fiction needs internal consistency and logical cause-and-effect to work for me. Many of the superhero tropes break that, which is why I’ve never really appreciated the genre.
And no, I don’t buy Charlie Stross’ assertion that the superhero genre is any less trope-ridden than high or urban fantasy.
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….