Sunday, 19 October 2014

Why I don't 'get' superheroes

I've had a few discussions with friends over the years on this topic, but thought I'd blog about it in the wake of quite a provocative piece recently published by The Guardian on Batman. The article criticises Burton's first Caped Crusader movie, arguing that Nolan's version is better because it is more authentic, more progressive and more realistic.

I just don't 'get' superheroes in quite a profound way. I find it hard to separate them from their origins in the hokey American pre-war pulp literature culture where heroes were circus-strong-man who wore leopard-spotted leotards (or, if they were really going to town, their undercrackers over a leotard). It was a chauvinistic era when the protagonists were always male, and women were (mostly) in distress or, at best, feisty but under-powered sidekicks (as in The Shadow). I value this culture for what it is, so I love Burton's Batman because it was magical, theatrical and embraced the nonsense of the genre. I also love Kick Ass, Guardians of the Galaxy and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic) for these same reasons.

The modern trend of making superheroes realistic just leaves me confused. They continue to wear bonkers outfits while wondering around a gritty, realistic world. I can't help thinking why everyone around them isn't saying, "Uh, you know you look a bit weird dressed like that, right?". And injecting a lot of angst and dumbed-down psychology just makes it worse.

There are a few exceptions to my dislike. V has no superpowers and adopts the Guy Fawkes persona as it suits his anarchistic and political aims. Everyone he encounters is completely freaked out by his clearly outrageous outfit. The Watchmen are just unstable, have-a-go-heroes. Doctor Manhattan, arguably the only one with any supernatural abilities, is treated in quite a realistic manner. He is harnessed as weapon of mass destruction by America while being viewed with suspicion and fear. My point with these two examples is that they demonstrate a coherency to the level of realism. The world they live in, the heroes and the supporting characters around them are all treated with the same logic.

I realise that the huge success of the superhero genre in recent years means I am in a minority. Clearly it's hugely popular and the popcorn-chomping public love it. I'm just not one of them and continue to be left cold by the bulk of these raspy, frowning, cinematic offerings.

Oh, and just be clear, giant, genetically engineered, robot-armour wearing fanatics in space are absolutely fine in my book.


  1. Don't worry, your not on your own, I'm completely over Super hero movies. So sick of the glaringly obvious fact that the hero will never matter how dire his situation is!

    To me, their just a different kind of chick flick, wherein stupid guy meets girl, stupid guy messes up relationship, stupid guy then spends the rest of the movie trying to -and succeeding to- woo her back. Why do people bother watching these types of movies when there is never any doubt of the outcome? matter the obstacles they face throughout the 90 minutes or so?

    You could easily rearrange the previous paragraph & replace a few words like "girl" to "villain" and you'd have a mostly done script for a Super Hero movie.

    I better stop my rant now, I can feel a coronary coming on :)


  2. I wrote a really long reply, pressed preview and it vanished! Rookie error.

    I think that superhero films are not very adventurous. Try 'All Star Superman' - there is a good animated film of it too - this is the sort of thing I'd like to see Hollywood try rather than attempting to emulate the brooding Nolan aesthetic. Forget about making Superman realistic, he should be punching tyrant suns.