End of the Dark Ages for Superhero Comics

Not really the end, but at least we have a start. Bill Willingham of Fablesfame announced his personal mission statement on the Big Hollywood blog recently that he would take up arms, or, at least, take up his pen, to reverse the degradation of the American superhero.

Here is a quote:

DC’s greatest icon, Superman, one of the handful of fictional characters known throughout the world, no longer seems to be too proud of America. He still finds occasion to mention he fights for truth and justice, but no longer finishes that famous line with, “…and the American way.” Then again, according to the most recent movie, he’s become a creepy stalker and a deadbeat dad, so maybe not openly linking himself to the American ideal isn’t such a bad thing.

Marvel’s legendary patriot Captain America, in a comic book story published shortly after 9/11 spent a good part of the issue apologizing to the super terrorist he was battling about all of the terrible things America did in its pursuit of the cold war against the Soviets. “(But) we’ve changed. We’ve learned,” he whines. “My people never knew!” Then again, at least ol’ Cap was fighting the bad guy, so maybe there’s still hope.

Except that In another later appearance, in a different title (same company) Captain America willingly goes along with a government cover-up of a incident that resulted in massive civilian casualties. He not only goes along with it, he doesn’t even bat an eye when asked to do so.

Then again Cap’s dead now, so problem solved, right?

Those are but two examples of the slow but steady degradation of the American superhero over the years. The ’super’ is still there, more so than ever, but there seems to be a slow leak in the ‘hero’ part.

He vows to do his part to stop the slow leak, and to be public about it.

I’ve already made some progress down that road. In my run writing the Robin series (of Batman fame), I made sure both Batman and Robin were portrayed as good, steadfast heroes, with unshakable personal codes and a firm grasp of their mission. I even got to do a story where Robin parachuted into Afghanistan with a group of very patriotic military superheroes on a full-scale, C130 gunship-supported combat mission. And in my short run on the Shadowpact series I kept to the same standard (but with less success as several story details were editorially imposed).

But ’some’ progress isn’t enough. It’s time to make public a decision I’ve already made in private. I’m going to shamelessly steal a line from Rush Limbaugh, who said, concerning a different matter, “Go ahead and have your recession if you insist, but you’ll have to pardon me if I choose not to participate.” And from now on that’s my position on superhero comics. Go ahead and have your Age of Superhero Decadence, if you insist, but you’ll have to pardon me if I no longer choose to participate.

All I can say is "Good luck and God Speed." While not as important as the two causes to which I have dedicated myself (The Space Princess Movement, the Pluto-is-a-Planet Movement, and the election of Solomon Kane, Puritan adventurer to the office of the presidency — I realize that is three, but you cannot expect a man dedicated to the re-planetification of Pluto to count, can you? All my mental energy is occupied making up words like re-planetification), I must say this is a cause worth fighting for. In the same way that a fish rots from the head, a culture rots from its imagination. When the dreams and shared myths of the culture turn dark, sour, and poisonous, the material circumstance of the culture are not long to follow.

The poison of dreams is called irony. Speaking of which, let me provide a link to an essay by superversive titled Ad Effigiem in which he explores the straw-man argument both in ironic litarture and in the chronological sobbery so preventant in our times. The chronological snobbery, the idea that "later is better" is a Late Victorian conception, now embraced uncritically by the Left, those scientific scholars of the material dialectic of history, who also somehow suffer selective historical amnesia and apalling historical iliteracy. As for the ironic, the writer has this to say:

Ironic fiction depends upon the conceit that the characters in the story are inferior in kind, or at least in mental capacity, to the author and his audience. In other words, it depends on making one’s characters into straw men, instead of making them behave like real people. The fact that ironic writers (and the critics who worship them) think of themselves as the only true realists under the canopy, and dismiss everyone else as romantics and escapists, merely shows what nonsensical meanings have become attached to the word realism. It is somehow ‘realistic’ to write about ugliness, but not about beauty; about cowardice, but not courage; about villains, but not heroes. Yet everyone with a normal aesthetic sense and a little inclination to travel (instead of seeing the world through the distorting eye of television) can see that nature contains far more beauty than ugliness; and everyone who has a nodding acquaintance with human beings knows that genuine villains are as rare as genuine saints.


When fantasy first became established as a commercial genre, it was solidly grounded in Frye’s category of the romantic. This is one of many reasons why critics of the Moorcock school hate Tolkien and all his imitators. In one sense, all their calls for subversion in fantasy are really calls for the ironic, because what they most want to subvert is the idea of human dignity. Elric is an ironic hero, a classic anti-hero in fact: a spiritual (and almost literal) vampire, devoid of morals; motivated by selfishness, a consuming hatred of his own people, and mere contempt for everyone else. Miéville’s New Crobuzon is notoriously ironic, a city where everything is ugly, everyone acts from the crassest motives, and from which nature itself has been so thoroughly expunged that no green and growing thing has ever been found there. The irony of their school is the deliberate antithesis to the romance of Tolkien and his followers.

It is no accident that Moorcock and Miéville set up Mervyn Peake as the anti-Tolkien, the principal god of their degraded pantheon.