Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Super-Hero Registration Act and the Common Good

Let's go back to the seminal super-hero, Superman. People are always arguing the difference between his creation and that of mythological figures and pulp heroes. To me, the major deciding factors were that a) the super-hero was active in our modern world b) the super-hero had unimpeachable ethical character; c) the super-hero clearly fought to protect and serve the common man; d) the super-hero focused his attention on social ills, from domestic violence to crime to errors in the justice system. The super-hero, as originated by Superman, had fantastic powers that allowed them to act as urban secular demigods in pursuit of justice and equality for the people.

Now, somewhere along the way, the original super-hero concept was perverted by the more violent and prurient interests of the pulp fiction set, and further corrupted by crusading moralists who helped force the renegade social champions to become the servants of the establishment. Where once Superman represented the fantasy of an empowered populace, he was now an authoritarian used to teach the young and simple-minded proper respect for the law and property.

The Marvel revolution of the 1960's was partially based on taking the super-hero back to the genesis point as agents of social change, while miring them in the dilemmas of the average person's daily life, transforming them to be relatable contemporaries more than ideals. As with the previous generation of heroes, Marvel was co-opted by corporate interests more concerned with keeping politics and of the equation and keeping the line palatable to all. Creators continued to fight for progressive notions, but ultimately focus lingered more on the neurotic melodrama and more generalized notions of heroism.

Sadly, a third generation of socially-conscious super-heroes has yet to find a foothold in the public consciousness. The need for artists to address our times remains, as does the wish for super-heroes that reflect those desires. However, to fill the vacuum, Marvel heroes with established continuities have been recontextualized in a manner that does not sit well with longtime readers. I understand that irritation, but there is no new company of concepts to reflect the neo-fascistic leanings of our era. Marvel creators have instead returned to the seminal point of the super-hero, and forced certain characters into roles that cause displeasure, but are not entirely unprecidented nor outside the concerns of our time. Marvel bread and butter has always been their being the home of a realistic, relatable universe.

Our government continues to rubberstamp torture, indefinate imprisonment without trial, extraordinary rendition, a potentially endless foreign occupation hinged on utterly insubstantial motivations... in the absence of a new generation of heroes, it falls on Marvel to represent our modern existence in super-heroic terms. Otherwise, they're just DC Comics, a corporate entity only allowed to make a point through vague metaphor or within the ghetto of extant lines. The question you have to ask yourself is, if you're a true Marvel fan, shouldn't you want social ills to be addressed, or do you just want broad fantasy in tights?

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