For Every Action (Comics #1) There is An Equal (and Opposite?) Reaction

For once, I agree with Tim O’Neil on a subject other than Cerebus:

Which is why superhero books are such a canard in this respect: there’s no moral vagary in the why’s and wherefor’s when the Avenger’s stop the Kree from destroying Earth with a death ray. Even something like Millar’s “Ultimates,” which I do accept as satire from a left/liberal point of view, ultimately fails to make any sort of convincing argument against current policy. Where is the ambiguity when it comes to stopping the Hulk from smashing Manhattan or stopping the Chitauri (or, as we like to call them, the dirty Skrulls!) from making Earth into a giant pinata? Again, superheroes are inherently reactionary because, at their core, they exist to prevent change. Now, most of that change would be a bad thing – no-one wants the Hulk to flatten Manhattan (hey, that rhymed) – but when you boil it down, superheroes are really only any good when they are stopping things from happening. They can’t actually work for change because A) in most cases they can’t change the framework of their fictional universe that drastically from our own and B) whenever a superhero or heroes tries to change the status quo, it never ends up good. Just look at the Order (who only tried to conquer the world because they were being – wait for it – mind controlled!), or Force Works (whose premise was to try and root out evil before it reared its head, if you recall), or the Authority (is there any doubt that they are currently the Bad Guys in the Wildstorm U?). Admittedly, there are more effective ways to change the world than to conquer it, but most of those ways aren’t very interesting to read about (who would buy a comic with 22 pulse-pounding pages of the X-Men handing out gifts to kids in the leukemia ward? That’d be pretty damn depressing, if you ask me).

Of course, all he proves here is that expecting “realism” from this genre is a very, very bad idea. As a matter of fact: expecting any artist to deal with actual political issues is damned foolish! This is just one of the many reasons why The Blithedale Romance is my favourite novel… Hawthorne says: “Hey guys! here’s my book about my experiences as a worker on a Utopian commune–but don’t expect political satire or a social critique from me because that’s not what artists do! What’s that dude? You ignored my preface (probably thought I was just testing you, right?) and went hunting for my opinion on the women’s movement anyway? Fine. Whatever. What am I gonna do about it? I’m dead. But you just had a bad reading experience for no reason because you expect every novel to be a political tract/rant about what’s wrong with society! Jesus I’m happy I died before they forgot the meaning of Romance!”

This doesn’t mean that you can’t feature political issues as story elements–Morrison’s Animal Man demonstrates pretty clearly that you can; as do the works of Charles Dickens and Frank Capra (anyone know who Frank Capra voted for back in the thirties? anyone care? I hope not, because his films, even the ones that take place in Washington, don’t really have anything to do with politics)–you just can’t make them the point of the story, otherwise your work will suck.

As anyone who has read this blog at all knows, I’m a psycho when it comes to defending liberal values and the question of animal rights–but even I know enough never to write a novel about these things… If I have something to say about a specific issue, I’ll just say it… When I write fiction, I deal with the kind of stuff that nobody conducts polls on–like epistemological conundrums and the magic of inter-subjectivity.

The Forager understands what I’m talking about here–and so do most of the rest of you. Either you find works in this genre interesting to read (& write about!) or you don’t… That’s fine. But you will never prove that this mode of storytelling is “limited” in any way that matters. Okay–I’m pledging right here and now never to discuss the validity of the superhero genre again! Join me, won’t you?

I’m about to sleep for the first time in 40 hours! Wish me luck!

Good night friends!


  1. Only 40 hours? I’d have expected you to at least stay awake long enough for the hallucinations to kick in!


  2. believe me Rick–I’ve been there!

    my undergrad thesis was 60 pages long and I wrote it all in one wonderful weekend a few years ago… I guess I was up for about 65 hours in total…

    and then there was the time that I stayed up for three nights in a row writing two seminar papers back-to-back: that time I had help though, ’cause I scalded my ankle really badly with ginger tea halfway through and the pain was so intense that I couldn’t have slept even if I had wanted to! (I handed the paper in and then went to the hospital fo treatment…)

    I love the essay-writin’ season!


  3. Is it possible that Tim O’Neil hates superheroes precisely because he’s been reading The Order, The Ultimates, and Force Works? 🙂


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