We went to a presentation the other day featuring cast members and show runners from the CW‘s four superhero shows: Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. We had a fine time; all of the panelists were entertaining and the whole thing was moderated by Kevin Smith, who had the audience in stitches. Kevin’s introduction described how as a kid, he had read comic books to be transported, and how they always made him feel like a better person because they were all about the good guys and their triumphs.
This made me think: Literature is virtually always about the good guys winning. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, for example George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman (no relation to The Flash), but you’d really be hard-pressed to find a book or comic where in the end you weren’t supposed to root for the good guys. Oftimes, the good guys are bad guys, but those are anti-heroes, bad guys you root for because their adversaries are even worse. Are with you with me so far? Of course you are, this isn’t controversial.
So why is it, then, that comic books are blamed for the decline of Western Civilization?* These are highly moralistic stories. The good guys virtually always win. They put their lives on the line, without pay, issue after issue for decades, sometimes (in the case of Marvel heroes) in the face of public ridicule, scorn, and even persecution. Who doesn’t want to live in a society where everyone is ready and willing to take on evil and stand up to oppression? How can a medium which produced Superman be bad?
I know a lot of the knocks against comic books are the same as are leveled against science fiction: it’s juvenile, it’s poorly written, it’s unbelievable. And I ask each of those the same thing: Have you read this stuff lately? Have you ever read this stuff?
Granted, comic books have a tendency to make you believe that violence (no matter how reluctantly practiced) solves every problem. But I would argue that being a “force” is less important than being a “force for good,” or at least it was when I was reading.
When I was a kid, reading comic books was not viewed by my parents as an optimal use of my time. I would argue though, that comic books (and later pulp novels) did as much to form my moral outlook as religious education, or upbringing. I’m not saying I’m going to stand in front of a runaway truck or face down bank robbers–but I am saying that if I had a little influx of cosmic energy, you might hear…
“Who is that masked man, anyway? He’s straight out of a comic book!”
*Yes, there were the EC comics of the 1950s. But really, it was the 1950s!