Monday, March 9, 2015

Why I Don't Like Superheroes

I don’t really like comic books or comic book movies.  There.  I said it.  It’s not so much that I don’t like comic books as an art form (I’ve enjoyed a few graphic novels, especially the Sandman series).  What I don’t like is the comic book genre that has taken over Hollywood and the entire geek universe: Superheroes. 

How can a nerd like me, a fan of most things science fiction, not like what is today the biggest nerd industry, one that almost single-handedly made it cool to be a geek?

It boils down to three things: power, individualism, and elitism.

Superheroes are about power.  Granted, they use their power for good, lest they become Supervillians.  But I wonder if this fascination with power is healthy.

Growing up, I was picked on for being fat and for being weird, but I never got into fights.  Part of it was that I was usually bigger than the other kids, but I’ve also always been content to take a little verbal abuse to avoid physical violence.  I ignored bullies until they went away, and in my case that actually worked.  So, I didn’t form the adolescent revenge fantasies that I suspect fuel quite a bit of the fascination with Superheroes.  I’m not sure if you need that fantasy to relate to Superheroes, but it probably helps.

It’s no surprise that the biggest Superheroes are American: Superman (who’s more American than an immigrant?), Spiderman (just a kid from New York), Batman (depressive, brooding, one-percenter), Iron Man (funny, brooding, one-percenter), and Captain America (do I really need a parenthetical remark?).  There’s nothing Americans love more than a rugged individualist, especially if he’s a man (I’ll let fans of Wonder Woman and other female Superheroes correct my errors here). Superheroes usually single-handedly save the world.  Secret government agencies, love interests, and sidekicks add to the story, but they aren’t doing much of the actual saving-the-world work.

I don’t mind Superhero teams as much, like those loveable mutants, the X-Men (although I’ve always been puzzled about the name given that half of them are women).  The Avengers movie was entertaining and at least shows the value of teamwork.

Maybe it’s not so much that I mind narratives of power and individualism; maybe my problem is that most Superhero stories are so gauche about it.  Superheroes might help people deal with a hostile world by creating a fantasy in which the powerful are decent human beings (or aliens, or mutants, or whatever), but there’s also something discomforting about giving one person that much power.

I am in no way saying that Barack Obama is a Superhero, but the almost cult-like frenzy with which many of my fellow liberals adored him in 2008 kind of disturbed me, almost as much as those same liberals’ cooling toward him today confuses me (a centrist Democrat turned out to be a centrist Democrat – who knew?).  The cult of personality in the form of our worship of celebrities – the “Superheroes” of the media – can be a harmful thing, especially when it splits people into “better” and “worse.”

Social ills are complicated, but if there were one bad idea at their root, it would be the elitist idea that some people are better than others.  While Superhero stories can be taken as an invitation to think about each person’s talents and how she or he must choose to use them, I worry that in the end Superhero stories boil down to the same old message that some of us are better than the rest.

I guess I hope that we can do better than to wait for powerful, superior individuals to solve our problems, especially when the line between Superheroes and Supervillians is so thin.


  1. Watch the documentary Superheroes on Netflix. I wrote a whole big long thing on it here that was very good, but then when I tried to post it, it vanished. Gaah. Technology. Take my word for it, though, it was very well-written. But for the sake of getting to bed at a semi-decent hour, I will recap with just this: watch the documentary if you can. It's very touching and inspiring. It's about real-life superheroes who dress up in costumes and try to do as much good as they can.

    1. Brandon, thank you for the comment and the recommendation. I'm sorry your earlier comment disappeared! I will check out that movie.

  2. As an outsider to the whole thing (being a woman, a European and not a fan of Science Fiction ---unless it is by Asimov), thanks a lot for the intriguing post. It crystallizes some of the reasons why I feel uneasy especially about heroes like Batman (too snob) and Superman (it's too much about him alone and rules do not apply for him). I still sort of like Spider Man, though, because of the Responsibility problem and because his stories (at least in the Comics) always end badly, so that one is tempted to ask whether it makes sense, after all, and being a superhero does not seem so much like a blessing.

    1. Elisa, thank you for the comment. I'm glad you found my semi-professional blog. Welcome! Maybe someday I will have a fully professional blog. I hope to do some posts on Indian philosophy here, so I can cross-post them to the Indian Philosophy Blog.

      Superheroes like Spiderman can bring up interesting issues as you say. I'm not saying Superhero stories are always bad. I think part of my frustration is that there are too many Superhero movies these days. I'd like to see more variety.

  3. hi. i apologize in advance for not being able to properly express my feelings and thoughts.
    i for one feel that super hero comics are over saturated with superheroes which are in themselves often overpowered (cough cough..superman). i mean batman is a clever rich guy who beats people up whilst in a costume... yet everyone adores him. I think he is over-rated. The fact that everyone is ripped doesnt help me feel that the world the characters live in is real. the death count is always increasing, so much so that i just lose interest.
    my favorite comics have always been those that are grounded in reality, those that explore deep interesting themes. i recommend y:last man standing. Although the end revelation was disappointing.
    Seeing too many superheroes at once is tiresome especially when i lack knowledge of their motivations and backstory.
    end of pointless comment
    thanks for reading :)

    1. Thank you for your comment! I didn't find it pointless at all. I also find overpowered superheroes boring. I mean, as a sort of overcompensation it's a bit obvious, isn't it? I'll have to check out the one you mentioned.

  4. I dont't like superheros. Muscled, normies trying to be freaks, boring. I prefer villains, or maybe just a good anime movie.