Monday, July 27, 2009

Super Heroes, Super Powers, Etc.

I'm rereading Watchmen. It's a serious rip on superheroes, their theoretical role in society, and how they're fundamentally bad for humanity because their powers take away their humanity. I think Alan Moore got it wrong. It's not that superheroes are inherently more evil or wrong or twisted or "right-wing" than normal people. They just had abilities that kept them at a distance from others.

Being so gifted sets them apart, makes them freaks. One can easily see, given a little imagination, how comic books appeal to nerdy, bookish kids who don't fit in with their peers. Instead of super strength, they have the mental equivalent--intelligence--and they are subsequently unable to completely relate with those not so gifted. It is not pretty, it is not fun, and it can lead to disconnects between the superhero/gifted one and everyone around them.

The Greeks understood this. Achilles was their greatest hero--and a pain in the asterisk. He had that one weakness: his heel. And he had a formidable temper. The worst punishment he could inflict upon his fellow Greeks was to refuse to join in the battle against Troy, and so the army remained in stalemate for 10 years before the city gates. But again, superheroes need not be geeks. They might be athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, or anyone else with exceptional gifts is both celebrated but apart from their fellow men because they can find no peers. Is it any surprise, then, that the heroes and heroines and gods and goddessess pair up with each other and that they seldom stay with mere mortals? The gap is too great. There's a missing link of experience that the gifted can never share except with others similarly blessed...or cursed.

Here are some more thoughts along a similar line:


Unknown said...

Interesting read on Watchmen. I'm not sure I'm 100% on board with the analysis of Moore's intent, though, as he only provides you with a single individual who is anyway "super." Aside from Manhattan, the rest are just people in good shape that are willing to put on tights.

The "right-wing" thing I suspect is more an artifact of his alternate history (Manhattan being able to crush communism pretty instantly and the president-in-perpetuity Nixon) than it is an indictment of the vigilantes themselves. Comedian is the most political, but I suspect he's mostly just a violent psychopath who found a good outlet. Ozzy's a control freak, but I didn't read it as particularly "right," politically speaking.

Bart said...


You might be right, but what about Rorshach? Also, Moore posited his right-wing dystopia (with Nixon as a multi-term president) as being made possible by the heroes, super or otherwise. For instance, the Vietnam War is won by Doctor Manhattan.


Unknown said...

You make a good point on Rorschach...I tend to view him as just straight-up crazy, rather than it being a reflection of particular political viewpoint.

Moore definitely had a certain view of what the world might look like if Nixon had stayed in power, though. I've always wondered why he branched to American politics on that front, rather than his native England. Thatcher gave him an equally juicy target if he was looking to score points, and she was still in power.

Bart said...

Re: UK vs. US

Actually, didn't he write V for Vendetta?