“People are attempting to bring a superficial reality to superheroes which is rather stupid. They work best as the flamboyant fantasies they are. I mean, these are characters that are broad and big. I don’t need to see sweat patches under Superman”s arms. I want to see him fly.” – Frank Miller
Ah, good old crazy, brilliant Frank. Interesting quote, considering he’s pretty much responsible for bringing “gritty realism” to comics. Once upon a time, Batman had a Bat-Mite, lest we forget.
So what’s the deal? I think these things are somewhat cyclical too. Batman would originally carry a gun and kill his villains, until Bob Kane or Bill Finger or whoever realised characters like The Joker were far too delicious to just lay to waste.
The 50′s camp came from a need to step away from the idea that comics were a negative influence on children, so they were given some form of totally far-out kid’s cartoon feel. Because you know, flying men are not enough.
There’s a point here, stay with me. Other than the fact both Wertham and Miller have a lot to answer for, each in their own way.
I think realism in comics is a pretty good thing. It’s what makes us empathise with the characters, and keeps us coming back for more. Which in turn means the characters have to become less real, because the more we want, the less they can’t age or die (at least forever). What a paradox eh. We all come to watch Scott and Jean’s love go up and down because we feel we can relate to it, and then of course the characters can never move on from that for very long because otherwise we start to moan or something.
I watched Kick-Ass the other day and realised Millar took realism to it’s ultimate peak, and as such came up with the fact that it’s actually a pretty silly idea. I mean, there’s not one character in Kick-Ass that isn’t pathetic, and that’s not what I go to my superheroes for. Of course I want them to have complicated love lives and to wrestle with eternal questions about morality and friendship. What I don’t want them doing is getting stabbed and then run over by a car, and having to be sent to the emergency room for a three month hospital stay.
I don’t want them to have neuroses the size of uzis, or appalling sex lives. This is the reason Watchmen works so well as a self-contained book, we can’t go back there without delving into humour. Would you constantly keep going back to a character who can’t have sex without his costume? It starts to delve into The Boys territory, and I for one can live without seeing Ozymandias with a hamster up his rectum.
Lee, Kirby and Ditko brought a realism to comics that hadn’t been seen before. DC Comics heroes have always been more of a Greek pantheon, whereas Marvel decided to start from the street level looking up at the gods. Yet what we forget is that the supposed realism was completely drawn from soap operas, not particularly real life itself.
My point being, a certain amount of realism is great. It keeps us coming back to see whether Rogue and Gambit are ever going to get back together. It helps us understand Magneto as not just some evil force but as a conflicted man in a sick world. But there’s a certain moment in comics where I also want to leave the world behind, and I don’t want to see Batman stop leaping over rooftops to spend half an hour taking off his costume so he can go to the toilet. I don’t need to see Catwoman miss a step and fall nose first from a fourth story. I particularly don’t want to see Captain America farting when he thinks no-one is around.
The concept of reality in comics is a glossed-over one. When done to perfection, it means we can see emotional moments that will bring us that much closer to our beloved heroes (and villains, and the ones inbetween). The rest of it should just stay in the gutters.