Superheroes V Real Heroes

Media, Reading & Writing, The Arts

US film critic Marshall Fine recently got death threats after publishing a well-reasoned critical review of ‘The Dark Night Rises’, an enjoyable if somewhat pretentious and overlong film based on an old comic-book character. The backlash was so severe that Rotten Tomatoes had to shut down its comments section, and has repercussions for all websites with comments sections.

The problem is that Fine’s review broke the perfect ten of the Rotten Tomatoes score that the fans wanted it to have, even though they had yet to see the film. Now, this is all very strange. Somehow, Batman and co replaced real heroes. We no longer venerate government figures, explorers, doctors or scientists, but worship cartoon characters created to amuse children.

Fine’s not worried. He says; ‘It crosses a line if someone shows up on my front step. Otherwise everyone’s entitled to their opinion. People have strong feelings about this stuff. Is it unfortunate that this is the way people express themselves? Well, yeah, I think it’s a measure of how powerless people feel in this society in general.’

What’s odd is that comic book sales are in serious decline. In 1997 US sales (the primary market) were 100.32 million copies. In 2011 they’ve fallen to 72.13 million copies – down by more than a quarter.

So it’s just the films that count. Ultimately, the studios themselves can massage fan overreaction into something useful, because as Fine implies, leaving an anonymous complaint is hardly an empowering protest action.

But it made me wonder; once, when pressure-cooker feelings of dissent built up in the West, they used to be liberated in marches and protests – it feels as if I spent the whole of my twenties marching for human rights of one sort or another. But as comic book fans take their rights for granted, what do they have to complain about? A weakly reviewed comic-book film? That’s a bit lame, isn’t it?

But people take them seriously. Coverage of the San Diego Comic-Con, once an enjoyably ramshackle geek event that went unreported outside of local head-shops, now makes the international news. The fans are, for the most part, intelligent people, but they choose to exist in fantasy worlds.
If they showed the same strength of opinion about the potentially disastrous global effect of Syria’s unrest on Chechen Muslims, say, wouldn’t their time be better spent than being able to identify the specific Bane issue-arc of the new Batman film?

If they wanted to understand the nature of real heroism, they could study the men and women who helped to bring about the start of the Arab Spring instead of burying their heads in comics.

15 comments on “Superheroes V Real Heroes”

  1. Mike Cane says:

    Of course they don’t care about Syria or anything else. I didn’t, either, when I read comics. And back then, I longed for fans having the publicity other “important” things got, and for there to be big-budget serious films based on the books. Now that it has all come to pass, it’s not the fulfillment of a dream for me — it’s a nightmare.

    I share Nikki Finke’s disgust: “Pretty soon, every single fucking Hollywood film is gonna be based on a comic one way or another. Ugh.”

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more.
    To paraphrase a line from a hoary old song: Where have all the young activists gone? Long time passing.
    When the inconsequential consistently replaces the consequential in daily discourse, we have drifted into a Sargasso Sea of serious trouble.
    The Arab Spring, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Barack Obama elected U.S. President, these have brought significant change and the young were actively involved.
    Didn’t someone say: It is time to set aside childish things? I think so.
    There’s too much leisure time for too many

  3. Alan Morgan says:

    We marched, and fought, and even read comics.

    The negativity is easy on the internet because it’s all about people with nothing to say doing so loudly. And whilst anyone can destroy, few can create. And the destroyers hate the creators. The internet is like a bunch of 50s housewives scowling at the girl that has a good time, she being no better than she ought. And delighting in her fall.

    Can’t do? Hate.

    Can’t pull yourself up to something better? Make sure everyone else is kicked lower. Everyone gets to be 18 again – especially if when they were young, they weren’t very good at it…

  4. FabienneT says:

    Alan: this is a great post. Just perfect. It sums up pretty much quite a lot of what’s happening in our society to be honest.

  5. John Howard says:

    This reaction reminds me of a slightly less sinister furore caused when admin decided to give a similarly less than perfect ten to the recent Snow White film. The point made regarding the un-real world that a large portion of those who post on the wonderful world wide web live in is, as per usual with most of admins’ thoughts, right on the button. Thanks again for a small ray of rationality.

  6. snowy says:

    Heroism is only truly understood by those who fully understand the risks faced by those who put themselves in danger. In the point, click, scroll, world that some people inhabit, free of effort, pain and death, the worst they face is having to restart the level (and cramp in the clicking finger.)

    Danger is spoon fed through the idiot box, as premasticated and sweetened pap. Any problem no matter how difficult can be solved in 60 minutes (with breaks for sponsors messages.)

    Perhaps if they were to experience real risk, rather than vicarious risk, manners may improve (a false hope, sadly.)

    If they could imagine lying on a layer of smashed glass, inside a crushed car that reeks of fuel, comforting a seriously injured person, while firefighters struggle to create enough space to pull them out. Not knowing if in the next second there will be a spark, igniting the whole lot.

    Or facing the reality that some times things will never go as they planned. Let me pass this over to a better writer than myself.

  7. J. Folgard says:

    You know, as a huge comic fan, I find the whole ‘Batman’ hysteria debacle pretty sadening, and I’m not the only one. The other comic fans I know don’t dish out this kind of internet fanboy rage, they only interact online to share things they like, in a positive manner; once again it’s a very vocal, anonymously violent minority that negatively taints the whole thing.

    Another problem is this ‘comic fans’ designation. We’re as diverse as the comics themselves are -‘comics’ doesn’t only mean ‘Marvel-and/or-DC-superhero-book-with-a-franchise-attached’, there are other publishers, other genres, other ‘properties’, even a wealth of archival material out there, such as the wonderful PS or Dark Horse horror harcovers that admin mentioned here. It would be a sad state of affairs, though, if comics today were to be considered only good as nostalgia goodies or post-modern irony material. Sales are on the slide, just as everything else in publishing generally is, because people simply don’t enjoy reading anymore -yet, creatively speaking, there are a lot of talented people working in the field, people enthusiastically supported by a dedicaced readership; all of them doing that because they enjoy it, as ‘you don’t get in comics to get rich nowadays’. Internet haters are present everywhere, especially in entertainment, but they’re not heralds for the whole group (though they’d love to think so!).

    Even those tentpole-franchise characters, owned by big bad Disney/Marvel and Time Warner/DC corporate entities have some redeemable qualities. Don’t like the blockbuster movie and the whole media brouhaha that comes with it? Fine, but please don’t dismiss, by association, the good work that’s been done on them for decades (in comics, not movies) by the writers and artists who ensured the continual success of these properties. Most comic fans, instead of bashing strangers on the web, know those names and recognize their work. Movies, in the end, are just that: adaptations, that will dry up sooner or later.

    This unending slew of comic-book movies is primarily Hollywood’s choice, because right now it makes money. Comic fans are first and foremost readers, and as such we’ve been perfectly happy with the odd Batman flick several years ago. As long as the comics themselves are still here and stay interesting, adaptations may come and go, be they good or bad.

    I’ve got two friends who own a great comic shop: funny thing is, when we talk movies, the most intense people are the occasional buyers who just want a t-shirt or one single trade paperback (‘a short one, please’)… The ‘regular’, actual comic book readers are more nuanced, just like the actual reviews appearing on dedicaced websites (not agregators). Same goes for any fiction: I’m reading ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ these days, thoroughly enjoying it, without crying myself to sleep every night waiting for a movie version. It was a bit sad when Jill Thompson, a wonderful writer/artist, remarked that out of ten items from the SDCC that made the mainstream news, only one of them was actually comic-related, proof that ‘the comic fans’ have not that much weight as a whole. More often than not, we’d rather just have the books themselves, not a Hollywood rehash of questionable quality.

    It’s all about escapism, those ‘fantasy worlds’, whether you read Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge, Shakespeare or Proust or Judge Dredd. You choose to enter it and support it, but most people see the difference, I think. I love reading about the X-Men month in and month out, but in real life I look up to my friends and stay aware of the real, larger world, even if I’m a comic fan. We just want a nice diversion, not necessarily exploring the metaphysical paths of modern myths with obligatory film trilogies, or the other self-important, agrandizing pap Hollywood promotes. As for real life, when I’m asked by the kids what ‘a hero’ is (I’m a teacher, and my colleagues love pointing the students toward my well-known comic addiction!), I simply tell them it’s a person who puts himself/herself on the line to help others. I think it’s pithy and positive enough, a good message for them and more interesting than trolling a message board. And yet I’m a comic book fan -I even read them in public, during train rides..!

    Sorry for the overwrought rant here. I’ve been rambling because I love admin’s books and this blog, which I’ve been reading daily for more than three years now, and I’m sorry to see my beloved comics being dragged into such a sad story because some commenters on Rotten Tomatoes don’t know manners and live in a cocoon. But please, don’t lay the blame on a whole group because of them. And, you know, comics don’t sell much anymore but they’re still cool: China Miéville is writing ‘Dial H’, I’ve ordered a copy of ‘Black Cat Mystery’, and I’m still stoked for ‘the Soho Devil’! Cheers!

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    “14 dead and 50 wounded at showing of The Dark Knight Rises” last night in Aurora, Colorado. Figures given as of 7:00 AM Friday. A tall man all in black with a gas mask, tear gas bomb and automatic weapon. 50 to 60 shots fired in the theater! Who? WHY? Other than a sick mind and access to weapons, WHY? How did he get in?
    Let us hope there were a lot of “Real Heros” inside and outside the movie theater. Why? Why?

  9. admin says:

    Dan, check out Sondheim’s play ‘Assassins’, which still shocks as it strives to answer that question. There’s a moment in the play, which is about the failure of the stick-and-carrot economic system, in which a disadvantaged guy screams ‘I deserve a fucking prize!’ and fires a gun into the audience.

  10. Alan Morgan says:

    Ah, but Fabienne – judging only of course from your posts and page I suspect that you too had a good time when young. ;0)

  11. Dan Terrell says:

    I like much of Sondheim and remember when “Assassins” ran in New York City. I’ll look for some version of it.
    And thanks for recommending “Germania” a while back. I’m 2/3’s of the way through and find it very informative. He has an interesting writing style, scatter-shot, fugue-like and impressionistic. It’s a fine book and particularly if you already know some German history. Many tasty little nuggets on most pages.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I heard the news from Colorado this morning after a night of little sleep. I have no desire to rehash the whys until I stop shuddering. I hope it doesn’t make more people than ever want to see the film, just out of voyeurism.

  13. Dan Terrell says:

    According to the news tonight, a young woman who was in the shopping mall in Toronto moments before the snipper there showed up, had a bad feeling. and left just before the shooting began. She was last midnight in the motion picture theater to see Batman. She was shot and killed about a month of borrowed time. How horrible. This should only have happened in an Alfred Hitchcock collection of shorts, or his old namesake magazine. Too much irony!
    Roger Ebert in The New York Times today/tomorrow has a piece on why the Colorado killer planned to attack that theater, during that film. Publicity! He writes violence and publicity go together. Yes, they do.

  14. J. Folgard says:

    A Washington Examiner journalist has attempted to tie this horror to a page from a Batman story -classy, right? Dr. Wertham would be so proud…

  15. glasgow1975 says:

    An idiot on the news keeps saying this will make people think they need to take their gun to the cinema now, why on earth do Americans think like this? Surely the first thought should be ‘gun control’ followed by ‘better access to mental health professionals’? Not ‘better strap on my gun’. . .

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