Thursday, November 18, 2010

Batman is better than me

I’m sick of reading about stupid people in superhero comics. I want superheroes to be smarter than me.

Russell T Davies once said the hardest thing about writing Doctor Who was that the main character was much, much smarter than the writer, so coming up with a clever and ingenious solution to plot elements was insanely difficult. This might explain why stories that end with the Doctor building some piece of scientific bollocks to save the day are rarely satisfying, and an ending that relies on a ridiculously clever plot shuffle is always brilliant.

I like reading about characters that are better than me. A lot of Batman writers have been unable to distinguish between ‘ultra-competent’ and ‘ultra-arsehole’ – the character can be the best at what he does without alienating everybody else on the planet.

I always enjoy a Batman who is smarter than everybody else. I can handle a Mr Fantastic who comes up with ingenious solutions to world problems without being a dick. Intelligence is nothing to be scared of.

And that’s why I always like it when superpeople take a stand on killing, because it’s the easy way out that solves nothing. A strict moral code not only gives superfolk an absolute honour that makes them intensely likable characters, and it also means they need to come up with their own ingenious solutions to take down bad guys who shrug off death like an unfashionable coat.

Killing people is the kind of idea that a 12-year-old dipshit who just discovered black is his favourite colour comes up with, and thinks its realistic and smarter if Superman just burned his heat vision through the bad guy’s brains instead of imprisoning them.

It’s an adolescent attitude that often gets mistaken for a mature one. A Spider-man who strings Doc Ock up by his tentacles isn’t dark and edgy. He’s just somebody who has run out of ideas.

Killing is so easy. Superheroes should be good at this game. One of the things that has always been enjoyable about somebody like the Flash is that he is such a smart motherfucker, often coming up with ingenious methods to take down bad guys that can seem incredibly clever in the speed of the moment. Probably because he’s got time to think about it all in the space between seconds, over and over again.

Killing the bad guys is a real world attitude that has no place in a superhero universe. And it solves nothing.

You send the Joker to the afterlife that has been established within the fictional DC universe, and he will come back and fuck you up with his demon powers. This is a place where the afterlife is a verifiable entity - there have been enough trips over to heaven and hell to prove that oblivion is not an option - so killing people just makes things worse.

As Superman once pointed out, it’s a simplistic solution to a complex problem when you’re dealing with the revolving door afterlife of the DC Universe. If Batman went a bit funny in the head one day and took an axe to the Joker, chopping him into little bits and then feeding him to pigs all over the world, the grinning one would just keep coming back.

This has even happened in a comic book. When Alan Davis did his gloriously mental JLA: Another Nail comic, Joker just did some demonic deals and came back worse than ever. The Joker survives on his ridiculously powerful mega-personality, and that’s way more powerful than any death.

It’s irritating enough to see this kind of thing in the real world. Modern political discourse has devolved into a series of simple solutions for complex problems, with sound-bite ideology driving people into ridiculous frenzies of entitlement. We see this every day in the real world, and it’s maddening and impossible to shut down. I don’t want this in my comic books as well. I want them to be smarter than that. Is that too much to ask?

I don’t mind a bit of stupidity in my comics. Dumb can be fun. Dumb can be funny. Art comics about dumb people are invariably rewarding and joke comics about dickheads who always screw things up are always good for a laugh.

And The Marvel Universe just doesn’t work unless the general population is as dumb as a bag of hammers. They’ve put up with a lot. Strange people have been bringing buildings down around them for decades, but they go off their fuckin’ nuts at the X-Men or the Avengers or somebody every second day. They readily gave Norman bloody Osborne the most powerful job in the world and are regularly dragged out to give mutants a bit of that fear and prejudice they’re after.

But I really do expect more from superheroes. We don't need tpo drag them down to our level, they can pull us up to theirs. Batman is better than me, and I’m okay with that.

No comments: