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Off My Mind: Does Knowing 'The Hero Always Wins' Affect Reading Enjoyment?

Stories can get extremely suspenseful but at the end, the good guys come out on top.

When it comes to superhero comic book stories, they tend to focus on the never-ending battle between good and evil. Usually the bad guys come up with a plan to conquer the world or achieve some sort of personal gain. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting revenge against the heroes that constantly thwart their plans.

We tend to root for the good guys and there are times when the stories can get pretty dreary for the heroes. The odds can get stacked against them and it appears as if all is lost. Could it be that the bad guys will finally win? Probably not.

Great writers are tasked to come up with compelling stories that make you actually question the outcome. But no matter how much they throw at them, the chances are going to fall in the hero's favor. Does this fact that the heroes will always win lessen the impact of great stories?

== TEASER ==

It is possible that the hero might actually lose. There has been the occasion where the bad guy will win to some extent. Bane broke Batman's back and defeated him. Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy. Red Skull orchestrated the death of Captain America. Doomsday's threat lead to the death of Superman. Joker killed the second Robin. The Human Torch sacrificed his life to save the Thing, Franklin, Valeria and others.

These were all tragic times for the superhero community but if you think about them, the heroes usually bounced back eventually (except for Gwen but then she was a supporting character rather than a superhero). Let's think about some of the current and upcoming stories where things look really bad for the heroes.

Batman

Scott Snyder has been putting Batman through some dark times. With the Court of Owls, it looks like Batman has met his match. This marked one of the very few times Batman underestimated his enemies. He refused to believe in their existence and this lead to his capture and near physical and psychological defeat. With a threat as great as the Court is, could this mark the end of Batman's reign as Gotham's champion?

Spider-Man

We've seen teasers for the End of the Earth storyline in which Doc Ock plans on getting revenge against Spider-Man. Otto's health isn't what it was and this may be his last chance at finally defeating the Wall-Crawler. To help, he's enlisting the Sinister Six and each teaser suggest it's not going to go well for Spidey. Could this be the end of Spider-Man?

If that wasn't enough, at WonderCon, Marvel announced and previewed the No Going Back storyline set for this summer. The Lizard is coming back and from the cover to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #688, it looks as if the Lizard is going to chomp Spidey's head off. Will this be the end of Spider-Man?!?

The fact that this Lizard story comes after Ends of the Earth pretty much tells us what we already know, Spider-Man will win against the Doc Ock and the Sinister Six.

Sinestro and the Indigo Tribe

Just as we were getting used to Sinestro as a Green Lantern once again and all his revelations to Hal Jordan, he gets whisked away by the Indigo Tribe. They plan on saving Sinestro, just as they saved Black Hand. In other words, make him a mindless servant to the Tribe. Does this mean we won't see more Hal and Sinestro team ups and the Guardians might have that more of a chance to destroy/replace the Green Lantern Corps?

Kitty Pryde Pregnant with a Ton of Microscopic Brood

In WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, Kitty suddenly found herself pregnant, nearly at full term. It turned out there were a bunch of microscopic Brood inside her. Brood of any size is a bad thing. As we read the story and the attack against the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, could it be possible that this would be the end of Kitty?

The outcomes to all of these are pretty obvious. We know Batman will make a comeback and defeat the Court. Spider-Man will beat his enemies just as he has countless times. Geoff Johns is writing Sinestro as too much of a badass to allow him to succumb to the Indigo Tribe. And Kitty Pryde has already been in comic book limbo for too long and there's no way fans would allow something drastic to happen to her once again so soon.

What can be said about all of these, except for the Spider-Man stories since they haven't really started yet, is they have all been great stories. With Dan Slott's run since taking over Spider-Man, we can easily assume both stories will be great as well.

What this means for writers is they have to go above and beyond each time they pit the hero against the next threat. Batman always wins but we're seeing him as we don't usually see him. We know he will win but the way Scott Snyder is telling the story makes you believe that it could almost be possible that he will be completely broken again. But then the solicits and covers from future issues usually tell us otherwise.

This is where indie comics have an edge. They may not have the immediately recognizable characters but there is that heavy sense that anything could happen. In Robert Kirkman's THE WALKING DEAD, we've seen several main characters perish. I wouldn't be surprised if someday we actually saw Rick Grimes die. It's unthinkable but Kirkman could pull it off and replace him with other characters.

For the mainstream superhero writers, they have their work cut out for them. They need to keep readers highly entertained and in suspense. We know the heroes will always win but a really good writer will make you believe it's possible the hero might actually lose. There are those rare occasion when they actually do. But we all know how much of an impact a comic book death has on a person. There's always a way for the hero to overcome even death.

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Posted by JamDamage

@VioletPhoenix: Right here you said it best. Second coming was a great example, but not just because of the deaths, but also because of the other negative things that happened. Showing a hero's mortality makes the story interesting. Collosus had his arm busted up to the point, that at least I as a reader thought he might lose it. Hellion lost his hands, etc. There were a few things in that storyline that at the end of the great story it was, were the 5 lights. It's not that the hero has to lose, it has to show that they are vulnerable. Making Tony Stark a drunk made him mortal. Even tho he has no powers he always came off for a time, like Batman, that he couldn't be beaten. Well he beat himself. He did it so bad that Rhodey had to be Iron Man for a time. Even Batman was beaten. I hate how Bane is portrayed now as somewhat of an idiot considering he DID beat Batman and did it in a way that no one could argue. Not what we're talking about tho. Hal Jordon went nutty and had to be replaced. Personally to me, a lot of the things that fanboys complain about, like Hal going bad, doesn't make it easy for the comic writers to come up with stories to appease them. It seems that everytime something bad happens, something that shows the hero's limits, they complain. They complain so much that we hear about them complaining more then we actually consider the situation of the hero actually going thru an event that showed them...........losing in a sense. The great stories are the ones were, of course the villain gets what's coming to him, but where the hero loses something in return. Second Coming was great because the X-Men won, but there were negative outcomes as well.

Posted by karrob

@venomyak said:

I have several ideas for books and in almost all of them the hereo loses at least twice.

Posted by Inverno

The Domination of Draka

When we give the "I Win Button" to the bad guys. I recommend this series (that otherwise I hate) for people who are tired of seeing the good guys winning all the time.

Posted by NXH

It's not a case of the hero winning, it's how he/she gets there that is important with all the struggles they have to endure.

Sometimes nither the hero or the villain wins. Which can be interesting.

Posted by Tmul501

I don't really mind. I mean, I read superhero comics because I want to see the hero win. A lot of stories also show the hero winning, but at a loss to themselves or someone close to them.

Granted, there are great books where they don't always follow this formula of the hero always squeaking out a win, but having Spider-Man always come out as the victor doesn't bother me.

Posted by Johnnyjavavee

didn't they say this whole ends of the earth stuff is going to tie into spidey #700? maybe that's where everythhing goes downhill for spidey.

Posted by ColonelRunAway

If a book is written well enough, then it isn't about the hero winning the fight, it's about their character growth along the way.

Posted by Karmarot

When I was a kid I use to almost believe the cover hype about how a hero might die and it provided me with a sense of urgency to the comic, I don't think knowing the hero will win brings me any less enjoyment as long as it's a good story.

Posted by Frobin

"We know the heroes will always win but a really good writer will make you believe it's possible the hero might actually lose."

True! And I would add: A real good writer will tell you a story of the hero getting in troubles so deep - you can't wait to see if ... but most of all HOW he will get out of this mess again and turn the story around to save the day! It's the HOW that keep's you thrilled for the next issue ...

A weak writer will not open much room for your own fantasy or many options to turn the story around. Bad writing is always foreseeable ... you just know how the hero will get out of this or you are so sure about it that you are not interested in how.

Posted by Ganthetsward20

The only hero I have a problem reading is mostly batman, because he always ends up being in the right or beating his enemy. People like spiderman tend to lose loved ones so even if he wins he'll still lose something. But I never read a book in hopes that the main people will die.

Posted by Kairan1979

One of many reasons why I liked Image Comics and Avatar Comics - the major characters can die, and we know they are not going to be brought back in several months (like in Marvel, when nobody stays dead).

Posted by Avenging-X-Bolt

It doesn't bother me because I don't believe it to be true.

Posted by Pokeysteve

The best stories are the ones that make you BELIEVE the hero will lose but then have them win.

Posted by Lvenger

@Frobin said:

"We know the heroes will always win but a really good writer will make you believe it's possible the hero might actually lose."

True! And I would add: A real good writer will tell you a story of the hero getting in troubles so deep - you can't wait to see if ... but most of all HOW he will get out of this mess again and turn the story around to save the day! It's the HOW that keep's you thrilled for the next issue ...

A weak writer will not open much room for your own fantasy or many options to turn the story around. Bad writing is always foreseeable ... you just know how the hero will get out of this or you are so sure about it that you are not interested in how.

This is pretty much my thoughts on the 'hero always wins' story. As long as there's a sense in the story that the hero could fail or stands to lose something on a personal level such as a loved one or suffer grievous harm both physical or mental yet still triumph over adversity, then that is what makes an enjoyable story despite the fact the heroes always wins. The most powerful victory a villain can have over a hero is not in achieving their plot but in doing something to the hero that has never been done to him before.

Posted by Gambit1024

Yeah, I'd say it does. The main reason I really like elseworlds stories is because anything is up for grabs.

Posted by RavenT2

It's never really affected mine. I like the journey, not so much the destination. And, lately, the hero winning... isn't always for sure.

Posted by Kallarkz

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

This. Why I will never understand the "Superman is too powerful comments and his books can't be interesting because he won't get hurt". He wins just as much as any other and can be written just as good as any other character.

Posted by progenitor

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

Agreed.

Posted by Kallarkz

@Ganthetsward20 said:

The only hero I have a problem reading is mostly batman, because he always ends up being in the right or beating his enemy. People like spiderman tend to lose loved ones so even if he wins he'll still lose something. But I never read a book in hopes that the main people will die.

Batman does get beaten down though..you should follow his current book.

Posted by whooligan

One thing that keeps me reading is that the hero may always win...but at what cost? What they lose and how they deal with it is a big part of what give characters their humanity.

Posted by Inverno

Mass Effect 3.

'Nuff said

Edited by Illuminatus

Just read Ultimate Marvel. That universe never falls victim to cliche tropes.

Posted by Video_Martian

Comic books are becoming too predictable nowadays, imo...

Posted by Queso6p4

@RedheadedAtrocitus: You've uttered the words that should never be spoken. I see your point but the "death" of characters in that story line seemed quite trivialized (Martian Manhunter) and happened under rather atypical circumstances (Batman) but I personally do like it when evil triumphs. The Hit Girl reference is much appreciated.

As far as Kitty Pryde being pregnant, that just feels...wrong. That picture...is scary.

Posted by Atary77

All I can say is I WANT the hero to always come out on top. Yeah that may not be realistic in the world we live in, but I read comics, watch TV, and play video games to see fictional events that could never happen. Where the just and righteous over come the wicked and the evil where the world is safe and the hero saves the day.

A lot of people pine for bittersweet endings to bunk the trend of the happy ending but even now the bittersweet ending has now become a trend so I think we need some good happy endings to buck THAT trend now.

Posted by Wowlock

Well although it might be stale for heroes to keep winning ( just in any sports or competition where one side always wins, it becomes stale )

I would like to quote Ra's Al-Ghul in this topic '' You may win our battles , detective. All I need is one victory '' which if a villian actually succeeds....well everything we know will be thorn apart since mainstream villians do not think small.

Guys like Darkseid are out there for total dominance and victory. And if they win, even once...then that will change everything.

Some like change , like the Walking Dead...but I don't think everyone can pull it off like them. And there is the case of consistency. When your hero actually defied the Cosmic odds in the past...you can't think of him been defeated in less they Galactic or universal situations.

We saw this with Batman getting his back broken by Bane...to get hit by Darkseid with Omega Beams...but he still returned in the end better than ever.

Suspense may add to the story but if the main character loses well it changes the landscape of the series and it might be hard to bounce back since many fans actually attached to those characters.

Should they lose from time to time ? Yes but not when Earth's or galaxies fate at stake. Once you go to that route...it might be hard to recover.

Walking Dead is unique since it's setting actually lead us to believe those deaths are justified and reasonable since...they are basicly a group of humans who are surrounded by a world of zombies. Unless they have superpowers , sooner or later they will succumb to the world or survive as long as they can.

Hell even in Superhero world that scenario ends badly , just look at Marvel Zombies .

Edited by yo_yo_fun

The reason why I read comics is because I know the hero will win. Because in real life, heroes usually don't.

And the fact that they win in the end shouldn't "kill it" for the reader. It's not just the journey, it's also about the outcome. To be a hero, you always have to do the right thing and most of the time it comes with a price. Sometimes they lose a part of themselves, they lose someone important, the list goes on. So it's not easy to be the hero but they keep going and that's why I read it (Well, one of the reasons anyway:).

Posted by Outside_85

It does affect one's reading, but I don't think in the manner of the story being boring or predictable. Rather, it pulls you to the edge of your seat to see what trails the hero has to overcome to be victorious in the end and what state they are in when they get there.

Posted by yo_yo_fun

@Kallarkz said:

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

This. Why I will never understand the "Superman is too powerful comments and his books can't be interesting because he won't get hurt". He wins just as much as any other and can be written just as good as any other character.

Well said! I hate it when people say that about Superman.

Posted by KidSupreme

I dunno, i just enjoy it!

Posted by OhBabyOhManAvocadoDogHead--defunct

I try not to think about this when I read a comic, because yes, it does sort of ruin it for me. However, I think characters have been getting killed off more and more these days, which is thwarting the "the hero always wins" assumption. Also, I always try to trick myself into believing the hero may not make it, and if the writer is good enough and I haven't already gone to Wikipedia and already learned of the outcome, I can successfully live in the story without the assumption taking over.

Posted by haydenclaireheroes

I like to see the villain win sometimes. That way we can see a change in story sometimes.

Posted by mtrakos

@NightFang said:

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

And as long as the heroes get f**ked up along the way :)

Agreed

Posted by The Stegman
Nope, to me It's about the journey, not the destination.
Posted by XTREEMMAK

I would have to say that sometimes it does affect the enjoyment, Whenever I sit down to read a comic book or even watch a movie about a hero, I already know in the back of my mind that the Hero/main character is going to at least make it out alive regardless of whatever trials he/she may go through. This is why I prefer books that offer some extreme forms of difficulty for the hero because then it at least makes me think twice about whether the hero will win or 'how the hell is he/she going to get out of this one?"

But ultimately the journey is very important and is what keeps readers coming back for more.

Posted by RedOwl_1

Agree with the others, we fans LOVE to see the battle and HOW our heroes win, not the winning itself; because always (with some exceptions mentioned adobe and more) good is going to vanquish the evil and that's beautiful, you know seeing all the process that carry the good guys to win and save the world, a huge dream come true (How many time does this happen in real life?) with some pain and hurt but over with the world saved and huge victory against evil (oh man I can repeat this all day on and on and on, is just so beautiful and amazing)

Posted by mrpandaman

For me, if I know the hero is going to win, I want to see how much it changes them and if those changes stick. Even if at the end of the day, the hero triumphs they can still lose, because to me there is never a complete victory without losing something in return.

Posted by TheMadMonkey

@sora_thekey: That's exactly how I look at it. Sure, we know that one way or another, the good guys will win. They may lose something or someone along the way, but they will always end up on top.

I've been in the comic book game for almost 40 years now and I'm still not tired of the concept, "Good will always triumph over evil". What makes it and keeps it fun and interesting is how the story gets to the conclusion.

Posted by clemj
@Wowlock: good , and nice idea to think about marvel zombies,but they didn't "face" anyone to become zombies
Posted by BatClaw89

After like 40 years of reading comics this is on someones mind?

Posted by Jnr6Lil

Comics have changed, the hero doesn't always win. We're also moving away from the good vs. evil conflict.

Posted by Mega_spidey01

@deadpool25mm said:

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

What he said!

and the heroes dont allways win.... Civil War, Secret Invation (Osborn taking over) , ect.. lol

Posted by Mega_spidey01

@Illuminatus said:

Just read Ultimate Marvel. That universe never falls victim to cliche tropes.
Posted by Primmaster64

The whole ''heroes always win in the end'' has gotten anti-climatic for me.

Posted by Illuminatus

Seriously, I think 3/4 of the total heroes/protagonists in Ult. Marvel are dead or have failed multiple times at preventing evil from achieving victories.

Posted by Wowlock

@clemj said:

@Wowlock: good , and nice idea to think about marvel zombies,but they didn't "face" anyone to become zombies

Yea, they didn't face any villians in a traditional way but it was more of a Main characters vs Atmosphere type of story. They basicly fighting against the Zombie Disease ( which is not our traditional ''villian'' ) soo there is no conventional way to defeat that. That also sets up a good setting for innovative stories.

In Marvel Zombies, the background was kinda the same. In fact it ended up in a Loop and caused a paradox.

But in our ''mainstream'' titles as many said, it is hard to Break the boundries because first you have to take past stories and continuity to account ( well it got tweaked a lot with the Reboot but we still have some solid ground to hold on ) as well as character's popularity.....Personally ? I don't think many writers would take a big risk without a big-pay off, like those ''comic book deaths'' in big events etc.

Posted by xkoenig

It's the same with any entertainment form whether it's movies, TV, books or comics. It's all about how well it's written and how well the author/writer is able to lull us into thinking that maybe, just maybe, the hero or some of his friends might not make it. Obviously in horror movies every character is up for grabs except the heroine (or hero) usually, although many movies have used exceptions to that as a twist to shock us. But even in non-horror fiction like '24,' there were many times when cliffhangers were shown that had me - at least - at the edge of my seat. And shows like Law and Order frequently have episodes where the bad guy gets off at the end and the cops/law DON'T 'win', just to show us that things aren't always good in the end.

But even if you do have the good guys always coming out on top, of course you can just make HOW the hero solves the problem interesting enough that it's not just easy and trivial. And in comics with their massive continuity you have other questions like how the characters are changed by the storyline going forward. I think one problem that comics have given themselves recently is that with the revolving door that death has become, even when a hero doesn't get through a story in the end, the fact that we know that somewhere down the line they'll come back has really taken the edge off. When it was just people like Jean Grey back in the 80s that was just about ok, but now post death-of-Superman and the return of Bucky (once considered the last permanently dead character) the suspense over whether a character will die or not is really reduced. Like Captain America and Batman recently where, sure they died, but almost immediately we knew there was a back door they would go through and return soon. So maybe that does affect our enjoyment. A real sense of peril during the story that has some meaning is necessary IMO.

Edited by krazyman27

Didn't some group release information that shows people actually enjoy books more if they know how it all ends, because it alleviates anxiety, or something?

Comics are kind of dependent on the journey and not the destination (considering many never end).

Posted by LeaderVladimir

That situation is normal in storytelling. No one wants to read a story where the hero easily wins. People want the hero to win, but for that, the hero must fight challenges. I mean, we just want to see the hero to win, after enduring so much, a hero deserves to win.

Posted by VioletPhoenix

@JamDamage: exactly. They could win a battle, but not the war, because the war keeps raging on and they take their wins where they can get them even if they come at huge losses or sacrifice.

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