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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.

143 Comments Refresh
Posted by onela

I guess you could say this of a lot of fiction writing, though. Personally I'm more interested in the "how" part- that's fine that the good guy is going to win. How's he going to pull it off this time?

Edited by jaredbright

Occasingly, the vilians win. Occasingly the heroes die. I was certain Captain America was going to be killed off when he was. At the time, Marvel just through everything at the readers and it didn't surprise me. If it had been out of the blue, it would of had more of an effect. But I couldn't of been the only one that saw that coming months away. If you read New Avengers, you knew he wasn't that important. Tony was important. You we're just given that sense somehow. Just forshadowing it months ahead of time.

What about stories where the main character is definently supposed to die? Like the Ultimate Spider-man story. He died. It wasn't like the terrible story of Peter Parker being beaten to death by some guyin a jacket, it was the Ultimate version of the Green Goblin after Spider-man had taken a bullet for Captain America and had no choice by to take him down.

Posted by lykopis

That's why they are heroes. Heroes always win. Yes, some die, some go through horrific circumstances and loss, but story after story, they somehow pull through. I always expect that, had from the beginning when I was a kid and still do now.

These aren't finite characters - they have been at this a while, and they will for some time. Just because of that I know the hero will always win although an expanding storyline that engages me in the why and how of their new circumstances is what I look forward to.

Posted by TheIncredibleNightcrawler1999

Whenever I read a comic, I don't think:

"Will they die?"

No, I think:

"How will they live and succeed?"

Posted by davidgrantlloyd

It's quite the conundrum. No matter what happens, the hero never dies (and neither does the villian come to think of it) and once the story becomes too predictable ... do you really need to read it? It's important that villians have significant victories (ie killing supporting characters, etc) from time to time to shake things up a bit. Furthermore, the hero has to be seen to be making sacrifices (usually to do with their personal lives) because at the heart of heroism is self-sacrifice. This is why, in my view, it was a great thing that DC ended Superman's marriage and the supporting role(s) of the Kents ... it's preordained that Supes will always win against the bad guy, if he wins in every facet of his personal life too ... boring.

Posted by CATPANEXE

It most certainly would stand to reason it does, but, also in a positive manner as well hence it being the basic formula for superhero comics and a proven one to work and sell the stories/characters. I tend to mark fiction, superhero comics in particular for both the escape from reality elements, and relation to the human psyche. People tend to desire for the hero to win, therefore that's set. Internally most humans fantasize of exaggerated change, and in those fantasies while they may be doing something immoral, like violence for instance, they also try and justify the voted for actions by establishing some parameter where subjection takes a back seat, and themselves or the applauded characterization is justified by some manner or another, the easiest route for this by casting the other party as a villain, thereby externalization blame for action and muting guilt (things which don't make for an enjoyable fantasy nor story) . In fact this is actually a state of mind in which most humans live their lives, and the key element to group social interaction and drama. If anything (noting the ASM statement), the thing that effects the enjoyment of comics the most in a negative manner in relation to prescience, is comic book solicitations/spoilers. That's the really short version of my take on it anyways.

Posted by JamDamage

@BatClaw89: HAHA! That's funny. What else do you expect from fanboys, and the top fanboy of the Comicvine community? G-Man does an OUTSTANDING job with this site. I actually wish he was doing such a good job, because then he'd have less time being bigshot and running the Vine and would be able to do the video reviews of books that he used to do. This has also been one of the better "Off My Mind" topics. One time the topic was something along the lines of "How do superhero's go to the bathroom when in costume" I enjoy a little comedy once in a while, but that was stupid. Topics like these have the fanboys swarming.

Edited by HombreMan

@sora_thekey: Also, the price the Heroes must pay for it: Being stranded by the people, losing loved ones, addictions, , ,

Posted by circusrock

Nope, because the road to the victory is why I read "Superhero" comics. I like the adventure and mystery solving.

Posted by zackattack529

it doesnt affect me at all, i like to seee how the hero comes out of a victory. theres always conflict or an obstacle and the main character in a story usually has to overcome these impossible odds to achieve their climax or goal. and thats what makes a great story..of course in a case where the hero actually does lose and/or die..its a SHOCK. and you never know when a SHOCK is comming. and thats why these kinds of stories our fun to read regardless for what you might think you know.

but that being said..i do find it kinda anti-climatic when there are big crossover events..especially DC's huge crossovers..you can always be sure someone will die. and you can always be sure that if its a big character theyll come back to life(somehow) and that is anti-climatic in a way, a main character should never die and come back to life...its a dumb concept..especially how bruce wayne came back pre-52. its like come on! do it right or dont do it at all.

Posted by The Impersonator

Supervillains won in Old Man Logan.

Posted by JamDamage

@VioletPhoenix: for second I wasn't sure if you were referring to the hero's or villains................then I read it again....................Right again tho in a sense. "Win the battle, not the war" They can't win the war. Not if we want to keep reading comics. In some situations it seems like they win the war. We were using "Second Coming" as an example of our discussion. At the end of that it seemed like they WON the war. At least with Bastion.. That's a good writer when they can come up with a good story regarding a baddy like a time travelling Marvel Multi-verse jumping Bastion, that seemed to have ALL corners covered. Sometimes the hero's do seem to win the war against certain villains. Once in a while they make a comeback. The only villain I can think of that was dealt with, and who made a BIG impact that lasted long enough for some of us to remember was Proteus. I think I spelled it right. Prof. X and Moira McTaggerts son. He made a come back waaaaay back when in the 90's for an X book Annual cross-over, but other then that, the only times I saw him anywhere else was in his Ultimate version. What ever. On change of subject but still on the subject of "Second Coming" What also made that story soooo damn good was that it came out of X-Force vol.3. The great run by Kyle.......or was it Yost, I'll look it up later. That's where Bastion was brought back by some crazy mutant hating cult that rose him from the grave using Phalanx DNA and also brought back some of the worst dead X villains who were ever created. Graydon Creed, Pierce, Cameron Hodge. And went on for a long X-Force run, 2 years or so til it led to Second Coming. Great Story.

Posted by mickoreo_LZ

The chase is always better than the catch. The journey is always better than the destination.

Its almost inspiring to see a superhero overcome seemingly impossible odds and win. In theory, and sometimes in practice, its fun to see a hero get their ass kicked and lose or even die, but everybody secretly cheers when they see they're favorite hero win for the thousandth time

Posted by sweetesttoaster

This is like basic story telling at this point. We all know the hero will win, but it's how they win that makes the difference. If a story called for a character to win easily, it wouldn't be a challenge and probably would be a crappy story. There has to be something that takes down the character, only for the character to come back and succeed. That's where the good stories come from. A hero must always fall before they can rise up and be triumphant in the end.

Posted by Migz13

Leaving the hero in a pretty nasty predicament thus in a way "breaking" him (ala knightfall) has always been a staple in traditional storytelling. This shows the hero (and the reader) that sometimes, you just have to go through it all the hard way before capturing your goal. This and the fact that readers REALLY love how the protagonist gets back to his feet, learns his lesson and faces his opponents again to finish the job. It just never fails:D

Posted by batman11223

I believe it helps to add struggle to the heros life story unlike superman who is Mr. invincible and has no struggles which tends to make a pretty boring story to read. But in the end you have to let the superhero win the overall battle because thats what they're there for in the first place.

Posted by ChocolateFrogs

Yes, you can expect the hero to win. There are those rare moments when that doesn't happen, and hopefully you aren't already expecting it ("Death of Spider-Man," but just by calling it that the series takes a different tone).

So what might be equally good is knowing that innocent bystandars/popular supporting characters are at a higher risk of being offed. Bucky, for instance. Gwen Stacy of course. Heck, in the lates Amazing Spider-Man .1 what would have happened if one of the lab assistants were killed? Innocent blood on Spider-Man's hands to deal with (something I'm sure has happened in many comics elsewhere over the years).

Posted by The Average Bear

Can anyone direct me to a link for the End Of The Earth teaser images?

Posted by KevinSevenNgo

Yes, it drastically changes the mood and feel of the comic, no matter how dark or twisted it gets the reader always know the hero will come out on top however i would love more diversity among the victories between good vs evil because in honesty evil does win, a lot. Alas the general population isn't smart or interesting enough to Want diversity, all they want is good beats evil every time. It's a shame that comics are this way but thats how it is....

Posted by Tigerstriper

No, but this article ruined my viewing enjoyment of Walking Dead. I haven't read the comics and I was starting to enjoy the series.

Posted by Jnr6Lil

@batman11223 said:

I believe it helps to add struggle to the heros life story unlike superman who is Mr. invincible and has no struggles which tends to make a pretty boring story to read. But in the end you have to let the superhero win the overall battle because thats what they're there for in the first place.

Posted by Casshern

The "Hero Always Wins" concept DOES get old. However, they win at some cost to who they are Heroes. The problem is this cost doesn't seem to mean ANYTHING in the long run.

ONE would think that the SHIT Batman goes through he would have retired by now...what is he 60+?! o wait the reboot. HELL TOP COW's doing a REBOOT in Darkness. I love Darkness, but being a copy cat Reboot hmmm?

Yeah a Hero on Top does make a story uneventful. I like to read- BUY them when I here a Character is GONE, or goes BAD or GOOD or retires. Because these characters are going through HELL and if they were real some should be at their limit.

When a Hero wins, yeah they are going to win. But when the win actually effects them as a continuing character of justice or a fighter then its something.

These characters just keep going and don't break. That's what gets boring to see/read all the time. That's why Batman vs Court of Owls is a good read, BUT Bruce will still be Batman...look at the other titles. I'm not at all concern for his health or will to stay fighting. If anything he'll be more like old JLA Tower of Babel Batman Times Two.

If characters actually had a limit as to how long they are going to stay in it...AND IT ACTUALLY MEANT SOMETHING, then these stories would be even more engaging.

Or we could just undo the Universe... again.

Posted by Suprman

In my opinion it does not affect how much I enjoy the story. For me the enjoyment is not so much in whether or not the hero will win, although that is part of it, the enjoyment is seeing HOW they win. A story where it looks like the hero will lose is great because it challenges me to think of how the hero can get out of it, it pulls me deeper into the story and the character. If the hero loses then it should be used as a basis on how not to lose next time. This is part of the joy of reading Batman for me, he learns from his mistakes even when he wins.

Edited by fetchfox

This is pretty much the reason I only read "indie" comics (like The Walking Dead or The Boys) and spin-offs of the Batman, Spiderman, aso. universes (for example the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller). For me there's no real excitement left in the classic universes where it always turns out all goody and dandy in the end.

Posted by PhoenixoftheTides

Yes. The fact that they always win ruins the sense of danger posed by villains and undermines the adventures they are on. Contrast this with the Hero of a Thousand Faces, whose death might be a victory and whose story could end for him or her, and you run into one of the main challenges of trying to make superheroes evolve past the "might makes right, and we're always right" eye-for-an-eye level of emotional development they wallow in.

It's also why I've become turned off by most superheroes, and concentrate more on stories such as "The Mouse Guard", which seem to typify a classic adventure story moreso than stories about characters that never die, are never in real danger and are much more powerful than their opponents.

Posted by Jnr6Lil

@Casshern said:

The "Hero Always Wins" concept DOES get old. However, they win at some cost to who they are Heroes. The problem is this cost doesn't seem to mean ANYTHING in the long run.

ONE would think that the SHIT Batman goes through he would have retired by now...what is he 60+?! o wait the reboot. HELL TOP COW's doing a REBOOT in Darkness. I love Darkness, but being a copy cat Reboot hmmm?

Yeah a Hero on Top does make a story uneventful. I like to read- BUY them when I here a Character is GONE, or goes BAD or GOOD or retires. Because these characters are going through HELL and if they were real some should be at their limit.

When a Hero wins, yeah they are going to win. But when the win actually effects them as a continuing character of justice or a fighter then its something.

These characters just keep going and don't break. That's what gets boring to see/read all the time. That's why Batman vs Court of Owls is a good read, BUT Bruce will still be Batman...look at the other titles. I'm not at all concern for his health or will to stay fighting. If anything he'll be more like old JLA Tower of Babel Batman Times Two.

If characters actually had a limit as to how long they are going to stay in it...AND IT ACTUALLY MEANT SOMETHING, then these stories would be even more engaging.

Or we could just undo the Universe... again.

Posted by CykoJimmY

Ok. MOST Superhero comic books are like watching the stories told by the heroes themselves.....

Posted by AskaniSon295

is micheal cera a brood?

Posted by Artya

I think is more an issue of what is good and evil in the end. You have Watchmen, for example, where there is no Good and Bad side defined, except for some things like Genocide vs Ruining a fake utopia, but that's from our point of view. Amoral/Grey comics are more interesting normally because they show a world closer to ours. But in the end it will come down to the execution. Sometimes, it even doesn't matter if the hero wins or loses, for the story focus on another point.

And talking about it. I think that Snyder is showing us a bit of deconstruction on this trope. Bruce Wayne is in a pretty bad shape (mentally for the most part). And it seems it will get worse. Well, I have come to stop viewing him as a superhero anyways, but I think that's a personal matter. The guy is insane. Though that's part of his charm I guess.

Posted by Makkaar1984

I don't mind occasional lossses, helps bring some realism, but I think the victories should outnumber the losses so we can understand we he/she still gets up in the morning. Most important of all the wins need to be fresh and exciting. I think most poeple just hate the routine of a string of victories; makes the hero boring and the villains pathetic. Maybe it should stress the heroe's creativity, innovation, and imagination more than simple powers b/c at this point the Rogues Gallery should know what their enemies limits are.

Posted by Jnr6Lil

@Artya said:

I think is more an issue of what is good and evil in the end. You have Watchmen, for example, where there is no Good and Bad side defined, except for some things like Genocide vs Ruining a fake utopia, but that's from our point of view. Amoral/Grey comics are more interesting normally because they show a world closer to ours. But in the end it will come down to the execution. Sometimes, it even doesn't matter if the hero wins or loses, for the story focus on another point.

And talking about it. I think that Snyder is showing us a bit of deconstruction on this trope. Bruce Wayne is in a pretty bad shape (mentally for the most part). And it seems it will get worse. Well, I have come to stop viewing him as a superhero anyways, but I think that's a personal matter. The guy is insane. Though that's part of his charm I guess.

Or like Civil War & Kingdom Come

Edited by Solomonwreath

I like that the hero always wins. Since the bad guys are trying to kill them. Besides if batman died there would probably be a revolt! Though it is nice if they are defeated for a few issues.

Posted by Narok24

I was reading Countdown to Infinite Crisis at school the other day, when a kid sitting next to me pointed out how stupid it was that I a comic, knowing that there was no way Batman or Superman was ever going to lose. I shrugged it off, knowing that he wouldn't listen. Later I realized that almost every work of fiction I have ever read, or seen on TV or in a movie, the good guy won. Almost every time. I think we have to remember that it's not always the destination, it's the journey.

Posted by Mr_Wayne69

@sora_thekey said:

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

It's about the journey that leads to a credible and quality outcome.

Posted by RUKM

It's the Journey not the Destination.

Posted by warmonked

That heroes and villains are nearly always resurrected after dying ruins the tension for me.

Posted by Calico5

The chance of a loss to a hero comes down to time. If the hero beat the villain in one punch tied them up and went on their way the villain wouldn't be much of a villain and the hero much a hero. Time is everything, the longer the joker is free before Batman catches him the more people he can kill. Technically, those kills are on Batman's head. The story is always better when it is drawn out. Secret Invasion knocked every hero out of the norm. Even those that survived were hurt psychologically and trust issues. So since the hero always have a way of returning from death, the deaths of those they could not save or the destruction they could have prevented is how the heroes' "win" can be judged.

Posted by Demonico

Sometimes it ruins it but like others have said it allows other characters a chance to become bigger.

Edited by batfan1939

I've always read comics with the same attitude that I watch magic shows (okay, I've mostly watched Criss Angel, but still...): yeah, I know it's fake/impossible, and yeah, you know what's going to happen, but that's just what makes it so amazing. I love watching the world's (second) greatest escape artist dig himself out of whatever traps his enemies have tried to bury him in. It's also why I hate PIS showings in the Bat-books. You spend the whole story waiting for the grand finale, and then the writer just pulls the carpet out from under you! Like if the magician promised to make the girl disappear, and then shut the lights off for several seconds before turning them back on -- LAME! But no, I don't think knowing the outcome ruins the story -- it just builds a different kind of tension.

Edited by Jayso4201

Great article, I have brought this up many times before. I sometimes find myslef not wanting to finish a storyline (or even a movie) because of this factor. Although, if the writing is great and the art is on point I can hang in there til the end.

Posted by Tunsieon

@sora_thekey said:

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

Dang it, that's what I was going to say. *shakes fist*

Posted by crusader8463

Ya, it's ruined most stories for me. There is zero tension or excitement about how a character will resolve a situation in most forms of entertainment these days because the good guy always beats the bad guy and gets to stick his penis in the girls vagina by the end. Constantly ret-conning and making everyone into unbeatable gods is boring as all hell.

Posted by avidwriter

Yes. It is why I avoid the mainstream stuff. The Walking Dead I like. I mean you know Rick and his son aren't going anywhere (if at all) any time soon but everyone else is fair game. Unlike more Marvel and DC comics where people die and come back like it's not a big deal.

Edited by modernww2fare

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