A recent article on the main page by G-Man raised a very interesting question about how we read comics. It asked whether knowing that the hero was, ultimately, going to win in the end affected our enjoyment of the story. For decades, with heroes such as Batman and Superman, Spider man and Captain America, we have seen them placed in perilous and, seemingly insurmountable danger, only to see the overcome all obstacles. Why? Because as creative as these comic book guys get, coming up with a new sure fire hit character a month to replace the one you killed last month might be beyond even their reach (unless, of course, you were Stan Lee or Jack Kirby around the late 60’s-early 70’s where you probably could have done it in your SLEEP). Ultimately, none of the majors are going to kill their cash cows’ and the best you can hope for is an editorial enforced ‘hiatus’ of character so that you don’t get TOO sick of them. Moratoriums on characters can last years, but after decades of recycled story ideas and laboured stunts and events, even that can seem like too short a time. Another Batman/Joker epic anyone? Another phoenix resurrection? Wanna see someone else get killed in a Marvel summer event only to come back in the next issue or would you rather spend your hard earned bucks on this weeks DC reboot?
Superman is a small cod in this one and Wonder Woman is a two foot biker!!!
But I digress (whilst secretly hoping that Grant Morrison is writing those series’ RIGHT NOW!).
The point I am clumsily trying to get to is that I don’t think anything can affect the enjoyment that comes from good story telling and let me tell you why.
Good writing makes you believe what the storyteller wants you to believe.
I remember reading an interview with film maker Steven Spielberg where he revealed how Peter Benchley (the creator and writer of Jaws) and himself argued bitterly about the ending of the film where Sheriff Brody shoots the canister in the sharks mouth, blowing it sky high (if you haven’t seen Jaws yet then I apologise profusely and ask you to ignore what I just said and instead let me tell you that the movie ends with everybody having an ice cream in a 60’s themed diner. Thank you).
Benchley believed that it was too excessive and that no one would believe it, thinking that it too far fetched. Yet Spielberg was adamant that if he had done his job properly throughout the rest of the film, that he would have the audience in the palm of his hand and at that point, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted and the audience would go with him.
Of course, when the movie played to audiences, they went absolutely BATSHIT at the shark exploding (or eating ice cream in a 60’s diner) and Spielberg was proved right. Good story telling can take you anywhere because it allows you to believe. If a story has done its job properly (whether it be a film a book a joke or a comic) then you will want to believe that the Joker is REALLY going to kill the Batman this time. It will feel real as you will have engaged in a willing suspension of disbelief, because no writer can create tension on a page, they can only use their tools effectively enough to create it in your mind.
Ultimately, it is not the resultant victory that intrigues us, but what the hero goes through to get there, how they are changed or scarred, how it contributes to the characters evolution and the ultimate cost of the victory. The main thrill isn’t how the hero wins, but how he will get to that victory when all hope seems lost. The psychology of this runs deeply in all of us and ultimately ties into the same psychology that compels us to watch or read these types of fiction in the first place; the need for escape.
Which brings us to the nuts and bolts of the situation.
The bigger, overall question isn’t really if our enjoyment of this type of fiction is diminished by the knowledge that the hero will always win, but actually how can we enjoy these types of fiction when they are purely that; fiction?
These characters that we read about in the myriad titles available monthly do not really exist, the stories serving as purely hypothetical scenarios conjured up by whichever writer is hired at the time to fulfill the task. The comic book business is simply that; a business and the need to propagate these investments for as long as humanly possible is their only goal.
So why are you even reading this crap!?!
If the stories are simply rehashed and recycled ideas filtered through a hired hands instrument over and over again, why do we allow ourselves to be used, our hard earned cash taken from our trembling hands as we hope for the next Watchmen or Speedball series?
I would imagine that it might be for the same reason that I do.
It is because past the cynicism and fanboy negativity that we can oft times heap upon these characters we believe whole-heartedly in them.. I know sometimes what I read in a comic book seems more real that the world I physically inhabit. Other times it is just a comfort or a means of escape but it is never less than something I hold as a constant in my life. I have always read comic, as long as I can remember and even though I have seen those spandex freaks come out victorious time and time again, I never tire of it.
You know why?
Because I love it.
I don’t mean to get sappy and sentimental here, but I am so shut up. I love heroes. I love heroism. I love ideals that can’t be shaken. It is probably deeply rooted in a need for such idealism to exist in the real world and being content to see it exist somewhere, even in purely fictional form. I love the character of Batman, not the fact that he will never truly be defeated. I love the character of Spider-Man, not the fact that Doctor Octopus will never impale him on his tentacles. I want these heroes to win because I have known these characters all my life. There is no story of loss for these characters that could ever be as gratifying to me as the stories of their victories.
I will never tire of well told stories of characters that have been with me my whole life, will see me through to my death and then will continue their mad dance for whoever comes after. I find something very comforting in the unique perpetuity that this art form provides.
Why else would I be reading this crap?