Monday, July 16, 2012

Comic book superheroes: more than mere child's play

I've a column in today's Canberra Times, 'More than mere child's play'.

With the current popularity of superhero films -- Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man, Judge Dredd coming soon -- I'm looking into the value of the comic book superhero.

I've already written about the Avengers film, but here I'm talking more specifically about the literary genre.

In particular, I'm revealing importance of the visual language, and the ways in which superhero characters speak to our own. A sample:
Character is at the heart of the superhero comic. Superpowers or special suits are dull without the psychological or existential struggles they symbolise. And superheroes usually face off against supervillains, anyway; their physical superiority is regularly neutralised. The mutant Wolverine, for example, is a martial-arts master, blessed with superhuman strength, speed, senses and healing; he even survived decapitation. But what makes him heroic are his recognisably human struggles, not his metal claws: channelling his instincts; co-operating with others; acting out of reflection not reflex, morality not guilt or rage.  
Comic book stories express these struggles by portraying them on a bigger scale. Like Plato's utopian republic, the author's ''good soul'' writ large, the superhero's special powers are life magnified. Potent muscles, technology or mind - they can be escapist fictions, but they can also be symbolic versions of our own fantasies and anxieties.
(Image: Marvel)


wildcolonialgirl said...

Really enjoyed your article, thanks. My three year old hasn't really got into superheroes until he started child care where it was about social interaction, testing the play limits and setting up complex scenarios. Fantastic!

Damon Young said...

Thanks, WCG.

Yes, Sophia (three and a half) is not as into comics as her brother, but she has asked for a Batman birthday.

I dread to think of what 'complex scenarios' she's thinking of...