1. Travis Perry says:

    Hi Johne,

    Interesting post. In contrast to you, I started out reading science fiction because I was as a kid an avid reader of science (especially astronomy and dinosaur books) and when I saw a section of books labeled “science fiction,” I wondered how science and fiction could meet.

    My first book I grabbed by happenstance was the first novel Robert A. Heinlein wrote, Rocket Ship Galileo. While in a number of ways not a great story, it featured a rocket to the moon powered by a realistic atomic power plant. It stirred my imagination in ways the fantasy I had already been exposed to in Disney movies had not–because at least some elements of the story could really could come true. Yes, it really COULD happen that there could be atomic rockets flying to the moon (though nobody would find Nazis already there when they arrived, as happened in Rocket Ship Galileo).

    Later I realized through C.S. Lewis’ “wood between the worlds” that fantasy as a genre can also claim to be something that could happen–in other created worlds, ones we know nothing about. I must admit that I find the idea a story could actually happen somehow in a parallel world much more exciting than a story that is just a story.

    My first exposure to superhero stories was from a kid on the playground who was an avid comic reader. Like me, he had an avid imagination was willing to role play as a game. But he always wanted to pretend to be a doctrinaire superhero, one he had read about in a comic. Me, I would make up the kind of superhero I wanted to be on the spot, which upset my comic-book reader friend. NO–you had to be one of the established types, be it Batman, Superman, Flash, etc. etc. It wasn’t too long before I found him boring and his imagination curiously both stifled and stifling.

    I think the first superhero movie I saw was the Superman of 1978 (I had seen the Batman TV show before that). I rather liked it. But Star Wars meant a lot more to me. And I had read through the James Blish novelizations of Star Trek and so I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture with the kind of breathless awe the movie did not deserve on its own merits.

    I have never been an avid comic book reader, though I have visited them from time to time. To me, comic books always seemed, even in the graphic novel versions that were supposed to be more adult, over muscled, over sexed, with unnatural dialogue, unrealistic plots, plots that also always revolved around some form of physical fighting. Though I never had any strong reaction against them–I just didn’t care for them much; they were not my cup of tea, but if somebody else liked them, I didn’t mind.

    I have enjoyed comic book movies in the last decade far more than I ever liked comics. But let’s be honest–the reason why modern movies turned to the superhero genre for source material is now it is possible with modern special effects to produce the shots with real actors that were formerly only possible in drawings. And once the spectacle of people doing amazing things hit the screen, crowds came by the droves…so now the superhero craze is about making money for the studios.

    These stories may show genuine good at times (though I think they also glorify evil at times), but the stories are rarely great stories. They are very simplistic stories, mostly, with few exceptions. And NONE of them match the standard of “maybe this could happen in another world” sort of thing. All of them do ridiculous things with physics, foreign languages, and history, among other errors. We suspend our disbelief because we want to see the show, but really, if an ordinary science fiction novel were written as badly as the average superhero movie, I wouldn’t enjoy reading it.

    And furthermore, while I might want to live in a world with atomic rockets or talking animals, I definitely do NOT want to live in a world where superheros are real. Worlds with real superheroes are worlds with real supervillains and there isn’t much mere mortals can do about it, not always but usually. A world with superheroes is a world in which ordinary people are (mostly) helpless pawns. The only way a person can get around that unpleasantness is to identify himself or herself with the superhero, like my friend in the third grade used to do. But I mostly would not even want to be a superhero, either.

    I see the modern superhero movie craze as being directed towards anything BUT great stories. Good stories often enough (definitely not always), but not great, not ever. Even in space opera, which is not my thing since I prefer more realistic science fiction, there have been some great stories, such has the Empire Strikes Back. Has there been even one superhero story that EVER rose to a level of achievement parallel to Empire? Not one, right? Not a single one. (Whereas plenty of science fiction movies have been truly great: Blade Runner, Gattaca, the first Matrix, and many others.)

    I want to have an open discussion about the superhero movie genre. Is it good for the rest of speculative fiction? Is it bringing more fans into other forms of speculative fiction? Or is it drawing people away? Are these stories fundamentally moral? Or do they set up alternate moralities of dubious value? Or both?

    In short, are these stories we should be cheering on–or should be be looking forward to the day the current superhero movie craze will come to an end?

    I think it’s clear my face is looking at the superhero genre with a frown and a disapproving shake of the head. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk out this issue. This should be a matter of discussion and consideration. Let’s not presume anything in advance.

    I’m all ears for alternate points of view. 🙂

  2. Sparks of Ember says:

    I agree that superhero stories can be another tool. Of course, God can use anything to plant seeds in people’s hearts but the power of story is an amazing one that He used Himself with His parables. Superman Returns is my favorite of the superhero movies because there is so much powerful imagery.

    (Though I’ll admit I’m starting to get tired at the onslaught of comic movies recently. There have been several gems but some real let-downs too.)

What do you think?