On Religious Imagery In Superhero Comicbooks



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

Related Post Roulette

163 Responses

  1. Avatar SaulDegraw says:

    There is a lot of Judaism in Superman or at least Judaism as a culture/philosophy including the very Hebrew names from Krypton. To the idea of Superman as a cultural/hidden Jew. Marvel is also very culturally Jewish.

    Unsurprisingly many of the early comic book legends were Jews looking to assimilate into the mainstream. Supermans creators, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner are all Jews. Warner Brothers is Jewish tooReport

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The origin story of Superman has been compared to Moses’s origin story more than once and, once you see it, you can’t get away from it.

      The whole arguing about Justice goes back to the earliest stories in the Bible. Abraham bargaining with God, for example. God bargaining back. Sodom/Gomorrah biting the dust anyway… we’ve got a long tradition here.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        The story of Abraham is so delightfully Jewish; particularly in the parts where they argue with God. I have always been struck by the Jewish perspective on Noah in that they view him as basically “righteous by the standards of the time” in that he was obedient to God whereas a truly righteous man by objective standards would have argued with God to spare the world the flood. I read somewhere that there’s a rabbinical script out there that has Noah climbing out of the ark and going “God, look at the destruction you’ve wrought!” And God answering back essentially as “Don’t start with me, you were supposed to talk me out of it.”
        Now I may be misremembering it or misinterpreting it but Lord(Lady?) I love that perspective.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          And then there’s the whole book of Job, which pretty much boils down to:

          JOB: “wtf this is bs”
          GOD: “stfu noob”Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I’d love to hear you expand on that. I guess I’m not very up to date on my Job. That’s the one where God trolled the crap out of him to see if he’d put up with it basically, yes?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I’m not sure “trolling” is the right word.

              Job opens with Satan showing up at the Court of Heaven and God asking, effectively, “What have you been up to?”

              Satan answers “Wandering around the world.”

              God asks “While you were wandering around, did you see my main man? Job?”

              Satan responds “Of course you think he’s your main man. He’s filthy stinking rich! You let me make him poor, I’ll get him to change his tune.”

              God says “YOU’RE ON!!!!”

              Satan makes Job poor. Kills his kids, too.

              Job says “Naked came I into the world, naked shall I leave. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

              God says to Satan “BOOOO-YAH!!! IN YOUR FACE!!!”

              Satan responds “Of course he’s still like that. I couldn’t touch a hair on his head. Let me take his health away. I’ll get him to curse you.”

              God says “Just don’t kill him. Remember: he’s my main man.”

              Satan gives Job the dropsy.

              Job’s wife says “Just curse God and die.”

              Job says “Woman! Shall we accept good from God but not accept evil?” (And, at this point, the ESV says “In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.” Which is interesting given the phrasing of his question, is it not?)

              Job’s friends show up and, for seven days, they sit next to him in silence. (While they kind of get a bum rap inspiring the phrase “Job’s Comforters” to be used sarcastically until the end of time, I’d like to point out that they showed up and were very good friends for this one week.)

              After a week, Job gains the strength to start complaining. AND COMPLAIN HE DOES. In a nutshell: “I didn’t deserve this.”

              The three comforters choose this moment to argue theology and the nature of desert.

              Job’s position: “I didn’t deserve this.” Their position: “How can you say that, given the nature of God?” Job’s rejoinder: “How can you say that, given that you know me?” Their rejoinder: “We might not know you as well as we think but we know God.” Job’s rejoinder: Nuh uh!” Their rejoinder: “Uh huh!”

              This goes on for a while. Like, 36 chapters.

              Finally, God shows up and asks Job “Can you even comprehend the things that I am capable of doing? Look at these arms. (flexes)”

              Job says “I can’t say anything. Here I am. There you are.”

              God then turns to Job’s friends and says “Job is my main man.”

              Then in an ending that seems tacked on, Job gets twice his shit back and has new kids. Better ones.

              This is a fairly troublesome story for a lot of reasons… but I think that the point of the story doesn’t involve justice or anything like that.

              The point is that Job was God’s main man.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Since I already mentioned Sandman elsewhere, I’ll just mention that the Emperor Norton story there is *kind of* a riff on this one.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott says:

                Three Septembers and a January isn’t the most important Sandman story, and objectively, it’s not the best Sandman story. But it is probably my favorite Sandman story.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                “Job gets twice his shit back and has new kids. Better ones.”


                And who doesn’t want to have twice the shit and have better kids????

                I actually met a couple of roaming Evangelizers in college who suggested I read the book of Job to really understand God’s love. I think the folks those kids worked for need a better marketing strategy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s a very, very important story. I remember reading that it’s the oldest story in the Bible and that we don’t know how to translate, like, one out of six words. It’s that old. It got copied *THAT* many times.

                Insofar as it’s about God’s love, it’s not a story that you use to tell the unconverted. It’s a story that you tell people who say stuff like “I don’t know why God would let something like that happen to (person) unless they had some secret sin.”

                “No.” You say back. “(Person) is God’s main (wo)man.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I agree that it’s a very important story. And now you’re making me think about it in a different light. I mean, I still remember the impression it made the first time I read it – something about commitment and constancy, loyalty and trust, faith and redemption. But all at the hands of an external being who plays with us like a cat plays with mice. On reflection, tho, it goes way deeper than just God bestowing lots of material stuff on believers as a reward for believing in him.

                It’s a metaphor, yeah? An archetypal one at that. Most certainly there’s a truth in it. Teasing out what the metaphor *is* is the tricky thing. For my part, the metaphor doesn’t refer to or include any properties or beings external to the individual (which is why I found it such a perplexing vehicle to spread the Good Word).

                God, if there is a God, is a place (not a being) which humans have within them and CAN experience. God isn’t separate from us, tho, and it isn’t collectively shared. It’s just a place where sharing and collectivism and individuality all sorta come together. Jesus talked about this!, tho Christians don’t hear those words, seems to me.Report

              • Avatar gingergene says:

                I always took it as an answer to 2 questions, both aimed at the converted (I agree, this is not a great story for the unconverted).

                1) Why do bad things happen to good people? A: we don’t know; it’s not as simple as do/be good = blessings, do/be evil = curses

                2) Why do we love God and follow his rules? A: Because he’s God. It’s not to get good things or avoid bad things. God is not a cosmic vending machine.

                As an aside, I *never* imagined that Job was a literal story, so it never really bothered me that Job’s children and animals were killed, and then eventually replaced with newer, shinier ones. I took it as a thought experiment, where no actual people were harmed. The story is commentary on the nature of belief and suffering; it’s focus is on humans, not God. The first time I met someone who insisted that Job was a real person and this stuff all happened, I was speechless that he could believe that and still think God was Good. I still don’t really understand it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And in thinking about this some more, the term “unconverted” is probably really inappropriate given the age of this story.

                “Unconverted”, after all, is a relatively new concept.

                This is a story for people who are not only neck deep in the tradition, it wouldn’t occur to them to discuss this sort of thing with people who aren’t also neck deep in the same tradition.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                “Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. Find someone else. Forget it. I’m never coming back. Forget it.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The horror.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              This subthread was space awesome.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      He couldn’t have been…umm…you know….circumcised. So he can’t be that jewish.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Red Sun, dude. Red Sun.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        El is a Hebrew suffix meaning “of God” or “God is My”. Gabriel means “God is My Shield”

        Kal-El is close to meaning “Voice of God”

        The real Jewishness of superheros is in their outsider nature. Superman is largely the last of his kind. He can sort of “pass” off as being one of the rest via his secret identity but not really. This tracts to the very idea of Jewishness as being a distinct group and how Jews can sort of get along in mainstream society but there is always a little voice in your head saying that you don’t belong and/or sometimes this voice is someone else and they are saying you don’t belong to varying degrees of loudness.*

        *It occurs to me that there are probably a lot of overlapping Jewish and LGBT readings there are.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      A lot of the Jewish elements of the Superman mythos were downplayed after the 1980s reboot. In his first incarnation, Kal-El/Superman was the real persona and Clark Kent the alter-ego. The reboot made Clark Kent the real persona and Superman the alter-ego. It also added a lot of Christ imagery.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        In the most recent Superman, the Russell Crowe one (interesting that its not the Kevin Costner one?) there is a prominent scene in (what appears to be a) Catholic Church. The scene struck me as profoundly subversive, but my friend (also a Catholic) though it represented a garden variety American Christian sentimentality.

        I thought it subversive on precisely the theodicy question (locally known as the Motherfucker question)… Jesus is just a fairy tale in stained glass; Superman gets shit done; look to Superman, not Jesus. My friend’s read was that most Hollywood writers (such as his brother…yep he played the almost famous Hollywood brother card) with vestiges of their Christian upbringing would envision the scene as an implicit blessing of Superman so that the average American Christian would see the destruction of New York and thousands of bystanders dealing with Motherfuckers as God’s work. At any rate, we agreed the theological implications were muddled, but couldn’t agree on intent.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          In the first attempt at a modern Superman revival, the one with Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, there was a lot of Christ imagery including a pieta scene at the beginning. Than you had Lois Lane writing about how the world needs a Superman towards the end of the movie. There was also some comparisons between Superman and Atlas.

          I think that the implication is that Superman is supposed to be a more action friendly version of the Christ. You are supposed to see Superman as a Christ-like figure whom you are to look upon as a savior of sorts. Superman provides a more physical salvation than Christ because he redeems you from physical harm but it is a type of salvation.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I still haven’t seen that (and I’ve not yet heard that I’ve made a mistake by not seeing it). The problem with theodicy is always the issue of “so we’ve got this inconsistent triad… what do I do in the face of it?”

          I try to be Good.
          I try to use my power (limited though it is) to get rid of Evil.

          There are a lot of different punchlines to this one. Kushner’s was “God must not be all-powerful.” I’ve, personally, encountered many people who abandoned God’s Goodness. (And those who have abandoned the concept of God entirely.)

          How to deal with the remaining problem without a God?

          Well, His weapons are still right there. Maybe they’ll work?

          When you say it’s “subversive”, I don’t know that it is. It’s someone who is trying on a new answer using the old vocabulary after having failed one-too-many times with the old answers.Report

          • Avatar Pyre says:

            Yeah, Superman Returns was pretty heavy on the Jesus Christ symbolism. I remember saying something about it getting to be a bit much when he fell back to Earth in the cross position.

            Of course, while we’re on the subject, the date rape implications were also kinda disturbing since it went with the memory-erasing neck pinch and doubled down on the creepy by showing that Lois did become pregnant from that.

            The fact that they were, in essence, just reproducing the first Christopher Reeves Superman was also a problem.

            Actually, there were a lot of problems with the movie.

            Honestly, probably the best and most inspirational part of the film was the trailer. In many ways, it represents what Superman is supposed to inspire in us.

            “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.”

            Man of Steel did the same thing with their trailer but, rather than have Superman as a messiah figure, they went with a more humanistic approach.

            “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.


            But, in the meantime, you will break the necks of your enemies, make out with your beard on the ashes of a mass grave and then get into sloppy make-out sessions with Ben Affleck.”Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        That Christ-allegory stuff is pretty specific to the movies. Which kinda blows my mind since Richard Donner and Bryan Singer are both Jewish.

        That said, the post-crisis reboot definitely grounded Clark Kent as someone raised by Humans, and that included an upbringing as a Kansas Methodist. OTOH, the post-crisis Clark Kent seems to grapple with the religious (or pseudoreligious) traditions of Krypton in a more meaningful way that pre-crisis Superman did.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          The latest Superman movie was, in a sense, the most Nietzschean as well, what with the whole “above the humans, do they deserve me” element. The trailer for the next one looks like it might take that even further.Report

          • Avatar Alan Scott says:

            To me, Nietzscheanism is the core of the Superman/Lex Luthor Dynamic.

            Luthor is a Nietzschean, and when a space-man in a scarlet cape appears, Luthor sees him as a physical embodiment of his philosophy, a literal Nietzschean Superman. And when Superman explicitly rejects this philosophy and becomes an agent of the slave morality, Luthor takes it personally.

            This works especially well as a period piece, where Luthor can be a straight-up Henry Ford style fascist sympathizer.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          That Christ-allegory stuff

          Hey, don’t criticize the allegory just because the Christian’s claim it as their own.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Oh, one other point that the Chesterton quote leads me to.

    Remember the otherwise forgettable Rise of the Guardians movie?

    They really, really, *REALLY* mishandled Pitch Black (the Bogeyman).

    If they let me have the script, I would have given him a monologue like this:

    “Oh, Jack, you misunderstand. Everyone still believes in me. Even the grownups believe in me. *ESPECIALLY* the grownups believe in me. You’ll see them go on to tell the children stories about Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman… but they’ll tell their kids to stop believing in me. They don’t tell the children about me… the children already know about me. They know about me in their cribs and in their bones. The parents have to give the children all of the details about the others, Santa’s Cap, the Bunny’s basket, the Sandman’s dust, the Tooth Fairy’s limitless money… the only thing the parents have to tell the children about me is that they know my name.

    “Say my name, Jack. Say my name.”

    And *THEN* I would have started the fight.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      (Ooh. And in thinking about it some more, I would have had everyone avoid saying his name for the whole movie. “He”, or “him”, or something like that. Maybe “the bad guy” if it *HAD* to come to something but everybody avoided saying his name for the whole thing. Deliberately. This allows the parents in the real world to get in on the issue. Evangelical parents can point out that it’s Satan, materialists can say “it’s the bogeyman”, so on and so forth. Because even they know his name.)Report

  3. Did you ever read Kavalier and Clay? If not, you really should.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Haha! Yes, my line was: People say all the time that you can’t use violence to solve your problems. Yeah, okay, but what if your problem is motherfuckers? I forgot that one. I should write some of this stuff down.Report

  5. Avatar James K says:

    On a related note, I found this analysis of the Avengers quite interesting, though its focus is ideology more than religion.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      That was pretty durned interesting, @james-k . Worth the time.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      I finally watched it. I wanted to like it, but he tried to shoehorn too much into too narrow boxes, and too many other people on the internet do that sort of thing much better.

      If there’s something that’s not lacking at all in this decade long spate of superhero movies, it’s deconstruction provided directly by the film’s narrative. Especially when compared with the pure construction – and camp – of the superhero genre that this generation’s creators had for their childhood influences – Christopher Reeve Superman, Linda Carter Wonder Woman, (the least campy) Bill Bixby Hulk, and most famously and most campy, Adam West Batman.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    A lot of the religious imagery in comic books were not there during the Gold and Silver ages because comic books were assumed to be for kids. When DC and Marvel finally realized that a lot of their readers were older during the 1970s and 1980s than they started getting more sophisticated with the story telling elements. This included adding things like religion, sex, and drugs.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      Does this basically make it fodder for capitalism and more sales and therefore meaningless?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @saul-degraw The answer is that it depends. If you don’t really see comics as a basically commercial medium that is incapable of approaching true art because of how they are made than the answer is yes. A lot of the people that started putting deep things like religion and sex in comics like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, or Frank Miller really believe in comics as a viable artistic medium though. They take just as much pride and care in their work as any literary author. Even if comics is basically about making money and entertaining people, you can argue that the intent of the creative forces behind them counts more than anything else. In that case, the answer is no.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          @saul-degraw , on the subject of sex, violence, and religion in comic books, read “From Hell” by Alan Moore. It is probably the epitome of comics as an artistic, rather than commercial medium.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Does this basically make it fodder for capitalism and more sales and therefore meaningless?

        Imagine someone saying this about adding songs to a play.Report

  7. Avatar veronica d says:

    The thing about that Chesterton quote is, well, why should I suppose he knows what he is talking about? I mean, clearly he was a clever man, and clearly he had a way with words — which, okay, that can be debated. But there are people who very much admire his words. But still, history is full of people good with words, good with ideas, and who were wildly convincing, but who were wrong. Maybe he is wrong.

    It’s an empirical question. In fact, it is a question of developmental psychology. Do children already imagine the dragons, at least in the way he claims, without any influence of narrative? Do they need stories to dream of a hero?

    For what is his control group? Which children grow up with no narratives at all, such that we can see their imagination in its “unsullied” state?

    In any event, I love stories and will always read them. Likewise, I will encourage them for children everywhere. But Chesterton strikes me as the kind of man who likes to make shit up.

    Which actually, maybe that is why he likes stories so much.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Some parents are more likely to read to their kids than other parents. We have some evidence that reading to your kids is good for the brain. Kids who are read to, among other things, are more prepared for school than kids who were not read to. This suggests that there is nothing innate about stories. Yet, humans and our ancestors didn’t always tell stories. During our evolutionary history, there was probably a time when we didn’t have the capacity to tell stories. As homo sapiens we always told stories but maybe before that we did not. Stories have to come from somewhere.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        Kids who are read to, among other things, are more prepared for school than kids who were not read to.

        How much of this is due to being read to rather than being raised by the sort of parents that will read to you a lot?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Given the particulars of the quote (specifically, the “knights of God” part), I’m guessing that he was giving the quotation as part of the culmination of a defense against busybodies who were arguing against the telling of tales to children because it fills their heads with nonsense. Kids should be doing homework and going to church. That sort of thing.

      Do children already imagine the dragons, at least in the way he claims, without any influence of narrative?

      Well, he also mentions the concept of “bogey” which is something that, if personal experience counts, is something that I remember being terrified of as a small child. A closet not fully shut. A curtain blowing. A shirt on the back of a chair. Turn the lights off and whammo. Terror.

      Dragons? Yeah, that requires input. Bogey? Not really.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        Actually, I should have said “bogey” rather than “dragon,” but yeah. I don’t doubt that children have fears, and that stories are tools to confront these fears, but since we don’t have examples of kids raised without stories, how do we know they do what he says they do? About which, I’m quite wary of that sort of rhetoric. It is too often highly polished nonsense.

        Related, that thing about children’s invented folklore: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/myths-over-miami-6393117 . This stuff seems to emerge spontaneously. On the other hand, I bet even those kids have heard stories.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I’ve been turning over the idea of a control group of children (and the lack thereof) for a while now.

          The only thing I could think of was the Language Deprivation Experiments that are effed up to the point where if someone explained to me that they didn’t *REALLY* happen, not the way they were described anyway, it’s not like the king was a *MONSTER*, I’d really want to believe them.

          Excerpt: The experiments were recorded by the monk Salimbene di Adam in his Chronicles, who wrote that Frederick encouraged “foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which he took to have been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments.”

          If I’m reading “could not live without” as “died without” (and I’m really not seeing another reasonable reading), then there is something really important going on here. Like, deadly important.

          Now, this doesn’t mean that stories are necessarily intrinsic to the whole speech thing…

          But I can’t help but think that a culture that has stories (memes, if you will) will absorb a culture without them. Memes aren’t just offensive tools, after all. They’re defensive ones. You use your memes to fight off their memes.

          All that to say: a control group is not *POSSIBLE*.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I’m assuming Chesterton, who wasn’t making a statement of empirical research using the scientific method, didn’t use a control group, but if the question is directed at us generally, rather than at him specifically, then the answer is that we have a bunch of them, as well as methods that don’t require a control group in the way the question suggests.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:


              Well, in that case, I’d just look at the cultures that had stories that dealt with bogey and at the cultures that did not and set up a bunch of comparisons.

              What did the cultures that didn’t deal with bogey look like?
              Did the cultures that did deal with bogey deal with bogey in more or less the same way? (Probably not.) Were there two or three or four main ways of dealing with bogey? (Probably.) What are the differences? Where are the overlaps?

              I’m guessing that the overlaps deal with insularity/strangers, tradition/iconoclasm, and other sermons from the Gods of the Copybook Headings.

              But that’s off the top of my head.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Right, one way is to look for cultural universals. Others would be to look at kids with language deficits, at pre-linguistic children, and so on.

                In general, if you want to know whether something is ontogenetic or phylogenetic, you look to see if it’s universal.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “The only thing I could think of was the Language Deprivation Experiments”

            Huh. I thought that was something that Ian Tregellis just invented for his “Nazi X-Men versus Harry Potter” series. (It’s better that that description makes it sound. Very depressing, though.)Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Fear is an instinctual response. Fear of the unknown may be uniquely human, I don’t know… but I do find it at least plausible that kids have a fear of things that they can’t see properly.

      And, you know? I can give you the visual conditions to see monsters… (there are certain times of day when the eyes play tricks on you, and you see things that aren’t there — calling them monsters is a bit of a tip).

      Fear of the unknown is a safety issue, that kids pick up early, I figure.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Veronica I think it says something that most babies start off in this world crying. Now one can make the arguement that it’s more of a “I’m here” or “This is all I can do” or even “I’m displeased with my current state of affairs” sort of crying but I honestly have trouble not reading an element of fear out of it. I’m pretty confident that the fear come pre-installed with the beginning hardware. Speaking from an evolutionary perspective it’d make eminent sense to have the human launch version have an installed impulse that makes him/her want to avoid everything that reads as unfamiliar and hug close to Mum.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Now one can make the arguement that it’s more of a “I’m here” or “This is all I can do” or even “I’m displeased with my current state of affairs” sort of crying but I honestly have trouble not reading an element of fear out of it.

        Just to note, that initial cry is because it’s crucial to clean the lungs of fluid. It’s life saving. The later cries bring food and cleanliness.

        They’re also life saving. If you’ve ever watched a litter of kittens or puppies, you’ll also see that there’s crying in their play; part of how they learn what my vet calls ‘bite inhibition.’

        Tears are often the marker of actions that go to far; tears of pain, of emotional distress. I think there’s something very important to examine in the stereotype of men being discomforted by women’s tears.

        So crying isn’t just fear; it’s boundaries. Even in the animal kingdom.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        This reminds me of what my wife says about morning sickness: “It’s your child’s way of letting you know you’re not in control anymore.”

        Lain didn’t cry when she came out. It was actually… worrying… (though she was clearly alive, so not that worrying.)Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    KatherineMW’s remark just shows the problems of heavily visual media and why it should be used to convey a moral message. Canadian internet legend James Nichol once remarked that intellectualism doesn’t really translate well on to the screen. Its why in the Robert Downey version of Sherlock Holmes, they needed to make Holmes a much more physical man or why in Sherlock, they depict Holmes thought process on screen. Comics suffer from the same problems as films. They are a visual medium. The pictures are just as important as the text. Bruce Wayne using his millions to fund philanthropy and good works across the world is not exciting when depicted visual. It might make for a good textural story because you can write something about how the shareholders and other officers of Wayne Enterprises oppose Wayne’s plan and attempt to stage a coup against Wayne or some other less physical conflict. In a comic, such machinations would be boring because the tension revolves around passive actions. Batman punching the Joker is a lot more exciting for a visual medium.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      My excerpt doesn’t do her whole comment justice.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      It’s not just that violence is exciting, and simple to depict; it’s also that it can be hard for humans to accept more ambiguous real-world resolutions (that are not capital-J “Justice!”) in a satisfying way.

      When we did the Sandman recaps, after Morpheus defeats Doctor Dee – who has done all sorts of horrible things, to the world in general and to some hapless diner customers in particular – Morpheus takes pity on this man whose mind has been shattered, in part, by tools that Morpheus himself made.

      Rather than punishing him, Morpheus “rewards” him, with the first nightmare-free sleep the man has had in years.

      IIRC, KatherineMW commented that something about this didn’t sit well. That it felt a little like Doctor Dee deserved to be punished, not rewarded, for all the evil he had wrought.

      But a god’s or Fate’s ideas of “justice/mercy” are often very different from our human ones.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        People want the identified bad or at least immoral guy to lose and receive his punishments. People also want the hero to win. A lot of this is because people use entertainment as a form of escapism. Its not that difficult for people to find instances in real life where they felt the good guy was screwed over or the bad guy got away with his or her dastardly plans and schemes. There are tons of examples of this that people can list without engaging in too much thinking.

        Its not about simple justice either. Imagine a Spider Man movie where not only does Spider Man save New York City for some bad guy but goes all out as Peter Parker to win the heart of Mary Jane at the same time. Now lets say that the movie ends with Spider Man saving the day but Mary Jane rejected him because even though Peter is a great guy who stuck by her during a tough time, when Peter was also stressed out because of his life as Spider Man, but she simply doesn’t find him attractive and wants to be with some guy that seemingly did nothing for her but is very charming. No audience would stand for this.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          You mean like the movie… PRETTY IN PINK?!?

          (No, I am not trying to start a Ducky fight. I understand that picking Ducky over Blaine (BLAINE???) says more about me than about Andy and I was not in the target audience. I understand that this is a movie about Andy and if Andy was in love with Blaine and Blaine was a guy worth being in love with, and he was, then Andy and Blaine should have ended up together and they did and that’s the end of it.)Report

          • Avatar Alan Scott says:

            Also, y’know, Ducky was probably more jealous of Andy than he was jealous of Blaine.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Yeah, yeah. Molly Ringwald said the same thing.

              Jon Cryer says “Yes, she said that the guy whom Duckie was based on was gay. It’s a different thing. Let’s be clear here,” “Two and a Half Men” star Cryer tells Zap2it. “No, she actually said that if one projected beyond the movie, that Duckie would be out by now. And I respectfully disagree. I want to stand up for all the slightly effeminate dorks that are actually heterosexual. Just cause the gaydar is going off, doesn’t mean your instruments aren’t faulty. I’ve had to live with that, and that’s okay.”

              I, too, would like to stand up for all the slightly effeminate dorks.

              The actually heterosexual ones, I mean. Not just them, of course.

              Not that Andy should have ended up with Ducky anyway.

              This wasn’t about him.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      You hit on a possible problem with Jay’s article: that religious symbolism doesn’t have to mean anything. It can simply be a way to make a work look profound. As an anime fan, I’ve seen it happen a lot where a cross or a gothic cathedral is put into a scene without any really clear reason. Neon Genesis Evangelion, as you could guess by its name, abuses religious imagery like crazy to turn a depressing story about giant robots into a mystical-if-ambiguous grand epic. Death Note features religious symbols drawn exclusively from the West. (The parallel to this is the use of Eastern religious symbols in Hollywood productions.) On the other hand, Trigun invokes Western religion and tells a story rich in religious meaning. There are Eastern religious images and themes in anime, as well; the reason I mention the Western images is that I can tell that they are usually just done for the visual impact.

      So, do comic books actually incorporate religious meaning beyond the imagery? Do they use the imagery to mean something? I don’t know them enough to answer either question. But the mere presence of an angel statue isn’t enough to prove to me that there’s a substantial connection between comic storytelling and religious themes.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        That’s true too. First thought to come to mind is John Woo putting the final shootout in a church (again) and having doves fly (again) between the shooters during a break in the shooting (again).


        But, for example, the recent Daredevil show opens with Matt Murdock in a confessional talking to a priest. They’re going out of their way to explain that he’s a Catholic *AND* that his Catholicism is important to him *AND* (given the nature of the confession) that he’s conflicted about his responsibilities given A) His Moral Intuitions B) His Powers and C) The Existence of Evil.

        What can he do but be lawyer by day, avenger by night?

        The only thing that he can do is try to eradicate evil.

        Sure, some comics just say “use the church as shorthand… put Batman on a gargoyle!”

        Some don’t.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Also the end of Blade Runner for a symbolic dove.Report

        • Avatar Pinky says:

          Heh. You just reminded me of the church shootout sequence in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in which the Jesus imagery was applied to a Terminator. Sometimes a creator will follow the Rule of Awesome. It doesn’t disprove your thesis, but it does happen.Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    This is probably pedantic but I object to Galactus being included in the roster of villains. Galactus isn’t so much evil as he is a literal force of nature. The Marvel cosmology, IIRC, has him as basically the natural devouring force of existence that enables birth, change and life. He’s something you can strive against, sometimes turn away even, but he’s not exactly malevolent; just hungry. A comic book Kali so to speak.Report

  10. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    Language warning or not, it’s particularly interesting that this post focusing on the religious connotations or purposes of comic book superheroes pretty much completely sets aside the connected psychosexual ones – even while settling on the word “motherfuckers” as the principle of evil or of the specific type of evil that must or at least can be combatted in the (typically/classically boy-)child’s or arrestedly-developed adult’s world according to the comic book ethos. To bring up the Oedipal character of the (extremely) vulgar epithet is to state the obvious, and its mere existence lends stubborn support to psychoanalytical theories and concepts that have generally fallen into low repute in our times. Seemed to me that KatherineMW and Jaybird in their previous discussion snuck up to the edge of identifying the typical solution – SMASH! – as a typical boy’s solution – with the superhero body compared to the normal body something as the man’s body compares to the boy’s body (from the boy’s perspective), or even the erect penis compared to the flaccid penis.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Wow, you may have ended too Freudian for Freud there. The Oedipal component is apparent, particularly in Superman and Spiderman (Batman’s obsession is with his father, right? And that pretty much exhausts my superhero knowledge), and there’s definitely a masculinity-femininity thing going on, maybe some Madonna-whore complex stuff in a lot of the stories, and I’m sure there’s a lot of phallic imagery in the comics and movies, but damn.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I would put some of it as explicitly sexual (Spidey casts sticky white substances with his hands!), and some of it as more general “sexual maturity anxiety”/adolescence-fear.

        Hulk, and Ben Grimm, etc. etc. are flooded with powerful and strong emotions they cannot control, and a massive physical strength that is as much menace to those they love, as it is boon.

        As the “beasts”, they have no beauty, and they fear they may be unloveable and forever alone, capable only of destruction, never building anything.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          The Hulk I can definitely see, though I wonder what it says about the author, and us, that the erect version is pure aggression and anger.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        I think the Oedipal component predictably pervades a genre aimed (classically) at pubescent boys.

        At the same time, “What am I gonna do with this thing?” is not, to say the least, a trivial question for such a boy. So classic sublimation. However many female superheroes there are – even the handful of super-wives and super-mothers – or however many major female characters there may be in recent successful genre fiction across media, the re-assertion and control of an ethical masculinity remains, it seems to me, key to the “religious” and “ethical” functions of the super-“hero” genre.

        But an interesting and for many millions of people very involving process is simultaneously under way. At some point it will even connect up with that marriage question so many of us find so difficult to sort out. In other words, especially since around ALIEN (and self-consciously carried through in PROMETHEUS), superhero and related genres – action, horror, and sci-fi, obviously – have been trying to construct or, perhaps, by now, administer a symbolic universe in which “motherfucker” must somehow be taken to mean almost the same thing coming from a female character as it does from a male one.

        Very confusing and a central problem for a boy of any age – and within culture from comic books to games to tv/movies (getting harder and harder to distinguish from each other), and as evidenced here in our reception of that culture, invoking another deprecated psychoanalytical rule, the repressed returns as part of the inescapable struggle in a world uniquely disrupted AND ordered by conflicting “inherited” male urges, desires, and identities.

        The classic or anyway widely read and referenced work on this was Men’s Fantasies (Theweleit), which focused on Nazi Era popular culture. It’s hardly a coincidence in my view that “Superman” came up as an American, and apparently Jewish-American, cultural contribution at just the time that the Nazified-Nietzschified Superman was on the rise.

        Jesus Christ as Superhero raises other difficult questions, since the Nietzschean Superman was supposed, at least by Nietzsche, to be an antidote to a Judeo-Christian depravity – an Antichrist, literally…

        …and the next step was madness… or, possibly even worse, Heidegger!Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          The reaction to this, and this perhaps gets us to where Jaybird is, was a rebellion against that order. Sisyphus is Superman imprisoned by the absurd, and much of the latter half of the 20th century is a reaction against the fairly blatant, painfully male ordering of desires in classic mythos and metaphor. So the next step is Heidegger, and from there we descend into the absurd, maybe even Derrida.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I don’t know anything about Freud but I like my comic book sexuality completely sublimated, thank you very much.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      More seriously, I hadn’t really considered sexuality’s manifestations with regards to superheroes. Its adolescent take on the solutions to the problems, sure… but the sexuality is something that strikes me as something that rarely improves any given story.

      I mean, if I were to use my own marriage as an example (don’t worry, I’ll try not to get weird), I’d say that it’s relatively easy for me to talk about stuff that Maribou and I did last week that involved us overcoming problems (we were sick! we got groceries! I sang the “you live in a zoo” variant of “happy birthday”!), relatively difficult for us to discuss something like a specific fight we may have had in the last year (though I probably could easily discuss a disagreement we had years ago, then resolved, and have since become a better man for having overcome it), and I will not discuss the part of the relationship that involves the physical manifestation of love AT ALL. There is your beeswax and there is my beeswax and ess-eee-ex is not your beeswax. Discussions of PDAs might be a little too much, in my opinion. (I could see saying something like “gave her a smooch” as being on this side of appropriate. Much more than that is not stuff that one speaks of in public.)

      If I were to tell a story about Batman, or Daredevil, or anybody else for that matter, I could talk about victories, failures that were overcome, but I wouldn’t tell you a story about Batman having sex with, oh, Catwoman or something. I might tell you a story about how Batman revealed his secret identity to Selina and she implied that she suspected and have the removal of the mask being a metaphor for, like, the first time two people see each other naked…

      But sex is *SOOOO* tough to do well in a story that (and I’ll use this example from Dana Stevens again) if you can imagine nothing being added by the sex scene being replaced by a placard that read “and then they totally Did It”, then you would probably be better off by using the placard.

      In the same way that you wouldn’t want to read a story about Bruce Wayne overseeing the CEO duties of a company that, among other things, was researching Diabetes treatments, you probably wouldn’t want to read a story about two people being married. Much of marriage is like running a small non-profit with someone who has known you forever and you them.

      You can, however, have a comic devoted to Batman punching out someone who harmed another person and get a good, solid feeling of satisfaction from that.

      If there were a comic devoted to Batman and Catwoman totally doing it? Well, I’m pretty sure that those comics are out there for those inclined to find time.

      But this goes back to “why am I reading comics?” (or, for that matter, why I am writing monologues for the bad guy?)

      It’s because I’m wrestling with, among other things, justice.

      If I was looking for a discussion of sex, there are other places to go.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        Well, there is also romance, which is rather hard to strictly separate from sexuality.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          In pro wrestling, there’s one main story that gets people to buy tickets to the house show over and over again:

          Good guy (Babyface or Face) is a little bit overmatched by the Bad guy (Heel). Heel is someone who might be worth respecting, but he takes shortcuts, cheats (he doesn’t have to, he’s just lazy). Face stands up to Heel because Face is brave. If dumb. Heel beats on Face for a while. Heel takes a shortcut and, maybe it backfires, maybe it doesn’t. Face withstands tribulation, overcomes adversity, digs deep down, beats the Heel.

          Send them home happy, they’ll buy a ticket next time we’re in town.

          I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a similar formula to get people to buy a ticket next time for Romance.

          Two people. (For ease of the example, we’ll just run with “Boy” and “Girl” and I will acknowledge that I could easily use any number of any two (or three or more) genders instead of those two cis-het-normative ones instead.) Boy and Girl meet cute. Boy and Girl are unable to get together because of an obstacle (or multiple obstacles). Boy and Girl have misunderstanding. Boy and Girl work hard to swallow pride and overcome obstacle and really listen to each other and overcome misunderstanding. Boy and Girl get together. QUICK END THE STORY.Report

          • Avatar veronica d says:

            Well, there is always the possibility that the writer is actually good. I mean, it is worth considering.

            Which, I’m sure I can take things you like and make them sound frightfully banal, by abstracting out all the qualities and particulars, and just lining up the dominoes that have to fall.

            Hero challenged, hero struggles, hero wins.

            Pretty boring, yes? Or not. Depends on the hero and the struggle and the winning.

            Who is in love? How are they in love? From where did their love grow, what must be overcome? Is there real internal conflict? Can the author show that, with mood, theme, and metaphor? Can they get the reader’s mind into that place, where the words deliver the feelings in full measure?

            And there is nothing wrong with just being sexy. Which, I can call Sturgeon’s Law on tedious self-indulgent plotless nonsense as quickly as on (so called) smut.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              If I were asked to find the 3 best Superhero stories that I’d use to introduce Superheroics to someone unfamiliar, I’d probably be able to.

              If I were asked to find the 3 best Wrestling matches that I’d use to introduce Wrestling to someone unfamiliar, I’d probably be able to.

              Now, of course, those probably aren’t the same ones that I’d show them a couple of weeks later… “now that you’ve had time to think about the intro stuff, here. Here’s some of the GOOD stuff.”

              What are the intro romance stories you’d tell me to read if I knew nothing of romance stories?

              After I sat and watched those, what are the stories you’d tell me to read once I had the basics down?Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                I’m not talking about the romance genre. I’m talking about the presence of romance in a story’s plot, which is to say, when romantic connection is central to a character’s motives. I think this is related to your aversion to open sexuality. I am saying this: modern audiences are going to want some sexual display in their romance plots. Otherwise how do we separate those from platonic friendships?

                This was less a problem in years gone by, where the contours of romance versus friendship were fairly clear, and quite divided by gender. Today our relationships can take many shapes, and those with sex can be quite like those without sex, except for the sex parts.

                In fact, in my life, about half of my friends and lovers don’t even have a clear gender. Furthermore, my relationships that have sex are even separate from those that have kink — but I suspect you won’t want me to explain the precise difference.

                In any case, I think sex/romance is an essential part of most stories, and these days it is hard to keep the romance without some sex. How we love each other can be a big part of the world the writer means to explore.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The presence of romantic (as opposed to platonic) relationships leads to all sorts of potential plots (and potential problems).

                But in the same way that the stories of how Batman defeats evil (BY HITTING IT!) is adolescent, there aren’t a whole lot of really good ways to deal with romance.

                The best example was one that I alluded to earlier. Batman brought Catwoman back to the Batcave and removed his mask.

                As Adam stood before Eve. Kinda.

                (This, of course, turned into Robin freaking out when he showed up and he couldn’t believe that Bruce threw away his secret identity to *HER* of all people and what the hell and we didn’t even discuss this and so on and so forth.)

                I can’t think of an example of it being done better. Clark Kent and Lois Lane might have one. Spider-man and Mary Jane might have one. The big problem, of course, is that we’re dealing with people who aren’t peers. (And Batman/Catwoman come as close as anybody I could think of. Maybe a Superman/Wonder Woman alternate universe storyline could handle it.)

                If you aren’t peers, then it’s too easy to fall into the abyss of the romance exists to provide an extra impetus for the hero to get it right. It’s not just saving (nameless person) from Doc Ock. Spider-Man has to save MARY JANE! (Or worse: there’s the fridge.)

                And like with marriage, it’s hard to do big sustained storylines for romance. Most romance is day to day punctuated by wear and tear and maintenance. “Hey, do we want to go out to dinner?” followed by going out to dinner and discussing the events of the day/week followed by driving home, doing evening chores, going to bed, turning the lights off.

                It’s wonderful. It’s divine. It ain’t fancy, though.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                AFAIK WATCHMEN and THE INCREDIBLES have done the best jobs with “romance”-related plots, but I’m not a comic superhero aficionado at all.

                Going by the other movies I’ve seen, Spider-Man’s love life is central to the storylines – and the “sublimative” aspect of being-Spider-Man is strongly symbolized by celibacy being forced on him somewhat pathetically. Capt. America clearly has problems along these lines, too – and, again, in his ascent to superhero status is denied the love of his life. He’s got more than a little Parsifal about him (as do some of the others). A similar thing happens to Batman in the Nolan movies. The Ed Norton Hulk can’t have sex with his beloved without killing her. I don’t know the details on Catwoman. I guess Superman had superkids at some point, if not in the movies? I can’t really tell what I’m supposed to think goes on between Iron Man and Pepper.

                I don’t know what’s canonical in any of these places, or the extent to which the movies, seeking broader appeal, have heightened aspects of the stories that the comic books, esp the old ones, didn’t bother with much.

                In addition to the “adult” versions of these tales that get into all sorts of perversity, there have also been avant-gardish literary treatments that have majorly (and sometimes hilariously) “gone there” regarding the sex lives of the genre characters. What’s clear in almost every case though is that love is more often uniquely problematic than super for superheroes.

                I think the X-MEN – who are genetic mutations – trace post-modern history of sexual mores in a very peculiar way.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                In addition to the “adult” versions of these tales that get into all sorts of perversity…

                Is this sort of statement necessary?

                Which, you are entitled to personally turned off by explicit sex, including kinky sex, but “perversity” is a pretty strong label. I cannot help but think that it would include me.

                Perhaps you mean to refer to the kind of “grimdark” approach to this stuff, with tons of needless violence and no clear lines of consent, which is basically rape porn for young men.

                And yeah, I hate that stuff also, but if you mean to talk about that stuff, there are better labels, which make clear what you mean. “Perversity” is too broad.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                veronica d: I cannot help but think that it would include me.

                Perhaps you can’t help but think that, but that reaction strikes me as prejudice and aggressively defensive projection. Perhaps you’re in favor of eliminating the word “perversity” from our vocabularies. That’s an arguable and argued position. My problem with it is that it imposes a new notion of the impermissibly perverse under a different name or by stealth.

                So, some might consider the notion itself perverse – the notion that dressing up a young woman in a superhero costume and having her major orifices entered by “alien tentacles” as she cries out in pain must be labeled merely “kinky” or if possible put under some not possibly judgmental term. Others might consider perverse the depiction of a super-ejaculant disembowling Superman’s sex partner; or Tarzan overpowering a rapist first via superhuman control of his, Tarzan’s, sphincter muscles, then in fury tearing the assailants heart out; or King Kong, given the typical proportions of ape vs human sexual anatomy, actively pursuing a sexual relationship with Ann Darrow.

                Some might find such things simply amusing, especially amusing because so perverse, and especially perverse because deliberately violating our notions, or perhaps we can say former notions, of what Superheroes are, or of what thoughts about famous couples (and triples, and so on) ought to be expressed, not because in the abstract we consider super-sex outside of marriage perverse, or anal intercourse inherently perverse, or sex between consenting primates perverse.

                Once upon a time I would have viewed “perverse” as a positive or at worst neutral expression – as during the time I entertained the notion that what was being called “polymorphous perversity” was the true “natural” as well as most likely healthy and satisfying orientation for human animals like us. I think the X-MEN (who are also “ex-men” in multiple senses of the term) express this perspective, by sublimation. I am confident that there is a de-sublimating sub-genre of X-MEN orgy fan porn. I would not be surprised to learn that there is 3-D or day-glo X-MEN orgy art available for sale, possibly modeled after the notorious “Disneyland After Dark” – which was perversity itself when it was done, and all the better for it. The X-MEN orgy is a natural. I’d be interested in it! If it wasn’t perverse, I’d be less interested. We all know about Kirk-Spock pron, but there are universes of unexplored possibilities in our cultural imaginary, but repressed, that still await the arrival of a digital sci-fi de Sade to realize before our eyes.

                Frankly, however, I find and have always found the X-MEN that we have rather than the $200 Million X-Rated X-MEN of my sick dreams, as concept or in its cinematic realization, quite perverse – or creepy, if you prefer, not kinky, an example of self-subverting superficially “liberal” art. And, no, I don’t include you among the X-MEN of either world, but, from what I know of you as you have described yourself at OT, I could imagine why you might put yourself on their side vs whoever you think I am or want to be when I use the word “perverse.”Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                You’re noxious.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Look, if we’re going to act like children, can we at least not do it in the comic book thread!Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                veronica d:
                You’re noxious.

                If I were inclined to take you seriously, @veronica-d , I’d suggest you were clearly in violation of the site commenting policy, and I might also proceed to other characterizations of that reply, except to do so would likely also tend to infringe on that same policy, as would almost anything else I might say – which is why we have a policy I think (at least I think we do, and I think there’s a reason). (Also connected to the reasons that foul language also used to be discouraged at this site.)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’d suggest you were clearly in violation of the site commenting policy

                I thought so too, hence my rebuke which was meant to be humorous, but probably wasn’t.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’d add that accusing people of projection, even if it’s what they’re doing (and hey, this is the internet, so we’re frequently projecting; it’s an inherent property of the medium that there is more space to fill by our own minds than is filled by the words of others, and as humans we tend to prefer space with ourselves), almost never results in a reasoned response. Aside from the fact that it is unnecessarily and almost always unjustifiably psychoanalytic, it is just not an accusation that very many people respond well to. If defensiveness — another ubiquity on the internet — is something you want to avoid in your interlocutors, it’s probably best to just avoid accusing them of projection altogether, even if you’re pretty damn sure they’re projecting.

                Really, since nothing else in your comment depended on the accusation, it looks utterly superfluous anyway.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                The statement that initiated this digression was an offer of correction by veronica d of misuse of the word “perverse,” along with the suggestion that she would have to think it included her. So, in short, she was calling me a stupid mean bigot. Calling people stupid mean bigots is also not often a great way to get people to respond well, usually, in my experience, although she was the one insisting, emphatically, on making herself the subject.

                It would have been enough for her to point out that loosely referring to “perversity” is often taken poorly – for good reason – and perhaps then we might have had a discussion about the concept of perversity, without any presumptions about what either of us presumed about anyone or -thing or act labeled “perverse.”Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Oh, I agree with you 100%. And I don’t think the projection comment was out of line (particularly given the accusation). Just part of my general theory of internet discourse.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Well, no permanent harm done, I hope, and I enjoyed the opportunity to retail my thoughts on superhero perversity – which’s perverse of me, no doubt – but I think you need to incorporate into your theory of internet discourse the limitation that prevents me from now inviting veronica d back to my place to look at my Roger and Jessica etchings. The internet is a universe of meet-cutes with few happy third acts.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s far easier to ruin stuff by including sexuality than it is to improve it by doing so.

                I mean, even trying your, erm, even when using all of your effort.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Is this the part where I surreptitiously slide some other books in front of my copy of Lost Girls?Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Unless your Japanese, yes.Report

              • It’s far easier to ruin stuff by including sexuality than it is to improve it by doing so.

                That’s a weird typo: you wrote “sexuality” when you meant “superheroes”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                When superheroes are a way for us to talk about things that we can’t talk about, they work really, really well.

                It’s far too easy to turn from talking about the things we can’t talk about into just talking about superheroes, though.Report

              • Avatar Pyre says:

                It’s far easier to ruin stuff by including sexuality than it is to improve it by doing so.


                (Those of you who read All-New X-men will know what I mean.)

                Probably webcomics such as GrrlPowerComic (which is as much a deconstruction of the Superhero genre as it is a super hero comic) would not be your cup of tea either although reading the “Men can’t be raped by women.” comments on the recent strip was kind of a hoot.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:


                I said to Marts “You know, we do all these things, like The Trial of Jean Grey was really hard to write, and all anybody cares about is Kitty and Peter Quill hooking up.” Like I wrote nothing else [laughs]. Shipping after shipping after shipping, an X-Men event should be nothing but X-Men kissing each other. No fights or explosions, just who hooks up with who. It took me like a year to figure that out! All they care about is the hair, and who is kissing who.


              • Avatar Pyre says:


                Which is pretty much the opposite of what everybody else is saying and is a prime example of why people are dropping the X-titles that he writes until he stops writing them. The Peter Quill thing was put in so Marvel could remind the readers “Hey, GOTG is coming out in theaters.”

                And, seriously, Last Will And Testament Of Professor Xavier was just a mess that Marvel is already trying to remove. Other than me getting philosophical about whether abortion is murder if you go back in time and psychically force the parents to never get together (Why does Bendis write all his telepaths as mind rapists anyway?), it’s only good point was that it finally got me to drop the titles.

                And this is coming from someone who was defending his X-work for quite some time. Now? The theory that the shot-callers at Marvel (Namely, Perlmutter and other Disney execs) told Bendis to kill off reader interest in X-men while they continue to push the Inhumans as the X-replacements has a surprising amount of merit.

                But, as I said in my G+, I’m trying to stop discussing “Follow the money” angles with comic geeks and gamers.Report

              • Avatar Pyre says:

                Okay, thinking about it a little, I can’t blame him for some of the stuff that he almost certainly was forced to do like the continuous crossovers in support of whatever direction the company wants. The GOTG stuff was pretty much forced on him. Battle of the Atom was probably another editor’s idea. Ending Scott’s school and revealing that the whole “mutant revolution” thing was a bluff is almost certainly because of Secret Wars.

                So, if I were to be fair, I would admit that a lot of it may have been out of his hands.

                But that still doesn’t excuse going from the concept three years back where there would be three distinct approaches for the X-teams. Alex “Havok” Summers Uncanny Avengers which could be best described as the mutant version of “Uncle Tom” (and did Remender ever get torn a new one for his “Just Call me Alex” speech). Wolverine’s “Let’s keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing for decades and hope it works this time” Jean Grey School. And Cyclops “I think I’m Che Guerra” Charles Xavier school. Bendis initially seemed to be up to the task and, as I said, the forced crossovers took a toll on the overall story. But that doesn’t excuse the overall laziness or sloppiness of what the jumbled mess that his writing became.

                As it stands, with all the corporate changes in the comics world, I’m down to Injustice as my only regular title. If things continue as they are, that means that I will be at no titles in two years. Not sure how to feel about that.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @jaybird — On this,

                It’s far easier to ruin stuff by including sexuality than it is to improve it by doing so.

                Actually I think that is probably true, insofar as sex can be psychological rocket fuel. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to return to the prudishness of the 1950’s. The fact is, my sexuality is non-standard and non-approved. My parents and friends didn’t teach me what I needed to know. And sure, I could pick stuff up from the underground, here and there, bits and pieces from this person or that, but there is something amazing in reading skilled writers talk about how people like me have sex.

                And it’s not just the physical mechanics, although it is that also, but there is something about knowing my body can be sexual, and how that can be true on a psychological level.

                Like, mind and body, the way I have breasts now and how each little nerve lights up when my partners touch me — this is a woman’s sexual response. And it is. Hormones really work. Everything changes.

                But figuring out what is happening and knowing that, yes, it can be enough, even if I cannot make my body “fully female” in every way. It changes in so many ways. Authors talk about that, plus what it means, it intimate details, to be newly a woman.

                It’s actually hard for me to explain this, but for example, take Nevada. I mean, I doubt anyone here besides me has read it, but Binnie is pretty explicit about how sex works in the main character’s lives, how much they struggle with it. This struggle was to me familiar, as their burdens were my burdens. There was something amazing seeing that in print.


                Most of you aren’t trans women, so fine. Gals like me are a particular case. But still, I think this generalizes. Sex is profound, but it also a basic physical act. There are so many ways we can talk about this, some beautiful, some crass, some a bit of both. In any case, leaving it absent from stories seems wrong. It is masking off a whole enormous part of life.


                There are so many writers out there, so much media. We can afford the effort to find those who can give a complete picture of a sexual life.

                Plus, you know, sometimes it’s just kinda fucking hot.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott says:

                @jaybird , have you watched Spectacular Spider-Man or Young Justice?

                They are superhero stories in which romance is an incredibly central component–And it’s one of the things that makes them so good.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I haven’t (those were post-cable cutting for me). Sounds like I need to make an effort to look for them…Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott says:

                I am saying this: modern audiences are going to want some sexual display in their romance plots. Otherwise how do we separate those from platonic friendships?

                This was less a problem in years gone by, where the contours of romance versus friendship were fairly clear, and quite divided by gender. Today our relationships can take many shapes, and those with sex can be quite like those without sex, except for the sex parts.

                Damn skippy.

                Comic book wise, I cut my teeth on Chuck Dixon. Dixon was a great writer–but he was pretty conservative about depictions of sexuality in his teen books. My main book was Robin–and in retrospect, one of the reasons I identified so strongly with the character is that his interactions with female romantic partners seemed so phoned-in that they pretty much mirrored my own gay-but-didn’t-know-it-yet experiences with the opposite sex.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I miss the Dixonian dynamic. (Sex in entertainment generally is one of those areas where my cultural conservatism aspect really comes shining through.)Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                I should add here: When I speak of romance, I don’t mean the genre (I said that before), but also I do not necessarily mean that the romance has to be successful. It need not end up with two lovers gazing longingly into their partner’s eyes, where behind them a seascape stretches out, with crashing waves, with the milky way rising from the horizon, its grandeur almost equal to their love.

                Which, I mean, I like that stuff in small doses. But I am talking about romance more broadly, as a basic human drive.

                In this case, a romance can fail. It can fail in profound ways. The author could despise love, and punish the characters who love. They might show love to be empty and foolish. Or they might show the opposite, that love is all that can awake a desolate heart. Or maybe they’re grownups, and for them love (and thus for most of us sex) is a natural part of life, and it is a common drive, and that complete characters will feel this drive.


                To talk more broadly, I have a theory of the modern superhero-esque tale. It is this: the conflict between the hero and the villain is seldom the real actual conflict.

                Consider: Action Man charges into the lair of the villain, Captain Doom. Within, Action Man is quickly captured by Captain Doom’s magic antigravity gun.

                Which, of course he is captured.

                This is par for the course for Action Man. He rushes in and gets in trouble. This leads to arguments with his teammates, especially Speedy Girl. She says he is too abrupt to charge in, too quick to use violence. Which, he is.

                So now he is trapped, hanging helpless in the antigravity field.

                Word gets back to the super team. Again Action Man is caught.

                But this time it is bad. Captain Doom is the real big bad. He will kill.

                Speedy Girl is beside herself with anger, fear, and confusion. At first she rants about how stupid Action Man always is, but it becomes clear (to everyone except her) that she loves him. But her teammates — this time they suggest caution. Do not rush in, they say. Make sure we know what is what.

                Captain Doom sends a video. He has tortured Action Man.

                Speedy Girl is overcome. Without thinking, without any consideration, for thinking would be too painful, she rushes out, very quickly (as one would expect), and speeds toward Captain Doom’s lair.

                She’s captured of course.

                She hangs in the anti-gravity field beside Action Man. They can talk to each other.

                What does she say to him? What does he say to her?

                Do they escape?

                Of course they escape. The reader knows this. There is still tension. The reader still wonders, how will they escape? Will they pay a price? Will they at last bring low Captain Doom? Yes, the fight with Captain Doom is part of the conflict. But it is not what is interesting. Another fistfight is seldom interesting. It has been done. There is nothing new to say.

                But this couple — they are perhaps interesting, if the writer has chops, the depth to see.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Worm does good fistfights. But, yeah, without a B Plot, fighting just kinda sucks.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What does she say to him? What does he say to her?

                To make a really good story, one that will get them to buy a ticket next week, is it better to cross a barrier or is it better to communicate that both of them really wish they could cross the barrier but both are, for whatever reason, hesitant to do so?

                I mean, how much better was X-Files before Sulder and Mully kissed?Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                I mean, how much better was X-Files before Sulder and Mully kissed?

                Well right, but the endless will they or won’t they plot is — well — interminable. We don’t want that either.

                I say let characters hook up and let relationships play out in ways that seem natural. That’s much harder if your story is structured around a duo — which, Buffy could not have been Buffy and Angel, obviously — but when it is around an amorphous group (with a few central players), then yeah, it can totally work.

                And it feels real, cuz people hook up.

                Like, I’m totally dating K now, but she used to be dating M, which M and I aren’t really friends anymore cuz {reasons}, which puts J in a tough spot, since she’s friends with all of us and K and M stayed friends and K really needs J in her life, but in my opinion not M, but I also know to stay out of it (which, were my life a story we’d have to change that and have me totes get it wrong, cuz obvi) — anyway, on and on. Life’s like that.

                Who’s fucking who and when is a big part of it. Like K and I totally want to fuck C, but M hates C’s guts, and that might lead to something super difficult. But it also might lead to something super fun.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I could only really enjoy Chandler and Phoebe. I liked the whole “people just show up and you have time to enjoy their company” thing that the show had going on, don’t get me wrong… but my circle has gentrified.

                I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t watch Friends today.

                I mean, watching the Kingpin and Vanessa go on a date is almost too stressful for me.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                I hate will they or won’t they stories. I find romance involving an actual couple in a relationship to be a lot more interesting. Love geometry is similarly boring.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t know if I could watch “Mad About You” today, either.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @leeesq —

                Love geometry is similarly boring.

                You’re doing it wrong.

                (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                As an aside, it would be pretty cool if some show had a crime fighting duo who hooked up from time to time, but where it wasn’t a super big deal. Like, intimacy is really nice, but neither is “the one,” so they make it work.

                You could even make them full-on poly. That would be cool.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oooh! And then one of them could find that the other dated an anti-hero? And then they could be all “I don’t mind that you date other people, but you dated *HER*?” “You don’t get to run my life!” “I’m not trying to run your life! I don’t own you! But I can’t believe that you would have dated *HER*.”

                Then they can make all of the other superheroes pick a side.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @jaybird — Heh. That’s a little bit too much like real life. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Finally! A post to rehabilitate My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Secretly Schilling’s most favoritest movie.Report

              • Never seem it but it does have one heckuva cast. And when it comes to Wilsons, I’d take Luke and Rainn over Owen any day. In fact, I’d take Woodrow over Owen.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                And Flip probably would have kept his promise and kept us out of WWI.Report

              • Unless the devil made him do it.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              (And I didn’t think it was banal. I thought it was an archetype. Archetypes are awesome.)Report

            • Which, I’m sure I can take things you like and make them sound frightfully banal, by abstracting out all the qualities and particulars, and just lining up the dominoes that have to fall.

              There’s this nut chasing this big fish but it gets away.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Romance might be hard to strictly separate from sexuality but that hasn’t prevented humans for trying desperately to do so.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I apologize in advance for the continuation of the bad language but, more importantly, I apologize that this one took me a couple of days to come up with.


      “Sometimes a motherfucker is just a motherfucker.”Report

  11. Avatar RTod says:

    I just wanted to say how very much I loved this post. All of it. From tip to toe.Report

  12. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    On religion in Daredevil in particular:

    I’m not a Catholic, but I do come from a Catholic Family. I listen to my aunt practice for her church choir. I’ve been to Catholic Mass, Catholic Weddings, and Catholic Funerals. I’ve had deep conversations with my Catholic family members about their faith.

    And I just don’t recognize Frank Miller’s portrayal of Catholicism as anything like the Catholicism I’ve come into contact with. To my family, Catholicism is a blessing. It may be a responsibility, but it is one enjoyed, one that connects them with the majesty of god’s creation and the miracle of human existence.

    To Daredevil (and presumably to Frank Miller) Catholicism is a curse. It is pain and torture. The Netflix Daredevil series draws mostly from Miller, but in ways that are a lot more compatible with my family’s view of Catholicism. In the Netflix series, it’s clear that the pain and guilt is something that Matt Murdock brings into the church with him. In a series where practically every other set is dark and grim or bright but sterile, the church is a scene of light and color, with flower bushes outside and stained-glass windows within.

    Anyone else here at OT Catholic or Catholic-adjacent? I’d love to see what other people think about this issue.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I told Maribou about this comment and she said “Vatican II”. She went on to say that she didn’t know when you were born but she’s pretty sure that Frank Miller is older than all of us and that might explain it. (Note: Frank Miller was born in 1957. He’s 58 years old.)

      I was not raised Catholic, but pretty hardcore evangelical… for what it’s worth, *I* recognize the religion that Frank Miller is talking about. I wouldn’t call it a curse or torture. Pain? Eh, maybe. I don’t resent it for that, though.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        And Vatican II was called in 1959 (!) and held from 1962 (!) until December 1965 (!).

        I remember reading something that Jerry Pournelle said back when he was talking about his (and Niven’s) book Escape From Hell: it was something to the effect of how when he and Niven wrote Inferno, they hadn’t fully understood Vatican II yet. Inferno came out in 1976.

        So because I’m willing to take that anecdote and apply it to Frank Miller’s experience, I’m going to say that Frank Miller had done his internalization of Catholicism prior to Vatican II being processed by the church.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          That makes quite a bit of sense. The major catholic influences on my family (even the ones prior to 1959) were certainly aligned with the philosophies that drove Vatican II.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Frank Miller was also raised in an Irish Catholic family. After the Potato Famine, Irish Catholicism embraced the more strict and fatalistic aspects of Catholicism. This is kind of natural. The Catholicism of other countries like Italy or Portugal tended to be flashier and more joyous.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Alan Scott: In the Netflix series, it’s clear that the pain and guilt is something that Matt Murdock brings into the church with him. In a series where practically every other set is dark and grim or bright but sterile, the church is a scene of light and color, with flower bushes outside and stained-glass windows within.

      As I have said, I still haven’t gotten to the series yet, but this strikes me as a great observation, and makes me more interested than I was already.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      I was raised Catholic (and was born after Vatican II) I’m not so sure anything of this is a ‘Vatican II’ thing, and just more of a ‘Frank Miller’ thing. Plus there’s such a variety of Catholic symbology and intellectual thought, spread out as it has been over 2000 years and 4 or 5 different hegemonist cultures, that one can appropriate from that pool anything at all and be recognizably Catholic, but very distinct on what other people would chose and still be recognizably Catholic.

      There was sort of the same critique, but in the ‘opposite’ direction when Kevin Smith made Dogma. (and with his famous love of the comic book genre, Kevin Smith obviously is familiar with Frank Miller’s work – though it doesn’t seem to me to have influenced it much, staying much more in the golden age/silver age boundaries when Smith inserts pop culture references into his own work).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The Catholicism practiced by the Irish is different than the one practiced by the Italians, which isn’t the same thing that the Filipinos do.Report