I have been reading a collection of short stories about original superheroes.
It’s mostly something I’ve been reading on trains, which means that I haven’t finished and on some trips I’m only able to get about a page in before the person next to me starts a conversation. There are some people who hate talking on trains, would prefer to stare at the ground, and some who enjoy it, and I think I fall somewhere in the middle because if a conversation is good, I don’t see why I shouldn’t try to keep it going. Anyway, superheroes.
We can’t always rely on the ones that we’re familiar with because they’re owned by companies and while there are a lot of incredible comic book writers out there who tell important stories, the characters are still things that are subjected to the whims of the writers and directors who shouldn’t be touching them in the first place. For instance, Zack Snyder has no business telling any kind of Superman story, and yet, two movies later, here we are. We end up with conflicting character traits, especially when those characters possessing them have been around for in some cases over 75 years. That’s a long time for anything to be in the hands of pop culture.
That doesn’t mean that I think people should stop reading DC or Marvel comics, or that we should avoid any of the blockbuster superhero movies that are coming out (Captain America: Civil War drops this Friday and I’m going). But I think that it’s important to broaden our horizons a little bit.
So I’ve been reading this collection of short stories, and I’m enjoying it because I like superheroes, I like stories that play with established traditions, and it’s genuinely enjoyable. Short stories are easily consumed; it might be different if I were reading a novel about an original superhero because while it can be done, I think it would leave a lot more opportunities to have logic gaps than the tightness of a short story offers (do you wonder about the circumstances of a world in a short story? You can’t—you know the author doesn’t have the time to give you more information than what’s necessary, and you accept that with willing suspension of disbelief). I also didn’t know that Scott Snyder had a story in it when I picked it up, so that was a really pleasant surprise when I ran down the table of contents. (It’s another of the million free books I’ve picked up, for the record.)
We’re at an interesting point in our history where it seems like we might be on the verge of something awful: the Panama Papers were released, providing information about widespread political and monetary corruption; Donald Trump is without a doubt going to be the Republican presidential candidate; while some parts of the U.S. are moving forward with civil rights laws, others are literally keeping people from being able to use public restrooms on account of their genitals; gun violence is in no way slowing down; and opioid deaths are skyrocketing in most of the country. There is no promise that things are looking up—even the environment is in danger thanks to fracking and pollution. And you know what people need at a time like this?
They don’t need Superman saying, “Not everybody can stay good forever,” that’s for sure. He’s Superman; the whole point is that he’s supposed to be good when nobody else can be.
When traditional superheroes aren’t offering the kind of emotional support people need anymore, it might be time for young writers to create their own. Not all of the heroes in the collection I’m reading right now are good people, and some of them barely count as “heroes,” but at least, for the most part, you can laugh along with reading about them. What kind of hero do people today need?
It’s a good question. I guess the best answer is the heroes we write for ourselves.