On the State of Our Heroes

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Brian, our admin for the Iconic Flash page, shares his thoughts on superheroes today:

On the State of Our Heroes

The word hero has stood out as someone who is willing to give him or herself to a larger cause, larger then themselves. These heroes have ingrained themselves in our collective minds whether they be real of fictitious. A hero might be a soldier who stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate France from the Tyranny of the Nazis, a writer who opens the minds of thousands of people to inspire change, or a parent who gives their life to their children. When we think of the word Superhero what comes to mind is usually selfless heroes striving to make the world a better place in extreme circumstances using extraordinary powers and abilities.

Think of your childhood. Did you have superhero wallpaper? Did you run around your backyard with a towel on your back pretending it was a cape? Maybe you had a poster with your favorite superhero, or a team of them, sheets, blankets, action figures, statues, T-shirts, or the most obvious, comic books…Lot and lots of comic books. When we looked to these larger than life characters they were something we stared at with imagination and awe. They were men and women that gave themselves to a cause, driven by some event in their life, or maybe just because they wanted to do what was right. They fought the bad guys, overcame conflicts, had personal problems, but at the end of the day they got overcame their conflicts and they liked being them…with the notable exception of Batman depending on the writer, he wanted to be Barry Allen. Where did it go wrong? When were heroes not heroes anymore? Why have movies, TV, comics, and other forms of media created this monster that is darkness in our heroes? (To which there are exceptions)

To begin let us examine the Marvel Universe. From the early 60’s through the early 2000’s Marvel heroes remained steadfast with little change. Good writers and good artists made good stories, or great stories, with great characters. As with the rest of comics the 90’s anti-hero fad hit Marvel, sometimes there were way too many X-Men titles, but these characters were iconic. The beginning of this darkness in our heroes began with what appeared at the time to be a great fresh start. Brian Michael Bendis ended the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In a 4-issue arc Avengers Disassembled ripped the classic team apart with Scarlett Witch losing control of her powers and creating the ultimate nightmare for our heroes. In the process of her uncontrollable power surge she killed Ant-Man (Scott Lang), Vision, and perhaps most shocking of all, Hawkeye. This shake up put Avengers ahead of X-Men on the sale charts for the first time since the 70’s. It has stayed that way too. The Avengers returned with idea that the most popular heroes of Marvel need to be on the team, just like Stan Lee’s mentality of the 60’s. Cap, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine, Spider Woman, Luke Cage, the mysterious Sentry, and later Echo, the Daredevil character, under the disguise of Ronin. Later Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, and a resurrected Clint Barton as Ronin would join the team.

As much as it boosted sales, and the premise was interesting it started the dangerous idea that there needs to be a massive Marvel crossover every year. Comics are a business, and most understand this. It is the premise set by Civil War that created the idea of heroes not fighting the bad guys, but heroes fighting heroes. It would have been fine if it was put out there, some interesting side stories, a few years of continuity, and here comes Galactus. Let’s work together because that is how this works best. But after it was World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Siege, and perhaps most disappointing of all, Avengers vs. X-Men. Several other stories were in there as well but are irrelevant and or poorly executed.

These heroes are fighting each other? Isn’t that the formula for Marvel and DC crossovers? They don’t know each other, and it is essentially meant to answer all the questions fans have been asking for years (Superman or Thor, Batman or Cap), but they put aside their egos and differences to work together in the end. With these Marvel events, they know and respect one another. They have saved the world together. Conflict, especially internal conflict, is interesting, but it does not have to be the premise of every crossover. At what point does Doom say to the other Marvel baddies, “lets just wait this out and we’ll split up the world once they take each other out”. Isn’t that what led to the Thunderbolts /Masters of Evil under Baron Zemo not winning the world in issue #12? Isn’t that why the brotherhood never wins? Isn’t that why it never works out to well for the Sinister Six? Bad guys can’t work together as a result of power or ego. Shouldn’t we expect more from our heroes?

DC Comics, the publishers of the likes of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, and so many more. From Crisis to Crisis the charters may have undergone fundamental changes to keep up with the times, but they always remained the heroes we remember them as. That is until Flashpoint and the creation of the New 52.

When word hit the streets that Barry Allen was going to return it was a celebrated day, especially by the author of this article. As time went on his origin was darkened. His arm broken, his house burned, his childhood dog killed, and his mother murdered, all by a villain he didn’t know yet. While this makes sense that his arch- enemy, The Reverse Flash, would be able to manipulate time and hurt his hated foe, it fundamentally changed who Barry is and why he fights. Barry was a kid who loved comics, had a happy childhood with two loving parents, was great at his job, had a loving girlfriend/wife, and fought the bad guys because he was given power and wanted to do the right thing with it. He didn’t need an origin darker than Batman to fight Captain Cold and the Rogues, or make him a more interesting character.

This change was only the beginning. In an attempt to save his mother Barry goes back in time and changed time itself, creating an alternate timeline that sees a world on the brink of apocalypse. Amazon’s are fighting Atlantis, Superman captured by the government at his landing, Bruce killed and Thomas is a more violent Batman. This would have made an interesting story, much like Age of Apocalypse over at Marvel, if things had gone back to a relative norm. Instead we are given the New 52.

Barry in an attempt to “fix” his mistake, re wrote the timeline. While he had memories of the “old” DCU apparently he remembered nothing of his own life. While Batman and Green Lantern continued nearly unchanged (the dominate selling DC books of the time) the rest of the DCU was altered. Barry was no longer married or even dating Iris (who was his lighting rod), Wally was nowhere to be seen, Jay was off on Earth 2 getting his powers from the Greek Gods, no Johnny, Jesse, Max, no Flash Family.

Most disappointing of this change was the effect on the Man of Steel. In the place of a kind hearted, warm, hero was a darker, angrier, distant man in a high collared suit made of armor. There have been glimpses of out iconic hero, but as time goes he is fading more and more into an abyss of negativity. What inspired this article was my son. As he crept up behind me I was staring at an article on the Superman Homepage. It was about the current arc. On the picture was a man wearing an S-shield shirt, had a buzz cut, was jumping into a fight with his torn cape around his fists, and blood. He said “Daddy, that’s not Superman, that’s a bad guy”.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. My 3-year-old son thinks the ultimate hero is the bad guy. It got me to thinking if I had just seen this image with no prior knowledge I would be thinking roughly the same thing. Since Convergence we have a Superman that enjoys fighting, rides a motorcycle, hates Lois Lane for exposing him, looks like a common criminal, is hated by more than half the public, and is wanted by the police after being exposed as Clark Kent. It is maddening. Except for Aquaman finally getting his due, I have never been a fan of the New 52. But now that our children are growing up these are the comics they will ask to read. These images are what they will see as heroes. These publically hated, violent, armored overlords are not heroes.

The DC movie Universe is another way of ruining heroes. In Man of Steel tens of thousands of men, women, and children die during Zod’s attack. Does “Superman” take the fight elsewhere to avoid more damage? No. He uses what buildings are left to throw Zod into. He avoids objects being thrown at him and letting more collateral damage happen. And after half the city is in ruins it is the lives on a few people that inspire him to end Zod. Perhaps worst of all is the kiss shared between Lois and Superman on the ruins and ashen bodies of Metropolis. Now this “Superman” will be fighting Batman in the sequel causing even more destruction.

When your children look on their walls, in their comics, play with action figures, or watch movies or TV shows what kind of heroes will they see? The kind we want them to grow up to be, or what all parents fear, a destructive bully above the law. The time has come to do what out founders did. Boycott. Publishers will never get the message if we keep buying out of habit. If we keep soaking up the brand names because we have fond memories, or we think, “maybe it will get better” is not an option anymore. Comics are for everyone. Everyone includes our children who like us, want to look up to something larger than ourselves, put a towel around our neck, and dream that we too can become heroes.

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