Robot 6

Quote of the day | Ed Brubaker on superheroes, violence, and the villainy of closure

Captain America and Bucky discuss their relationship

[I've] pretty much been given free rein on Captain America and Daredevil and all the stuff I’ve written for [Marvel] to do whatever I do because they like what I do. Still, I know what I’m doing. I know the superhero comic has to have a fight in it. I know there has to be a bad guy. I know that at the end of the day, the problem will not be solved by talking about it but will be solved by two people punching each other in the face. Although I have gotten away with letting the bad guys win a lot of the time, which is more true, I think.

David Milch said, when he created Deadwood, that part of Deadwood was wanting to exorcise — I think he worked on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, and he thought it was bullshit that every week they were solving crimes when in the real world people were always getting away with it. He wanted to do something about crime the way crime really is, where crime is corruption and crime is behind everything. It’s much more about what’s really going on in our country right now, where Bill Clinton deregulates the media and now we have seven companies that basically own America. Sometimes when I’m writing a superhero story I wonder if they really have to punch each other in the face. Is that really going to solve anything? I feel the same way sometimes when I watch episodes of Law & Order. I’m like, “Yeah, right. You found the sex offender and now everything is fine.” TV is big on closure, but I think closure is horseshit in real life. I’m still haunted by stuff I did in my teen years when I think about it too much.

There’s a lot to chew on and pick apart and mull over in Tom Spurgeon’s long, fascinating interview with writer Ed Brubaker on the occasion of the launch of the next installment of his and Sean Phillips’s crime comic Criminal this week, but this is the passage that jumped out to me. I’ve often said that the core idea behind superhero stories is “extraordinary individuals solving problems through violence”; now that I think about it, what sets Brubaker’s Captain America and many of his other superhero comics apart is that the violence committed by their extraordinary individuals tends not to solve much of anything.

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6 Comments

So that’s why superhero comics are boring now? To be more like the real world? Sorry, but I don’t read guys in tights fighing space zombie mutants for a reality check. I’ll take my Atomic Robo and have some fun instead.

Like Nik, I read superhero and adventure comics for fun, imaginative stories, mostly. However, if someone were able to incorporate the idea that “crime is corruption and crime is behind everything” into a superhero story, I would find that a much more satisfying story, especially since so many superhero comics want to be more serious and reflect things from real life. I tend to see corruption (especially at high levels) as the biggest problem in our society, too. Superheroes, even the grittier ones, tend to be about solving threats that come from outside, and returning things to the healthy status quo. There’s a lot less to root for in that kind of story if you think the status quo isn’t healthy to start with.

Simon DelMonte

May 31, 2011 at 10:21 am

This might be why I find Ed’s less mainstream stuff more compelling. We really do read Marvel and DC superhero comics to see the good guys win. And I also think that the better heroes in those lines don’t win merely through throwing punches. Or at least they shouldn’t. So there is going to be a tension in his books that I ultimately get tired of.

But when he’s off the usual page, be it in a book like Gotham Central or Catwoman where the core of the comic is more corrupt to start with, he keeps me engaged longer. And of course with books like Sleeper and Criminal and Incognito, there are no rules. Though I would add that Sleeper does have violence achieving at least one goal, and does have closure. Albeit of the sort that fits a darker world view.

This is why I DO like Brubaker’s work. He’s doing something different. A lot of the more “realistic” stuff is just code for “dark and broody and violent” but basically with the same types of structures. Heaven forbid we put different expectations on mainstream comics. Nope, one type of comic can only be this type and the other type of story can only be that type. Safe and easy is it for me. I want to be spoon fed the same slop every day because it’s what I expect and it’s what I’ve had before and it was good enough for me then so it’s good enough for me now. Christ.

No offense, but Brubaker sounds to me like he’s getting tired of writing superheroes. OK for him, but then move on to another genre, don’t just attack one which you know is supposed to work in a specific way. It’s like complaining that bad things happen to people in horror stories. Well, duh.

(And he picked a really bad example: Law & Order is one of the few shows where the point that everything is NOT OK in the end is often made, and more often than not, they just cut off when they catch the criminal, instead of going on to explore the consequences -because, guess what, that’s NOT what the audience wants to see, not because the writers ignore them.)

As for superheroes almost always solving everything through violence, that is true but hello, isn’t that largely the same on all adventure fiction? Myths, Westerns, Crime Drama, and more do it. If anything, superheroes at least use fantastic, non-imitable forms of violence (or they did before antiheroes became popular.) And if their use of violence doesn’t lead to permanent changes, it’s because the Status Quo always resets itself (another comics trope) not because it’s ‘unrealistic’. Besides, should superhero comics be the place to learn about real life? I thought they were about escaping from it.

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