Modern culture is making it very difficult for people to write superheroes.
I like to start out my articles with a strong statement because it gets the thesis out there for the world to see rather quickly. We live in selfish times. In this day and age, just about anything we could want is at our fingertips. Comparison shopping for computers or tools or just about anything has gone out the window. Just visit Amazon and have it shipped to your doorstep within two days at most. Midnight releases for new video games are a thing of the past. When Mass Effect 2 came out. I was discussing the previous game with other gamers for two hours before getting my hands on it. For Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I’ll be sitting in my office chair waiting for it to unlock on Steam.
This mentality stretches to comic books as well. The city I live in doesn’t have a local comic shop, so if I want to read a comic I use Comixology. Most of my favorite comic book runs of all time are readily available on that platform, whereas trying to buy physical copies would be an absolute nightmare. The downside to all this is that as a society we never really consider what this does to our attitude. Now, I’m not a Luddite. I certainly would never like to see these modern conveniences go away. I’m just as guilty of shopping at Amazon as anyone else. I simply don’t think people are conscious of what’s going on around them.
As a society, we’re becoming much more insular and much less concerned with positive traits. We seem to think that instant gratification is a wholly positive thing. Not so much the case. As a culture, heroism and self-sacrifice have become hampering to people. Truth and justice has become treated as something that’s relative as opposed to static. These sorts of cultural ideas, intermixed with many of the postmodern ideas and extreme political ideas that current comic writers embrace, lead to an erosion in the ability to write a superhero. When things such as selfishness, self-centeredness, and other negative traits have been twisted into something positive, what can be considered heroic at that point in the mind of the writer? Is heroism even really possible, or is it considered a part of a bygone age? From my observation, it’s considered the latter.
Let’s contrast a couple of events that are similar in execution but the minutiae of what is said by the character tells a much larger story. There’s a scene in the 2010 Avengers story “Red Zone” where the arrival of The Avengers is signaled by Captain America picking up a young boy whose mother just died in front of him. His first action is to take the child up in his arms and state, “I promise you son, we’re going to get you home.” In that moment, the only person on Steve Roger’s mind is that child. He’s brought his team to the situation not for personal glory, but to protect the people of his country. He is not the priority. He’s there to do a job.
Now, let’s look at the now infamous America Chavez. In the first issue of Gabi Rivera’s solo run for the character, we see Chavez save the lives of a few younger alien kids by stopping a rather large boulder from hitting them. Afterwards, she takes a moment – not to really inquire about their safety, but only to remind them to follow her on social media.
Let that sink in for a bit. The first thing to come to the character’s mind was basically “don’t forget to follow me on not-Twitter.” Speaking as someone who has a presence on social media, I can tell you right now that there’s not a single thing about Twitter that is selfless. It’s something that inflates egos. That little number that shows how many people like reading your small snippets of thought makes you feel more important than you are.
I don’t believe that this is simply something that can be thrown at the feet of social justice warriors or anything along those lines. At least not completely. I think it’s a sign of the times. The more insular we become, the more selfish and the more egotistical, we lose sight of what heroism is. When we lose sight of it, how can we expect anyone to really write about it. Should we be surprised that many of the younger writers that Marvel or DC bring on write characters that have no sense of self sacrifice or how to check their ego? Beyond that, even have an idea of what rights are and why they exist? It’s hard to write a character when you have no concept about why they are the way they are, or if you think those ideas are antiquated and not worth learning about.
What the industry needs more than ever is the return of the hero. We don’t need any more stories about social media, or digs at political candidates. We don’t need people in spandex that are so self-obsessed that they come across as dorks at best or villainous at worst. These sorts of stories aren’t the ones that entertain. These aren’t the stories that stand the test of time. It shouldn’t be a secret why films like The Avengers or other MCU films hold special places with audiences. These basic ideas of heroism resound within a part of humanity that isn’t focused on what’s immediate, but with what is possible given the right push. The type of spirit that’s embodied when you see Captain America leap on a grenade not knowing it’s a dud, or Spider-Man entering an alien ship knowing it may end with his doom.
Heroes inspire us to be more than what we are, to go the extra mile. Focusing on Snapchat certainly won’t get us there. For the writing in comics to improve, we need to see more writers focus on these uniting ideas, not the divisive political elements or pandering to millennials.