Psychological realism in the superhero genre; is it possible? Is it worth bothering with?
For example, here's an argument
* that Tim Burton's Batman films actually work a lot better than Christopher Nolan's, since Michael Keaton's Batman lives in a world so flamboyant and over-the-top that dressing up as a giant bat and beating up muggers really doesn't make him noticeably weirder than anyone else, but Christian Bale's seems to live in a realistic city in which normal people do normal things, but there is inexplicably not as much of a "WTF?!" response to the costumed vigilante as there should be. Definitely got a point here, and there were moments during "The Dark Knight" in which I, for one, was jarred by Gotham City looking so damn normal
So, are superheroes the kind of genre, like fairy tales or grand opera, which are essentially so trippy and strange that attempting to introduce common sense is missing the whole point, and running with the trippy strangeness is a far better idea? Let's consider a few examples.
is entirely based around introducing psychological realism to the superhero genre, and then following the ensuing geopolitical trainwreck. It works so damn well because we have a historical context for the existence of masked vigilantes, which explains why on earth someone might conceivably end up doing that.
has not been doing too badly at it**; I'm wondering if it's managed to do that because it's dumped quite a lot of the genre tropes, most notably costumes, codenames and secret identities.
- Strontium Dog
has taken the same basic concept as X-Men
, but by playing the anti-mutant bigotry and the mutants' responses to it as something much more like real-world bigotry, has transformed the concept into sci-fi - pulpy, space operatic sci-fi that is not afraid of the crack, to be sure, but not really a superhero story any more.
, on the other hand, has kicked psychological realism in the face and thrown a car at its head, and is pure liquid awesome
as a result.
I'd be inclined to say that either approach can work, but has its risks: psychologically realistic superheroes can work, but they either need an awful lot of context establishing for them, in order to make dressing up with a costume and mask and fighting crime look less WTF-worthy, or they just need those tropes quietly discarding. Taking the crackiness and running with it is by no means an easier alternative; it can give you Nextwave
, or it can give you the Goddamn Batman.
Personally, I'm inclined to stop worrying and love the crack; it's kind of hit and miss, but it's so damn awesome when it hits.
*Originally discovered following a link from Slacktivist
, from what was originally a rather fine take-down of the seething stew of bad writing, bad research and bad theology that is the Left Behind
series. The superhero conversation starts on page 2 of the comments.
at its height, I mean; leaving aside the regrettable plot lapses in which entire seasons have degenerated into the passing around of the Stupid Ball and the Evil Stick in some sort of game of Stupid-Evil Lacrosse.