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May 21, 2012

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Mac

I don't think yelling at people is ever a good idea, but I think if someone just says "Superheroes are juvenile" and stops there, I would completely understand a hostile reaction to that. If someone writes out an argument in support of that contention, then they've earned engagement. I'm mostly tired of superheroes myself as well, but I've grown to strongly dislike the internet tradition of dangling provocative unsupported statements out there and then being shocked when people take exception.

Isaac

Mac,

Well, but here's the thing... I understand where you're coming from in general but not, specifically, with this. And I say this as someone who has spent lots of time reading and loving superhero comics as an adult.

The vast majority of super hero comics are created for and marketed to teenage and pre-teen boys. They may have content that is designed to appeal to adult readers-- some of them, anyway-- but that doesn't mean they aren't created for juveniles. Doesn't that make them, well... kinda juvenile by definition? Again, as I say in the conversation, that doesn't mean that that juvenilia can't explore more mature thematic content in interesting ways, but isn't it still juvenile?

Mac

What I would says is, just in that comment, you made an argument. You defined terms and offered some support. In a genuine argument on the subject I'd want more, but this meets at least the minimum definition. You didn't assume that there was a default position and the burden of proof falls on anyone who opposes it.

Isaac

I see what you're saying. I'd also say that in the column Laura's talking about here she didn't say they were juvenile, she just said she wasn't going to include them.

Sam Thielman

I think that one of the biggest problems with contemporary superhero comic books is that they're *not* created for teenagers and children. They're written for twenty- and thirtysomething men in a serious state of arrested development, to be read, ideally, after the reader has consumed every previous issue of the series and all related series. I can't remember the last time I saw a kid in a comic book store, which is deeply disturbing, considering how much business those places do in toys.

For me, the better superhero comics are those written with children in mind—Scott McCloud's "Superman Adventures" has some great sci-fi elements in it and does quite a bit with the medium. Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse's "Tom Strong" is a fine example of a kid-focused comic with a lot on its mind and some serious, if tacit, expectations of maturity on the part of the reader. Garth Ennis's runs on "Preacher" and "The Boys," on the other hand, elicit, whether intentionally or not, a whole range of really uncharitable feelings—sneering bigotry, self-pity, crude scorn. That's more the norm, from my perspective.

All of this is to say that superhero comics, like any genre, are more or less what the writers and artists make of them. I think it's much too simple to say that they're all "fantasies of mastery." "Watchmen" is about the consequences of trying to master the universe; "The Sandman" is about the impossibility of change; Grant Morrison's run on "Doom Patrol" is about the necessity of self-improvement.

Which is not to deny that there's a really repellent, macho subculture around mainstream superhero comics that is frequently abetted by publishers, just to say that there's more nuance, especially in the most influential corners of that little world.

Sam Thielman

(also, great interview)

Isaac

Thanks, Sam! I love doing interviews and hope to do them more regularly.

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