The writers of today’s superhero stories don’t believe in the iconic superhero. Look what Zach Snyder was allowed to do with Superman, Batman, and the Justice League. Watchmen has become the standard for how superheroes are depicted. At least the MCU has stayed true to its roots though that’s slowly changed over the years as well, just not in a cynical sense. It seems only superhero shows for kids are willing to let superheroes be heroic. The biggest superhero show right now is Amazon Prime’s The Boys, where the premiere superhero team are really a bunch of jackasses who are really good at hiding it from the general public.
Unless you go to Japan. Tiger And Bunny had superheroes who still wanted to save people and make the world a better place, and I need to watch more episodes of that. Then you have My Hero Academia, a show about training young superheroes and what it truly means to be a hero. Then you have your Kamen Riders, your Ultramen, your sentai/Power Rangers…they may not be traditional Western type superheroes like Tiger And Bunny or My Hero Academia but they still count. Even Spider-Man got his own giant robot in Japan…at least on television. The manga is a lot different.
This is my first exposure to MelinaPendulum (aka Princess Weekes I think) but she has a really good video examining the phenomenon of the more cynical hero versus the more optimistic view of superheroes by comparing The Boys and My Hero Academia as they are the two most prominent examples of superhero stories whose theme is about being a hero. I have some thoughts of my own on the matter. Obviously to those of you who have been here a while. Some swearing in the video.
Our political views aside (this isn’t the site to discuss such things) I have zero interest in The Boys in either in comics or show form. The story doesn’t just bash superheroes, it outright rejects the notion that people with superpowers would want to use those abilities to help others without trying to control them, which is Superman’s whole worldview. The Seven are more akin to the Greek gods, which is why I reject superheroes, especially the inspirational and aspirational DC heroes like Superman, being treated as modern gods. They have great powers but Homelander, Zeus, and their respective pals play with humanity while the DC heroes seek to protect humans so they can go about their daily lives. They don’t try to control anyone and in fact Superman realizes he actually can’t do that.
He can stop people from doing certain things but for the kind of fascist dictator people who don’t understand Superman want to push him into that requires complete control…but doesn’t actually solve the problem of why people fight or do horrible things. He wants to solve problems by making lives better, not the delusion of a better life. You solve racism for example by convincing people race is not a factor in anything besides what coloring pencil you use. That’s why I reject stories where Lois’s death lead to him becoming a dictator (which the DCAU also did in a parallel universe) because Clark’s morality isn’t tied to Lois; it’s tied to the teachings of his adoptive parents and the people around him growing up, while Barry “The Flash” Allen was inspired by tales of a man who also used his powers to combat evil.
That was my problem with the Cadmus storyline. What the scene she uses fails to acknowledge is that Amanda Waller wasn’t just policing superheroes. She wasn’t even going after the supervillains. Galataia especially came into the story when Supergirl was having psychic visions of her clone, made from DNA taken at a moment when she was at her most vulnerable since being being locked in a cryogenic tube because not-Power Girl was killing enemies of Cadmus…people without superpowers. Waller was running a “shadow cabinet” and whose to say she would send Galataia and her knockoff super friends against anyone, including other nations, Waller’s control freak version of fanatic patriotism (I say this as a proud American) deems a threat. Not to mention that while the superheroes are their own group they may love their home country or planet but won’t play favorites like Waller’s play-dough superheroes would and this could lead to a superhero arms race as various countries create their own superteams just to protect against Waller sending her “heroes” in. That’s how the nuclear arms race currently operates.
However my biggest issue was that this wasn’t what I go to superheroes for. There were episodes questioning morality, but I think the Justice Lords worked better towards that end, even if I don’t buy the Flash’s death causing them to go fascist any more than I do Lois’s. As a mirror universe of sorts, like the Crime Syndicate of Earth 3 or the Quad Super fiends from Superfriends, it works. Something like the Superman story with the Elite also plays well into the discussion of when does the hero become as dangerous as the villain? The whole Cadmus season was decent storytelling and I would never say its bad, but it did rub me the wrong way as this cynical view of superheroes isn’t in line with the DC multiverse or why I prefer DC over Marvel.
I want my heroes to be better than people, not emulate them. Again with the Greek pantheon, they represent the worst aspects of humanity, as do the Watchmen (or whatever that team was called), the boys, and characters by the Plutonian. I see in kids that love of heroes not only because of their powers but because of what they do with those powers. Having superhuman abilities does not make them superheroes. Supervillains have superhuman abilities as well. What makes them heroes are what they do with those powers and those are the stories I want to see, the ones that don’t ignore the worst of humanity–you can have fallen heroes and reformed villains–but don’t insist it’s the norm of humanity and instead push us to be like those heroes because of what they do with the abilities you have. Superman is honestly moved by people who don’t have his powers doing the right thing despite lacking those powers, whether it’s a little girl fighting a disease, a boy pushing back against a bully and animal murderer, two kids wanting to help with their computer skills (I need to get to those), or people coming together to stop mobsters trying to destroy a neighborhood as part of a land grab, all of them inspired by Superman to do great things without great powers. I just can’t accept a story that rejects if not outright mocks everything I love about superheroes. Superheroes are fictional, and in fiction the world can be anything you want, without being tied to even a cynical view of the world.
So maybe I really need to finally find time to watch My Hero Academia. Let’s see there are…63 episodes and counting. That could take a while. I’ve also notice that the comic is taking pop shots from the anti-hero crowd or those who insist every superhero story be a political tirade or just hate that it’s popular and make it a target. Accusations abound that I won’t get into here but there are attempts to shut this series down, and I think its that the show still believe in larger-than-life superheroes that don’t play to the Watchmen cynicism and that can’t be allowed. This makes me sad since apparently people not only want to believe that badly that humans are terrible but will work hard to almost seem to keep us that way. That’s why I reject antiheroes, cynical views of heroes, and the insistence on destructing tropes that are no longer the mainstream of superhero stories. It’s the polar opposite of what a superhero story is to me (I don’t like “should” so I won’t say “should be”) and why I love those stories so much. I like my superheroes to actually heroes. It’s like that’s what the world means or something.