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So I have been reading the Birds of Prey comics for the last week or so, and I've been really enjoying them, more than I was expecting to. I'm kind of surprised by the fact that so many of these DC heroes are, well, without powers. I kind of assumed that the super part of a superhero required one to have powers. (Or X-tra power, as Professor Xavier would say). I don't think I'm even aware of a Marvel hero without superpowers.

Also surprised that the level of heroic morality seems to be archaic to me. It makes me think of the very early X-men comics I read that made me want to pull out my hair. There was a scene where the Hellfire club tried to kill all of the X-men, and the X-men took them all out with the exception of Emma Frost. Storm had to be stopped from killing Emma, and Emma told them all that she was going to come kill them all at a future date as soon as she was done building the club again. And then they all just stood there and let her walk out, and I could not figure out why in the hell would they let her go. Because they're heroes, that's why!!! And then there was the scene where Wolverine actually stabbed Rachel to keep her from sullying the name of heroes everywhere by killing the very evil Selene.

Angel once said something to Connor that I kind of see as the code of Heroic Morality. He said: "It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world was what it should be, to show it what it can be." And, I think, that that's the same morality the heroes of DC comics (and Marvel comics to a lesser degree) are working from. And it's admirable, really. But, you know what? It should matter whether they make a difference or not. Heroism shouldn't be about being all holier-than-thou and proving to the world that you're better than them. It should be, first and foremost, about making a difference. Because these heroes live as if the world were an ideal place, they neglect the real problems. There's a level of delusion that goes into their morality that allows them to let the Hellfire Club (or Cassandra Nova) walk away.

I think that the X-men comics, at least, have gotten away from this a little. Which I really enjoy. I think that Grant Morrison is largely responsible for bringing this bit of realism to the X-men comics and getting the heroes away from their delusions of a perfect world. Kitty might hate it, but I love Emma’s random suggestions to kill people once in a while. Not that I think that they should kill everyone evil, but as Emma said about Cassandra Nova: "There are some things you just shouldn’t be allowed to get away with." And, yeah.

I know that a lot of people dislike Emma (and Huntress, who is not nearly as hardcore as Emma Frost, in the DC comics from what I’ve read) because of this gray morality. But I think that people like Emma are what allow people like Batman and Scott Summers to be heroic and hold on to their sense of morality. It’s because people like Emma are willing to do the dirty work for the heroic community that they can pretend to be high and mighty with their refusal to kill evil, evil villains who continue to kill. And, of course, in return these people get shunned by the heroic community. This attitude is also carried over to the fandom where most people just don’t understand how anyone can like Emma when she’s such an evil, evil bitch.

While skimming through Alan Moore’s "The Killing Joke," I was baffled by Jim Gordon demanding that Batman bring Joker back to him unharmed to put in jail so they could show him that the LAW still works. This psycho just shot his daughter, and he is worried about showing him up. Yeah, that kind of morality is just beyond me. In the real world, I can admire this. In fiction, for me, it often makes for boring, stoic heroes that I just don’t understand.


Birds of Prey review: issues 56-75.

As I suspected I would, I like Huntress the best. I just can't resist mentally/emotionally unstable dark characters. And in comics, I enjoy characters with a sense of moral ambiguity. What did surprise me is that I'm really enjoying the other characters, too. I have a tendency to pick a character to like and then ignore everyone else.

I especially like Barbara Gordon and would definitely be interested in more of her back story. So if anyone has any recs, do share. She reminds me a bit of Jessica Jones almost, but with a very different personality.

Black Canary is also fun. I'm not really interested in her back story or in her alone as a character, but I really enjoy seeing her interact with the other two. She is a lighter personality than Helena or Barbara.

The plots are mostly fun, if a bit slow at times. I definitely like them better when we're not dealing with the random evil of the week and actually get a backstory on the evil guy. I'm *really* enjoying the "Hunt for Heroes" arc.

And more than anything else, I enjoy seeing the women interact with each other. Canon literature (and as a result much of comics and TV) is so very devoid of positive relationships between women that I have come to really appreciate what little we can get. But this series is filled with it, which I really enjoy.

Date: 2006-10-19 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with you on a lot of things about comic book heroism... It just seems like sometimes comics just didn't want to 'grow up'. I agree that Morrison did a lot for X-men by introducing the moral ambiguity there. Its for those very reasons that a lot of comics really don't appeal to me at all.

A lot of this heroic morality is rearing its ugly head in the worst way possible in Marvel's 616 universe, with all the Civil War drama going down. It's making me sick of comics in a lot of ways, with so many heroes riding their high horse and not willing to look for the root of the problem and solving that because they are too busy 'making their stand' with the supposed 'right' side.

Emma was great in that regard as she specifically manouvred the X-men to remain as neutral as they could for as long as possible (until the shit hit the fan with Lazer).

Date: 2006-10-19 01:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Moral ambiguity suggests that they know what they're doing isn't right... just practical. From that comes conflict, and the heart of EVERY good story is conflict. There is nothing interesting that doesn't come from conflict (man VS man, man VS nature, man VS self). The conflict at the heart of the CIVIL WAR storyline is about what IS right? If people die in a fight, who is responsible? On the one side, Captain America wants the freedom to help people... the registration act limits heroes freedoms and their ability to actually do their self appointed jobs. Iron Man's stance is that they wants accountablity, so that there won't be another tragedy. It's not a moral thing... both guys want to help people... it's a political thing.

Now, if you want a moral conflict, try this: The Punisher kills and tortures criminals in the most brutal and inhumane ways imaginable... is he a criminal? I guess that really depends on your own morality. It's easy to just kill a guy you know killed someone and say it's right... but are you not just as bad as him now? Whether he deserved to die or not, whether he would have killed again or not, you have taken a human life. Are you just as bad or not?

Superheroes represent an impossible fictional ideal of what we should aspire to, but don't nessessarily reflect reality. If a person got powers in reality, they wouldn't selflessly try to make the world a better place... most people are selfish by nature and think only of their own benefit... it's how we survive and prosper. That's why when a stranger stops a mugging, or pulls someone from a burning car, we call them heroes... because they've managed to meet that impossible ideal that other probably couldn't, given the chance... they put other before themselves.

"Anger is easy. Hate is easy. Vengeance and spite are easy. Lucky for you... and for me... that I don't like my heroes mean and ugly. I just don't believe in it... dreams save us, dreams life us up and transform us. And on my soul I swear... until my dream of a world where dignity, honor, and justice becomes the reality we all share-- I'll never stop fighting." -- Superman, paraphrased from ACTION COMICS #775 "What's so Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?"

Many may see it as postering, but it's something I'd like to believe in and aspire to. It's a lot cooler to see someone just fuck a guy up, but more satsifying for them to aspire to be a better human being.

Date: 2006-10-19 03:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I totally disagree with your take on the ambiguous morality of Civil War. Morality and politics are interdependent entities; one influences the other.

Something moral can become political; that's when it's taken into the public arena, like the Civil War. The morals I'm talking about aren't the specifics of 'what side is right' so much as what they are doing as an act of supporting their side.

The slaughter, the collateral damage, the unwillingness to find a solution amidst the mess other than the solution that each individual has decided is 'right'.

And both Iron Man and Captain America have made decisions based on their morals, and made these decisions political by leading their causes. Iron Man values accountability over freedom, and Captain America vice-versa.

Iron Man thinks he can save lives, his moral impetus, by making everyone accountable. He also has the secondary moral stance that the law is immutable and must be followed no matter how wrong it is. Captain America thinks that lives will be lost and injustice done if all heroes are made slaves of the government. He is also taking a second stance that when the law is wrong, you stand up and do something about it (which Americans proudly tote around on their one-page constitution as the right to bear arms; the founding fathers' intended protection of the people against governmental opression).

They both have a clear moral position: they value human lives and justice, and want to save lives and see justice done to those who abuse their rights and the rights of others by taking a stand.

Morals and values are similar constructs; morals just have the additional paradigm of good/evil alignments. Politics is something else entirely; it has to do with societal morals and values and how society wants itself constructed. Furthermore, someone's politics and their morals can be very, very different things.

There are many people who may be judged as 'evil' who's moral code and their political code are very different things.

One of the most interesting political things I find in Civil War is how the pro-registration side can justify imprisoning people off US soil without any form of trial. This is a clear parallel to Guantanamo Bay, and other such US internment facilities abroad.

Anyway... This is a huge reply, and if you wish to continue this conversation, we should do it elsewhere so as to not disrupt things in [ profile] prozakpark's journal.

Date: 2006-10-19 05:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The Punisher is just scary, and torturing is completely unneeded. I just want the heroes to be open to the possibility that they may have to kill someone in their line of work.

And, you know, I can see their side too in a way. I think Faith is an excellent example of why heroes should probably not kill because she goes completely psycho after killing someone accidentally. Some people just can't deal with that sort of darkness. But in a situation where it comes to a choice between saving the lives of hundreds of innocents by killing someone or letting the innocents die because the hero refuses to kill, I think that it would be really hard for me to not seriously dislike that hero if she/he doesn't kill the villain.

Leaving the morality out of it, I think that it's more interesting to read about characters that fall somewhere between the extremes of good and evil. Which, I think, is mostly the reason that I prefer heroes with grayer morals.

It's a lot cooler to see someone just fuck a guy up, but more satsifying for them to aspire to be a better human being.

I, for one, would probably find it very statisfying to see Barbara killing the joker. Or Jessica Jones killing the Purple Man. ;)

Superheroes represent an impossible fictional ideal of what we should aspire to, but don't nessessarily reflect reality. If a person got powers in reality, they wouldn't selflessly try to make the world a better place... most people are selfish by nature and think only of their own benefit... it's how we survive and prosper. That's why when a stranger stops a mugging, or pulls someone from a burning car, we call them heroes... because they've managed to meet that impossible ideal that other probably couldn't, given the chance... they put other before themselves.

That's a very interesting way of looking at Superheroes. And I can agree with that. This sort of characterization is a huge part of why Spiderman is probably my favorite male superhero.

I just like to see some reality injected into my comics once in a while. :)

Date: 2006-10-19 10:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There's no problem with that... I'm not saying that anyones opinion of a stoic, upright, classical superhero as boring is wrong... played straight, it IS boring. But, when done right, there's always the conflict of trying to adhere to their self inflicted morality... which is why so many villians try to push them to the breaking point (IE The Joker, Lex Luthor, etc)... the ultimate defeat for such a hero would be to force them to abandon their morality and lower themselves to the level of the people they fight... even if it means sacrificing their own lives for it.

The reason that Spider-Man is a more interesting hero than Superman (that's been my opinion for a long time) was the struggle he endures in being Spider-Man... for Superman, he has no real choice... it's how he was raised, and it's so deeply ingrained in him that he cannot change. Look at what Peter Parker did when he first got his powers... he did what any normal human being would do, and used them for self-gratification. He had no desire to help anyone but Peter Parker. Now, it's not that he wasn't raised right... he didn't turn on his classmates or immediately turn to crime... but given that he had such a horrible school life and a complete inability to socialize with people, he gave absolutely no thought to helping anyone... because no one had ever helped him. Spider-Man's morality, like Batman's, was forged by a deeply traumatic event. He watched his Uncle die because of his apathy, and that guilt was further galvanized by Uncle Ben's almost accusitory last words... which have almost become a curse for Peter Parker, more than an inspiring motto: "With great power comes great responsibility." Spider-Man saves lives, stops crime, and puts his life on the line as self-punishment for the one wrong deed he ever did, and is cursed with being forever responsible for everything that happens around him that is within his great power to stop... but he also has to adhere to the impossible moral standards of a superhero, for fear of cheapening his imposed torture by taking the easy way out.

I agree that a hero that doesn't struggle with his morality is boring... if there is no self-conflict, then that character isn't interesting. The fault lies with creators that don't push or tempt their stoic heroes, and challenge their dedication to upholding such an impossible moral high ground (which really just came about thanks to the comics code, which wouldn't allow creators to show death).

If I can recommend a book you should try, being that you're getting into DC comics featuring female leads, and are interested in the theme of blurry superhero morality, you should read Andreyko's MANHUNTER, which is about a DA in Los Angelos that steals a bunch of confescated supervillian technology to hunt down and murder supervillians that escape prosecution through legal manuevering, only to herself become hunted as a criminal by the JLA. DC only collected the first six in a TPB, but the rest of this sadly overlooked series should be easily available. I'm was incredibly impressed with the first storyarc, and still hold out hope they'll put out more TPB's.

Date: 2006-10-19 05:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Agreed. Comics these days really are getting back to that very black and white view of the world, which I find boring. Marvel has taken pains to get rid of all the changes made by Morrison, and I think that the X-men comics are definitely suffering because of that.

I have managed to avoid Civil War for the most part. Everyone manages to come off as an asshole, and it's just beyond me why Marvel is doing this to their characters.

Emma is great. She remains one of the few reasons I read the X-men comics these days. She's also the only thing left over from the Morrison run, and I kind of see her as the center of moral ambiguity in the X-men books. She gives them other ways of seeing things, and I enjoy the conflict that comes from her presence. I would be really disappointed if Emma is taken out permanently following the Whedon run, and I think that the comics will suffer from her loss.


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