Sunday, May 22, 2011

What is a hero?

Karen: Marvel has been calling the current time in comics "The Heroic Age," apparently due to the return of Thor and Steve Rogers and the end of all the hostilities left over from the Civil War. In an article in USA Today (Jan. 27, 2010), Joe Quesada said, "Heroes will be heroes again. They've gone through hell and they're back to being good guys — a throwback to the early days of the Marvel Universe, with more of a swashbuckling feel."

But I'm finding little about it to be 'heroic'. Latest example: Avengers #12. No, I didn't buy this book -I can't handle the 'one-voice' characterization of Bendis -but I read through it at the shop (since it only takes 5 minutes to read one of these books), and was appalled by the ending.

For those of you wise enough not to be following current titles, here's what happened: The Avengers, all 564 of them, defeated a two-bit crook called the Hood who had obtained the Infinity Gems. Iron Man made a big show of destroying the gems in front of all assembled. But in the last pages of the book, we see that he lied to everyone and has kept all the gems. He redistributes them to his Illuminati pals, who now include Steve Rogers in their rank. Yes. Mr. Conscience of the Marvel Universe is apparently OK with lying to all his fellow heroes. I expect that from Stark now, after the complete degradation of his character over the last few years, but Rogers?

Then again, this is the same Steve Rogers who recently threatened Dr. Faustus if he didn't testify in Bucky's behalf.

And you know, going back to the Civil War, where's the fall-out from that? The Avengers Prime series was supposed to show Thor, Stark, and Rogers dealing with that, but was absolutely worthless (even the always magnificent Alan Davis couldn't save this one). Where was Thor's anger over the clone Stark made? Stark's guilt? Cap's regrets? Instead, we get jokes about who slept with Hellcat. Stark seems unapologetic for anything he did -which was a lot - and yet the superhero community accepts him. I feel like Marvel just swept everything under the rug.

There doesn't seem to be a lot about these characters any more that feels heroic -they just have power. I don't see much difference between them and the villains -they all seem pretty self-serving. My definition of a hero is someone who puts the greater good ahead of their own needs. Someone who makes sacrifices. Someone who follows a moral code.

So here's my question to you: what makes someone a hero?


Inkstained Wretch said...

I always figured that a hero was somebody who tried to do the right thing for the right reason. Obviously that can be vague and that was part of the dilemma: The hero has to try to figure out what the right thing is, which isn't always easy. But if the character is earnest and selfless, he or she usually finds the way.

This will sound a little off-topic but I recently bought the Essential Nova collection. Nova was the definition of derivative: His origin came from Green Lantern, his powers from Superman and his personality from Spiderman.

Nevertheless I've always liked the title because it made a point of emphasizing that the hero was an awkward teenager who was fumbling about trying to get this superhero stuff right.

I always thought that he acted the way I would act if I somehow got superpowers. He could have used his powers for anything but decided to use them to stop bad guys because, hey, isn't that the right thing to do?.

Even though he never became a great hero, he nevertheless was hero for making the right choice.

Redartz said...

You nailed it, Instained! A hero, to me, is not perfect. He/she will make mistakes; we all are human, after all. However, the hero will try to produce the best possible outcome for the most individuals in a given situation. As Karen mentioned, sacrifice can be involved; the hero would act to do what is ( at least, what is truly believed to be right regardless of personal cost.

Roygbiv666 said...

As an aspiring-Objectivist, I find it difficult to reconcile my love of "self-sacrificing" super-heroes and the Objectivist notion that self-sacrifice (or any sacrifice) is abhorrent. Sacrifice here doesn't mean simply giving something up, it mean giving up one thing for another thing of lesser value.

Let's say you are a generic super-hero, like our friend Nova mentioned above. So you have the basic super-strength, speed, flight, and invulnerability. You witness a bank robbery in progress, thugs with guns at the ready. There's very little risk to you if you choose to intervene - you can't get injured, although your actions could result in harm to others by accident.

Why get involved? Must it be that you view others as more important than yourself, or is it that, given your abilities, it would be wrong NOT to intervene - a moral imperative?

If your view is that bank robbery is wrong (duh) and you can (likely) stop it, do you intervene simply because it would offend your sensibilities (your moral code) NOT to? That is, the reason you take action is to live by your ethics, because to do anything else would be a betrayal of them?

Are heroes then people who choose to do the right thing when they could simply walk away? I think it has to be more than just doing what you think is right (see Magneto, Dr. Doom, Kobra, etc.) but doing with IS right.

Blah blah blah. Batman = hero, Batman rules!!

Joel said...

I'd call this age of comics the "aluminum" age because it seems the comics' of today (and their heroes) only worth is to be recycled!

starfoxxx said...

Aluminum Age - ha-ha! I like it.

A hero would be the Marvel executive who relieves BMBendis of his "writing" duties.

Edo Bosnar said...

You pretty much nailed it on the head in your post - a hero has to have a discernable moral compass. Someone who, whatever his/her flaws and foibles, lays it all on the line to do the right thing when called upon to do so.
(As an aside, your comment about how you read that Avengers issue in 5 minutes is apt - that decompressed story-telling style in comics now is pretty lame. Even the stuff that's pretty good seems kind of insubstantial - I remember it only took me a about a half hour to read all 12 issues of All Star Superman.)

William Preston said...

I did see Thor get royally pissed at Stark--and take him apart piece by piece--in the reborn Thor comic. It was pretty brutal, especially since Thor pointed out that, even then, he was holding back. Stark limped home in a shattered Iron Man suit.

As for the brevity of today's comics, that's largely due to the shift (mid-'80s? later?) away from the editorial/narrative voice. With the loss of an omniscient point of view in the storytelling, all you had was character dialogue, and then that grew more truncated too (and elliptical in the case of writers like Straczynski and Morrison).

William said...

I always thought the perfect model of a hero in comics was Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He was brave, selfless and always stuck by his code of "with great power, comes great responsibility", even to his own detriment. No matter how bad things were in his personal life, no matter how unjustly he was treated by J. Jonah Jameson, even when the police and everyone else was out to get him, he would always don his costume and do the right thing. And he did it all while still maintaining his sense of humor. He is the ultimate "everyman" super hero. An average guy, who uses his amazing powers, not for personal gain, but to selflessly help others and defend those who can't defend themselves. That's what I consider a true hero.

As for what's currently going on in comics. I don't even consider the Marvel Universe of today to be same one as the silver and bronze age, and a little beyond. It's like back in the late 90's/early 2000's Marvel had their own Crisis event (but they just didn't tell anybody) and all of their books were rebooted into the new continuity of the "Bendis-verse". I pretty much bailed out of new comics after I read Civil War (which was the final straw for me). The Marvel U in which that story took place was so far removed rom the Marvel that I knew and loved, that I just couldn't reconcile the two in my mind. Everyone seemed totally out of character, from Iron Man becoming a total assbag to Reed Richards building a Gulag in which to imprison his friends - and so forth and so on. So, to me the stupid Illuminati does not even exist. It's just another ridiculous retcon. Since today's writers can't seem to come up with stories that actually fit into the existing continuity of the Marvel U, they have taken it upon themselves to simply rewrite the history of Marvel Comics to fit what they want to do, instead of the other way around.

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