Grotesque Anatomy
Thursday, June 17, 2004
  But Superman Is So Powerful!
The Superhero Question of the Day is:  Are superheroes an essentially fascistic idea?

As usual, the answer is:  it depends.  What do we mean by "fascistic" anyway?  If by that we simply mean "violent," then, yes, I can see how superheroes are supposed to be fascistic since most of them solve problems by beating up bad guys.  If, however, by "fascistic" we mean  (as Tim O'Neil apparently does) "characteristic of a system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism," then, no, I don't think superheroes are essentially fascistic.  Yeah, I know there have been superhero stories that explicitly play up the superheroes as (political) fascists angle (Squadron Supreme, Miracleman, the upcoming Superman/Batman arc), but isn't a more common complaint about corporate superhero comics that the heroes almost never intervene in the political affairs of humanity?  (I'm thinking of the Dini/Ross oversized tabloid books especially.)

Furthermore, many superheroes (especially those in the 60s Marvel mold) seem to struggle regularly with doubts about the rightness of their actions.  Spider-Man in particular strikes me as a character who wrestled frequently with bouts of self-doubt or second-guessing himself.  Of course one could point out that the quality of such self-examination was often more indulgent than illuminating, but at least the characters were shown engaging in something approximating critical reflection.  Such tendencies toward checking one's behavior and beliefs seem foreign to the mindset of the fascist.  For the fascist, isn't everything permitted in the pursuit of one's goals?

I guess I've never thought that superhero comics were about "[u]ncritical acceptance of powerful authority figures."  In fact, superhero comics were never about my perspective toward heroes, but about trying to understand the perspective of the heroes.  So for me, superhero comics were generally about certain morals:  Try to do the right thing even when it's inconvenient or costly for oneself.  Use one's abilities to help others.  When you meet another hero, attempt to resolve any misunderstanding that might spring up by punching first and asking questions later.  (Just kidding about that last one, but it did seem to be a common theme in many superhero comics from my childhood.  I think the important point was that the heroes always resolved their misunderstandings before anyone was seriously injured.  Perhaps the whole cliché of heroes mistaking each other for villains was meant as a metaphor for how in life there will be people you butt heads with at first but come to regard amicably in the end, but I admit I may be stretching here.)  Then again, I was only a little kid when I thought I'd figured this stuff out, so maybe I was just being a simplistic moron.
 
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Iron Fist

by John Jakala

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