June 06, 2013

Guest post: Societal reality and comicbook suspension of disbelief

(Many thanks to Nate Winchester for this terrific guest post!)

There is a vital, core technique that entertainers must use when engaging their audiences. With magicians, it is called "misdirection" or "sleight of hand". With writers it is called most often "suspension of disbelief." The principle remains the same. As the audience, you are to look here, not "over there" where the "trick" is being worked. When it's done badly, the magician "flops" while writers end up with what SF Debris coined, "the Voodoo Shark."

What does this have to do with comics? The more fantastical a story, the more disbelief a suspension system must support. How Superman flies, how the Flash runs, how Wolverine kicks ass, all of these are questions that, when we pick up a book (or watch the movie/show based on the book) we make an agreement with the media producers not to think about. A quick, half-answer to soothe the rational mind is all we need: he's an alien, the speed force, he's a mutant.

However this goes beyond "how do the characters work", this also goes to "how does the world work." For ease of writers and readers the world of DC, Marvel et al is usually assumed to be very similar to that of the present real world of the writers and readers, even though logically, if just a tiny fraction of what happened there, happened here, things would change to probably be near unrecognizable. One example: gun control. If you have a state in the world where random people pack more potential power and destruction than any hand gun, would gun ownership be that much of a political debate? Think about it. Once upon a time, sword ownership in Japan (to pick an example) was under many restrictions. Yet we don't have "sword & knife control" in many political debates. Why? Because the power level of guns has raised the bar to the point that owning a blade doesn't have the "impact" it might have once had (to pick one reason). Thus, likewise in a world of superheroes, everyday gun ownership would be the equivalent of everyday sword ownership today - not too much of a concern.

This all leads into one of the biggest traps that comics can fall into and why DC's The Movement will fail: politics. Now good comics can result from bringing up these normally repressed world questions and dealing with them. Watchmen is a pretty decent example of at least an attempt to untangle this otherworldly Gordian knot. How about some bad examples (pulling just from my own blog) ...

In the Nu52 Green Lantern Corps (you'll have to scroll down), someone has put their views into John Stewart's mouth a time or two. Like having him fight "greedy developers." Why are these developers "so greedy" that they don't bother taking steps to make them more profit in the long run? How in the world did they get that rich being so shortsighted? In the DCU, why isn't "superhuman battle-proof" building design as common as the compensations for earthquakes in buildings of California?

One of the worst examples of all time: JLA #83. How often has the JLA violated "international law" in just a random issue? Private property? How can the world's greatest detective not figure this shit out? There's a reason this issue was left out of trade paper backs of this volume of JLA and it's for so many good reasons.

And lest someone think it has to do WITH politics, here's a bit where Superman renounced his citizenship.

According to a commentator, this was actually written by a conservative frustrated with some of Obama's policies. That doesn't matter nor change the complaint. The question of "how does Superman's citizenship work" is not one readers need to be asking. It collapses the whole story.

So, let's go back to what started this all, The Movement. Why will this fail? Because it's trying to put politics into a hole it can't fit, which means even if people AGREE with its point, their suspension of disbelief is going to crack from the strain. Without even reading it (unless Hube is going to buy me a copy for me to review/spork on his site here):

  • How would 1% vs 99% even work in the DCU? Is how much money you have that much of an issue in a world where men can fly? Consider that in many ways, Superman is "the communist man." He has no issue with scarcity (food, shelter, transportation, etc are all self generated) and is thus as immune to economic laws as he is to bullets. Same with other heroes (I leave it to the commentators to figure out which ones this would apply to). So would it really matter to the Occupy movement how much money any individual has, when their power is still less than Superman's? The "movement" would, logically speaking, be more about the majority of regular humans and their resentment (or whatever) towards more powerful beings. (Hmm... sounds like a plan by Luthor, doesn't it?)

  • In a world which is so often attacked by outside threats (aliens on a good day), is social spending really going to be that much of a concern to most societies? Is there that much worry about social security, welfare, universal healthcare or anything else in any nation in the DCU? Or are most governments and voters concerned about getting the most powerful weapon(s) they can in case Darkseid shows up Thursday? After all, people need to be alive, before you can be concerned about their welfare. So what is this movement protesting? What banking crisis has occurred when the bank was demolished by Doomsday's last rampage?

  • Are these people really going to "occupy" anywhere like... the parks of a city when that's such prime ground for wandering supervillains?

This is why you avoid trying put modern day issues into comics without care, skill and consideration for their implications. If you can't write well, then don't bother writing it at all.

Posted by Hube at June 6, 2013 03:45 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Excellent post, Nate! I've been thinking the exact same things about this stupid comic.

Posted by: Carl at June 7, 2013 04:21 PM