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  1. #1
    Boisterously Confused
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    Default Do Superhero Comics Inherently Engender Distrust Of Institutions?

    I'm not even talking about deliberate efforts to put a point of view forward (i.e. Captain America's original "Secret Empire" arc, or DC's "President Luthor" run). I'm talking about a key, underlying assumption of superhero comics: institutions we count on in real life (the justice system, the armed forces, etc.) either can't or won't protect us, requiring remarkable individuals to step in. If they could, the hero would have little to do.

    Even when the author has no axe to grind, he needs Commissioner Gordon to be incompetent against The Joker, or General Ross to be powerless before The Abomination so that Batman/The Hulk have an excuse to carry the load. I'll grant there are exceptions, like SHIELD Agents, or The Black Panther, who actually are institutional figures, but they're rare. And most, like The Inhumans, generally dwell in a society outside our own.

    So does a childhood, and adolescence of consuming tales of institutions requiring outsiders to save the day tend to undermine faith in institutions?

  2. #2
    Astonishing Member kjn's Avatar
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    Interesting question. For myself, I think the early superhero tales (The Phantom, Zorro, The Shadow, Batman, and so on) were a reaction to the increased professionalisation and institutionalisation of justice in the United States, compared to the earlier idea of frontier justice. It's similar to the way that the rise of the capitalist families in the 19th century saw the rise of lots of romances about the feudal overlords.

    What matters more is probably the exact depiction of the institutions. I think there is a rather big difference between the institutions being depicted as benevolent but inept (much like Commissioner Gordon is in the Batman TV series of the 60s) and them being depiced as fundamentally evil.
    «Speaking generally, it is because of the desire of the tragic poets for the marvellous that so varied and inconsistent an account of Medea has been given out» (Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History [4.56.1])

  3. #3
    MXAAGVNIEETRO IS RIGHT MyriVerse's Avatar
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    How often has SHIELD been so overrun with corruption that even Fury has to take it down? The government has tended to be the adversary of the Avengers. And of course the X-Books treat the US government like Nazi-lite. Even the most "heroic" government stooge (Valerie Cooper) wants mutants and superheroes to be slaves on leashes.

    More often than not, it's a very strong theme since at least the Bronze Age. At best, institutions seem to be a necessary evil.

    I think DC treats them fairer.
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  4. #4
    Ultimate Member Mister Mets's Avatar
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    It's an interesting argument, although it's hardly limited to superhero comics. Legal dramas exaggerate the number of innocent defendants. People are drawn to underdog stories, even if sometimes the underdog is wrong (antivaxxers are underdogs.) Stories of various tragedies are built on survivor bias, and we're more likely to have stories of people who succeed at extraordinary thing than is the share of the population. All of this can result in a skewed view of how the world works.
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  5. #5
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    I think its a side effect of any action series that has a protagonist, the nature of action fiction itself.

    A good story requires the main character to resolve the situation. And that means they cannot call the police, because the police can escalate conflict far higher than most villains can compete with.

    So if there's not a ticking clock, there needs to be a reason why the cops can't help.

    In Die Hard, they were incompetent, for example. In the second, they were in on it, etc.

    Neutralizing reinforcements is a requirement for all action fiction, and that usually happens by making them look like idiots or corrupt.

  6. #6
    Boisterously Confused
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Cool Thatguy View Post
    I think its a side effect of any action series that has a protagonist, the nature of action fiction itself.

    A good story requires the main character to resolve the situation. And that means they cannot call the police, because the police can escalate conflict far higher than most villains can compete with.

    So if there's not a ticking clock, there needs to be a reason why the cops can't help.

    In Die Hard, they were incompetent, for example. In the second, they were in on it, etc.

    Neutralizing reinforcements is a requirement for all action fiction, and that usually happens by making them look like idiots or corrupt.
    That is a really good answer. Thank you.

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