Hoisted By Their Own Capes
Travis Hedge Coke
Who doesn’t like poking at people better than us? Or worse than us? Or who have stuff we don’t? Or have stuff we have but look better in it? Surely, there’s one of you in the audience, but just work with me on this. It’s fun. Besides, these aren’t even real people.
Some of my favorite moments with long-running characters in any medium is when they get called on some privilege we’ve been overlooking for ages, things the audience may not want to acknowledge, but if the character is strong enough, if the situation is cool enough, we can both acknowledge the unearned privilege and we can still enjoy indulging in its existence. Batman’s secret clubhouse full of one-of-a-kind artifacts he stole from global drugrunners or the mentally ill. Wolverine is a human rights violations apologist. The X-Men talking about hardship from their mansion in upstate New York that frequently houses several millionaires.
The important thing in a Batman story is not that there’s a better way to deal with the mentally ill than Batman. The important thing in the X-Men is not that they live a pretty affluent life on average. What’s important is the things those elements facilitate. A room needs walls to be a room, but the walls are there to support the concept and benefits of the room, the room is not there to justify the walls. Fictional walls never have to.
(I covered this before, but…) Why does Captain America not need to charge for services as often as Luke Cage used to? Because Cap is usually equipped with a SHIELD stipend so high it can buy him a tricked out entire building in the Bronx or an Avengers credit card that has no limit and no expectation he’ll pay it back personally. Which, really, translates to the writers and the readers not wanting to worry about Cap having a real job or making a monthly wage. But, Luke was designed to be job-conscious. The writers want it, the audience wants it. If neither did, it goes away as fast as the realities of rent in an episode of Friends.
Cheap Shot: Garfield doesn’t have a job or do anything different on Monday than any other day, so why: “Mondays!”?
Defense: Garfield lives with this self-absorbed loon and has to deal with his Monday-mania every week of the year.
Cheap Shot: Clark Kent is Superman’s mean-spirited critique of the human race. The weak vision, the yokel obliviousness, the clumsiness.
Defense: Clark Kent is Superman trying to fit in and not embarrass himself. If Clark Kent does or says something stupid, Superman can shrug it off because Clark is a goof but he’s not. Clark Kent is Superman’s way to be class clown. And he’s a way for Superman to interact with people without intimidating them unintentionally. I know people who wear glasses they barely need or pull their hair back for public interaction, who pull their bodies in like Clark does (they don’t contract their spine to lose two inches, but you know), and it works.
Cheap Shot: Spider-Man can’t have those kind of money troubles! He’s always employed.
Defense: Peter Parker’s traditionally a self-trained, freelance photographer with a limited range and no friends in his field, meaning he’s got no easy gauge for pay or treatment expectations. Other times, he’s a teacher, married to a woman who makes more than him, or working in research and development and everyone’s pointing out he could make more of himself (which, in America, means one thing: he could make more money).
Cheap Shot: Dick Tracy only cares about upholding the law as long as it gets the results he wants.
Defense: Yeah. That’s true. But, Tracy became a cop to get results, not uphold the law. The law is a tool for Tracy, justice is the goal.
Cheap Shot: The Peanuts kids are always kids! They don’t even age at the same rate.
Defense: Teenage Charlie Brown gets you what? Middle-aged? Good for a novelty oneshot, but then what? He’s either stopped being Charlie Brown, or he’s really really sad.
Cheap Shot: Archie can’t decide between Veronica or Betty! For over fifty years, he can’t decide.
Defense: Archie decides all the time. You can’t get through a digest without Archie having decided on both of them at different points. He doesn’t “settle” on one (or the occasional third option), but he’s a teenager. Betty and Ronnie can’t settle on him, either. And, if any of them did, the whole thing would stop and… no more Archie comics, just Moose beating up people for misunderstandings.
Cheap Shot: The Dark Knight Returns is the watershed of misanthropic darkening of superheroes.
Defense: DKR is pretty positive. Superman saves lives in DKR. Batman saves lives. Amidst a horrible crime wave, teenagers put on Robin costumes and fight for justice. While some people turn to crime, some to apathy, others rise up and during that massive storm at the end, a bunch of thugs and crimies are pushed by Batman into helping people and reestablishing safety and order. The worst gang Gotham has ever seen and Batman taught them to be better, to be productive.
Cheap Shot: Captain Marvel is fat.
Defense: Former Ms. Marvel, now Captain Marvel (but actually Colonel Danvers) isn’t fat. She’s not even chubby. But this gets kicked around, regardless, because memes.
Cheap Shot: Batman’s a billionaire who tricks women into thinking he’s sexually interested only to ditch them, and beats up poor people and the mentally ill with his multimillion dollar car and fetish suit.
Defense: You don’t really see Batman wailing on a guy who just grabbed a handbag from somebody, hoping there’s enough there to buy beers that night. You do see Batman overlooking some drug use, like unapproved medications, or turning an eye from prostitution or speeding, because those aren’t crimes punching someone will assuredly fix. Multiple murderer about to kill again? That you can take care of by punching them in the face and helping them be arrested. And he rarely goes beyond that.
He is using those women, but it’s an attempt to keep the comics sexless and avoid a conversation about casual sex with, as they say, unfortunate side effects.
Cheap Shot: Cyclops is an entitled, tall, muscular superhuman who lives in a giant mansion. How oppressed can he be?
Defense: Besides the robots trying to fry him and the people at restaurants who won’t serve him a meal? He never owned the mansion, he never really owned much of anything. Cyclops, other than working transport jobs, has been pretty dependent on his teacher and his teacher’s money after he was rescued from an abusive foster home where he was being beat up daily and forced to assist in assorted criminal activities.
Cheap Shot: Jessica Jones (who’s about to get her own show!) is a fat, miserable shrew.
Defense: Jessica, when introduced, was a self-loathing alcoholic with a good sense of humor and a mean superhuman punch. She’s had a pretty good upswing since then, married, had a kid, gotten into having jobs that don’t involve so much skulking through other people’s sadness and despair. “Fat” comes from the same impossible standards Ms Marvel failed, and “shrew,” in this case, means sometimes she gets pissed, and occasionally she’s dared to disagree with men.
Cheap Shot: Movie Wolverine/Post-movie Wolverine is too pretty.
Defense: I know Claremont says Wolverine should be short, thick, ugly, and sometimes he was drawn short, but usually he’s average height. And, he was never really thick or ugly outside the occasional novel appearance. From the first fifteen years of Wolverine, I’m hard-pressed to think of one example where he’s not a good-looking guy with an attractive build. I like short, thick, muggy Wolverine, but he was never the standard, never the common portrayal.