Monday, June 17, 2013

The mainstream & comics again

Sure, so-called think pieces in newspapers are always easy targets but a new one in The Telegraph is particularly unthinking about an unimportant subject and weakly argued about an important one.  I was going to start with the second but since the first shows many of the problems then might as well go in order.

The headline and opener put forward the idea "Are superheroes the new gods?"  The headline even claims the writer "argues that comic books are the new Bible" though of course she does no such thing.  Even the god/religion idea has been kicking around for decades, explored both within the stories and by criticism.  In no sense is this an actual religion so the writer Anne Billson resorts to the argument that fans oppose changes to the "canon".  First thing to note is that comics fans rarely use the word "canon" instead predominantly saying "continuity" which is a different concept.  Though you could argue that it takes a canon (texts) to make up continuity (diegesis) that's not how comics fans approach this.  One good example that relates directly to Man of Steel is that he does something at the end that can be supported in one book that's considered a classic (in other words more or less canon) but is actually out of continuity.  The enormous arguments among fans about this isn't whether it's canonical or in continuity but whether it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the character and the purpose of the stories.  (I haven't seen the film but if the reports are accurate--and you've noticed I'm being vague about this--then fundamental misunderstanding seems correct.)

Billson then resorts to religious terms that don't in any way relate to the actuality.  Who is being "excommunicated" because of X-Men: The Last Stand and from what?  The debates about Spider-Man's webbing according to her are "theological" (based on what?) and The Mandarin's revision in the new Iron Man movie might be "heresy" (or it's just so radically different it share nothing but the name with the books).  I'd like to think this is tongue-in-cheek but the tone doesn't really support that and if she was then the transition to the next topic would be even more clumsy than it already is.

Then Billson gets to the important point and one that really should have been the headline - "the world of superhero movies is a boys' club."  Not exactly news or even very observant but unlike the religion claims this is something that needs to be addressed and changed.  At least she focuses on the movies and not the books which may be because she hasn't read the books (it's unclear but considering the lack of references probably not) or because while this is a major problem in the comics business it's nowhere near as bad.  And of course this is not specific to movies or comics since there have been numerous reports about the problem in journalism and literary writing (see for instance here or here or here).  It's just worse in the film business because the amount of money and inherent risk (plus let's be fair the lack of imagination) makes studios very resistant to change.  The solution isn't that somebody should decide the movies need more women characters but that the business needs more women executives, directors and writers (unfortunately in that order).  Who knows, maybe they will make the exact same decisions but that's at least a start.