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Fun with contradictions

Jeff Parker wishes adults would stop reading superhero comics, because superhero comics are adolescent power fantasies and adolescents should them, but not adults (thanks to Christopher Butcher for the link). And yet, mystery of mysteries, he loves The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Which is, last I checked, a superhero comic. Right? It’s about a team of people who are in some way greater than regular people (you might say they’re… superhuman!), doing heroic deeds and battling villains who are in some way greater than regular people. I.e., they’re superheroes fighting supervillains. Right? Or is it not a superhero comic if the characters don’t wear spandex costumes and have funny superhero names? But surely our conception of the genre isn’t that superficial. Or maybe the fact that the characters are borrowed from non-superhero literature makes it not a superhero comic? But the characters are obviously being placed in a new context here, so the fact that Mina Harker wasn’t a superhero in Dracula doesn’t change the fact that in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen she joins what certainly seems to be much like other superhero teams despite being superficially different. Or wait, I’ve got it—superhero comics are adolescent power fantasies, and The League isn’t, so it must be not superheroes. But wait, the notion that superheroes that superheroes are just adolescent power fantasies requires a superficial and ignorant reading of the genre. (Cf. David Fiore, David again, Sean Collins, J.W. Hastings, Rose.) And besides, I must say The League is nothing if not adolescent—it’s not even trying to be morally sophisticated. Oh, oh, yes, now I’ve figured it out—Jeff Parker doesn’t think adults should read superhero comics, and he reads The League, and he’s an adult, so it must not be superheroes.


  1. Laura G says:

    Seems to me you missed his point. Which was that adults shouldn’t be turning superheroes into adult power fantasies. As he says: “Yet they can’t let go of the cape book, and the superheroes start killing each other and sleeping around, drinking, gambling, talking a whole lot … the kid has wandered off by now in search of something where good guys fight bad guys in a fun way.”

    In other words, instead of branching out and reading other things, adults have completely co-opted the superhero genre and made it something that kids cannot read. Without superhero books that are simply “adolescent power fantasies”, kids aren’t going to read comics.

    Don’t imply that Parker is anti-superhero. The Interman is a superhero book in many ways, and he says as much. Nor does he mind if adults read sueprhero books. The problem is that pretty much all superhero books have turned into something adults like to read and there’s nothing left for the next generation.

    In his opinion. That’s how I read that. Not as a slam against superheroes, but as a complaint that superheroes are leaving behind the audience that was once their primary readers to cater to adults.

    — 4 March 2004 at 4:34 pm (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    I don’t think Jeff Parker is anti-superhero at all. I think he criticized adults for reading superheroes and turning superheroes into adults-only comics, and then praised The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is, in fact, a superhero comic which is very much an adult power fantasy. I thought this was an amusing irony.

    — 4 March 2004 at 5:23 pm (Permalink)

  3. Heidi M. says:

    If you think LOEG is written on the same level as your *average* superhero comic, then I don’t think there’s anything I could say that could dissuade you. I’d like to see someone write an entire book of annotations to 6 issues of SUPERMAN.

    — 4 March 2004 at 7:48 pm (Permalink)

  4. Steven says:

    Notes to self:
    1) Don’t make light-hearted jokes on the blog, it offends people.
    2) Avoid disparaging the moral sophistication The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which as we know is more morally sophisticated than Superman on account of it has more literary references.
    3) Don’t point out amusing ironies in something Jeff Parker says, people will think you’re talking about his statement itself and not the amusing irony.

    — 4 March 2004 at 8:42 pm (Permalink)

  5. David Fiore says:

    note to Steven

    tear up those notes to self and keep on truckin’!

    I liked this post!

    As a side note–aren’t most of LOEG’s “literary references” to old “trash culture” anyway? I mean–Minna Harker, for God’s sake? Dracula is the Plan 9 from Outer Space of Novels! I haven’t read LOEG, but it seems to me that Moore must have chosen this strategy in order to play up the ephemerality of the boundary between “high” and “low” culture (personally, I think this is a non-issue–but it’s a lesson that many folks on the CJ messageboard have yet to learn!)


    — 5 March 2004 at 5:39 am (Permalink)

  6. Steven says:

    “Dracula is the Plan 9 from Outer Space of Novels!”

    Ha! That’s good, that’s very good.

    — 5 March 2004 at 6:18 am (Permalink)

  7. Scott R says:

    Weird. I always saw LOEG as a satirical comment on the nature of superhero teams. Here you have a group of characters who are viewd as heroic and noble that end up being pretty messed up not only in their own lives but towards each other. Plus, deep down most of them have criticism or down-right despise the country they are supposed to be protecting.


    — 5 March 2004 at 5:08 pm (Permalink)

  8. Steven says:

    Frankly, Scott, what you just described sounds like at least half of the superhero team books I’ve read or read about. The League certainly involves a parody of that, but I don’t think satire was its goal.

    — 5 March 2004 at 5:15 pm (Permalink)

  9. Scott R says:

    That’s true. But unlike the recent Authority series (and you’re right I should’ve said parody and not satire) it stands on its own both as a comment on superhero teams AND as a good story. Ellis’ Authority had that as well.

    — 5 March 2004 at 6:07 pm (Permalink)

  10. Heidi M. says:

    If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

    — 5 March 2004 at 6:17 pm (Permalink)

  11. Steven says:

    Uh, Heidi… what the hell are you talking about?

    — 5 March 2004 at 7:47 pm (Permalink)

  12. Long story; short pier says:

    Three simple rules for talking about comics.
    First, make like the Lady Montague: never complain, never explain. You’re in this for the hearts and minds, which are impossible to score if you’re always on the defensive. Especially if you’re representing a scrappy little medium tha…

    — 18 March 2004 at 6:35 pm (Permalink)