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Superheroic Power Fantasies

The Grotesque Rampage Delphi forum has more discussion of the world-famous Jeff Parker interview (link to the message board thread via John Jakala). Steve Lieber disagrees with me, saying that thirty years of reading superheroes has led him to the conclusion that superheroes are overwhelmingly about power fantasies.

OK, here’s the thing. There’s only one thing in the Jeff Parker interview I really disagree with, and it’s this:

But there it is: my peers clinging madly to what they loved years ago, but now they’ve matured and want stories that explore relationships and heavier themes. 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. Back at the store, our adult has squeezed the bunnies to death. The moral? Give the kid his damned books back! Adolescent power fantasies are for powerless adolescents.

I didn’t mention this in my first post about the Parker interview, because at that point I didn’t think it was a big deal and just wanted to make a joke out of reading some of Parker’s statements overly literalistically, but since several people have referenced my post in order to agree or disagree with it, I might as well write even more about this.

See, what bugs me about that Parker quote above is the suggestions that adding things like “relationships” and “heavier themes” makes a book more “adult.” Now, stories for kids probably shouldn’t have a lot of explicit sex and stuff. Drinking and gambling? Well, Pinocchio has that stuff and it’s a great movie for kids, but let’s say kids’ stories should be very careful in using such “adult” things. (Another example, the recent movie Peter Pan has some subtle and mostly subtextual sexual maturation metaphors, but I’d have no problem taking a 12-year-old kid to see it.) So if “heavier themes” means “sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” then yeah, we’re talking more adult. But the thing is, here, Parker proposes, as a counter to the adultification of superheroes, more “adolescent power fantasies!” Wait, wait, wait, I’ve got another idea: literature of ethics for kids. Or stories for kids about an exploration of the limitations of humans or the relationship between creator and created (two very arbitrarily chosen links to David Fiore’s Animal Man series of posts). I know when I was 12 years old I would have found Animal Man a lot more entertaining than a story designed to give me the vicarious thrill of power fantasy.

Writing straightforward empowerment fantasies is about the worst way I can think of to make superhero comics more kid-friendly.


  1. 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)