Op/Ed: Why do I Read Superhero Comics? (And Why Do YOU?)

A Siegel House Auction Update - Week 3

You can blame former Doctor Who show-runner Russell T. Davies.

I was reading The Writer's Tale, the book of emails he shared with journalist Benjamin Cook, and came to this section Davies wrote in response to a question about whether his work on Doctor Who addressed real world concerns, or just stuck to "the spectacle, the rush of adventure, the gunfire, the dark tunnels, the tough woman with guns, and all that running":

"It's tricky, that social/political/religious thing," he wrote, "because really that's life, that's people, that's what you think about the world, and that's why you want to write in the first place." He continues, on the same subject, later, by writing "I say the process is inevitable, but also I do think it's your job as a writer to say something about the world. Why else are you writing?"

I read that, and the first thing I thought - the very first thing - was that I didn't think superhero comic writers necessarily thought that way.

Sure, superhero comics regularly offer overt commentary on the real world, but it comes in the lumpen, awkward shape of Fear Itself's political commentary or the overly sincere moments of Superman walking across America and paternalistically frowning in J. Michael Stracynszki's "Grounded." I felt as if superhero comics all too often weren't about the world, but about other superhero comics, and that made me feel sad and foolish for reading them. Why am I reading these comics, I thought to myself. What is it that they do for me?

I didn't come up with a clear enough answer, and so I decided to ask Twitter, one day: Why do you read superhero comics? I didn't know if I'd get any responses, and I didn't know what kind of responses I'd get, even if I did, but I wanted to hear what other people had to say, and on some level, I wanted to be inspired by what I heard, if that makes sense. Bizarrely, wonderfully, the internet didn't let me down.

Oh sure, there were people who offered cynicism and jokes instead of real reasons - "Because I am a masochist," or similar lines - and there was some of the same confusion and inability to answer as I felt myself (Like me, a lot of this centered around the feeling that nostalgia and intertia played a large part: "I read superhero comics because I've always read superhero comics," essentially), but both of those were massively outweighed by the number of responses that just... believed in superheroes.

Okay, that makes it sound as if those people are fantasists, or don't understand that Siege only really happened on paper. What I mean is, there was a massive, amazing outpouring of people who read superhero comics because of the possibilities that the genre offered in terms of scale and imagination and possibility to tell stories about us all through metaphor and sleight of hand. People talked the need for not only escapism but the necessary optimism that it feeds ("Because, with how horribly cynical our culture is, sometimes you just need to believe a man can fly," said Michael Edwards, or Jefferson Robbins' "The most compelling superheroes are you (Spider-Man, X-Men) or who you want to measure up to (Superman, Wonder Woman)." Even better, @bluedepth's description of superhero comics as "Hope and an illustration of the best of us in a handy package"), or the limitless potential of the medium feeding the potential of the genre ("It's one of the few genres where literally ANYTHING is possible," said Tres Dean). The response was far greater than what I'd expected, both in terms of scale - I think DC Comics' @dc_nation retweeting me might have had something to do with that - and sincerity: People took the question seriously, answered (for the most part) honestly, and, I'll be honest, really did make me take another, less jaundiced, look at the genre and inspired me to try harder in future.

So, consider this the second leg of the experiment: Why do you read superhero comics? And, just because I've got more than 140 characters this time out, what superhero comics say the most to you about the world we live in, and why? Sound off on Twitter with the hashtag #RamaSUPER and it'll go in the box below.

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