Realism or Escapism or Both?

Gothamite

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What do you prefer when you're reading superhero comics?

Do you prefer to have stories that take themselves very seriously and characters that, while fantastic, are still grounded in reality and have real, everyday problems and feature realistic, scum-of-the-earth villains the likes of which could be active right now without jumping any scientific boundaries?

OR...

Do you prefer stories to be funny, light-hearted affairs with romantic, legendary grown-up protagonists who the average guy on the street doesn't have anything on, and wacky, zany, out-of-this-world villains that can be either comedic or threatening?

Or like me, do you prefer when these two storytelling methods combine?

EDIT: I forgot to put a poll on this first time round and now I can't seem to do it. Help, anyone? :oops:
 
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Zombipanda

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No matter what you read, unless it's detailing exactly what's happening in your life as you read it, it's escapism. All fiction is escapism. Whether I like stories that are more realistic or more unrealistic, that just depends on my mood... But I guess I lean more towards surrealism...
 

ourchair

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I don't really read comic books as 'escapism' per se. But I do agree that we enjoy them because they escape the limitations of mundane reality.

But you hit it right on the nail, Gothamite. It's when the two story modes combine that they are magic. Basically I want realistic escapism, or an escape into 'realness'.

Seriously, the question of 'realism' itself invites really cool questions in the vein of literary theory.
 

naughtyninja

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I have to admit that comics (along with films, video games, anime, etc) definitely offer a sense of escapism. It's nice to pull your head away from the daily problems, the mundane grind, etc, and concentrate on the fantastical.

But while I do use the medium of super hero comic books to escape, I like my comics realistic. Maybe not overly so, a very smart combination between the two is good fun for me. For instance, I love it when the super-hero hating Warren Ellis writes his super hero comics, they're a fantastic blend of realism and imagination (Planetary comes to mind).
 

Fuzzy Birds

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The one thing that's guaranteed to put me off reading a comic is an overwhelming level of realism, be it in tone, atmosphere, or simply in the script. If I want realism, I'll look out the window. The comics I enjoy best are ones that feature fully realised, emotionally complex characters in unique and often fantastic situations. Take Scott Pilgrim as a nice example. While hardly my favourite comic, it has the right level of emotional depth and fresh, interesting situations. I read comics to be entertained and occasionally moved. It's nice to find comics that do both.
 

ShadowPrime

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WARNING - WARNING - WARNING ... CONTAINS POMPOUS RUMINATIONS!

Slightly off topic... slightly... but I think ONE reason, among others, that I have never "outgrown" my interest in super-hero based comics in particular, is that they offer a cathartically (SP?) simple and satisfying situation in which a (generally "good" or admirable) hero confronts an immediate problem (generally a supervillain) and, after some mighty (and hopefully cool!) challenges, trials, and perils, often involving direct physical confrontation with said villain, the problem is resolved... until next month.

Granted, that is the basic idea behind "action movies" too - nonsuperheroic action movies! - so there is more to it than that... the costumes, the powers, etc... but on a very simple level, super hero comics allow us to step back and enjoy a direct (and hopefully entertaining and theatrical) confrontation with evil that is RESOLVED (knowing, of course, that the villain involved will generally be back some months down the line! *S*).

In most of our "real lives", challenges are rarely so cleanly and clearly defined, and rarely resolved so clearly and quickly. Life is more like a marathon than a sprint. Most of our more meaningful "victories" in life - and we rarely think of them as victories, in that sense! - unwind over months, years, decades.... thinking here of helping to bring your children along, a good marriage, living a basically "good life", etc. There are, to be sure, some dramatic and shorter term situations, conflicts, opportunities, here and there, but ... comic books distill that all down. Problem/confrontation/solution. Satisfying.

I don't mean to damn with faint praise. That is not ALL there is to comic books, certainly. Not by a long shot. Not using "simple" in a pejorative sense, either. I think this is one element among many. And it may not apply to some who are fans of the genre. But I do think that is PART of the appeal. Not sure if that is escapist... or more in a cathartic, bolstering vein.

Shadow
 

bluebeast

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If I want surrealism and far-outness I go to the Fantastic Four. If I want gritty realism I go to Batman. Simple as that.
 

Fuzzy Birds

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If I want surrealism and far-outness I go to the Fantastic Four. If I want gritty realism I go to Batman. Simple as that.

See now, this I don't get. What on Earth is realistic about Batman?! He's a detective in lycra who cannot be beaten by anything! He's like Jack Bauer in tights! He rides a Batmobile, has a Batcave, is a millionaire playboy! He fights villains like Joker, Clayface and Bane!

When I think of realism in mainstream comics, it's something like 100 Bullets or Ex Machina or even Daredevil that springs to mind.
 

E

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When I think of realism I think of 2 types; either stories told from a sort of "everyday guy" point of view (Marvels is a perfect example of this), or regular superhero/superhuman stories like Ultimates that are more grounded in reality, whether by worldly events occurring in the comic or by the behavior of the characters. Ultimates is a great example of this.

Nightly News is a good example of a mix of both. It's certainly something that *could* happen (although those types of stories or scenarios don't necessarily or particularly interest me).
 

Gothamite

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See now, this I don't get. What on Earth is realistic about Batman?! He's a detective in lycra who cannot be beaten by anything!

Except for the countless times he has been beaten, nearly to death. Oh and he doesn't wear lycra. It's a Nomex-reinforced, fireproof fabric with 15 micro-layers. And that's just in the comics. I heard they made some films as well...

He's like Jack Bauer in tights! He rides a Batmobile, has a Batcave, is a millionaire playboy! He fights villains like Joker, Clayface and Bane!

What's so unrealistic about an athletic millionaire playboy with dark secrets, in America no less? They're everywhere!

In terms of villains, yes, Batman does fight some wild, OTT supervillains and I don't like it. The Joker works, because there's no reason why he couldn't exist in real life. You're dead right about Clayface and Bane, though. Complete and utter sci-fi villains. The only reason villains like them are still around is because of nostalgia. People still want to read about Batman wearing a grey suit and fighting ridiculous villains. Hopefully that'll change some day.

Bottom line is, the environment Batman exists in may seem quite surreal at times, but the fact of the matter is that he is the most realistic, grounded character in superhero comics.

When I think of realism in mainstream comics, it's something like 100 Bullets or Ex Machina or even Daredevil that springs to mind.

So you're saying that a story about a guy with a 'radar sense', who wears bright red tights (I might be mistaken, but I don't think it was ever implied that Daredevil's costume is anything other than lycra) is more realistic than a story about a guy with no superpowers?
 

ShadowPrime

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Think this is one of those questions that is fun to kick around, but which can drive you crazy if you really dig into it...

On some level, all "serialized" adventure fiction is highly unrealistic. To take an oddball example... I remember reading the first "Scarpetta" novel by Cornwall. Basically, about a middle aged female coroner. The novel had an interesting "feel" to it, which I can't adequately capture here (in this era of CSI mania, the very premise doubtless sounds cliche). Dr Scarpetta felt "kind of" real. She was often tired - long hours, tough work! - she enjoyed cooking, lamented her lack of a life outside work, blah blah blah. Of course, the main events in the book were NOT typical...anything but! ... a series of high profile mysterious murders, etc. But overall, the book had a pretty real "feel" to it. You could believe that here was this interesting but fairly "real seeming" woman, living her life, who gets drawn into extraordinary events.

The thing is... when ANOTHER book got written in that series... and another...and another... that realistic feeling faded, almost inevitably. For one thing, in "real life", I doubt that the average mid-to-big city coroner/cop/law enforcement person takes on Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, Hanibal Lecter, etc, in succession. ONE huge high profile case per career would seem more likely (if that). But for there to be more books, there had to be new "adventures", Dr Scarpetta had to KEEP encountering new twisted villains. And I think she also "got" her own nemesis, a returning villain from the earlier books. Supporting characters kept getting more and more... colorful... as they hung around, developing all kinds of odd quirks and becoming embroiled in all sorts of unusual events.

Guess what I am saying is... almost ALL serialized action characters are "unrealistic" in some way or another. It is a matter of proportion, of suspension of disbelief, and a matter of how good a job the authors/creators do of "helping" you suspend disbelief. Whether it is Jack Bauer, Batman, Mr Fantastic, etc... all push the boundaries pretty hard, in different ways...

Shadow
 
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Fuzzy Birds

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Except for the countless times he has been beaten, nearly to death. Oh and he doesn't wear lycra. It's a Nomex-reinforced, fireproof fabric with 15 micro-layers. And that's just in the comics. I heard they made some films as well...

How many times must he be beaten 'nearly to death' before he actually gets killed? Does the man have supernaturally good luck?

Gothamite said:
What's so unrealistic about an athletic millionaire playboy with dark secrets, in America no less? They're everywhere!

Nothing as such...

Gothamie said:
Bottom line is, the environment Batman exists in may seem quite surreal at times, but the fact of the matter is that he is the most realistic, grounded character in superhero comics.

I just can't agree with that. Of the comics currently or recently published, I could pick out a handful more grounded. Mitchell Hundred, Mark Milton, Sophia Bangs, Mark Grayson, Matt Murdock, Abe Sapien. Not grounded because of the believability of their power set or origins, but because they're written with a mature emotional depth and are entirely believable in their actions and emotions.

This is partly because for the most part, they've been written by one writer with a singular vision, so when you look at the whole of their 'lives' you see true evolution and emotional maturation. A serial character, like Batman, whose continuity is enormous, has been written by an enormous breadth of writers, each with slightly different takes on the characters. Characters written like this do not evolve naturally, they hop around all over the place irrationally, as writers come and go. Look at Spiderman; he's written in 4 different books each month, and he has a different voice in each one.

Gothamie said:
So you're saying that a story about a guy with a 'radar sense', who wears bright red tights (I might be mistaken, but I don't think it was ever implied that Daredevil's costume is anything other than lycra) is more realistic than a story about a guy with no superpowers?

Actually, yeah. The fact that he's got powers (that are actually reasonably believable, after all, don't bats have 'radar sense'?) accounts for all the close shaves he has. And the colour or material of the costume is not the point, the emphasis was on the detective part. Batman, for all his skill, is just human, yet he displays a near supernatural level of agility and toughness, and has survived far longer than he should have. I feel the same about the Punisher; despite all the skill, they're both still human, and considering the odds they face, in a REALISTIC world, they would have been killed or otherwise permanently incapacitated after a few months.

I suppose it boils down to taste. I don't mind a kinda silly character as long as he's portrayed in a believable sense. For me, Daredevils origin and powers may be a bit hokey, but under Bendis, and later Brubakers pens he's been written with true depth and in an appropriately 'mature and realistic' manner. Of the (admittedly few) Batman comics I've read, I found it extremely difficult to swallow just how much this man can do.

I can't relate to characters with a ridiculously contrived continuity as they're different month in month out. Many of them have just become icons, as the companies that own them are too hesitant to change them in any real, 'realistic' way for fear of alienating their audience. Characters that appear in self contained, creator owned series are usually the opposite for me.

But again, I suppose it's a matter of taste and personal definitions. For me, 'realism' is such an overused word in the comics medium. It's often believed by the 13 year old fanboys that realism must be boobs and swearing. For me, realism, and believability is more important on an emotional level. The absurdity of the situations or origins is not the point, it's whether you can believe and relate to their actions and emotions.

I suppose I really shouldn't be trying to argue this with someone called Gothamite eh?
 

Planet-man

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In terms of villains, yes, Batman does fight some wild, OTT supervillains and I don't like it. The Joker works, because there's no reason why he couldn't exist in real life. You're dead right about Clayface and Bane, though. Complete and utter sci-fi villains. The only reason villains like them are still around is because of nostalgia.

I agree, however.... what's wrong with Bane? He's really not a that much of a sci-fi villain at all. Sure, he is if they screw up and make him strong enough to dent the Batmobile with his fingers, or grow a foot taller by hitting a "boost" button on his arm but when they do him properly, he's fantastic. Have you read the Knightfall novel? He's one of the best, deepest, most realistic supervillains in any story ever in that.

People still want to read about Batman wearing a grey suit and fighting ridiculous villains. Hopefully that'll change some day.

We can only hope...
 

Gothamite

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I agree, however.... what's wrong with Bane? He's really not a that much of a sci-fi villain at all. Sure, he is if they screw up and make him strong enough to dent the Batmobile with his fingers, or grow a foot taller by hitting a "boost" button on his arm but when they do him properly, he's fantastic. Have you read the Knightfall novel? He's one of the best, deepest, most realistic supervillains in any story ever in that.

All I know of Bane is what I've seen on BTAS and...sigh...B&R. And in both cases, he was a sci-fi villain.

I have yet to read Knightfall, although I hope to pick the novel up soon.

We can only hope...

...and pray.
 
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