Tuesday, November 30, 2004

How long have you had these feelings, Clark?

At Movie Poop Shoot, Marc Mason chats with former comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth about his book, Superman on the Couch, heroes who kill, and the psychology of supervillains:

MM: Your section on villains is probably the strongest in the book, as you openly state what was quietly pushed forward by the recent BATMAN films: the heroes are merely a device in many ways, as it is the villains who are the agents of change and progression, even if it is negative change. That's one reason why true changes for characters like Superman are rare and fleeting: heroes are about the status quo. Was it just something blatantly obvious that you felt like writing down or was it cathartic to discuss this on the printed page?

DF: I don't think I invented the idea, but it certainly touched a chord in me. Villains want to make the world over in their image. Heroes want to protect the world as we know it. (Of course, the best villains see themselves as heroes. Dr. Doom sees himself as an agent of positive change.) The most interesting heroes, though, have more complex agendas.

One of the things that was revolutionary about the Marvel heroes when they first appeared was that they had a touch of the villain in them. They weren't perfect and didn't pretend to be. Spider-Man started out to make money and have fun with his powers before his uncle was murdered. The Thing hates being the Thing and would love to go back to being a normal human. They're still heroes, and not quite the "anti-hero" that a Dirty Harry is, but they do end up having at least a touch of wanting more than to just preserve the status quo. If nothing else, the fact that a status quo that may arguably be beneficial for a society could be detrimental to that society's superhuman protectors creates all sorts of character-enhancing and story-generating conflicts.

The general point is a fascinating one. Villains want change; they want the world to behave to their benefit. The heroes want to prevent that change. If a hero started to effect change, some people would stop seeing him or her as heroic. There've been some fascinating comics that use that premise.