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The Mass Media

Life as told by comics

A beginning, a middle, and an ending: these three things can sum up just about every story ever told. One example being that Romeo and Juliet fall in love, struggle with that love and tragically die. In another, Luke Skywalker is desperate to leave Tatooine, he leaves for an adventure, and finally saves the galaxy.

However, there is one type of storytelling that completely ignores these rules. It centers on telling never-ending stories that continuously introduces new concepts while reintroducing old ones. All that’s needed is an origin, and from there on, decades of stories are formed. This is the strange realm of superhero comic books. Let’s reflect back on the origins of comic books: The year is 1938 and America is in the middle of a national emergency—the Great Depression. A bad economy, corrupt politicians and political reform are on everyone’s minds. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, that’s beside the point. The point is, people needed a hero. Someone who would fight corruption, protect people of all income levels, and give America an example to follow. This hero turned out to be the very well-known Superman.

One thing that cannot be ignored is how political early comics were (1). There was no kryptonite, no fortress of solitude, and no supervillains. Superman fought for political reform. His identity as a reporter is something that has derived from this. By trying to report on societal issues and challenges, both Clark Kent and Superman were fighting for the same thing. They were just doing it in different ways. Superman was a “social justice warrior” in every way. Yet, nowadays his stories are nowhere near as political. Instead of confronting corrupt landlords, he’s now just a nice guy that fights evil villains. Why is he not looked at so politically now?

The answer is time. Eventually, America got out of the Great Depression, and after entering World War II, a new era of patriotism and American pride took its place. Superman couldn’t be taking down corrupt politicians anymore. Nobody wanted to see that. So, he simply changed with the times.

Eventually, the Space Race began and Superman’s stories became more science-fiction oriented. In the nineties, he got a really cool mullet (2). To many readers, this may have seemed forced: how could Superman have gone from being a “Great Depression political reformer” to a “Nice Guy with a Mullet” for any tangible reason? They would probably argue that non-superhero stories are more realistic, by examining each of the actions a character makes and making sure it fits them. But frankly, that’s not life. Sure, if you were to look at someone’s actions in a period of a few hours, all of their choices may seem to fit some sort of profile. However, what many people tend to ignore is that people change. In a story with a normal structure (beginning, middle, and end), these kinds of changes can be left ignored. It is harder for an audience to empathize with a character if they’re too unpredictable. If a character goes from sweet to evil to anxious throughout a one-hour movie, there would be no way to understand the character. However, continuous storytelling like superhero comic books can spread these changes over a longer period of time, easing the reader into major plot changes.

Maybe television shows can do this, too. However, the difference is that actors age, forcing plot lines and characterizations to adjust. Ultimately, the actors will retire, and the show will end. Every plot point will be wrapped up—beginning, middle, and end. What about cartoons? They don’t have actors. The thing is that they, like TV shows, have to take a break between seasons. Life doesn’t take a break. It can be relentless. Every issue of a comic shows a character confronted with some sort of challenge, and famous superheroes usually have at least one comic out every month. Superhero comics reflect how people deal with a world that keeps on spinning. Just like us, they don’t get a break. Iron Man being an alcoholic was a very sharp turn from the character that Stan Lee and Don Heck had created (3). Daredevil turning out to be a tragic character that fought ninjas was definitely not what Stan Lee and Bill Everett had in mind when they created Daredevil, originally a light-hearted swashbuckler (4).

In most mediums, these plot points would have seemed completely out of nowhere. However, comic books were able to get away with this. It makes for a more poignant statement. When someone is born, it is not written in the stars that they’re going to become an alcoholic. In real life, there might not be any clues (foreshadowing) as to what may come, before it happens. So, while most stories have to give a limited view of what life is like, superhero comic books do not. Things may be introduced that don’t end up playing major roles in somebody’s story until years later. A person with a tragic life may spend a few years living an extremely carefree one. The world around them changes, causing a character to sometimes change with it too. As people, we change with the times. Most mediums cannot truly show that. Comic books, being always a product of their time, can.

  1. https://www.cbr.com/superman-dc-comics-changes-debut-stayed-the-same-comparison/

  2. https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-superman

  3. https://www.cbr.com/iron-man-tony-stark-alcholism-fall-off-wagon/

  4. https://www.marvel.com/characters/daredevil-matthew-murdock/in-comics

About the Contributor
Kyle Makkas, Humor Writer