Super heroes have always kind of been my thing. Since I was a little kid I’ve enjoyed the escapism and wonder that they’ve provided me well into my adult years. It is a good time to be alive and be a fan of super heroes. I remember back in the day when comics were depicted as bait used by pedophiles in popular media. Now I turn around and everywhere I see, people embrace them in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was young. I’ve gone from having to publicly hide my love for comic books, risking the horrible nerd outsider backlash of the 80’s and 90’s, to now watching my favorite characters in huge blockbuster movie franchises that rule Hollywood and pop-culture. My little nerd outsider hobby is all grown up.
This growth is no more stark then when looking at the Hollywood movie schedule for Super Hero movies for the next 4 to 5 years (thanks to Comics Alliance).
Last week, Marvel announced their phase 3 plans which will include not just Dr. Strange, but also Black Panther, and (the female) Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel is the news that excites me the most as she’s probably my favorite female super hero. She’s got less (note, less) baggage then Wonder Woman and a powerset that puts her on par with Superman. My favorite comic series with her was the recent 17 issue solo run written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and art by lots of folks but Filipe Andrade is among my favorites. It was a great run with your typical super heroics and such, but nothing earth shattering or character changing in any of the stories presented.
And that’s fine by me. One of the things I struggle with, in this glut of super heroics, is event fatigue. A state that occurs when every story is a world shattering, character changing, super arc of massive proportions. After a while the fatigue sets in and you start wondering how many times the universe has to be at stake before everyone starts to wonder if it’s even worth it any more. It’s why the Iron Man movies are easily my favorite of the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. In the first movie, the only thing at risk is control of a company. In the second, you have basically an amusement park terrorist attack, and the symbolic legacy of Tony Stark. It’s only the 3rd movie where the stakes ramp up to control of the whole country, and if you’re cynical enough, you’d believe that whoever won that fight wouldn’t have changed a whole lot anyway. Contrast this, with both the Thor and Cap movies, all great in their own right, but you’re fighting for the fate of the world, or the fate of 9 worlds, (Oouuu, 9 is more then one!) and yeah. Just how many times are they going to have to keep the Universe together with duct tape and banding wire before all the times they’ll go and save it will stop being believable?
When this happens, I tend to seek out things like The Batman Adventures series of comics from DC. Stories based on the Timm-verse animated series that set out only to tell a story about Batman being Batman and fighting crime. O,r I’ll peruse the graphic novel section of Barnes and Noble looking for anthologies or even manga that collect stories together. There’s lots of value in the short story and it’s really disappointing that there appear to be fewer and fewer sources to go and get good short stories that feature my favorite characters. Comics, TV, and movies all keep trying to play the long game and one-upping themselves to tell longer, and dig deeper deeper, and find more connections in their stories.
Video games suffer this problem too. Every game revolves around the fate of the world, with a quest of epic proportions, and your adventure becomes the stuff of legends. Until the sequel and all that stuff you did before was just fluff or filler. Filler is a term I’m coming to hate more and more as I hear reviewers use it when reviewing stories about characters that are not central to the main plot of whatever they are talking about. It’s used to indicate that whatever is being shown is a distraction from the main plot and thus of lesser importance. Using the term misses the point of the “filler” entirely. Because, after every story about an epic struggle against good and evil, sometimes I’d just like to sit back and enjoy a piece of media where the stakes weren’t quite so high. But the way so much media takes itself so seriously these days, it can be very hard sometimes to find any way to just let go and have some fun.
That’s why Shovel Knight is easily my favorite game since the Mass Effect series. I love it. It’s a fun and breezy 2D side scrolling platformer, with NES style music and graphics, but made with a modern sensibility to narrative, game-play, and function. It doesn’t try to march me down an epic quest to save the universe. It just gives me an objective and sets me out to accomplish that. As I follow my quest (note quest, singular) my deeds become epic just by virtue of me accomplishing them. Each step on the journey becomes a story unto itself that is as satisfying to finish as it is to start the next one. It’s a 10 hour game and perfectly priced at 15 bucks on Steam. I wish there were a dozen sequels to it, all exploring the characters the game introduces us to. All with no greater then one quest to follow or adventure to have.
This isn’t to say that I hate to see the world threatening, all encompassing mega stories. Event fatigue isn’t so strong that I won’t be able to enjoy watching super heroes be super. But hopefully developers, writers, and crafters are starting to see that there’s space for adventures that don’t require putting the whole world in peril at every moment to be interesting. There’s space for low stakes. There’s space for silliness. It’s high time we start rewarding the folks who just want to tell us a good story. Here’s to hoping as we continue through this Golden Age of Super Heroes, that we’ll get a good mix of both types of stories. We should have time to breathe in between the aliens invading and the planets exploding. I would love an Avengers sit-com. Just Thor, Cap, and Loki sitting around trying to make sense of modern life. Iron Man shows up once in a while to roll his eyes sarcastically, and off we go. Good times.