THE BLOG

Our Superheroes Are Getting Too Dark

21/02/2014 17:49 GMT | Updated 23/04/2014 10:59 BST

Please Note: This blog post contains spoilers for Man of Steel, and for the current run of Spider-Man comics in both US and UK (including recently publicised announcements about forthcoming issues). I point this out because I complained about spoilers in a post a while ago, so posting them without giving a heads up would officially make me a complete tool.

I don't have a problem with darkness.

I have a natural affinity with the spooky and the horrible. I have no beef against violence in entertainment, (just violence in real life as I have explained before), and I firmly believe that writers should be able to deliver the story they want to tell without any behind-the-scenes hand-wringing that it's all getting a bit nasty.

Except, apparently, when it comes to mainstream superheroes.

I think every kid develops something of their sense of right and wrong from the heroes they're presented with early in life. I was a child of the 70s, and I saw Superman on first release. In fact, I only got to see it because our local paper misprinted the certificate in the movie listings, leading my mum to take me to the cinema believing it was a U. It was, in fact, an A, (the predecessor of the current PG), but she didn't find that out until we'd already been queueing for an hour and the queue had finally shifted up sufficiently for us to reach the poster. At this point, she was faced with either abandoning her 'U ratings only' policy or dragging her screaming and uncomprehending son away from a movie that he'd just queued for an hour to watch.

That's how I saw my first A certificate and, like many kids, I guess I picked up something of what it means to be righteous from Christopher Reeve's beautifully judged performance as Clark Kent/Superman.

Despite this, and I ended up a Marvel boy rather than the DC one, particularly when it came to the character of Spider-Man. Something about the wall-crawler just connected with me, as it had done with generations before and continues to do with brand new ones (the character celebrated his 15th anniversary in 2012). A lot has been made of the fact that Peter Parker's mundane, everyday problems are often juxtaposed against his alter-ego's massive, world-in-peril problems, and that was certainly part of the appeal. The idea that a hero could be saving the world with a stinking head cold, or fighting a monster whilst worrying about paying a bill. The humanity in the face of the extreme.

So, if Superman is the eternal boy-scout with the strength of a god and Spider-Man the troubled everyman striving to comprehend incredible levels of responsibility, something remains in common with both; both are struggling to always do good, no matter what forces are pitted against them.

I mentioned at the top of the post that spoilers follow. Well, here they come, the plot-wrecking bastards. Don't say I didn't warn you.

In the comics at the moment, Peter Parker is dead. Spider-Man is Otto Octavius, the former Dr Octopus, in Peter Parker's stolen body. He's an arrogant asshole who attempts to be a superhero but sometimes ends up killing people. It's terrific fun to read, and from a narrative point of view it's a flat-out genius move. Comics, like sitcoms, move in cycles where the status quo is changed only to be eventually restored. The average lapsed Spider-Man reader dropping back into the comics would expect the comfort-blanket of consistency, not Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man.

Superman, on the other hand, went and snapped Zod's neck at the end of last year's Man of Steel movie. He snapped the dude's neck. Not very boy-scout. There isn't a 'snapping a dude's neck' merit badge. I don't think there's even one for minor throttling.

Both of these might be considered brilliant devices for jolting complacent audiences out of their iPhone stupors. In the case of Spider-Man, writer Dan Slott reinvigorated the rinse/cycle/repeat structure and made a 50-year-old comic book a must read again for an awful lot of people. In the case of Man of Steel, it at least signified a significant enough change of direction to coax viewers to sit through yet another load of cornfields in yet another bloody origin story, having already had ten years worth of that on Smallville.

But. But. But.

The universe will not rest easy until the status quo is re-established. The story broke last month that, in Spider-Man's case, this is going to happen sooner rather than later, because there's a new Spidey movie out this year, and Marvel would have been daft to have so much potential new readers try out their first Spider-Man comic as a result of the movie and then be confronted by such an alienating central character. If the movie hadn't come along, though, I'm not sure how long the storyline would have run for; a year is an eternity to a kid, and as they had the balls to run it for that long, who's to say it couldn't have run longer?

The thing is, when I saw that news story I practically whooped. Because as much as I love the darkness, I apparently want to keep it away from my superheroes. The darkness in the Superior Spider-Man arc has meant that I've been quietly hiding the comics rather than encouraging my kids to flick through them as I used to. The darkness in Man of Steel means that those same kids will grow up with the Reeve movies rather than the Cavill ones, which is probably cooler anyway.

Goddammit, I like my mainstream superheroes to be the light-bulb not the power-cut.

Oh, except Batman, of course. Darkness is where that dude lives.