Back in a 2014 interview (and more recently summarized by The Guardian), Alan Moore said the following:
To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.
Whoa, whoa, whoa there, Alan. That’s Marvel you’re talking about there. Trash DC all you want, but Marvel... no way, man. No. Freakin’. Way. Having been a fan of comic books for a good portion of my life, most notably the Marvel publications, my immediate reaction to this quote was, well, anger. I mean, how dare you, Mr. Moore for criticizing something I love.
That was the kneejerk reaction I think most of us have anytime someone attacks something we love or even like. Human nature, some people say. Or are we just being oversensitive? Are we just being jerks? Once I shook off the initial “Hey, wait a minute!”, I saw something interesting. Alan Moore might be right, just not in the way I immediately thought.
With the rational mind I try to keep in focus, I saw perhaps there was some truth to what Moore was saying in this part of his interview. I can’t subscribe to the notion that superheroes are catastrophic to our culture. Culture moves and changes over time. What is popular today, will likely be unpopular tomorrow.
To me, the most noteworthy portion of Moore’s interview is when he says the public has given up in their attempt to understand their existence by shifting focus towards Marvel’s and DC’s universes instead. As a writer, I find this an incredibly sloppy thing to say. Moore writes fiction, and often, he writes comic books. Sure, the messages in his comic books reflect thoughts about our own troubled world and our limited understanding of our world, but the fact remains, Moore uses his fiction as a medium to express and explore. I would argue that Marvel and DC do the same things.
The Marvel movies, while colorful and huge in scope, reminds us that most of us strive to be heroes, and we must work hard to become heroes. We must sacrifice, and sometimes, we must fall. DC, while still young in expanding its universe, shows that heroes can exist in the much darker areas of our world. Real hatred spawns from these encounters, causing us to hope for heroes, but also to fear and respect the power they bring to the table.
This is what fiction does. It takes our world that we know (or at least, we think we know), and it spins it into something else. It spins it differently, taking our minds with it, in an attempt to understand something we didn’t know before.
Moore is right in some ways. We have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand these days, ignoring the injustices that happen around us. Of course, maybe that’s the way it’s always been. In my experience, we tend to ignore the truths around us. When fiction spins those truths into something else, we tend to raise our heads. Maybe it’s today, maybe tomorrow, but somewhere along the way, we begin to see those “fictional” themes bleeding into our real world. Once we see “fiction” in our real world and realize how absurd it looks and sounds, we begin to take notice. I believe this is the fatal flaw in Moore’s statement. Fiction, whatever form it takes, helps us understand our reality and broaden our outlook on what we think we know.
Or maybe I’m just a jerk. You tell me.