Monday, August 23, 2010

Comic Books

Someone more interested in comics than me noted an overarching theme when it came to Comic Book Themes

Hmmm. Have you ever notice the gun trend in comic books, historically?

Superman? Good guy. Doesn’t use a gun.

Punisher? Bad guy. Uses a gun. Sure he went after bad guys, but his motivation was pure revenge and didn't mind when innocents get in the way. He was out for blood and didn't care who got hurt.

Batman? Good. No gun. Another revenge driven vigilante, but always goes out of his way NOT to kill bad guys and protect the innocent from harm.

Deadpool? Bad. Gun user.

Wonder Woman
, Spiderman, Flash... Good. Gunless.

Generic Villains? Bad. Often packing heat.

In comic books, pretty much anyone who uses a gun is bound to be evil. This motif is melting a little bit in modern iterations, post Silver/Bronze Age of comics (late 80s on) but is still the dominant paradigm.

(A trope. A word that wasn't around much 3 years ago, now you can't swing a dead cat without knocking into it.)

Oh there are a few good guy gun users contrary to this general rule, like the Shadow or the Phantom, but those are minor exceptions. The sometime-good / sometimes-bad gun wielders are often mercenaries with monetary gain being their guiding light and allusions with the Military Industrial Complex tacked on as baggage. And there are exceptions, naturally, of a nature like, "Nuh uh! Batman used a pistol he picked up in DC #122 and #198," or whatever. Again, mere quibbles and minutia.

I just found all that interesting, having never considered it before, and it reveals a cultural undercurrent. Before comic books the hero was the iconic cowboy. And the good guys CERTAINLY packed heat along with the bad guys then. In the enterainment media and romantizations.


Tam said...

It's because guns are fatal. You can't shoot people "just a little bit".

Comic book heroes, by and large, do not kill bad guys; they tie them up and hand them over to the cops. If your hero had a gun, all he could do with it would be to shoot guns out the bad guys' hands.

elmo iscariot said...

When you can punch the moon out of its orbit or vaporize aircraft carriers with your eyes, throwing around 480-joule lead pellets is pretty pointless. ;)

Mister_V said...

Good points, but I think it's more of a writing thing to give the heroes a recurring rogue's gallery. The Joker could hardly be Batman's nemesis if Batman had blown him away with the .45 he carried in a shoulder holster in the earliest comics. Of course, during WWII, Captain America and Bucky machine-gunned nazis by the thousands with big plastic smiles on their faces. Changing times, I suppose.

Windy Wilson said...

Well, in WW2 the Nazis were generic and interchangeable, and anonymous.
That is a good point about moral ambiguity. The TV Green Hornet carried a gun, iirc a gas gun which he inventoried before taking off with Kato in the "Black Beauty".
Oh, and a "trope" is the new paradigm for a concept. ;)

Ian Argent said...

+1 on the rogues gallery - one of the disappointments to me of the big-budget superhero movies is that by and large they've been doing one-and-done with the bad guys. Now, I appreciate it when a bad guy makes a satisfying THUMP when they hit the floor as much as the next guy; but you run out of villians that way.

It doesn't bug me for things that don't have established continuity, BTW. One-and-done is how I prefer most of the villians of the TV shows I watch, but in a lot of cases these are the icons of the hero's mythology.

Nobody makes serials anymore, that's the pity

Anonymous said...

One of the first comics I ever remember reading was G.I. Combat. I always recollect Sgt. Rock as the hero with the Thompson sub-machine gun and a Colt 1911A1. Also in G.I. Combat was the "Haunted Tank". To me, I only have positive memories from reading them. Again my memory could be a little off, I also seem to remember bazooka bubble gun being a penny a piece.

Anonymous said...

The Shadow and the Phantom hardly count as exceptions - they are both solidly pulp characters, not superheroes, and as such predate the paradigm. Ditto other early characters (Spy Smasher, for example). The 90s in comics saw a 'softening' on this general rule due to the rise in popularity of the 'gritty antihero' (Punisher, Deadpool), and characters from that era that are still popular still use guns (although Deadpool, not so much anymore, and Punisher's dead in the main continuity as of...this month).