I’ve been batting around an idea in my head for an academic paper/conference presentation (probably for next year’s PCA/ACA) and I’d like to do something that I’ve done before that has worked out pretty well for me. I want to outsource some of my thinking and brainstorming to the internet. What I’m looking for here is comic book stories (or other media if you can think of them… but I’m not sure if there’s good examples of movies or TV shows… yet… Disney+ is coming… Lois and Clark maybe counts a little bit) that focus on the mundane aspects of being superhuman. That is to say, I don’t just want to think about superheroes that happen to have secret identities. I want to think about stories which primarily deal with superheroes trying to lead normal lives where the superheroics of the story are secondary, tertiary or even altogether nonexistent.
Tom King seems to basically be the master of this right now, with Vision being a definitive example. But also his work on Mister Miracle and Batman (particularly issue #37 with the Batman & Catwoman double date with Superman and Lois). Other examples I can think of are some stories in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series and Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird. Maybe Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and Austin Grossman’s text novel Soon I Will be Invincible (adjective coincidental) count here… I’m not sure yet… and that’s part of what I am trying to work out.
It’s actually a little hard to explain exactly what it is I’m looking for here… that’s part of the idea of the paper. For instance, even though there’s a lot of “normal human” stuff in Watchmen I don’t think it quite counts. I think I’m arguing we may be on the cusp, of a new sort of post-modern age of comics and I’m trying to figure out what exactly is going into that. One part of that might be the embrace of the mundane… not so much just the deconstruction of superheroes the way stuff like Watchmen did, but the reconstruction that occurs when we look at the building blocks of what the post-modern superhero is. And part of that may be a look at the mundane aspects of their humanity… the strive to be mundane even outside of the struggle to be superhuman. That is to say, that in a way, much of Silver age Spider-man stories dealt with Peter’s struggle to be a superhero with real life problems at home. Bronze Age was more about solving those problems through superhuman means. Modern was keeping the superhuman and human lives in balance… or figuring out who is the real person (is Superman the costume or is it Clark) and now maybe we’re looking at comics that have an inverse of the Silver Age problem. How does the superhuman struggle to be human when the superhuman is the norm… Even though it isn’t directly as obvious as some of the other stuff I dealt with, I think a lot of Into the Spider-verse was dealing with this problem… particularly in the Peter B. Parker storyline. Or something like that…
I’ll figure that out later. Right now I’m just looking for ideas. Tell me good stories (from any medium) that you think deal with this issue and why, and if you think you have thoughts that deal with the question I’m struggling with please feel free to share those too.