This week I found myself coming around again to
Alan Moore’s comments from a couple months back in an
interview with Vulture. They’re polarizing,
naturally. In short, he feels superheroes were intended as an exercise of imagination for
children decades ago; that they have no intelligible purpose for those same
people now. I recall saying that he sounded like a grown, sour grapes Holden
Caulfield, bemoaning adults who enjoy superheroes today.
While I still disagree with his sentiment, I’m
not feeling as harsh.
Moore regards the current superheroic landscape
as unhealthy escapism, which, I think, points to a major purpose of his
work. I’ve always had an easy time enjoying but a hard time processing it. I
begrudged him saying his efforts in Watchmen weren’t meant to
reinvigorate comics because intentions become secondary as soon as other people
consume another’s work. An audience finds ways to make it their own…that’s kind of
In the Vulture interview, Moore speaks at length
about the growing complexities of the world. And as he sees it, to encourage
superhero escapism is to discourage facing the natural complexity of our
He also acknowledges how complexity can trigger a compulsion for
something absolute, though. That’s because it is the opposite of having our ducks in a
row. Things are inherently scattered and nuanced and as such can easily be
received as an invitation to extremism. It’s easy to glom onto what’s nearest
and hold on for dear life.
As much as he can disown it, the heroes in Watchmen
still illustrate this wonderful point. It resonates because it forces us to
engage our own near-sighted habits. Their world as they know it is threatened
and they react in a way they feel contributes to maintaining its essence. But
none of it fosters deeper understanding of the circumstances against which they’re
fighting so hard.
Consider that and how escapism can so easily
become a destitute distraction. This is where I see nuance on the topic of
superheroes that Moore, seemingly, does not. Distraction is okay. It’s
acceptable and conceivably even necessary. But the best parts of any good
distraction should never be the fabulous ways it distracted us. Doctor Strange is guilty of this, which is why it still irks me.
If a story is an escape, it should also help us
find a way back from whatever we left. We should go back to that thing each
time with a new perspective in our arsenal so we can better navigate its depths and the parts of it that drove us away. Otherwise, escapism is exactly
as Moore bills it: the frivolous activity that keeps us from saying the things
we need to.
To say superheroes today, by and large, are
about the unhealthy kind of escapism
is what I disagree with most. I believe there are current writers who craft
their work in a way that challenges us to see the big picture and how we
influence it as individuals. However, I know and have known there are ones that
don’t, and this old news regarding Moore’s point of view now enables me to see
the genre’s complexities with more clarity.
Here’s to the nuanced.