Reading Your Favorite Superhero Sucks by Hooded Utilitarian editor, comic critic, and writer for The Atlantic Noah Berlatsky elicited three main responses from me: laughter, anger, or pondering. I laughed as he savagely took potshots at inept comic book artists Philip Tan and Igor Kordey in essays about Batman and Cable respectively. I was a little angry when he spent an entire essay nitpicking about why Iron Man didn’t save Jessica Jones and “plot holes” in shared universes but smiled a little bit when Berlatsky begrudgingly wrote about some of the reasons he enjoyed her Netflix series
As long as you’re okay with seeing your (super)heroes slung through the mud, is an entertaining and wide-ranging work of superhero criticism as Noah Berlatsky covers the gamut from Silver Age Wonder Woman comics to recent Marvel blockbusters like Avengers and Ant-Man and even superhero TV shows. Each chapter is titled “XYZ superhero sucks” and is a short essay critiquing a facet of them. No nook and cranny of the superhero world is spared from his biting wrath as he talks about Joss Whedon‘s inability to craft a believable romance and a strong female character in one narrative (I would counter with Zoe and Wash’s relationship in Firefly even though they don’t fall in love per se during the show.), the fact that Aquaman has always been a supporting player, and that the Hulk is a racist African American caricature. (He’s a character that I’ve never been too fond of. There’s a reason that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a one-off novel.)
Probably, the most enlightening essays of the bunch for me were Berlatsky’s well-researched piece about why there are no great Wonder Woman stories, an article about how writer Christopher Priest showed how Black Panther didn’t fit the superhero mold in his run on the book, and also how Stan Lee and Jack Kirby‘s X-Men run is racist, sexist, and just plain bad. I also enjoyed the essay about X-Men Days of Future Past that was paired with the Lee/Kirby one that discussed how Bryan Singer showed “genocide without context” in the film. This idea works even better with X-Men Apocalypse when Magneto (Under the influence of Apocalypse.) destroys Auschwitz as his tragic backstory as a Holocaust survivor that Singer decided to make the first shot of X-Men in service of yet another CGI disaster movie sequence.
Berlatsky’s thesis for why there are no great Wonder Woman stories is that William Moulton Marston‘s vision for her was so contradictory. (She’s a powerful woman, but also likes to be bound. She is peaceful, but also likes to punch people.) Wonder Woman isn’t like a Spider-Man, Wolverine, or Batman, who Berlatsky says are ciphers and get fit into a bunch of different types of stories. (I think genre jumping is one of Batman’s strengths as a character.) Then, he goes into a deep dive of Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky‘s run on the title starting with Wonder Woman #178, which took a giant dump on Marston’s vision with Wonder Woman saying she is a monster, Steve Trevor acting like a creeper, and plenty of hippy slang and psychedelic art. But unfortunately, O’Neil and Sekowsky couldn’t build up a new vision of Wonder Woman in place of Marston’s, depowered her in the next issue, and gave her a stereotypical Asian martial arts sensei named I-Ching. The rest of the essay is a hilarious chronicle of just how terrible Wonder Woman comics were in the Bronze Age except for some of Diana’s groovy outfits.
Honestly, we as fans of superhero comics often take these brightly colored underwear wearing mostly white men too seriously. I know I’m guilty of going on multi-tweet rants about how Marvel or DC is “misusing” one of the small parts of their intellectual property. Sometimes, we need to sit back and listen to someone, like Berlatsky, who doesn’t give superheroes the benefit of a doubt and isn’t afraid to probe their weaknesses, inadequacies, and utter failure at mirroring reality or being ethical. Because the (non-animated) Justice League is a scrub superhero team, and everyone knows it.
“Your Superhero Sucks” also show the potential of comics criticism to be more than just a mouthpiece/cheering squad for big companies or an exercise in pretentious shelling out the latest Drawn & Quarterly. It can be entertaining, insightful, and provocative just like criticism in any other medium.
Your Favorite Superhero Sucks is set to be released as a self-published e-book on September 19, 2016 and can be preordered here.
Overall Rating: 8.0