Friday, June 5, 2009

Should Comic Books Incorporate Real World Economics?

We've discussed how the economic recession has been affecting characters and lifestyles in different comic book universes. Evidence of the recession's impact is prevalent both in DC and Marvel. Batman's absence since Grant Morrison's Batman RIP storyline has left Wayne Enterprises in a bit of a rough spot (though I'm not sure that Bruce really had anything to do with keeping company afloat aside from acting as a figurehead--maybe this is actually important to encourage investors in the company). Elsewhere, Tony Stark's recent "failure' during Marvel's Secret Invasion has led to the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D, the creation of a new homeland security organization, H.A.M.M.E.R., and the government freezing all of Tony assets at Stark Industries (including the Iron Man armor).

As this NY Daily News article points out, however, there is considerable debate among comic fans, creators, and even academics as to whether such a focus on the economy is good for readers. On the one hand, here is Dan Dido, executive editor at DC Comics:

I don't see how it doesn't work into our storytelling if not only our readers are feeling it, but our creators are feeling it

True that the readers might feel more attached the story if it reflected real world circumstances that they could connect with. But consider the comments of Mark White, Professor at the College of Staten Island:

Comic books are a way for people to get away from the real world. They don't want to be reminded of wars or tragedies or economic catastrophes.

This raises an interesting point as well. Although comic books have incorporated real-world since their inception (World War II, the Cold War, nuclear waste, the Red Scare, etc.), they have always been the medium to consistently portray characters that are "larger-than-life" and are able to overcome these obstacles with minimal attrition.

I would love to get some reader opinions on this. Should the comic book medium continue to evoke these harsh realities through their stories or should their primary purpose be to help the public escape these realities?


Captain Noble said...

I read comics to read good stories. If they reflect contemporary events, great. If not, oh well. I really don't care as long as it's a rippin' good yarn.

Tili said...

I agree that depressing issues can get in the way of an exciting superhero story, but I just want to mention that comics, as a medium, cover all kinds of genres in which it's not only appropriate but necessary to discuss the economy. For example, The Cartoon Guide to Economics! It really bothers me when I see people referring to "comics" or "comic books" when they really mean "superhero comics". Does Professor White not know about comics like American Splendor which intentionally reflect the real world and often focus on tragedy? If he's some kind of comics professor, he probably does, but the way he phrased his point makes it sound as though he doesn't.

Anonymous said...

In the examples cited in the post (Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises), I think they are more of a plot device (What if Batman/Iron Man had no money?) than actual stories reflecting real-world economics. That said, I do think "real world" economics do actually have a place in superhero comics IF they work within the story structure for the characters.

Take, for example, a character like Spiderman. By day, he's free-lance photographer Peter Parker. It is very easy to see someone like Peter Parker either getting sub-prime mortgage on a house that he REALLY can't afford or having a mortgage that's "underwater" (where the value of the house has declined against its mortgage to the point that if he sold, it would be at a loss). In addition, given the the nature of freelance photography, it also very easy to see Peter Parker as being over-extended on credit (credit cards, etc).

I can think of several great story lines where Peter Parker as Spider-man could be tempted to do something illegal or unethical in order to get out from under the crushing debt Peter Parker (as free lance photographer)has accrued. Think about it--Spidey has to choose between homelessness for him and his family (don't get me started on "One More Day") or "doing the right thing" as a Superhero of modest means.

Another interesting "real world" economics storyline that you could see in comics could be focused on the BUSINESS side of Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor's lives. It would be interesting to see how Wayne Industries could be used by Batman to thwart Lex Luthor's criminal schemes through business attacks on LexCorp.

Ben said...

I' would love to see those comics get printed.

Great point about american splendor. I wonder what Harvey Pekar would think about this. After all, his comic display of his actual life problems is his way to cope with life. He's not running from it by making himself fly.

Rock said...

I have to agree with Captain Noble. I want a good story, so if that story intertwines with real world situations then so be it. Sometimes it even heightens my enjoyment of a story because it adds an element, which is going on around me, that I can relate to.

Kaleberg said...

This is a spectacular opportunity for Namor. He could mortgage Atlantis and wind up underwater. Sort of like the briar patch!

Wehrkind said...

To quote Calvin and Hobbes "Quick! To the Bat-Fax!"

I think that incorporating more "real-world" information into superhero stories is a good thing only so long as the writers do their homework such that they do not make horrific mistakes. Much like science fiction that butchers the real science in their explanations, I think that splicing in poor economics would really alienate those who know better.
I personally think their best bet would be to mention the issues in passing, or make them a plot point in the story (Peter can't sell as many photos as the newspapers take a beating, and thus has a moral dilemma as suggested) but not in the sense that the heros/authors will solve the problems or give long speeches about them. That sort of hubris will only lead to readers rolling their eyes and getting pulled out of the story.

Greg Sanders said...

I tend to like comic books with real world power politics (power in the international relations sense). John Ostrander is my favorite author for that sort of thing.

I think the real world conflict tends to be a bit easier than economics to translate into superhero comics, but I do still appreciate getting the economics right. I like to learn a bit about the world even from fiction, so if some actual situations can be worked in or interesting indirect effects considered than all the better.

admin said...

Great point about american splendor. I wonder what Harvey Pekar would think about this. After all, his comic display of his actual life problems is his way to cope with life. He's not running from it by making himself fly.

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