Heroes Never Rust #104 by Sean Ironman
A Final Note
With Marvel 1985 issue six, no reader will be surprised when Toby returns to the real world with the Marvel heroes, and the villains are soon defeated. Does anyone ever expect the heroes to lose in these stories? But just because the inevitable good-triumphing-over-evil occurs, the story does offer interesting developments.
In an effort to stop the villains, Toby’s father is gunned down by Red Skull. There’s a dark comedic vein running through the scene of Toby’s father confronting the villains, and Red Skull calmly taking out his pistol and killing the father. The story doesn’t end there. Nor does it end with the villains defeated, the heroes returning to their world, or even with Toby’s father’s funeral.
The comic ends years later, when Toby is an adult. He’s on his laptop writing a comic called 1985, and in the final two pages, his father wakes up in the Marvel Universe under the care of Jane Foster, a nurse and a love interest for Thor. Earlier in the comic series, his father said that he had a crush on Jane Foster, so years later, Toby gives his father his wish—his father asks Jane out on a date and she says yes. Marvel 1985 ends with his father looking out at the New York City of the Marvel Universe in anticipation for the possibilities.
This brings up an interesting aspect of superhero stories, and fiction as a whole—the idea of wish fulfillment. Why write fiction? Why write superhero stories? The superhero genre isn’t well respected. Even now, much of the respect it has earned is only because of the hundred of millions superhero films bring in at the box office. While comics have gained more respect in recent years, mainly by people who resist calling comics comics and instead refer to them as graphic or sequential narrative or other terms showing their embarrassment over comics, the superhero genre is still thought of in a similar way as fantasy YA novels are thought of in the literary community.
Superhero stories, though, serve an important function for the literary community. Due to many factors, like the rise of creative nonfiction and the focus on a global community, so much of writing is about our world. Even in fiction, our reality plays an important role. Stories must be real. Stories must show the world as it is, people as they are. Stories seem to be gritty and characters gray. But superhero stories offer a break from all that. Instead of showing the world as it is, readers (and writers) get to use their imagination and look at a different world.
But, this isn’t escapism.
I don’t like that word, escapism. Whenever I hear someone say they like a certain book or a certain film or a certain genre because it offers them an escape, I just feel bad for that person, that he or she lives such an awful existence or views the world in such an awful way that they must shut down for a couple of hours and escape. Superhero stories are not escapism. They can comment on what it means to be human just as much as any literary story. Does each superhero story do that? Of course not, but neither does every literary short story. Does Superman really save the day? Does Spider-man? Batman? etc. No, they don’t. Superman fights a man or a robot or a monster with his fists and he puts off evil temporarily. But, that’s not where the story is at.
Superman’s story is with Lois Lane, Perry White, the Kents. It’s the people and the effect Superman has on them as people. If literary means a focus on craft and that the story comments on what it means to be human, then superhero stories are literary. A story doesn’t have to comment on how the world is for the reader to learn about the world. You can learn about our world, not just by studying what it is, but by studying what it is not.
With all the technological advancements and heroics in a superhero comic, the world is not better off. The Marvel Universe still has the same problems as our world. There is still greed and selfishness. There is still violence. Kids still go to bed hungry. Sexism still exists. Racism does too. Superheroes are just window dressing on the same world. Even with the help of superheroes, them saving our lives, the human beings are still the same human beings as we are. The presence of a superhero doesn’t change what it means to be human. It just allows a different view of our world.
Many of us complain about mass shootings (rightly so). Many of us complain about space travel no longer being a priority. Many of us want something in place to stop the government from doing whatever the government wants to do. Yet, even in a world of superheroes, there are still mass shootings, people aren’t traveling freely to other planets, and government officials are still corrupt. A superpowered savior will not save us from being us. I think that makes a greater comment on humanity than many realist short stories and novels. We may wish for something magical to save us, some kind of easy solution to our problems, but superhero stories show us that that will never happen. We are who we are. Nothing will stop us from the faults of Man. Only we can do that.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.