Supertopia

The superhero genre is an inherently utopian one. At its most primal basic level the tale of the superhero is a tale of an avatar of good who fights for justice, always beats the bad guys, and even if they die, they always come back. Even Batman, most inherently pessimistic of the archetypal supers, will at least temporarily be able to lock the Joker away in Arkham, and he’ll do it over and over again forever. The superhero world is a world of eternal hope, where gods watch over the mortals and keep them from harm.

This anti-reality is unbounded from the rules of our world. Superheroes transcend biology, physics, logic itself in their escape from the gravity of the real. The best of the old comics have a boundless freedom. Infinite possibilities spill forth from the mighty id to be barely contained in pen and ink. The standard punctuation of this world is the exclamation mark! Suddenly! The bolt of shazam! The gamma bomb!

When comics grew older and more respectable they pitted the real against the utopian. Peter Parker had amazing powers that defied the laws of physics but the laws of physics still killed his girl. Superman can fight giant robots all day long but he can’t fight the evils of society.

But even the most degraded and dystopian superhero reality is based off of a utopian core.  The superhero dystopia isn’t just the opposite of utopia, it’s a utopia turned in against itself and all that boundless energy and light harnessed for the basest purposes. They could have cities in the sky and instead they kill each other with dead psychic squids. Seeing these avatars of infinite good chained down to mortal flesh creates a perverse tension. The real and the impossible pushing against each other.

Doesn’t good always win? That depends on which world comes out on top.

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