Plot Devices that Need to Go Away #4
GRIM & GRITTY
Also Known As: Going Dark, More "mature", "Sensible", "Adult", or "Driving people from comics since 1985"
What is it? Remember those happy-go-lucky smiling happy superheroes who always saved the day and no one really ever got hurt too badly? Well fuck that true believer! We're going to do it the way it would REALLY HAPPEN. Family members die gruesome deaths! The Heroes are powerless as their petty idealism is exposed and mocked! Supporting characters are brutal victimized. The Heroes have to take EXTREEEEMMEEEE measures to..ok, I'm done. I'm sorry, I can't even try to make fun of this. You either know what I'm talking about or you don't.
Why do comic companies do it? Because the fans want it, it sells, it has short-term shock value and it's a reflection of the other mass media of our civilization, such as movies and TV.
Recent Offenders include but are not limited to: Actually, it'd be easier to identify the characters whom haven't been subjected to this particular gimmick. Let's just say it's infected every character in comics over the last couple decades like a particularly virulent strain of herpes.
Patient Zero: BATMAN. In particular, The Dark Knight Returns Batman that set the bar for this entire gimmick. This was the darkest Batman that had existed, and one that was pretty grim to audiences that only knew him from the Adam West era. Any more than this really doesn't need to be said.
Why does it have to go away? Aside from the fact that it has been so overused that it should be retired on general principles, it's infantile and insane. I'm sorry, but only a seriously fucked up civilization would demand excessive realism in all its genres at all times. This is reflected in most "dramatic" movies and TV shows that are so fricking dark that you might as well be listening to radio dramas. We continually ask "What would really happen if...?" for everything, and the answer, if history is any guide, is "Bad shit", but because we are increasingly desensitized to any humane emotion, and that's pretty much the opposite of what fiction SHOULD be doing for us. It should be inspiring us, giving us new ideals and new things to communicate. This is nothing but well, bullshit hackery by bullshit hacks that are taking cues from hollywood movies and just projecting their own irrational hatreds, fears, and thoughts onto a genre and conept that it is fairly incompatible with. See Pennance below for the ultimate example of how incredibly stupid this is.
Angles for Redemption of the Device: Show that it doesn't work. Show that darkness does nothing but consume and destroy and that by staying true to your ideals, you can win. Maybe it's not realistic, but it's a better story to tell.