Superheroes and SF

Apr 10, 01:48 by Carey McGee
Most people's definitions of SF and fantasy don't include superheroes, but I'm curious as to whether people consider them to be part of the genre or a genre unto themselves. And if they're not part of SF/F, then what is it that debars them?

Clearly there is some crossover, however thin. Superman's alien identity is a primary example, though his alien-ness isn't a factor in most of his stories (his personality determined far more by his corn-fed Midwest upbringing than his biological parents); it's just a way to give him his powers.

Plenty of other heroes also have speculative elements (albeit ludicrously executed) to their powers or identities: radioactive spiders, gamma bombs, super-soldier serum, a galaxy-spanning collective of guardians with magic rings, etc. Not hard SF by any means, but are they really all that different from "the Force" or John Carter's adventures on Mars (the latter particularly in light of a character like J'onn J'onzz)?

The speculation here is limited generally to the origin story, and the more one tries to apply rigorous to these concepts behind these characters and their powers, the more they collapse under their own weight. Simple questions such as where Superman gets the leverage to lift anything when he's airborne are left pleasantly unexamined.

However, most fantasy worlds also lack scientific rigor, even if they are internally consistent. If we expand the discussion to "fantasy," then where do we draw the line? It’s arbitrary to exclude something from fantasy just because it isn’t populated by dragons and pixies.

Is it really that much of a stretch from contemporary urban fantasy to Dr. Strange? Plus you’ve got the co-opting of various mythic systems into the superhero matrix. If a novel about Loki and Thor is “fantasy” but an Avengers comic featuring Loki and Thor is “superheroes,” then is it just a question of whether the character is wearing a brightly colored costume?

All of these distinctions and definitions are pointless to a certain extent, but when it comes to what kind of things are included in IROSF, the issues are relevant. Personally, as much as I like superheroes, I’m inclined to exclude them. But the more I think about trying to draw a line between this and that, the more slippery it all becomes, so I’d like to hear from our readers.

Do people want to see reviews of superhero comics and movies here, or essays about superheroes as modern myths, in these pages? Or are those things better left to other venues?

[It is important here to separate the superhero story from the comic book medium. Obviously there are SF comics, just as there are Western comics, horror comics, etc. Even these, though, often end up adopting many of the visual, if not story, motifs from superheroes -- a character like Dreadstar dwells in an ostensibly SF world, but dresses in a what is basically a superhero costume.]
Apr 10, 09:25 by Bluejack
Personally, I think the superhero genre is "part of the fold." Look at Neil Gaiman: got his start in comics, also writes fantasy. Consider the term "speculative" -- imagining people with super powers is nothing if not speculative! How about the X-Men. They're mutants! Mutants! Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider! Batman -- he doesn't even have any superpowers does he? Just nifty gadgets! Consider a lot of the anime: many S-F themes in anime.

But most important, go to an anime or comic convention. Major overlap in fandom and culture.

In other threads I think I have made my feelings known that genre definitions and distinctions are ultimately arbitrary, but do have a meat-and-potatos constituency-serving heart. The lines between superhero comics, fantasy or sci-fi graphic novels, and traditional print genres are all a bit blurry: I wouldn't want to be the person who had to say "Here's where the fence is, and I'm sorry -- nobody wearing tights is allowed past this point."
Apr 10, 12:07 by Joy Ralph
The superhero stories that I feel don't really fall under the somewhat fuzzy rubric of Fantasy or Science Fiction are the ones where the speculative element is lacking; where the power or special gift or fantastic gadgets are essentially background that isn't addressed (as Carey mentions) much beyond the origin story.

I certainly won't deny there is a huge overlap in fans. I also wouldn’t reject anything purely out of hand. I admit it's an arbitrary judgment call, particularly for the more borderline cases - like Gaiman's 1602 for example, which does a remarkable (and editorially frustrating) job of balancing itself right at the apex of that theoretical fence.

Because of flexible nature of the genre, as a reader (and an editor) I find the burden really rests on the author of the review (or to step back a little further, the piece itself). Show me how the item under scrutiny fits into the context of science fiction/fantasy - make that connection explicit. That's the best way to defuse any argument about what is and isn't appropriately SF/F, in my explicitly unhumble opinion.
Apr 10, 21:27 by travitt hamilton
I think we should stay away from setting a Policy on super hero pieces. Left to my own devices, I would happily exclude the folks in tights (and fantasy and horror while we're at it)-Wonder Woman excepted-but so far, we have a de facto editorial policy of not acknowledging strict genre bounderies. And everyone who's posted so far has touched on the futility of trying to maintain these boundaries in any case. I'm with Joy; it seems incumbent upon the writer to establish the SF context or credibility of a given idea and if that piece works, then why exclude it?

For our purposes, I think Carey and Bluejack have it right with their instincts to throw it back to the readers.
Jun 2, 11:49 by
Lot of really great idead in here

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