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Comics

Things I Said I’d Do This Year: The Narrative Consequences of Batman, Spider-Man and Daredevil

Splash Art, a detail from the cover of Daredevil #32 (vol. 2). Interior Art: Daredevil #32, Batman & Robin #16, Superior Spider-Man #5.

What would the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who coined the term "suspension of disbelief" say to Batman, Inc. and the Superior Spider-Man? Surely they stretch the term too far, surely Daredevil is more is speed?…

“And so I dim the lights, and I crack a beer. I think to myself about things I'd said I'd do this year.”

-- “Friends and Family” by River City Extension

Plotlines take their toll and there are so many of them. With each narrative thread a new plot point begins. For the most part that thread is finite. For the most part.

Each narrative thread introduces an idea and that idea must have consequences. Say, for example, your superhero character kills a villain, there must be repercussions. Or your superhero in his civilian disguise reveals publicly that he’s funding his masked alter ego that too must have repercussions. Or your superhero’s civilian identity is revealed to the public, again repercussions. To have none would stretch the already thin suspension of disbelief.

Recently in Superior Spider-Man, Spider-Man kills the villain Massacre in front of numerous witnesses but with the blessing of New York Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. A few years ago, Bruce Wayne tells the public that he has been funding Batman for years (Batman and Robin #16). And a few more years ago, Matt Murdock has his identity as Daredevil revealed (again) to the world (most recently Daredevil #32). These events must have consequences and repercussions. For Spider-Man and Batman, the consequences are rather slim in context. For Daredevil, it has affected nearly every movement he makes. We have three heroes, with three different situations, but only one way of seeing it through.

First we have to discuss suspension of disbelief. Without suspension of disbelief most superhero comicbooks would break under their narrative weight. A man can fly, a ring can manifest green energy constructs and the bite of a radioactive bug gives someone amazing abilities. Those are extreme examples, but the point is the same: a reader must suspend judgment concerning the probability and fidelity of a narrative, particularly when it concerns something of a fantastical nature.

The term was supposedly coined by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge around 1817. He was suggesting that a modicum of truth in a fantastic tale will allow a reader to remove doubt about the plausibility of a story. The term as it is used today has come to place the burden of plausibility on the reader rather than the writer or creator.

As comic fans, we understand the burden of plausibility. Superman puts on a pair of glasses, acts uncoordinated and can hide from Lois Lane and his friends as Clark Kent. Of course in a postmodern cynical world we point this out and mock Lois Lane for her terrible investigative reporting skills, but Superman’s identity still stays hidden.

I bring up suspension of disbelief related to the events of Superior Spider-Man, Batman, Inc, and Daredevil to suggest that the narratives of these stories require readers to remove doubt about their plausibility.

After Bruce Wayne tells the world that he’s been funding Batman for years in Batman and Robin #16, it defies logic that there are little consequences until the more recent issues of Batman, Inc. This is the nature of the story Grant Morrison has been telling, with repercussions not being weaved into the other Bat Family titles aside from Bruce’s and Damian’s deaths.

In our real world, if a billionaire private citizen confessed to funding vigilantism, he would at the very least be brought before a Congressional sub-committee hearing and asked to testify on his involvement.

Of course Morrison has been weaving the various moments of Batman publishing history as a singular biography of the Dark Knight, and a case can be made that Batman at one point was a deputized federal agent, so that point would absolve any Federal, State or local legal consequences. But only if that portion of Batman canon is held true.

Similarly, you would expect nearly every villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery to be gunning for Batman’s piggy bank, yet we only see one criminal and terrorist organization taking on that tactic…and for very different reasons than cutting off Batman’s funding.

In Superior Spider-Man #5, Spider-Man (Doc Ock) murders the surrendered villain Massacre. You would expect that Superior Spider-Man #6 would deal with the fall out. Even a hero like Spider-Man shouldn’t be able to get away with killing someone in front of witnesses.

While writer Dan Slott uses the event to trigger the suspicions of the Avengers, it certainly defies logic that nothing further happens, even with the seeming blessing of New York Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. Spider-Man does not have a license to kill, even as an Avenger. It’s fairly fuzzy to assume he’s above the law. He might not be easy to catch, but that wouldn’t stop public outcry or a district or U.S. attorney’s office demanding his arrest, even in a short time frame.

Now, Slott does get something of a pass in this case. His narrative is relatively fresh and he has a certain statute of limitations to address this, but in this fast paced world of instant updates you would think that there would at least be a mention of legal or law enforcement actions, however small.

With Daredevil, quite the opposite is happening. His identity revealed to the world (again), the repercussions and consequences of that narrative have affected the character ever since. Current Daredevil writer Mark Waid has been sure to weave this point throughout his run on the title with brief mentions to whole conflicts resulting from people knowing (or suspecting) that Daredevil is Matt Murdock. While other aspects of Daredevil require suspension of disbelief, they are no more than what is required to enjoy a majority of stories to begin with.

Suspension of disbelief is stretched rather thin currently with Superior Spider-Man and Batman, unlike in Daredevil, and in each case it is something that can be addressed without tampering with any other writers’ storylines. Yet it is not. The future of these titles is certainly wide open and nothing is final, but how long should a reader wait for logic leaps to be rectified and patience rewarded?

Can we enjoy these titles without these consequences being addressed? Sure. But the frays of unaddressed narrative threads eventually untangle even the best weaved narratives. The burden of disbelief and plausibility is certainly placed on readers, but should we have to carry the entire burden? At a certain point it becomes tiresome to lug the load.

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