Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk is a weekly column by Kendall Swafford of Up Up Away! in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This week, Kendall looks at the trend toward realism in superhero comics.

It’s hot, I’m a week late on this column, and everyone’s disposable income is about to be diverted to back-to-school purchases, so it’s time for a little reality!

DC’s recently announced overhaul of Batman’s costume (coming this fall to a comic book near you!) made me wonder if we’re seeing too much reality in comics.  It ranges from the superficial (visible seams in costumes) to the serious (girlfriends being stuffed in the fridge) to WTF!? (Roy Harper having very angry sex).

I’m not being prudish, I’m not railing against serious subject matter or mature themes, I promise.  There are plenty of comics that cover the everyday mundane, from the barrio (Love & Rockets) to Krypton.  Hey, I read World of New Krypton, it was pretty mundane.  Criminal or Journey is as real as it gets in many, albeit in very different ways, and that’s cool too.  But I’m talking specifically about super-hero comics; you know, guys-in-tights battling it out.

Let’s face it, if you’re willing to accept a guy crash-landed here from a planet far, far away, put his underwear on the outside and started fighting crime, you have to be willing to accept that the world he inhabits is not quite like our own.  Superficially similar, to be sure, but always an idealized version of Earth.  Bad guys get punished, crime doesn’t pay, Superman always saves the day somehow!  Call me simple minded, but escapism is what I want from my Justice League, not revenge sex.

Having watched the original X-Men film again recently reminded me of how many compromises we were willing to accept in order to see these characters on the big screen.  Flash forward seven years and Iron Man showed us little if any compromises had to be made.  I don’t need reality in my comic book movies either!  Having said that, I attempted (yet again) to sit through Transformers.  I just don’t get the appeal.  And it seems like a ridiculous contradiction; Transformers just seem stupid to me; the toys, the comics AND the film, and my G.I. Joes were all 12” tall.  It seems I’m a comic book purist; if it was/is born of the comic, then I find it completely acceptable.  Green LanternSpider-Man?  The Legion of Super-Heroes?  All plausible in my mind.  But Hancock!?  That’s a made-up super-hero!  Yeah, I know.  As opposed to all of those 'real' super-heroes, right?  Like I said, the contradictions aren’t lost on me.

My wife thinks I’m nuts.  My customers probably do as well.  Is it outside forces that are driving comic books ever closer toward reality?  Is it just the times we live in?  Folks sure seem to love reality television, and I can’t figure that one out.  Voyeurism of a sort?  Why is reality TV all the rage, but we go to the movies for escapism?  Most people I know come into a comic book store because escapism is what they seek, not reality.  We all have enough reality outside our respective windows, right?  So what is the psychology behind ever-increasing realism in comics?  Are publishers simply following along popular trends?  Or do they believe that an emphasis on realism in comics and a de-emphasis on garish costumes will somehow make comic books suddenly more attractive to a broader audience?  We knew someday the Hollywood tail would begin wagging the comic book dog, but it seems to be happening/has happened with no clear goal in mind.

I remember when Superman Returns was released in 2006 and Superman’s appearance changed in the comics.  More slender build, the "S" logo for a belt buckle and a three-dimensional, movie-logo "S" suddenly appeared on his chest.  And why?  Will potential new customers not recognize Superman?  Really!?  I promise, Superman will keep showing up every month, long after that movie is forgotten.  Changes like that are arbitrary and poorly thought out, and benefit no one.  People are smart enough to accept that Christian Bale looks like Bruce Wayne, not the other way around.  Can Batman REALLY effectively fight crime in a cloth cape and grey tights?  Probably not, but I don’t care.  Let’s just pretend he can, OK?

Costumes that may look ludicrous on screen are perfectly acceptable on the printed page and the two can easily and peacefully co-exist.  It’s time we stopped being ashamed of the very things about comic books that we found so appealing to begin with; the fantastic, larger-than-life nature of these characters, vivid costumes and all, and all the trappings that come along with them.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely  those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of