Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.

Somehow dark’n’gritty went from being the requisite aesthetic of everything to being the official nerd punching bag of the Interwebz, and the rest of us are left wondering why.

I know how it happened. Somewhere in between The Dark Knight Rises (which the Internet’s nerd hegemony savaged as “not as good as!” The Dark Knight) and Man of Steel (which we all pretty much agreed was barely even a movie), the nerds who had been demanding their superheroes darker and grittier in each new iteration woke up and realized that being “dark’n’gritty” wasn’t anywhere near as important as being “not total garbage.” And then suddenly, you couldn’t announce a dark’n’gritty film without getting savaged online.Most of us come to terms with the fact that destruction impresses no one—that if we want people to care, we have to create.

But unfortunately for DC Comics, who are in the middle of launching their own “cinematic universe” to compete with the almost-old-enough-to-drive cinematic universe of their notoriously light’n’fun competitor Marvel, they’ve been literally unable to create anything but the DARKEST and GRITTIEST and SERIOUSEST in entertainment since the early 80s, which makes sense when you remember that their lead characters are a flying man in bright red underpants and a dude in a rubber bat suit. So in the last week or two, as they’ve given out hints about their upcoming projects, the nerd consensus of the Internet has eaten them alive.

First they released a new trailer for the not-at-all-pretentiously-titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was so in-your-face about how DARK and GRITTY and EXTREME it was that fanboys couldn’t help but tear it to shreds. Then not long after, they released a photo of the Joker, redesigned for the upcoming Suicide Squad movie and looking like he was auditioning to sing lead vocals in Papa Roach. Obviously, literally no one was able to take that seriously.

To be clear, I don’t really feel like I have a dog in this particular fight. I don’t read superhero comics. Their nerdy obsessiveness with maintaining continuity over decades in a massive shared universe (or, failing that, blowing up said massive shared universe) is kind of fascinating to me, but not fascinating enough to make me crack one open. Similarly, it’s rare for me to find a comic book movie I actually care about—even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which everyone else seems to think is the reason movies were invented, usually leaves me cold. Even Guardians of the Galaxy just made me wish I had stayed home and rewatched The Fifth Element instead.

So I have no real interest in who “wins,” or even whether any of these movies are actually good. What is interesting to me, though, is how swiftly fanboys turned from demanding everything darker and grittier in the not-terribly-distant days of The Dark Knight and Watchmen and even The Amazing Spider-Man to ridiculing dark’n’gritty right out of the gate. Why?

Is it possible that after a while, darkness just gets…boring?

I mean, just look at Jared Leto’s nu-metal Joker. He’s so desperate to look evil and crazy that he has the word Damaged tattooed across his forehead, like a depressed, lonely teenager doing anything to cheese his parents off. It may look angsty and rebellious to the under-13 set, but anyone out of high school would just laugh at the poor guy. If said hypothetical teenager wanted to up the ante, he could get involved in some petty crime or even commit a few felonies, but then what? Once he had gotten everyone’s attention—what then?

And those among us who actually manage to become the Joker? Well—they’re rarely happy with the results.

Most of us, by the grace of God, grow out of this phase. Most of us realize that not all attention is good attention. Most of us come to terms with the fact that destruction impresses no one—that if we want people to care, we have to create. That “being evil” is no more an accomplishment than “being lazy” or “being boring” or “being in desperate need of a shower.” That making the world better—even a tiny amount—is infinitely more worthwhile than brooding over how terrible it (admittedly) is. That fighting for life is infinitely wiser than surrendering to death.

So I wonder: is it possible, maybe, that there’s a bit more at work here than the Nerd Kingdom simply getting over the darkness of yesterday?

Is it possible that they’ve simply…outgrown it?


  1. Well, the initial grit was in reaction to the camp of films like Batman and Robin, and the general idea that superhero movies were for kids. Even Tim Burton’s Batman was camp, but of a different type. The problem I think is more a reaction against the specific Zach Snyder model of grimdark than a judgment on it all. Snyder’s style is really, really annoying; the homoeroticism, the bombast, the lack of primary colors, the cheap violence.

    The suicide squad thing is more about a concept of the character that grates with established portrayals. It’s impossible to accuse that of grimdark because the whole concept of the Suicide Squad is plenty grimdark as it is. I think that concept of the Joker actually isn’t that bad; it’s just a modern criminal instead of a stereotypical thirties thug that got changed, and it’s just shocking because Batman isn’t really seen as existing in a modern day setting instead of a mythical neverland. Leto’s Joker looks exactly like a modern punk would.

  2. So Chris Tucker in a skin tight leopard leotard is more entertaining than a giant tree? :-)

    Seriously though, good post. I would ask though how you would put this against Daredevil which is dark n’ gritty but is still high atop the hype train. Maybe it isn’t the darkness itself they’ve outgrown, but what this specific style of darkness personifies?

  3. The equation of darkness with quality isn’t limited to adolescents. “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” to mention a couple of adult-marketed shows, trade on it heavily.

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