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Off My Mind: Does Knowing 'The Hero Always Wins' Affect Reading Enjoyment?

Stories can get extremely suspenseful but at the end, the good guys come out on top.

When it comes to superhero comic book stories, they tend to focus on the never-ending battle between good and evil. Usually the bad guys come up with a plan to conquer the world or achieve some sort of personal gain. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting revenge against the heroes that constantly thwart their plans.

We tend to root for the good guys and there are times when the stories can get pretty dreary for the heroes. The odds can get stacked against them and it appears as if all is lost. Could it be that the bad guys will finally win? Probably not.


Great writers are tasked to come up with compelling stories that make you actually question the outcome. But no matter how much they throw at them, the chances are going to fall in the hero's favor. Does this fact that the heroes will always win lessen the impact of great stories?

== TEASER ==

It is possible that the hero might actually lose. There has been the occasion where the bad guy will win to some extent. Bane broke Batman's back and defeated him. Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy. Red Skull orchestrated the death of Captain America. Doomsday's threat lead to the death of Superman. Joker killed the second Robin. The Human Torch sacrificed his life to save the Thing, Franklin, Valeria and others.

These were all tragic times for the superhero community but if you think about them, the heroes usually bounced back eventually (except for Gwen but then she was a supporting character rather than a superhero). Let's think about some of the current and upcoming stories where things look really bad for the heroes.



Scott Snyder has been putting Batman through some dark times. With the Court of Owls, it looks like Batman has met his match. This marked one of the very few times Batman underestimated his enemies. He refused to believe in their existence and this lead to his capture and near physical and psychological defeat. With a threat as great as the Court is, could this mark the end of Batman's reign as Gotham's champion?



We've seen teasers for the End of the Earth storyline in which Doc Ock plans on getting revenge against Spider-Man. Otto's health isn't what it was and this may be his last chance at finally defeating the Wall-Crawler. To help, he's enlisting the Sinister Six and each teaser suggest it's not going to go well for Spidey. Could this be the end of Spider-Man?

If that wasn't enough, at WonderCon, Marvel announced and previewed the No Going Back storyline set for this summer. The Lizard is coming back and from the cover to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #688, it looks as if the Lizard is going to chomp Spidey's head off. Will this be the end of Spider-Man?!?

The fact that this Lizard story comes after Ends of the Earth pretty much tells us what we already know, Spider-Man will win against the Doc Ock and the Sinister Six.

Sinestro and the Indigo Tribe


Just as we were getting used to Sinestro as a Green Lantern once again and all his revelations to Hal Jordan, he gets whisked away by the Indigo Tribe. They plan on saving Sinestro, just as they saved Black Hand. In other words, make him a mindless servant to the Tribe. Does this mean we won't see more Hal and Sinestro team ups and the Guardians might have that more of a chance to destroy/replace the Green Lantern Corps?

Kitty Pryde Pregnant with a Ton of Microscopic Brood


In WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, Kitty suddenly found herself pregnant, nearly at full term. It turned out there were a bunch of microscopic Brood inside her. Brood of any size is a bad thing. As we read the story and the attack against the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, could it be possible that this would be the end of Kitty?

The outcomes to all of these are pretty obvious. We know Batman will make a comeback and defeat the Court. Spider-Man will beat his enemies just as he has countless times. Geoff Johns is writing Sinestro as too much of a badass to allow him to succumb to the Indigo Tribe. And Kitty Pryde has already been in comic book limbo for too long and there's no way fans would allow something drastic to happen to her once again so soon.


What can be said about all of these, except for the Spider-Man stories since they haven't really started yet, is they have all been great stories. With Dan Slott's run since taking over Spider-Man, we can easily assume both stories will be great as well.

What this means for writers is they have to go above and beyond each time they pit the hero against the next threat. Batman always wins but we're seeing him as we don't usually see him. We know he will win but the way Scott Snyder is telling the story makes you believe that it could almost be possible that he will be completely broken again. But then the solicits and covers from future issues usually tell us otherwise.

This is where indie comics have an edge. They may not have the immediately recognizable characters but there is that heavy sense that anything could happen. In Robert Kirkman's THE WALKING DEAD, we've seen several main characters perish. I wouldn't be surprised if someday we actually saw Rick Grimes die. It's unthinkable but Kirkman could pull it off and replace him with other characters.


For the mainstream superhero writers, they have their work cut out for them. They need to keep readers highly entertained and in suspense. We know the heroes will always win but a really good writer will make you believe it's possible the hero might actually lose. There are those rare occasion when they actually do. But we all know how much of an impact a comic book death has on a person. There's always a way for the hero to overcome even death.

144 CommentsRefresh
Avatar image for venomyak
Posted By venomyak

I have several ideas for books and in almost all of them the hereo loses at least twice.

Avatar image for redheadedatrocitus
Posted By RedheadedAtrocitus

Final Crisis anyone? That was the one event that really got me hooked knowing that "evil won". I do believe there is a certain allure with comics entertaining the idea that evil wins over the side of good. In truth, we are in a post-modernist world where it just doesn't pay to have the hero win all the time. I quote Hit Girl regarding the question of heroes always needing to win and say "What is this, the Silver Age?"

Avatar image for saoakden
Posted By saoakden

After fighting Carnage (Carnage USA), Osborn and the Dark Avengers (Avengers & New Avengers), Doc Ock, the Sinister Six, Jackal and the Queen and Army of Spider infected people (Amazing Spider-man) Cable (X-Sanction), and an alien invasion (Fantastic Four) and to be fighting the Lizard after Ends of Earth and the Spider-Man/Daredevil/Punisher crossover and the upcoming AvX event, I'm surprised Spider-Man isn't dead yet or badly beaten up like in the Other story. It looks like Marvel is bringing back Spidey's enemies for a final showdown or something. Osborn is in a coma, Carnage who knows what will happen, Doc Ock might die after End of Earth, Jackal's clone dead.

Seriously Marvel, Spider-Man is being pushed to his limits.

Batman looks like a corpse, Kitty's pregenacy sounds like something from a horror film like Alien, Sinestro might die according to Issue 6 of Green Lantern and might become a servant or member to the Indigo Tribe.

Other than that, when something bad happen to the hero like Batman's back, it usually ended up being a set up for another character to take their place as a hero or something.

Superman's death lead up to Four Supermen (Cyborg, Eradicator, Steel, and Superboy), Batman's back lead to Azrael to become Batman then Dick for a bit, Cap's death lead to Buck being Captain America, Jason's death lead to Tim Drake being Robin, & Johnny Storm's death ended the Fantastic Four and allowed Spider-Man to join the team and be part of the Future Foundation and possibly be a part of a member of the Fantastic Four.

Avatar image for spiderslike
Posted By Spiderslike

I think some stories are ruined by the fact the "Hero Always Wins" but that usually only applies to the heroes doesn't always die or stay dead and the bad guy doesn't rule or blow up the world other than that a good writer can make the hero wish they where did lose and those are the really good stories.

Avatar image for hitechlolife
Posted By hitechlolife

Perhaps this is why Marvel has turned to pitting it's heroes against each other in it's various events. It at least creates the illusion that the stakes are higher. At the end of the day there will still be Avengers and X-men though.

Avatar image for boywander
Posted By BoyWander

I often think about this! Everytime I go to my comic book shop I always ask myself "should I really buy this if InsertNameHere is gonna win anyway?" It's not the outcome that make these things great, but the journey. The current Batman title is really good! So what if he wins, the way to winning is really good.

Contrary to that I also think a hero should lose. I think a setting in which the fate of the world isn't always on the line is much better. When you know the world isn't going to blow up or your hero won't die, this gives room for them to lose and rise up. If an author is really good they can spread the wins and losses out so that one can never really tell what will happen.

Avatar image for artisticneedham
Edited By ArtisticNeedham

I'll have to read this later, but there was recently a study done where they found that people who knew the outcome of a story, like a mystery, liked the book better. They liked knowing how things ended so that they weren't so upset by the shocks and stuff. I too tend to like knowing something like all the characters on this team die, so that after reading an entire giant book about this team I get to the last issue only to find out they all die. For me knowing that the hero will always win is one of the reasons I like comics, not that I don't want surprises or that I want a cookie cutter story where the good guys are good and the bad guys are evil and good always wins. I just like the security of knowing that I don't have to worry too much, I don't read comics because they remind me of the real world. I read them as an escape.

When I took storytelling at school one of the things we were taught was if you character wins in the end make the audiance believe there is no possible way for them to win. If you hero saves the day make him seem like he is about to loose completely. So that when the hero wins and saves the day the reader/audience is completely with you. You don't have to have the heroes loose to make a story work now a days. You just need to show that its not easy and is a struggle.

Avatar image for ravenvice01
Posted By RavenVice01

I agree with Redheaded Atrocitus. A story becomes interesting when the good guys lose some crucial battles and often suffer casualties. However, the concept of having a good guy coming out on top works because its a formula. The bad guy stands triumphant thinking he or she is untouchable and they always underestimate their fallen adversary. That's when the heroes making a stirring comeback. Let's face it, if evil were to win, everything would be chaos, there would be no point to anything, no reason to fight. When good wins, we can rest peacefully every night, we can sip our favorite cool drink and best of all we live to fight evil another day. But I think we all can agree that evil has style and they have the best banter in any story.

Avatar image for mbecks14
Posted By Mbecks14

A good story will always put that inkling of a doubt in your mind. A good story will make you think, even for just a second "What if they don't win?" And then they do!

And a lot of times the fun is in trying to figure out/watch the HOW they beat their adversary or what the repercussions will be.

Avatar image for sora_thekey
Posted By sora_thekey

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

Avatar image for violetphoenix
Posted By VioletPhoenix

It's the bittersweet wins that make sure the reader is always surprised. A win that doesn't feel like a win, because the next problem is always around the corner. It's the surprises that the reader anticipates and waits for, the enjoyment/shock stems from that. Case in point Nightcrawler and Cable in Second Coming.

Avatar image for tdk_1997
Posted By TDK_1997

It kinda helps.

Avatar image for jonesdeini
Posted By JonesDeini

Sadly it's a shackle of the genre that can't be shaken. I try to take the it's the journey not destination that matters approach, but honestly after so much exposure to these stories it can make you a bit jaded. That's one of the things that drew me to indy titles. That since of true drama and the feeling that anything can happen. A perfect example of this is Walking Dead, anything truly can happen in that book and that since of urgency is what keeps me invested in the stories. No matter what the Court does in Snyder's story...I know Bruce will win. He may lose a supporting cast member, or a limb, or his fortune....but he isn't in any true danger. The story is more about how he wins and can Snyder do it in an interesting/unexpected/entertaining way.

Avatar image for duo_forbidden
Posted By Duo_forbidden

The "Hero Always Wins" concept does get a bit old at times. However, I like to look at things where the hero wins, but at a price.

Take Spider-Man for example. In Revenge of the Spider-Slayer, Spidey, along with some help with the Avengers, stops Alistair Smythe, but at the cost of Spidey's senses (which he got back later), and the death of Jonah's wife. In Spider-Island, Spidey saved New York, but at the price of Carlie breaking up with him.

My point is, I don't always necessarily see the hero come out with a clear win because, half of the time, there's some kind of repercussion whether it's minor or not, and sometimes, that makes the hero stronger later on.

Avatar image for thegreyoutcastx
Posted By TheGreyOutcastX

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

I agree with this.

Avatar image for sexuallobster
Posted By SexualLobster

For Batman it does for me. They've made him like the 'center of the universe' in DC and that the world might explode without him.

Avatar image for nightfang3
Edited By NightFang3

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

And as long as the heroes get f**ked up along the way :)

Avatar image for miss_garrick
Posted By Miss_Garrick

While it may be more realisitc for the heroes to not win every single time, I want them to! It's more satisfying that way and worth the time reading the story.

Avatar image for obscurefan
Posted By obscurefan

It does take a tad away from the experience if they always win, but is it just me or does it seem like for the past five or six years the heroes have kind of been getting shut out. All the mutants losing their powers at the end of House of M, Cap going to jail and dying in Civil War, hell even the Heroic Age had a higher fatality rate than Dark Reign.

Avatar image for jonesdeini
Posted By JonesDeini

This is why I read Invincible and one of the reasons I really do feel it's superior to most books in the genre, it's not beholden to the tropes and norms which govern these kind of books.

Avatar image for kfhrfdu_89_76k
Posted By kfhrfdu_89_76k

Yes. But not too much.

Avatar image for killer_of_trolls
Posted By Killer_of_trolls

no. and the good guys don't always win in every story.

Avatar image for mighty_thorion
Posted By Mighty Thorion

In answer to your question - no it doesn't affect reading enjoyment - Its often about how the hero gains the victory that adds greatly to the enjoyment of a comic - and does the hero always win in every context all the time? How about when victory comes at a cost - as has often been the case (even back to the Silver Age - many Marvel heroes would win battles but lose out in other ways - particularly in terms of relationships : Gwen Stacey immediately comes to mind - hey an actual death!!!!!) What affects reading enjoyment for me is DC/Marvel "killing off" a lead character - because you know they will be back! Bored to tears with that scenario!

Avatar image for foxxfireart
Posted By FoxxFireArt

This was a really nice read.

I'm actually happy that the death of Gwen Stacy has managed to stick for as long as it has. That was a watershed moment for Spidey. Writers just tainted it with that clone, then the creepy twin thing where they planted the idea that Norman Osborn impregnated Gwen. Sadly, that stuck to canon for some reason.

I wouldn't take the End of the Earth or the No Going Back teasers very seriously. Remember all those Dark Reign teaser they put out? There was that one of Emma showing her crushing Cyclops' blood-stained visor. That didn't even remotely happen in the actual story.

The story being crafted with the Court of Owls for Batman is an intriguing one. Its taking the character into an interesting place emotionally and physically. The problem is going to come when this arc is over and Batman wins. You're just creating yet another -- no longer -- secret society threat out there. Batman has defeated Ra's so many times that he no longer feels like a serious threat anymore.

It's something you can see in manga where the hero really doesn't always win. In Death Note, the detective L is killed in the middle of the series by the plot of Light. Sure, L had put things in place for people to eventually defeat Light, but L did fail to catch Light himself.

In One Piece, Luffy had several punishing defeats in a row through the Sabaondy Archipelago Arc, through the Impel Down Arc, and the tragedy that came out of the Marineford Arc. In the last one he was nearly ineffective in saving who was most important to him. This was used to show the protagonist that he wasn't strong enough for what was to come. He had to stop depending on luck and he needed to prepare. That led to the two year time-skip where Luffy finally did some serious training. Still in manga, your hero is going to win nine times out of ten.

Just as Tony explained about Indie comics. Manga has an advantage, because they are designed to eventually end. Though, in the case of a few series. They can go on for ten or more years. James Robinson was accurate in his description of how comics are similar to soap operas. Perhaps the solution is in either crafting long term story arcs for the hero that has them suffering long term from their battles. More often, they get beat up in one arc, and it seems nothing is wrong the next day. In that case it's more like a sitcom. It could be interesting to watch as a hero is still suffering from the injuries of his last battles that it's effecting his ability to fight the next enemy.

Avatar image for archlord
Posted By Archlord

Damn, what have we been reading in Batman all these years? Wait, does that not count?

Avatar image for oraclex
Posted By OracleX

I'd kill to get paid to write an article like this.

It is a simple underlying theme in almost every story of heroism ever told: A sacrifice must be made.

For the hero to accomplish his or her goal they must give up something in order to win. Tony Stark: It was part of his mind to defeat Osborne. Batman Dark Mirror: The belief that James Gordon Jr. was ever going to be like his Dad as his character had been stashed in archive for at least ten years no one knew had happened to him.

This is why "Death of "story arcs sell so well. I still enjoy flipping through The Death of Superman trade to see how he gives everything to defeat Doomesday.

More often then not in comics the sacrifice is emotional. For every bad guy these heroes take down, they know there will another one waiting. Emotional wear and tear is shown in the panels, other times it is not. It all depends on the writer and whether it translates into a good action scene. Dick Grayson is not making as many light-hearted jokes these days. It was something run to the ground in the Wonder Woman comic where she questioned whether she was truly representing the Amazon way. Emotional also applies to death. The death of a loved one always damage's hero psyche.

So in conclusion I'd like to suggest the idea of not reading the comic to find out if character will die, but to find out what the hero must lose succeed.

(I know I sound extremely philosophical for a comic article, but I hope some one finds this interesting.)

Avatar image for planewalker
Posted By Planewalker

In a word Yes!! characters with sript as a superpower ruins the book

Avatar image for zenzuke
Posted By ZenZuke

I think it doesn't matter that we know heroes willl win, it's the journey to that victory and the consquences that count

Avatar image for mrstatham
Posted By MrStatham

I think at some point, the continuous nature of comic stories does make them a little dull; We know Morrison would never be allowed to kill Batman, that Doctor Hurt will never defeat him, and that Snyder's Court of Owls may be a game-changer, but Batman will defeat them eventually, too. To some degree, it does get dull, but I think regardless, the soap-opera nature of many of these characters keeps us coming back.

Avatar image for lordrequiem
Posted By LordRequiem

In a word 'YES' it does deplete the enjoyment towards the climax, because often some randomer dies or the hero miraculously survives. Spider-Man: The Other Evolve Or Die, changed this a bit I think, in that he was outmatched, and did lose in a way, as he had to be reborn to come full circle. That's why it's one of my favs. I'm writing a story where evil can prevail, and rightly do. Good hast not always the means to succeed.

Avatar image for spidermanwins
Posted By SpidermanWins

No, and if it were otherwise I don't see me enjoying the story so much at the end.

Avatar image for mrfuzzynutz
Posted By Mrfuzzynutz

For the most part it is a good thing and why I keep coming back to comics, because you see the hero get his butt kicked, dragged through the gutter and hit rock bottom, but it's his climb back up and eventual defeat of his enemy that makes it so cool to read.

I think this is why characters like Daredevil and Spider-man are popular and characters like Superman and Wonder Woman are not always well received for the most part

However using that knowledge of the reader expecting the good guy to win against them makes for a good read as well

Like the Death of Ted Kord was a shocker to me, as I wouldn't expect them to kill Ted in that manner. Or the Death of Captain Mar-vell to name another example.

These days however we are rarely left with a clean ending where the hero notches a clean victory over its foe, you see a lot of compromises being made by the characters, or worse yet some unresolved subplots getting in the way

Avatar image for farwind
Posted By Farwind

This is actually why I think characters such as Deathstroke are important in comic books: They actually have the possibility of winning (when being written correctly).

Avatar image for mrakbarman
Edited By Mrakbarman

Its the swme thing with movies! Gosh, the only time I felt spidey was gonna dies was in Bendis's Ultimate Spdierman where he was in a plane with doc ock

Avatar image for dark_vengeance_
Posted By Dark_Vengeance_

@ZenZuke said:

I think it doesn't matter that we know heroes willl win, it's the journey to that victory and the consquences that count

Exactly. what I was going to say

Avatar image for tyrisis
Posted By Tyrisis

I've read comics off and on for years. A story arc usually brings me back, and I will be a dedicated reader until the stories start sucking again, and then I fade away. Flashpoint brought me back this time. One thing I learned in reading that is the top titles were not the ones I enjoyed most - it was the books like Frankenstein and Canterbury Cricket I liked the most. Since then, I've been trying to spread my interest to less known books, and I have been very pleased. The books written by Marvel and DC are good sometimes, but always predictable. IDW and Dynamite have really been surprising me with how original some of their stories have been - and more importantly entertaining. By the way...what happened to the quality of Image comics? I don't see a single book worth reading there anymore.

Avatar image for powerherc
Posted By PowerHerc

Yes, it makes the story more enjoyable knowing the hero wins; knowing the villain will ultimately lose; knowing good triumphs over evil. Of course it does.

Avatar image for agilix
Posted By Agilix

Of course it does. In a good comic book, or in general in a good story, you should not know if the hero will win. So the hero must loose sometimes.

In Marvel Civil War, everybody sided with Cap. And he lost!

Avatar image for supremehyperion
Posted By SupremeHyperion

I would like to see the good guy's get beat more and deal with the knowledge that they can be beaten on a regular basis. There are many heroes that do find themselves on the losing end but in the back of your mind you know they are just going to come back. It's kind of like the old Kung Fu flix where the bad guy is so amazingly awesome but somehow the heroes always find a way to win.

And I wish that when a hero does lose it's not fixed with a twist like "oh it wasn't the real one" or "he's not really dead" or "it was all a dream" (haha). And when you look at real life does the good guy really win all that much? if the hero lost more wouldn't he want to fight harder and then in some way become a better hero????

Avatar image for gundamheavyarms
Posted By GundamHeavyarms

Knowing the good guys are going to win doesnt really bother me, its always interesting to see how the hero wins.

Avatar image for pauldro
Posted By Pauldro

I think how the Hero wins is important, it has to be a clever way not a deux ex machina. But what is winning for the hero is it simply defeating the enemy? But at what cost does the hero win? Villains in this day and age should go for better goals besides destroying the hero. They should destroy specific aspects of the hero (killing sidekick, loved ones, shattering all they know). I point out A Death in the Family, where the Joker killed Jason Todd, Batman may won at the end, but at what cost. Also Final Crisis, the showdown with Darkseid with Batman, Batman knew he was fucked, but he decided to take down Darkseid with him no matter what happens to him. In real life there's no such thing as a total win, there's always something lost in order to achieve your goals, and that's why I read these comics month in and month out.

Avatar image for venomoushatred1001
Posted By venomoushatred1001

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

Well said.

Avatar image for knightrise
Posted By KnightRise

cant kill a hero, kill their girlfriend and make him sad

Avatar image for cloneofbenreilly
Edited By CloneOfBenReilly

It depends on if you're talking about winning the battle or winning the war. There will be changes in the balance of power between good and evil but there will always be a fight.

Avatar image for darthshap
Posted By DarthShap

Short answer: no. It is part of the genre, just like spandex. I hope nobody reads comics to see if the hero can beat the villain of the week. Whomever the protagonist of a series will face, he will beat, one way or the other. Hell, Darkseid started out as a Jimmy Olsen and every month, Jimmy found a way to counter his plans with the help of his friends.

Now, if you truly like comics, it will not bother you at all, no more than spandex because that is not why you buy it. You buy it for good art, good characterization, good dialogue, good storytelling, good use of concepts and characters, good character development, et caetera...

Avatar image for cafeterialoca
Posted By Cafeterialoca

Don't read A-List heroes.

Read the ones where characters can die or lose. (Like Thunderbolts.)

Avatar image for black_lantern_bison22
Posted By Black_Lantern_Bison22

One thing I loved about The Authority is that they didn't always win. In fact most times they were beaten, killed, enslaved, turned on one another, and then they would come back and win. I wasn't even sure if they would every time. It's important for super heroes to lose on occasion, keeps 'em humble.

Avatar image for degraaf

I would love to see evil win more. It would make it more interesting. Final Crisis was good bc Evil had won. They can be super heroes and still lose. I wouldnt expect Hulk to win against the Intelligencia or Flash to win against the Rogues for the first time. One of the best arcs i saw was actually in Teen Titans Animated series. Death Stroke and Terra had taken over. They had won and ran the Titans off. This gave us the chance to see the Titans come back from the Shadows and retake San Fransisco. Even in the newer Young Justice the episode where all is lost and team members are killed was a great episode bc of the loss shown.

Avatar image for deadpool25mm
Posted By deadpool25mm

@sora_thekey said:

It's not about the outcome. It's about the journey.

What he said!

and the heroes dont allways win.... Civil War, Secret Invation (Osborn taking over) , ect.. lol