Would you describe super-hero fiction (movies, books, comics, etc.) a sub-genre of Fantasy?

Super-hero stuff seems to me to function about the same as magic. Super-hero entities have rules within which they have to operate, often or usually, and limitations, not to mention powerful enemies, without which what’s the point? Super-hero entities don’t exist in real life, and neither do witches or wizards. You can throw Jedi and Sith in here as well, and their magic-seeming “force.”

If you disagree with this premise, please vote and explain why.

I voted yes, but if I said that to someone they’d assume there were swordplay and maybe magic involved.

So I can with difficulty answer YES, but only if everyone involved had the understanding that it was an entirely different type than Tolkien and D&D and Narnia.

I would never say “I’m going to stop by Graham Crackers* and buy some fantasy books” when I’m talking Graphic Novels. Or “Off to catch some new fantasy movies” when watching Spidey and Cap’n Marvel.

So, the poll isn’t quite the way people communicate. Actual humans would specify “Watching Star Wars” without having to call it Sci-Fi or Fantasy or Super(bly) Heroic or Space Opera. Which is good… because it’s sort of all of the above.

*for non-Chicagoans, a great chain of comic book shops

I posted “Partly.” Some superhero movies have a supernatural/fantasy element; some don’t, and are much more science fiction than fantasy. I really think superhero fiction has become a genre all its own.

Maybe in the same sense that some SF crosses over or mashes up with Fantasy. Maybe there’s some SF in the details of how some super heroes got that way, but more on the Fantasy side in terms of plots, enemies, and the way things can come out of nowhere for the convenience of the “plot.”

It can and usually does have fantasy elements, but not always. For example the web serial Worm is a superhero story that’s pure sci-fi, no magic at all. Soft sci fi, but still sci fi; all super powers come from an alien Entity, not gods or spirits or magic. Watchmen would be another better known example; the only powered guy has powers from a scientific experiment. And even in the classic superhero settings like Marvel and DC there’s a ton of sci-fi elements alongside the fantasy ones.

I’d put superhero fiction in its own category, one that overlaps with fantasy but isn’t identical to it. It’s really the modern version of heroic tales; there’s been stories of superhuman champions and villains going back to antiquity. That’s why it’s so easy to slot somebody like Hercules or Thor into a superhero team; they fit thematically despite their ancient origins.

Some are a sub-genre of fantasy. Some are a sub-genre of science fiction.

Both DC and Marvel comics are set in a universe that is mash-up of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Both have superheroes, mythological beings that are real, vampires, werewolves, trolls, fairies, zombies(both traditional Voodoo and living dead types), sentient robots, demons, wizards, mad scientists, space aliens, cosmic beings, etc. It isn’t uncommon for the different type of characters to interact.

TV tropes refers to this as Fantasy Kitchen Sink.
(Warning: TV Tropes link)

Personally I consider them to be more on the fantasy side than science fiction considering the existence of super-powers really doesn’t have much of an actual scientific basis in reality.

No. They have different audiences. While fantasy can appeal to anyone; superheroes just appeal to the childish [childish no matter what their chronological age].

Since all science fiction is a subset of fantasy (as is all fiction in general), yes.

Which comic books would we consider science fiction? If it uses “radiation” in a way that has never occurred in real life–interchangeable with “magic beans” or “fairies”–it’s fantasy. The most plausible superhero book out there is probably KICK-ASS, and even it requires some pretty big suspensions of disbelief.

Horatio Hellpop:

First of all, I’d say that Batman, Iron Man, and similar heroes whose powers or abilities are based on technology that doesn’t realistically exist (yet) would be pure sci-fi.

Secondly, I’d put X-Men firmly in the sci-fi genre, as genetic mutation is a real scientific phenomenon, albeit one that has never in real life cause super-powers. But hey, they call it science FICTION for a reason.

Finally, if you want to say radiation = magic, you could just as easily add chemical concoctions = magic beans and aliens from other planets/dimensions = fairies. Would you consign such classical elements of science fiction to the genre of fantasy?

Some superhero stories are a subset of science fiction, but science fiction is also a subset of fantasy, so the net effect is the same.

Even if we grant your premise (which I don’t), your argument still doesn’t hold. if fantasy can appeal to anyone, then some fantasy appeals to children, and some fantasy appeals to adults.

There’s a bit of a gap between the titles you describe and the titles actually published. I would LOVE to read a Batman or Iron Man series that purged its fantasy elements (BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE sometimes tried this). But it’s not just the protagonist, it’s the villains, too. Even the highly-regarded stretches of The Punisher featured angels, demons, and FrankenCastle; I like it better when they take it the other direction. (DC briefly had a character, Wild Dog, who was very derivative of the Punisher, but they gave him one very appealing limitation: No weaponry that you couldn’t find at an actual sporting goods store.)

Claremont, at his most self-indulgent, abused the tropes of science fiction past the breaking point. That’s called bad WRITING. His most acclaimed storyline created a new rule for storytelling conventions: Making a character more powerful does not automatically make him (or, in this case, her) more interesting.

It depends on how they are used. In fact, that’s kind of the dividing line between “soft” and “hard” science fiction. Does our first contact with an alien race resemble a fairy tale, or does it more resemble our first encounter with a newly-discovered dolphin or primate? ST:TNG had a better track record for these kinds of stories than TOS, but they were standng on the shoulders of giants, which is often helpful.

IMO, the practical dividing line* between sci-fi and fantasy is largely how it’s framed. “I feel in a vat of chemicals and can now fly” is about as close to actual science as “A wizard cast a spell on me and now I can fly”- but the former’s using the trappings of science, chemicals and mutations, and probably a guy in a white coat with a beaker, too. Aesthetically, it’s science fiction.

What I’m saying is, comic book powers might all be scientifically ridiculous, but some of it is sci-fi ridiculous and some of it is fantasy ridiculous and some of it fits in more than one box, or waffles between them.

*The unhelpful but technically accurate way of looking at it is that all speculative fiction describes the impossible, therefore it’s all fantasy.

The X-Men interpretation of genetics is one of the most idiotic manglings of science ever created, and is pure fantasy.

I voted “yes”, but perhaps the term “speculative fiction” would be better.

I can’t deny that’s as dumb as dirt, but it’s the evolution (heh) of the original concept of decades of different writers with different ideas for entertaining X-Men stories. The scientific thought behind the X-Men is simple enough and scientific enough…evolution is the result of genetic mutations, so there are mutations that could create “evolved humans”, i.e., humans with super-powers. Don’t get hung up on the stupidity of specifics, it’s based in science.

It seems like this thread suffers from lots of people using various different definitions for “fantasy.”

Fantasy: Do comic book movies resemble what the average non-fan on the street would recognize as fantasy? Is it “high fantasy” with magic and knights and badly written pseudo-medieval accents? Some of them, but only some. Even Thor is “an alien” in more modern stories. There’s crossover with these typical “fantastical” elements, including Thor’s “Thee art mine enemy now-eth!” talk, but this is more the exception. It seems to me that for every “My power is magic!” character, there are five “Impossible super chemicals/radiation/technology gave me this ability!” Modern-set fantasy novels again seem to focus on calling on attributes from these stories with modern twists, but the protagonist is a ‘witch’ or ‘wizard’ calling on ancient powers and not a ‘scientist.’

Fantasy: Are comic books about made up things? Other than autobiographies and the like, yes. Superhero stories? I certainly hope so! If we’re using this definition, describing things that didn’t happen, all fiction is fantasy. If we’re just using “things happen that are impossible or couldn’t happen in ‘our’ world,” again, this is still a huge portion of fiction including the majority of what’s considered science fiction. This definition is only useful if you want to use a different, more colorful word to mean “pretend.”

Fantasy: Do comic books offer themes of escapism through fantastical elements? Sometimes, although people seem to take it for granted, given how many comic book characters have sad sack lives, and how many comic books are focused on being “edgy” by showing horrible things happening to people. I wouldn’t step into these comic book worlds, myself, even if I were promised a superpower.

Fantasy: Are super-hero comic books stupid smelly things for stupid babies and now that we’re all 14 we can totes tell the babies how stupid their baby likes are so we feel more grown up? Yeah, okay, most of us age out of that, but why not.

Speculative Fiction: I just saw Sunny Daze mention this term while editing, and it seems an excellent compromise to me. A lot of “light” science fiction is referred to with this term now, along with some alt-history, some fantasy… It seems that it would really cover most of the superhero genre, without the potential confusion of meaning a variety of definitions for “fantasy story.” If the story starts as space adventure, then lands on Sorceror’s World, it’s still the same genre, speculative!

Not to mention Doctor Strange.

One of the key differences between science and magic, as the driving force behind a speculative fiction story, is that science is repeatable. If a guy fell into a vat of chemicals and now can fly, what happens if we toss more people into that vat of chemicals? If everyone who falls into that vat gains flight, that’s one thing. Or even if 90% of the people who fall in die, but the survivors gain flight, we can still work with that: That still leaves room, for instance, for an autocratic government forcing soldiers into the vat. And you can also try to improve the process, to decrease the mortality rate and make them more consistent (removing the toxic impurities, better screening of test subjects to figure out how they’ll react before killing them, controlling the dosage, etc.). Pretty soon, you’re going to get armies of flying soldiers, and maybe ordinary folks flying to the grocery store, and how will society react to that?

But in the vast majority of superhero stories, the “accidents of science” that create the supers are one-offs, or maybe you get one villain reproducing a flawed version of the process a second time. And that’s where it starts to look a lot more like magic.