How to Fix Your Superhero

Hoo boy.  The temptation to ramble, curse, and rave will be strong in this one.  Mest, Talmor, BCON, I promise to do my best to do my duty and not be one of “those” fanboys.   Rudie, I apologize in advance to our dear editor.

But blast it, look at DC’s Superman films since poor Brandon Routh took up the cape. Look at Ben Affleck being given a Batman who kills.  Look at Marvel’s totally creative and progressive introduction of a gay superhero in the form of Northstar (cough who was totally not introduced in 1979 as straight then retconned into being a gay man in the 90s cough*), and take a look at Captain America!  He’s a Nazi!  Always has been!  Didn’t you know?**  And that’s just for starters. Shit may have already been said a million times, but still ain’t being heard by the folks who brought the world superheroes as we know and love ’em, so shit still needs to be said.

The Infinity Gauntlet has been thrown down.


In the Beginning…

Actually, there was Switzerland.  No, really!  Historie de M. Vieux Bois, by Swiss teacher and artist Rodolphe Töpffer is a whimsical story told in cartoon panel format that was first published in book format in 1837 (making it the earliest example that historians agree upon as a comic book).  Töpffer went on to publish more of them, and even to write essays on the form (so you see, fellow fanboys and fangirls, never be ashamed of taking the comic book soapbox.  It’s in our history!).

Fast forward to one fateful comic book issue from the offices of Detective Comics, Inc. published in June, 1938, when this casual, still almost gentle new art form suddenly exploded into the limelight “faster than a speeding bullet”.  In a flash of red and blue tights, the superhero comic book was born, and the world changed.


I Wish I Could Live in the Golden Age…

Superman, Batman, The Justice Society of America, Captain America, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, we were introduced to all of them and more, and we loved it.  There was Hitler punching, fiery androids, vampire hunting, even… spouse abuser thrashing?*** (Comics are weird and I love it.)

World War Two’s end saw the decline of sales for the superhero comic book, which was somewhat to be expected, partly due to our nation being rather tired of war at that point, and partly the superhero comic having been rather heavily Axis Powers-battling emphasized for those several years to boot.  In the early 1950s, however, Mccarthyism, the “Red Scare”, and Dr. Frederic Wertham were not so expected.

Dr. Wertham had a crusade, and it was to fight the distribution of comic books to children, due to them being “Seduction of the Innocent“.   He was a psychiatrist who was a fervent believer that comic book reading led to juvenile delinquency, poor self image in young girls, and the promotion of homosexuality.   His book became a bestseller, and many parents rallied behind him.  In the already fearful climate of the United States at the time, his efforts were so successful that he was called to testify in Senate hearings on the topic, and the comic book industry in the United States (which WAS frequently publishing images of overt sexuality and graphic gore in comics that were quite literally sold on the same shelves as Donald Duck comic books at the time) was not charged with anything, but was officially encouraged to create their own form of self-censorship, which they did- the Comics Code Authority.

The rest of the Golden Age comic book was largely superhero in the aftermath, and so very, very weird.  We had our very first superheroes who had bickered and had personal problems (Happy birthday to Marvel Comics!), we had baby Batman, Superman having to be careful when he sneezed lest he destroy us all, and even stranger things.


The Men of Bronze

Fast forward to the end of the Bronze Age of comic books (1970-1985) and the publication of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons as well as The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, easily THE seminal works on deconstructing the superhero, and easily THE works that the comic book industry misunderstood the most (see, when something is a huge hit because it’s completely different from what came before, this does not mean that copying it over and over will ensure success).  This started decades of “grim, gritty realism” in most of our monthly superheroes that is still prevalent today.****


Back to the Future

Now, the internet connects much of the world, the comic book industry, AND the fans as well in ways that would have been utter fiction in Rodolphe Töpffer’s time, and the discussion of the comic book has gone global.  That discussion shows, too, that fans are tired.  Look at the feedback on Batman vs. Superman.  Look at the continuing love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Look at the feedback on Marvel’s One More Day.  Look at the love for the CW’s The Flash.  Look at the feedback on Man of Steel.  Look at the intense love for a random girl in a pink Deadpool outfit.  The YouTube comments on the recent Superman movies said it best (surprisingly enough);  we want our cheese.

The superhero was always supposed to be a reflection of real life, but only in the way that the stories of Hansel and Gretel and Paul Bunyan were supposed to be; recognizable, but greatly exaggerated to tell their stories.  The superhero was never meant to a copy of all things sad, dismal, and disgusting (occasionally wearing tights and in the air).  Ask the fans, writers, artists, publishers, actors, actresses, etc. of The Flash, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Voracious, Adam West… We want action, drama, AND cheese, dammit.  Just… keep giving it to us, but more of it, please?  PAY ATTENTION, MARVEL.  PAY ATTENTION, DC.  You’ll be happier, we’ll be happier, and it’ll be simply because you’re allowing ALL stories to exist; not just the ones that focus groups or marketing departments tell you we want.  Give us the ones we the fans want AND the ones writers want to write.  These aren’t mutually exclusive.*****



Igor, Possibly a Box


Too much pink energy is dangerous.




*I hate that move so much because they couldn’t even be bothered to let someone create a new character until years later (such as in the title Runaways), and even after original homosexual characters were created, they STILL ignored creativity and kept using Northstar as their big “original” achievement; see also Northstar’s wedding.  Yep.  He and his husband became such important parts of Marvel continuity, too…  Kate Kane’s Batwoman got to train Clayface in how to be a superhero.  Marvel just kept pushing a retcon.
**Though that DID go about as well for Marvel as Superman announcing he was renouncing his U.S. citizenship did for DC.  The backpedaling was blindingly fast for both companies.
***Superman did it.  In his first comic.  Batman did the vampire hunting.
****The X-Men were best selling characters for Marvel at the time, and had many of the oddest stories.  Daredevil was their other top seller, and had many of Marvel’s dark and violent stories.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created to be a parody of both.

5 thoughts on “How to Fix Your Superhero

  • Avatar
    April 17, 2017 at 7:05 am

    I love grit, I love dark, I love the painful sorrow of a well written backstory, kill uncle Ben, make me feel feelings that feel feelingful, just don’t over do it. I think Marvel gets it, but DC doesn’t, where a Marvel movie gives us 25% feelings and emotions, they deliver 25% thought provoking strategy, 25% backstory for new guy, and 25% kickass face melting action sequences. Sometimes these percentages overlap and we somehow get a movie that exceeds 100% face value, its great. These most recent attempts by DC have been, 75% introduce people to a degree of specificity that exceeds the viewers level of interest, 15% useless dialogue, 5% plot twist, and 5% mediocre action sequence that delivers less excitement than Euro Truck Simulator.

    I want relatable or even sympathetic levels of emotions constructed into the fabric of the movies, but I also want to fight down a half chub with my popcorn bucket from the apocalyptic fight sequences, and I want to be challenged to think for myself, not be force fed the same pile of drivel that we’ve been forced to endure with the last few DC movies. Nolan knew what he was doing, but the fact that DC keeps hiring Zack Snyder is a god damn mystery that would perplex Lex Luthor himself.

  • Avatar
    April 17, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    As for Snyder; I think the Nostalgia Critic hit the nail on da head; man can compose a shot like nobody’s business. Action scenes? ehhh… But still, or quiet things, he’s quite good at making look gorgeous. He’s just also, well, crap at continuity. Must be why DC loves him (Shots fired! Woo!). Comics and/or the Super-screen, I do feel passionately that Marvel and DC have largely been garbage in print for years (with a small but growing number of titles they’re letting just grow at their own pace..fingers crossed) but that both of ’em are doing better at their live and animated action (Well, DC gives us the small screen goodness, Marvel the big). My ideal “balanced” stories? The Dark Knight Returns by Miller&Janson is perfection for how well it balances pathos, action, sympathy, hope, and fantasy. Big screen goes to Kick-Ass for the funny, the action, and the pathos (Hit Girl’s upbringing still makes my stomach twinge just a bit even as I still adore watching her mow down sleazeballs like wheat). Small screen? Batman Beyond, no question. The whole series. So characterization! Much violence! Igor approve! (Oh, and it’s only the well written backstory, but if ya find the issue of Spectacular Spider-Man where Spidey’s talking about baseball; pick it up. The whole issue goes by with no pathos, no fighting at all; just Spidey swinging around and reminiscing about why he’s a New York Mets fan, and what it meant to him to see their games with Uncle Ben. One of the best comics about the second best moody superhero eeever)

    • Avatar
      April 21, 2017 at 6:45 am

      I have to agree that yes DC owns the small screen, I have no interest in the agents of shield, not that its bad, I just have no interest. Legion takes some forceful accommodations to adequately adjust to and get into. But Gotham? I mean come on now, they OWN that show and easily make it worth watch. Same with the Flash, or Arrow. But when it comes to block buster epicness… they need to learn how to balance, if Batman vs superman was a small scale TV series, it would’ve been MUCH more enjoyable. Seriously that crap movie cut into a 4 part mini series would’ve been somewhat digestable, much more so than what they claimed was a tour de force with Ben Affleck at the helm.

      Basically, I don’t think they know how to write a movie, they can write a TV show and cast for a movie out of complete and total confusion as to what the general public wants. Oh and please fire Snyder, we already know that when wonder woman comes out this year we’re going to watch it, fall asleep, be awoken by a fart from the person who also fell asleep in aisle G seat 23 as you look around the theater of a room full of tilted back heads snoring loudly. That’s one thing DC has given the world, the ability to play that “throw the ball in the cup” carnival game, but with Popcorn, and snoring people.

      After the movie lets out, some pillow over his pants fanboy will proclaim how much more intelligent that movie was than anything written by Marvel and how people just aren’t smart enough to get it. We get it, you’re pompous and think you’re smarter than you are, when in reality you require color by numbers toilet paper to wipe your own ass (hint, all the numbers are brown).

      Please get rid of Zack Snyder, please give us a balanced movie, make super man a bastion of hope like we all know him to be, and not a piss ant grump, make Batman the eye of the tiger badass billionaire who wants to deliver Justice instead of a crabby old man who wants to murder for blind anger, and lastly give us a wonderwoman whos introduction is relevant and not just eye candy at a party who woo guess who it is, irrelevant bull crap.

      • Avatar
        April 21, 2017 at 9:17 am

        Batman v. Superman had many good ideas; how Wonder Woman was introduced (failed because it didn’t get nearly enough buildup), hinting instead of forcefeeding us exposition on why Bats is turning savage (Robin suit in the background was a nice touch, but the suspense as well as Batman’s “redemption” arc were again ruined by pacing- as well as by Batman blatantly killing dudes.), Luthor being a dotcom zillionaire… I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s so much RUSHING, so little patience to DC movies since Dark Knight Rises, it’s like they’re throwing these movies at us screaming “We don’t like these at all, but maybe you will?” Last DC movie that wasn’t Batman that I completely enjoyed, sadly, WAS a big risk on their part: Constantine. And while THAT set no box office records, dammit, it felt like EVERYONE believed in the work they put into that movie.

        • Jack Malice
          April 21, 2017 at 9:59 am

          I had my own problems with the new Wonder Woman! Mostly I felt she was a set prop in Batman vs. Superman! She is too Iconic of a character to just be a prop. Lets face it the whole problem with Batman vs. Superman is they smashed 3 movies into 1.


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