Killing Superheroes: What’s Keeping New Superhero Invention?
The golden days of DC and Marvel Comics funneled humanity’s wildest imaginations into molds for great superheroes. And finally we can say that we’re burning that same stock even when today’s technology permits much more than what the 20th century could believe. What else is this if not merciless superhero killing? And a further suppression of new talented supernatural story-writers and character designers who are not even considered because of the disastrous prejudice of their poor performance amid the comfort zone of Marvel and DC Universe?
This article will target the modern film-making and artistic society as a whole for killing superheroes and clipping the budding amateurs in fears of upsetting the spiking money charts.
Bipolar Market and its Influence
Today, all the superheroes are owned by either Disney or Warner Bros (itself owned by Time Warner). They both compete in the highly lustrous comics-bred superhero segment of films. Talk of Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Hulk, or Green Lantern. They’re all seasoned superheroes crafted decades ago.
Recently, Marvel superhero films are clouding fresh superhero invention. It’s the collective duty of a professional industry to promote freshness and not to just sit and keep cashing in on your safest bets. With the spike of the re-popularity of DC Comics against its key competitor Marvel in a brief 5 year period (DC Comics is roughly equal in market share to Marvel now, while there was a bay of a two-times difference a few years ago), we can confirm that established comics superheroes are making a headway.
Perhaps it’s not about the superior methods implemented by Disney or WB in marketing or VFX, but a lack of independent superhero flicks that’s driving the peoples to buy big name tickets and avoid any contact with the depressing state of the “new superhero segment” — if anything like that exists. But who’s to blame for this depressing state? Surely not the peoples but the established companies. Marvel and DC Comics-based superheroes and their investors are leading the world into a state of “bipoly” in superhero entertainment.
So, are we trapped in our apparent comfort zones refraining from inventing superheroes? Well, looking at the Will Smith and Charlize Theron-starrer Hancock, it seems fair to a point to be insecure. Hancock failed us. But there were scientific reasons behind it and in fact it had a great story.
Not Forced Invention, But Natural Supply of Fresh Superheroes
Stan Lee mass producing a new breed of superheroes for another entertainment company won’t help. That will just make the bipoly a tripoly. He’s busy fishing for real life superhumans with some Daniel anyway. The general lack of new superhero invention is the actual problem.
There has to be a leader to balance the superhero equation. A new independent superhero, a favorite of the masses. Not animated superheroes. However Megamind could give Cap Murrika a run for his money any day of the week. I mean more realistic opportunities: a Superman, an Iron Man, but someone never heard of before.
This will inspire the whole idea of superhero invention and we’ll have a healthy industry with lots of competitors. To have a grasp of this look at the gaming industry. There are well-established studios, there are indie developers, and yet there are a ton of memorable game idols all from different walks of life and different companies.
Superhero Clumping: the Loss of Purpose
Even if the “Marvel Universe” and “DC world” existed, which included all their superheroes coexisting in harmony without any geographical blunder, all superheroes had a different world just for them.
They had separate identities, worlds, purpose, and a heart-warming story. Let’s have a look at how much diversity we have now.
Oh wait, Avengers makes up for almost all the never-related superheroes at once. It brings together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye, and so on. With Infinity War, we’ll have even more convergence. It might be a good production success stunt, but actually you’re stealing the charisma from each superhero when you make them pass jokes on each other.
This is not forced, remember. In fact, the idea of Infinity War movie is derived from comics since 1992. The point is that why we need to bring them back? Why we had to bring back Guardians of the Galaxy when no one cared about them enough (Honest Trailers, yes). Why not something new? The superhero movies are just replicating the popular effect of superhero comics decades back.
It’s still possible for superheroes to be down to the earth, communicative, and accessible to moviegoers and fans without clumping a couple other superheroes with them. For example, Batman in his first set of movies, Iron Man in the 2008 movie, and so on were favorite and approachable heroes. They were still humorous and serious. Hancock, too, was scripted “one of us” way.
As the latest additions, lost superhumans like Ultron and Loki were added to the already superfull Avengers superhero superdrama. Even the DC Comics veteran lifesavers — Superman and Batman — have shared screen space. Some time back, it would’ve been as bizarre as Grown Ups receiving the Oscar for Best Picture.
This has stolen the depth and gravity of the characters. They’re still enjoyable to watch, but ask any 20th century person and they’ll tell you they want the action traded for the legendary prestige superheroes used to have. The prestige only Spiderman has managed to preserve. But surely he would really end up webbing the whole NYC with the full colorful Avenger squad some day.
Like how each mainstream shonen anime tries to be unique and keeps its heroes different than others while trying endlessly to make their stories better, superhero culture used to be unique and competitive too. I still have my Spiderman magazines and DC Comics special editions. Superman and Batman could’ve been shown in the same universe, no doubt, but there was a feel of competition, an undercurrent of pure dedication to be different and better.
Batman was meant to compete with Superman, but not in a fight. The audience would judge who’s their favorite based on the uniqueness of the character and the story. Such worlds could never intersect because the main aim of the story-writers was to keep heroes unique from each other. But today, we’re picking our favorites based on the “coolness” of a character and the frequency of jokes he can pass. Explains the popularity of Ironman, don’t you think?
That was the whole point behind having a favorite superhero. Not because of their superpowers but their identities at large. That’s the reason I can still read those magazines. In the old superhero entertainment, their sole purpose was to be different. What we’re doing today is totally reverse of that, just because some producer thinks stacking up more superheroes is necessary. I doubt whether the original story-writers are okay with this. Just imagine producers using Luffy and Naruto as “items” in movies to maximize profits. Would Oda or Kishimoto feel good about it? No. Healthy competition to a point is fine, but some company using your characters as props to give audience “even more action” doesn’t feel too fine.
Stacking up superheroes on top of other superheroes feels strange if you think about it. They’re not high school friends who save the world from complete destruction every once a while and hang out the rest of the time.
Recycling Old Marvels
Reinventing old superheroes and invoking long-forgotten 20th and even 19th century story-lines is a desperate step towards keeping the audience apiece. No one is willing to sponsor a new superhero fearing that he or she might end up being a giant failure. On the other hand, trying different permutations of already well-established superheroes is an easy bet for commercial success.
I bet I can predict some new arrivals without any superhero skills. All I need is to pull out my superhero collectible cards from my childhood, dust them, and check them one by one. Here are my results.
A lot of these old superhumans that we considered unimportant have prominent roles now: Loki, Black Widow, Ultron, and Hawkeye. And finally these are the potential names that can find entry into any Marvel (Disney) or WB movie.
Falcon, Phantom, Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel (already slated for a 2016 release), Heman, Dr. Doom (had a brief stint in Fantastic Four), Red Skull, and Iron Fist. I’ve left out X-Men franchise names for reasons I’ll make clear later on.
There are more. Electra, Vision (that alien guy in Age of Ultron was Vision, but was never named), Agent X, Temujin, Daredevil, Ant-Man (got his flick as this article entered editing stage), Dr. Spectrum, Punisher, Kang, Warbird, and Iceman.
When me and friends played these cards, we barely paid respect to Captain Marvel or Ultron. Look at their pimped-up versions now. They’re God. Similarly, Red Skull can be a cool new villain, Phantom the new sidekick, and Electra or Warbird the new temperature multipliers (I would love to see Gal Gadot playing them, just in case). Everything’s set. No need of inventing new heroes. Everything looks sunny and beautiful because we got a chunk of stock.
Everything except one: as better characters are devised in non-superhero movies and our innovation can be seen in that, sticking up to stock pre-created superheroes seems plain boring. Along with their resurrection, we need better mainstream superheroes.
Of course, there are reasons behind this recycling and clumping-together effect. Using old superheroes and adding more superheroes in a single movie helps a lot.
1. The characters already have a story, so it saves a bit of trouble.
2. The characters already have a fan-base, like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman are slated to hit with their own separate blockbusters and they both got fans and stories.
3. The other filmed characters, like the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., or Black Widow, can be thrashed inside any conductive story, making a film even more successful.
Finally I would like to praise X-Men series for: (a) introducing new superheroes in their movies (Shadowcat, Bishop, Quicksilver, Warpath, etc. are some great non-mainstream heroes), and (b) still being able to give older superheroes a warm comeback. This makes the X-Men series excellent — the old ones keep us charged with memories and the new ones pretty much take care of all the geek criticism that I’ve put together here.
So basically what X-Men does is what we should be doing in the superhero entertainment segment. This will maintain healthy competition. New superheroes aren’t always bad and this lineage makes it clear. Given appropriate VFX and budget, any new superhero could be made a mass sensation.
What do you think? Leave a comment.