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.”

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.

A new superhero Hancock failed us, which has the potential to worry any film-maker who's thinking of filming a new superhero.
A new superhero Hancock failed us, which has the potential to make any film-maker who’s thinking of filming a new superhero worry.

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.

PC Games
“… 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.

Rather than diversity, what we have today is something that could be called the "superclumping".
Rather than diversity, what we have today is something that could be called the “superclumping”.

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?

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.
“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.”

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.

Wrapping up

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.

The X-Men line of superheroes is different than the rest of Marvel culture. It is known to create new superheroes and give life to forgotten ones too -- rather than cashing in on popular names.
The X-Men line of superheroes is different than the rest of Marvel culture. Too bad Marvel had to sell the lineage. It is known to create new superheroes and give life to forgotten ones too — rather than cashing in on popular names.

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.

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  1. I suspect sadly that Wonder Woman is going to be a disaster. They still have no idea how to handle the character, and Gadot is woefully miscast; you can see that just from how bad she looks even with all the Photoshopping. WW is supposed to be an Amazon. Famously, the producer of the 1970s TV show specified, “find me a woman who looks like she can throw men around”. That just isn’t Gadot.

  2. JLaurenceCohen

    No one may have been demanding a GoTG movie, but it turned out to be one of Marvel’s best. I think the issue with super hero movies is that they producers and directors don’t always do the best job creating a strong film. The key is good writing and good character development. We don’t necessarily need a bunch of new characters, just complex, interesting portrayals of the existing ones. You’re not going to get people to care about new characters over established ones, unless the story, acting, and writing are all great, as in GoTG.

  3. Marvel is already scraping the bottom of the barrel with guardians, big hero six, and ant man. Dc can’t even do superman right. Sadly, I think the next wave is going to be twilight clones.

    • Michael

      Some people just love superhero movies. It doesn’t matter if the movie is really a loosely themed commercial. It doesn’t matter if the writing gets lazier and lazier. It doesn’t matter if the source material in no way relates to the feature. The only thing that matters is… more superhero movies. I think it makes every other nations movie industry better by comparison because at least their features are original. I love comic books but not the billion dollar translations to film.

  4. Tijerin

    Major mistake in Marvel’s movie universe is disposable villains. It’s been getting rid of them in one film appearance showings, denying them any kind of real buildup or character arc (especially when they’re fighting with other characters for screentime).

    It’s no accident Marvel’s best villain, in my opinion, is Loki. He’s not the most dangerous or powerful, but he is easily the most complex and developed. He’s had 3 films to grow as a character.

    But unfortunately for Marvel, Loki is a just a exception to Marvel’s flawed rule: that each villain gets just one movie.

    • rodcool

      I don’t see it as a problem. I would rather the villain die at the end than come back in every movie, like Lex Luthor in the Superman movies or Magneto and Mystique in the X-Men series. Do you know what character the villains in Marvel movies won’t be fighting for screentime? The villain from the previous movie.

    • I think the whole villains thing is a mixed blessing for Marvel. On one hand, we’re seeing many villains we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and there’s much more variety rather than every Superman movie always having to use Lex Luthor or General Zod, or every Batman series always having to regurgitate The Joker, or the X-Men always having to reuse Magneto. Also, it keeps the movies focused on the heroes first and foremost, and if you care about the heroes, the movie can get away with having underdeveloped or forgettable villains (like “Pinocchio” or “Lady and the Tramp”).

  5. Tatijana

    I was thinking about your last point the whole time while reading this. Totally agree, you need to introduce a new character with the old guys. It gives the new character some “street cred” so to speak. Also I feel like making a TV series with the new characters couldn’t hurt. It’d give us a more in depth view of their lives/history etc, and more time to watch them come into their own. Then you could easily throw them back into a movie and I feel their fan base would be a lot stronger. Especially since we are talking about a brand new character that is tailored to who we are as people now instead of who we were when those characters were first created.

  6. I think one of the problems is that many of the characters’ stories are similar – Batman is famous for losing his parents in childhood, but how many superheroes have that same trauma? A lot. After few super heroes with similar backstories, or even power, the characters become indistinguishable, and become forgettable.

  7. I think that superheroes occupy a unique place in out culture, and I agree that most people aren’t really willing to accept brand-new names, especially in the film industry where so much money goes into each movie. (I don’t necessarily agree that breathing new life into old heroes has no merit. It’s how most of those heroes came into existence to begin with.)

    I think your argument is a bit muddled here – in the beginning it seems like you are arguing for more than a JUST Marvel and DC options, which I completely agree with. Let’s see Hellboy brought back, or let’s see Witchblade hit the big screen.

    But then you wrap up your argument with x-men, which is a marvel franchise? Wolverine IS an avenger? X-men vs Avengers was a relatively recent thing in the comics? I find your argument very unclear: what exactly are you trying to say? First you argue that too many mainstream heroes are getting shows/movies, then that no one cares about the particular heroes that are getting movies (GotG, Iron Man) then you say that x-men did a good job…. because they used characters that fewer people had heard/cared about before they appeared in the movies???

    Also, I do realize we are talking about films here and not actual comics, but Marvel right now is pulling in a /lot/ of new stories, like the new Ms. Marvel and the Young Avengers.

    The thing about super heroes is that they exist within a particular mold that’s difficult to break out of. It’s more common to have a new person take up the name of an old hero than it is to have a brand new identity coming out. And here’s the most important point, to me – that is how myth /works/. And super heroes ARE myths, don’t forget. Stories we tell ourselves to feel better, to elucidate some facet of human nature, just /to tell a story/.

    Myths get recycled. There is no such thing as an original story. And for the super hero genre, this ‘recycling’ works particularly well. I don’t see any reason to change or forget the attachment I’ve forged to the familiar characters that were first created years ago, and I’m excited to see them in new forms on screen.

  8. Rachel

    Although Marvel and DC are seemingly beating a dead horse with their plethora of recycled characters, I would have to say,”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
    Our generation, the predominant generation that watches these heroes, is a nostalgic bunch. I’m sure we’ve all seen “You’re a 90’s kid if..” posts on social media, and that’s because that generation grew up in a world where everything changed much too quickly. We crave the things that take us back to our childhood; heroes made the list. The reason recycled heroes works so well is because the intended audience clings to them and, as creature of habit, doesn’t want anything to change. New heroes are often shunned because exactly that: they’re new. They’re not the comfortable beloved heroes of our past; they represent a change, a movement, that’s makes us cringe and search for the solidarity of what we know.
    Of course, new heroes won’t always be shunned. They may be accepted begrudgingly, and eventually allowed into our world, like a new student entering a high school clique. But it stands to know that the beloved heroes of our past will only grow old when we do. Not only is this recycling effective, but demanded by the audience.

  9. If you are gong to be a writer, you should take the trouble to learn basic grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. The definition of a paragraph would be useful and finally, a degree of brevity would help.
    This is a boring and repetitive article with not much point. I hope you are a commentor and do not consider yourself a journalist.
    Finally, 2 points can cover the majority of yours.
    1. The almighty dollar rules…and
    2. One can reasonably assume that there are a finite number of superpowers to be invented.
    Considering the huge price tags of these movies, its not shocking that few are willing to stick out their necks.

  10. Allie Anton

    Much as I love (or maybe have loved) the genre, at this point I’m beginning to think it’s become too bloated and unwieldy. I was pumped for the first Avengers; the prospect of Avengers 3 (whatever it’s called) is just exhausting.

  11. It’s been a lean year for originality.

  12. Caitlin Ray

    Interesting thoughts here…I wonder if this argument follows the increasing number of Marvel/DC TV shows, or if those shows will allow for newer, more complex characters and perhaps more development of superheroes outside of these two powerhouse companies.

  13. I think the logical step for the film compnaies that own these characters to take would be to introduce a filmic multiverse, much like The Flash tv show has done. This way we get fresh takes on superheroes we’re familiar with already, but they can be completely new characters.

  14. Batman will always be the real MVP

  15. I think the issue with a lack of new superheroes/ new worlds is a microcosm of a greater industry-wide problem of a lack of risk-taking and innovation.

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