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What makes some superheroes more popular than others

Why is Ant-Man, despite being integral to the MCU, still considered a lesser-known superhero, with jokes being made about it as recently as Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania? Why did Drax come out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the most popular Guardian, going up against the likable charm of Starlord and the reserved bad-boy archetype in Rocket Raccoon? Why is Iron Man, who was once considered a B-list superhero in Marvel comics, now the pillar for the MCU and Marvel heroes as a whole? Why are Batman and Spiderman *so* timeless, that they will likely continue to see adaptations long after we’re gone?

There’s an unmistakable draw to some superheroes. Captain America, a symbol of America in a time of strife, is now a symbol of the entire world. It’s interesting to look back on superheroes, someone six years ago might not be able to tell you who "Doctor Strange" was, but is now a household name. Writing, staying power, casting, exposure, and adaptation all likely carry some weight in explaining why some superheroes refuse to die, while some fade into obscurity. With the unimaginable popularity of superheroes in modern culture, it should be analyzed just what, and how many factors make certain characters so integral to our culture.

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    Ideology and a problem with Superheroes.

    Superheroes, are presented as by their nature disruptions to the "natural order" of the world. That is to say many are presented in worlds more or less analogous to that of the reader, either in the urban setting or something that perceivably realistic. But, this presents a disruption to the world they exist within.

    Many heroes are, in some interpretations, read as virtual gods amongst men, invulnerable, nigh unstoppable, with only "benevolence" as the check against them dominating the world. How does a world function similarly to our own while also inhabited by a living god or gods?

    Many exist only in reactive states, that is to say, many heroes and their stories are written to respond to "crime" or "disasters" but rarely are we presented with them proactively pushing for some sort of shift. How does this materially affect their world? How does a world of heroes and supervillains, one of constant impending doom have any sense of normality? How can that world even function?

    Part of this can be blamed on the medium, crime being punished is an easier comic to sell than crime never happens, but that reinforces the idea of crime without interrogating the why of crime. The material conditions, not to mention the motivations of criminals within worlds of sentient nuclear weapons is rarely examined.

    Returning to the core question, superheroes exist in worlds similar to our own, but how in fact is that possible? How is it that a world where Superman and Batman exist is virtually the same as a world where they don’t. How is the world of Marvel, with aliens and spirits, and devils, and sentient robots not dissimilar entirely to the world that exists today?

    How do writers square the circle that is the "status quo" ? Status quo being read as a world that has enough parallels to the real world to be read as similar to our own. A sense of normalcy that can allow for the reader to feel connection with the world of the heroes. How can you reckon with the fact that the existence of these walking myths has little impact on their worlds?

    The writer could interrogate the idea of the superhero as it compares to the prior age of myth, but the more challenging question would require some understanding of the main universes of some of the major comic book publishes and their distinctions and similarities from the real world along with speculation/analysis of why or even how those similarities exist.

    • One idea from the pilot episode of Agents of SHIELD: organizations like SHIELD exist to keep the majority of the weird stuff away from the public, so the world will not change dramatically. Another idea: if the existence of super-people did change the world, the most likely result would be something like Injustice: Gods Among Us - the super-people ruling the world, whether the regular people wanted that or not. Many of the superheroes know this and willingly avoid impacting the world in such a way because free will matters to them. Also consider Watchmen, a fairly popular story about super-people very much changing the world. – noahspud 3 months ago
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    Controversy or Consciousness in Marvel Netflix?

    Comic books, back in the day, were the dose of tiger balm to the congested chest. They were painful narratives that made us think, that put our problems into the perspectives of a false world so a hero could show us they can be solved and the villains of our lives vanquished. Unfortunately, the solutions are solely on the page or on the screen, now with the Netflix series’ of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, but does that erase the effect they have on us as viewers and readers?

    Do the shows take some issues too far? Present them too blatantly or too straight-forward for escapism?

    Are they too real and too relevant? Or exactly what we need?

    • Something else to consider would be whether or not the intention of comic books is still escapism. As entertainment becomes increasingly politicized, the escapism aspect may sit on a balance with a desire to provide political commentary. If you wanted to do that more broadly, too, you could look at the balance of escapism and commentary in modern comic books or their adaptations (like Daredevil/Jessica Jones/Luke Cage), which I feel like is what you might be trying to do. There's an excellent article about Ta-Nehisi Coates discussing his run of Black Panther which touches on this --> http://kotaku.com/ta-nehisi-coates-is-trying-to-do-right-by-marvel-comics-1769418783 – Sadie Britton 6 years ago
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    • I think the subjective nature social consciousness makes this a hard question to answer. Comics have always run the gamut from utterly ridiculous to uncomfortably real but a lot of that is in the personal interpretation. Most comics aren't going to be as clear in their messaging as Captain America punching Hitler in the face. The X-Men arose as an allegory for the Civil Rights movement but not every white comic reader in the 60s was thinking "I see, this is like how we treat black people". However black comic readers may have connected with the story in a different way. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage both seemed overtly political but technically were recreations of plot lines that were decades old. When Brock Turner is making headlines, Jessica's inability to consent holds more weight. When Black Lives Matter plays a large part in the political sphere, a bulletproof black guy (in a hoodie) holds more weight. Your environment and your gender/racial/sexual identity change whether you view it as a nice work of fiction or a very political one. – LC Morisset 6 years ago
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    • Whoever decides to write a piece about this topic, must keep the line about comic books being "the dose of tiger balm to the congested chest." Otherwise, no success will be achieved. – T. Palomino 5 months ago
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    Modern Superheroes as Our Myths and Legends for Future Scholars to Consider

    Scholars look back on the myths and mythological figures of ancient societies to understand the cultural, sociological, psychological, and anthropological aspects of those societies. Those myths and legends indicate the issues, concerns, and priorities of the day, as well as perhaps the character and values of the people who perpetuated them. Will the comic books and superhero films of our day serve the same purpose for scholars of the future? If so, what conclusions might they draw about us? To what extent will those conclusions accurately reflect who we really are?

    • Hey. Thank you for the topic suggestion. I want to make one thing clear. Before discussing anything else, it's crucial to address the question of whether or not we can properly grasp ancient societies without imposing our own values, viewpoints, and way of life on them. The same principle applies when we consider how others could view us in the future: Are we truly capable of thinking via their lenses? How specifically? Or is it simply pure speculation? When this question has been addressed and it appears feasible or at least practical to carry out such an exercise, it is recommended to make a more general statement about heroes and their relationship to the situation of people in cultures throughout history: do these heroes, putting aside all other factors, reflect the condition of individuals in such societies as we examine them? If not, should scholars reevaluate how much they rely on these characters to establish sociological, psychological, etc.-level claims? – Samer Darwich 5 months ago
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    • Comics and films are cultural products and expressions that will and should be read as such in a possible future, not as "myths." Myths are something different and they don't exactly work like it is suggested here. – T. Palomino 5 months ago
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    • Comics will definitely, even if inadvertently, be useful for future scholars to depict the times of our day. – Montayj79 4 months ago
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    • You might already be aware of the link, but some of these ideas remind me of Henry Jenkins's work about fandom. I just mention it in case you think it's worth looking into :) – Caylee 4 months ago
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    Hulk and Ares: Our Sympathy for rage?

    In stories of Greek mythology, Ares is not a god other gods like. Zeus calls Ares (his own son) the god he hates most of all. This is because Ares is out of control, bloodthirsty, and needlessly violent.

    Hulk and Ares are parallels in the way they become consumed by rage. But the Hulk usually gets our sympathy, while Ares did not create sympathy. This might show a contemporary hesitation with unequivocally disapproving of raging violence. We could focus on Hulk as just out-of-control and destructive the way Ares was perceived by Zeus and the other gods. But we don’t. Could our tendency to sympathize with Hulk show how hardwired we are now to see anything unusual or strange as a victim deserving our compassion?

    • I think it would be helpful to pose a question, to help narrow the focus. Right now, this is still a little broad. I think that is no real guiding question in the topic itself, and there needs to be more of a focus. – RheaRG 2 years ago
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    • The main reason we sympathize with Hulk over Ares, is the fact that originally Ares was portayed as a villian for Thor and Hercules. We weren't given much backstory on why Ares was jealous of Hercules. We only saw the destruction that he caused. While Hulk only appears when he's trying to save his friends or defend himself. This makes Hulk come across as righteous fury. While Ares seems more selfish in nature, since he's endangering others out of jealousy. Not only that, but Hulk usually tries to control his rage while Ares embraces his fully. It is much later in Ares marvel history where he is given a deeper backstory. One that justifies his rage towards Hercules and the other Olympians. How he was pushed aside because people no longer see war as neccessary. Not only that but people seemed to forget all the suffering Hercules caused. Yet he is still favored. I think a better direction to take this topic is focusing on how knowledge of past abuses can allow us to sympathize with characters. As the more developed Ares became the eaiser it becomes to understand why he would take such villianess actions. In a lot of ways Ares mirrors Kratos from God of War more than Hulk. – Blackcat130 2 years ago
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    Superheroes: Altruists or Status Quo Apologists

    The Marvel and DC cinematic universes have created superheroes that benefitted from the US military industrial complex then turned their backs on it. Captain America became a hero from the Army’s super soldier serum in The First Avenger then rejected surveillance overreach by government agencies in The Winter Soldier. Iron Man inherited a vast fortune from Stark Industry’s weapons development then restructured the company to clean energy development at the end of the first movie. Batman’s endless array of tech toys originated as US military prototypes of Wayne tech repurposed for war on Gotham’s crime. Nonetheless, super heroic courage, genius intellect, and god like powers are always depicted preserving the status quo (late stage capitalism with grossly corrupt governments protecting global income inequality as the earth burns) and actively combatting those who strive to fix such problems. For example, Thanos aims to eradicate overpopulation and Killmonger plots to undermine white global dominance by destroying US and NATO military superiority. What can we make of this ambiguity in superhero comics and movies?

    • I think it would also be interesting to explore what Superman and Batman represent. Admittedly, I'm not very involved in the lore, but much has been made about Bruce Wayne being a wealthy man who, besides fighting supervillians, also stops people who do petty crimes who obviously are way more economically disadvantaged than him. – Emily Deibler 3 years ago
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    • Yes exactly! Superman on the other hand has the power to shut down the 100 companies producing 70% of the carbon emissions leading to climate destruction but settles for foiling jewel heists and working as a reporter – Will Nolen 3 years ago
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    • Also, we should add Batman's obsession with surveillance and information collection... If I were to tackle this topic, I would definitely bring up Robert Kirkman's Invincible, where the main character is constantly confronted with this ambiguous dichotomy. – kpfong83 3 years ago
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    • Absolutely kpfong83! Batman's surveillance and his schemes to betray each of his allies "just in case" all echo American foreign policies even with fellow NATO members (as I recall in 2015 the NSA got busted for wire tapping German chancellor Angela Merkel). – Will Nolen 3 years ago
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    • I feel like this is really a question about what's good for individual people vs. some theoretical "greater good." Superheroes like Batman and Superman, from my admittedly limited understanding, seem like what they want is to keep "the peace" by ensuring a relatively stable society in which most people can live normal lives, even if it might leave some members of that society vulnerable in certain respects. Meanwhile, the bad guys you mention have big dreams and big ideas about how to remake the world, but the only way to accomplish these goals is to cause a lot of personal suffering, even to the people they're supposedly trying to help. – Debs 3 years ago
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    • I think that you might be right Debs but this superheroic pro-status quo perspective is quite limited in that the definition of who benefits from that "relatively stable society" does NOT include a huge portion of the global population (e.g. the 99% of the population in developing countries, the poor and other disenfranchised in the developed countries- PoC, LGBTQ, poor, etc.). So these superheoes end up reflecting the pov of the ruling elites and their beneficiaries which might explain why many superheroes tend to be white males from middle and upper class backgrounds – Will Nolen 3 years ago
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    • Really great topic! I can't help but think of Roland Barthes' argument that our dominant contemporary mythologies serve to reinforce our dominant, contemporary social value systems. In his analysis Barthes looks at all sorts of things -- including advertising for detergents and professional wrestling -- and if he were writing today, he'd definitely include a short essay on recent superhero films. The film Black Panther would be a great film to focus on, with its competing ideas -- with one idea emerging as the clear victor -- about how we might address lasting economic and social disparities. – JamesBKelley 2 years ago
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    Superheroes - up, up, and away

    Since the early 2000s, the superhero genre has saturated our screens with no intention of slowing down. And I wonder why this is. Why are Marvel and DC superhero movies the front runners in the current cycle of action cinema? What might be the cultural conditions which boosted the popularity of this genre? Is it simply a matter of evolved special effects adding a more realistic spectacle to the narrative, or does our love of superheroes expose a wider cultural anxiety about the need for national protection (an after-effect of 9/11, perhaps)?

    • I've always wondered this myself. A great source for this piece would be Robert Kirkman's Secret History of Comics, because viewers see just where these superheroes came from and how they affected society at that time and continue to do so now. Everyone wanted to BE Superman or HAVE a Superman. Marvel comics took a step forward from black-and-white "bad guys" to villains with complex backstories and motivations. I believe that the heart of superheroes continues to be so relevant and prevalent nowadays because we still have that yearning to see good triumph over evil, as well as see these comic book characters come to life. – EJSmall 3 years ago
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    • On top of all the factors which you have mentioned, part of me (the optimistic side) believes that the superheroes genre provides a fertile ground for experimentation especially with diversity. Though it is not perfect, superheroes movies tend to make an effort to be inclusive with diverse casts and I believe, rightly or wrongly, that it has contributed to the success and appeal of the cycle of those movies. – kpfong83 3 years ago
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    The psychology and philosophy behind super heroes

    Breakdown and analyse what makes super heroes tick and how they are an inspiration to us mortals. What are philosophical elements behind their characterisation and actions that appeal to an audience? Despite having unearthly abilities, humane qualities of superheroes are what makes them relatable to us. What are the psychological elements their creators have embedded in the stories that help us navigate our own challenges the way these characters do in comics, TV and film?

    • I think this is a notable and wonderful topic to look at. Why? because while we may feel limited in many physical aspects of our lives, we identify with a superhero in each of us whose imagination and mind has no limits. We are superheroes trapped in physical bodies and whom we identify with is perhaps where we feel the most limited. Superheroes hurl that limitation out the window for us! They are a wonderful way for us to channel our inner strength, power and courage. They provide an identity for us more in line with the truth and for this reason, I love this topic. – MinGHathorn 4 years ago
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    How important is accuracy?

    When it comes to things like superheroes like Superman, the Hulk, Iron Man, or Batman, everyone has an idea of their origin stories. But as the superhero movie franchise only continues to barrel forward, how important is it for writers to include an accurate recount of the superhero origins for new viewers? Or does it matter at all?

    • It matters to an extent. The idea of an adaptation is to provide a new interpretation to something pre-existing. You don't want the filmmakers to exactly follow the comics or else it would be boring. It has to be suitable so it can be translated to screen for a general film audience – cbo1094 4 years ago
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    • I think to a certain degree people stop caring about the origin story since for some heroes its such commonly treaded ground that its basically mud the next time a reboot rolls around. Spiderman Homecoming skipped it completely keeping the movie fresh and exciting. Of course as an introduction for new viewers it might leave them in the dark, but if you value yourself as a writer you should be able to help ease new viewers in with slight exposition rather than pulling a BVS and shoving it in in the first 2 minutes as a dream sequence. – AMedina 4 years ago
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    Introverted superheroes

    As an introvert, I can’t help but think about my hidden talents and gifts. And as an advent comic book reader I couldn’t help to review old comics like Jean Grey from X-men, The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, and Batman. I’m sure I’m missing quite a few other heroes, but the connections are there and could be analzyed a bit further. For instance, how introverted superheroes are extremely sensitive, intelleigent, powerful, and, potentially, deadly beings/mutants. These superheroes can also encourage people who don’t necessarily enjoy being social that they can explore and utilize their gifts and/or talents and should contribute these ‘powers’ to the greater society.

    • An extremely interesting topic. It's intriguing to wonder how a hero can be quite introverted, and have a greater effect on the surrounding world as well. It's a point to make that introverted characters may have extroverted personas, kind of like mask or 'another identity' that masks their inner one. Could make them ambiverts or really great actors. I'd want to explore the dynamics of lesser-known heroes as well. – HollyDavidson 5 years ago
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    • Essentially, most superheroes are introverts in their public lives in order for them to be able to maintain a balance between their multiple roles. A good topic which would make for an interesting read. – Vishnu Unnithan 5 years ago
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