We live in a time where superhero films dominate at the box office. It feels as if every few months, something new is offered from DC, Marvel, or some other studio that seeks to expand the genre. The superhero genre is obviously incredibly popular at the moment. To deny so would be naive.
People often criticize the film industry for being less diverse in terms of the types of stories being released, and to a certain extent, they're right. By acknowledging those thoughts, we are able to get at the heart of the matter — will we ever outgrow our superheroes? To get to an answer, we first have to acknowledge that superheroes have actually been around for a long time.
Superheroes have, in a sense, always been part of our history spanning back thousands of years. People of various cultures around the world have venerated mythological figures through fantastic stories. In essence, they were the original superheroes of the past.
People looked to those figures for inspiration, while some still continue to do so. For many of us today, superheroes have taken the place of ancient mythological figures and have become some of our newest sources of inspiration and hope. One could even argue that ancient mythological figures were the inspiration for the modern-day superhero.
Rise of the Modern Superhero
Superheroes always seem to rise up during pivotal moments in our history. Near the end of the Great Depression, Superman, considered to be the first modern comic book superhero, appeared on the scene. From that point on, other heroes came about and dealt directly with issues of the times in the pages of comic books. Wonder Woman was literally fighting for gender equality since her inception in the '40s, while Captain America fought the Nazis during World War II.
Each decade put a unique spin on characters and stories that reflected the times. Today, many of the books have dealt with current social issues and have even begun to include characters from the LGBT community. Writers have not held back in terms of pushing equal representation for a diverse lineup of characters. Comics have now become a good historic measuring stick for assessing past issues since the books were written by authors inspired by their times.
That trend has found its way from the pages of comic books onto the big screens of Hollywood blockbuster films that dominate the box office. With films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, issues are raised that also speak to those of the current society such as the role of the government and the extent of surveillance in protecting people against terrorism. However, unlike comic books, films are able to reach larger audiences and more of the general public has gravitated towards on-screen representations of popular comic book characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Superman, Batman, and many more.
The Thing About Superhero Fatigue
The current popularity of superheroes in film has become somewhat of a phenomenon. Not only has it brought popularity to characters that have long been represented in comics, but it has also influenced the on-screen portrayal of other superhero-like characters in both live action and animation. There has been a lot of recent discussion about whether or not we will begin to experience superhero fatigue at least in film.
People have often asked me if I believe at some point, people will just get tired of superhero films. It's a fair question and by setting aside any bias, I tend to think that we will absolutely reach a point where we are no longer trampling over ourselves to get into a theater to watch another superhero movie. This is not necessarily a bad thing and may ultimately be needed if we are to maintain our long-term appreciation for the characters we know and love.
The truth of the matter is that superhero fatigue has already been experienced in comics. What immediately comes to mind is the specific case of Superman in the '90s when many comic book readers were simply not interested in the character anymore. The big blue boy scout had become a relic of a time long forgotten and he had grown out of fashion. Subsequently, DC decided that it was to time to make a bold move and they ultimately killed Superman in The Death of Superman story arc. After that happened, Superman, the character everyone had loved since the '30s was absent from comic books for an entire year. As a result, readers were devastated and pleaded for his return to the pages of DC.
A Cycle of Popularity
What that single event did not just for DC but for the entire superhero genre, was show that characters could fade in and out of popularity to a certain degree, but they would always be appreciated for the values they symbolize. In other words, superhero fatigue may be experienced in cycles where at one time, characters are more popular than they've ever been then at another, they become pushed to the side. What fans have shown is that wherever the characters are in the cycle, they need to at least be in the wings for us when we need them.
Appealing to Many
Aside from the demand of the adult crowd to which most of this article is geared towards, superheroes can be important role models for kids. Many of us began to love superheroes during our youth. As those same characters evolved over time, they became so diverse, that their universality now transcends age, gender, culture etc. to appeal to an even wider variety of people.
Many iconic characters in the last several years have celebrated their 75th anniversaries such as Superman and Batman. This year, Wonder Woman will be joining the club to celebrate her 75th anniversary. One of the main reason these characters have stood the test of time is largely due to their universal appeal that spans generations.
Renewing a Desire
As we await new films such as Justice League and Avengers: Infinity War, the superhero genre appears to be more popular than ever and we may be close to the point where superhero fatigue will begin to set in. This is not necessarily a bad thing and while superheroes may fall out of popularity for a period of time, our desire for them will rejuvenate so that our favorite characters can be brought back into the spotlight just as Superman was in the comics. Sometimes it takes the absence of our heroes from comic books or movies for a period of time to realize the appreciation we have for them.
Will We Ever Outgrow Our Superheroes?
So, will we ever outgrow superheroes? It would be reasonable to assume that most would probably respond with an overwhelming no! Our interest in the larger genre and the characters themselves may increase and decrease in cycles, but in an ever changing world, we have learned that the characters have evolved with us throughout the history of comic books. Their stories and values are a product of our times which is why it is so important that they remain a part of our pop-culture even if only in the background, for us to turn to for hope in times of desperation.
The next time you find yourself deep in the pages of your favorite comic book or at a screening for a new Marvel or DC film, relish the current time we live in where a common love for superheroes is shared among people of all ages and backgrounds. The longevity of the characters and their stories have proven to stand the test of time. We will never outgrow our superheroes because they will never outgrow us. They constantly evolve with us. As long as we avoid taking our favorite characters for granted, the torch of superhero fandom can be passed on for all future generations to enjoy.
Who is your favorite superhero? Let me know in the comments below.