1. Mark Carver says:

    From my perspective, it started with 9/11 and the era of terrorism has only exacerbated the fear and helplessness that most people feel. Superheroes have always been the geek’s vicarious revenge on the jocks who picked on them in school but now they’re also the answer for this terrifying modern world we live in.

    I personally see the mainstream superhero phenomenon as evidence of society’s lack of maturity, particularly with males. Look at the video games industry. What dominates? A bunch of razzle-dazzle first-person shooters. This ubiquitous virtual heroism can be a quick asthma inhaler when life gets you out of breath. That’s not to say that superhero stories are simplistic and childish, but at the end of the day, they’re superheroes and villains. In the real world, the bad guys are winning more and more. In comic books and pretty much every month now on the big screen, the bad guy du jour gets what’s coming.

  2. Tim Frankovich says:

    I would argue that the “wish fulfillment” also has its roots in our innate knowledge that we were created to be so much more than we are – that we were created to be sinless, perfect immortals.

  3. Hmmm. I can’t say I particularly disagree with any of your arguments, but I think you oversimplify the superhero genre. I suppose you’re specifically targeting “mainstream” superheroes. And I noticed you didn’t mention the X-Men, which is my favorite of them all. Still, the X-Men movie franchise is doing well, and it doesn’t really fit ANY of those categories.

    Wish-fulfillment? Not all the powers are ones you want, and that goes double for the comic strips. Vicarious living? Some, especially with the simplified children’s cartoons. Still, again because the powers can have annoying side effects and ugly histories, you don’t always want to live those lives. Adventure and adrenaline? It sells. That isn’t specifically a comic book movie feature, and some of the better ones have featured rather nuanced storylines, while STILL kicking butt.

    Cross-generational appeal? Again, here I’m going to branch out a little more. Look, a lot of mainline speculative fiction has cross-generational appeal. It NEEDS to be shaped that way to make money. It also seems that in particular you’re choosing movies. Even some of the comic book TV shows have a lot more stuff going on, and aren’t really aimed at the kids (Arrow, The Flash, etc). The ordinary in the extraordinary can again be applied to Star Wars or other speculative fiction shows. It’s not at all exclusive to superheroes.

    That isn’t to say you haven’t given reasons that superhero MOVIES are popular (although again, I’d point out that some go deeper). However, your blog post is titled Superhero Stories — and that’s a much broader category. I’m not a fan of lumping superhero movies in with superhero television shows, when they are two different animals in terms of narrative and storytelling ability.

    I would say there are plenty of producers looking to cash in on the superhero bandwagon and make big shoot-em-ups with lots of glitz and wish fulfillment. It’s money, and there’s an audience. However, especially on the small screen, others are discovering the potency of superpowers as a new way to tell stories. It can become the ‘new urban fantasy’ — adding superpowers to enhance existing human conflicts (ie, some X-Men movies, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, SOME parts of Arrow, etc). And no, the bad guys don’t always get what’s coming.

  4. D.M. Dutcher says:

    They are popular because mostly because you don’t need to care about plot or characterization or even logic when making a movie. You just need explosions, cgi, and fancy powers. They are the latest “gimmick” movies, like disaster films.

    I mean, if you like comics many of the popular movies are really, really bad. Not much of what makes them great shines through: no social commentary, no camp sensibility, no sense of growing with your favorite characters, no side stories. No transgressiveness, either-people forget that comics were a legitimately transgressive art form.

    Modern comic book movies are just worse versions of Wuxia flicks. Same problems: stock plots, focus on spectacular fight scenes over internal logic, paper characters, etc.

  5. I agree with all your reasons, but I thought of one other. A big reason why superhero movies have become more popular is because we have reached a point in technology where they are possible. This began with Spiderman in 2002. Before the advent of CGI, there was only so much that could feasibly be portrayed on the screen. (Don’t get me wrong, Richard Donner made an amazingly timeless Superman movie in 1978, which still holds up today, but it doesn’t have the epic scope that is possible nowdays).

What do you think?