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The Superhero Paradox

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© Marvel 2016

By Marc Butterfield

We live in what I consider to be the golden age of the “superhero movie”.  Picking nits, I will say that just because a character is taken from the pages of a comic book, it doesn’t mean that they were a super hero.

“Watchmen” had only one true super in the group, and the rest, even in the book (we nerds call them books, not comics, because that term is antiquated and ill fitting to describe the true content of the stories, most of which are far from comedic) the Watchmen were aware that they were costumed adventurers and vigilantes, but none of them were “super”.  And so, many of the characters in these movies are not super, but they hang with that clique.  Black Widow and Hawkeye take a lot of grief in the Avengers movies because they are not super.

When asked by the Flash in the Justice League movie “what exactly is your super power?”, Batman says “I’m rich”. (clip)  Note: my inner fanboy found that a little funny, but mostly showed a complete misunderstanding of the Batman character to even think that line works.  I’ll digress in to that in another piece, in detail, angrily, probably while binging on Doritos and coffee, in full nerd fury.  Just not here, not now.  It’s too soon.

So back to the reason for this article to start with: someone wrote that the superhero genre of movies has become flooded, and will reach an end, too much sameness, like Westerns, it’s time will pass.  You know, I couldn’t agree less with this statement.  Not because I’m a comic nerd who is too devoted to the very genre and blind to its shortcomings (yes, there are some), but because the statement is just factually and philosophically flawed.  If you see the diversity in comics, especially in the last 2 decades, you see not just white men in tights fighting each other and giant robots (I still like ANYONE fighting robots), but instead you see a wide range of men and women, some minors, and all with color.

Black Lightning © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Back in the 80’s when they tried to diversify by just taking old characters and replacing them with black men, using the same names as the characters they were replacing (I’m talking to you Iron Man and Green Lantern), or they had to have their skin color in their name (Black Lightning and Black Manta), or revert to racial stereotypes to show you their nationality or race (how many Native American characters are just trackers?) which were clearly just lazy attempts at pretending to add spice without real content.  I’ll give you that the TV series Black Lightning shows how much they’ve grown that character, and in the Arrowverse we have a great mix, but these are TV shows, not movies.  Again…this subject is for another time. Stop digressing, dammit.

No, these days comics have characters that are more than just “superheroes”.  They are more complex, their stories are not just about detectives, or aliens from another world saving us (or attacking us), but rather more about taking the ordinary and adding a circumstance or character that throws everything out of balance, and making it work.  Cowboys and Aliens, Men in Black, and Tank girl are comic book adaptations.  The first MiB movie is a classic now.  I use these to show that there is no shortage of material from comic books.

Even in just the Marvel universe, there is a vast array of untapped potential, something that Marvel studios seems to be aware of with offerings of New Mutants.  Their Netflix and other network shows (sorry Inhumans, I never even got a chance to see you, and that’s regrettable) show that some of it is even borderline great. DC has a vast store of characters that are extremely interesting. In the hands of the right director/writer, many of these could be huge commercial successes, as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY showed.

So yeah, there is a lot of yet untapped material from comics, and I stand firmly by that comment. Running out of ideas? Dude, if you think that, you are showing a bias against a respected format of story telling that translates very well to film. Yes, there are some early failures in the genre, Hell the first Captain America movie is STILL the worst movie I’ve ever seen.  (no, not the Chris Evans movie…you have to go back to the 80’s for that flop), and many, MANY of the early movies just flat out sucked, but then we started getting serious attempts at quality, starting in the 70’s with SUPERMAN, THE MOVIE (followed by lots of crappy, low budget, half-hearted attempts), but then again in 1989 with BATMAN, we started getting some great ones. BLADE was amazing.

Let’s stop with the “the well is dry” nonsense. These stories are set in everywhere, every time, with characters quite independent of cookie cutter capes and camp. Read with an open mind, and you’ll find the universe of comics hasn’t even begun to be explored.

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