I’ve noticed in the past few years that superheroes have become a reoccurring theme. As far back at the new batman trilogy, and slowly growing, there have been more and more superheros breaking out of comic books. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are all evidence of a new uprising.
Of course this is far from the first surge in popularity of comics and superheroes. In the past few decades since superheroes have arrived on the scene they have risen and fallen in popularity. My hypothesis is that their popularity is related to the political and economic status of the world at the time, but that would be for someone much more seeped in comic lore than me to prove or disprove.
What I can do is give a little bit of history of superheroes in comics and their breakout into other mediums (mostly TV). Because I am a nerd and I spent a few hours researching comics on the internet and it’s interesting. Get ready.
We start off with the Golden Age of comics. This is when the big wigs showed up. Superman, Captain America (originally Captain Marvel), among others made their first appearances in or soon after 1938. You’ll notice this to be soon after the depression as it became obvious the world was going to go to war again. Superheros made people feel like there was something out there to save them. In these early comics the hero always saved the day and the damsel (because that’s all women were in these stories).
In 1955 the Golden Age gave way to the Silver Age of comics. Now more superheroes arrive on the scene to help get delinquents off the streets. This era lasts until the early 70’s and I’ll point out that this is around the time when television becomes popular. Near the end of the Silver Age is the first time we start to see superheroes on TV, Batman being the first, and launching many others that make appearances in what’s called the Bronze Age of Comics.
In the Bronze Age (~1970-85) the stories in comic books become darker. The dark hero is clearly the picture of the decade and a half of the Bronze Age. On television there are superheroes abound with Wonder Woman, Spiderman, and the Hulk being pulled from comics to star on the small screen. Alongside them, there are heroes such as the Six Million Dollar Man and it’s spin-off, Bionic Woman from other original material ($6M Man was adapted from a novel).
The adaptations make way for original superheroes in the Modern Age of comics (~1985-present). Shows such as Greatest American Hero and Misfits have no ties directly to comics or novels. Meanwhile comics such as The Flash and Superman are still brought to life in movies and on TV. These shows and their comic counterparts are more psychological, and many are darker, than any of their previous incarnations. 50-plus years of super work will do that to a hero.
As more and more superhero series and paraphernalia crop up I can’t help but think that we are on the cusp of a new era. We want heroes we can relate to. Heroes who are ruthless and fantastic in their search for the true villain, but are also vulnerable and real. We want more out of superheroes than we have before, but I think the new generation of creators will be able to deliver.
Who is your favorite superhero? What would you like to see in a new superhero (or changes in an old favorite)?