Not since the introduction of Superman and Batman in the 1930s has there been more of a love of superheroes. Comic book sales alone rose to more than $470 million by July of 2015 and the most recent Marvel Avengers movie, Age of Ultron, cashed in more than $1 billion (with a “b”).
With more television adaptations coming and the fantastic buzz surrounding the 2016 release of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the comic industry seems to be at an all-time high, both in popularity and in register receipts.
But why are superheroes so incredibly popular now? Two possibilities are apparent. First, fans are finding the characters more relatable than they have been in the past – more human than superhuman. Secondly, the world is a mess and some might find escapism and a sense of “faith” in a world where there are people (superheroes) who can save it.
When Bruce Wayne first donned the now familiar cape and cowl, Batman was little more than Sherlock Holmes in tights. The Detective Comics (DC) brand name soon became synonymous with these kinds of heroes.
Action Comics, the brand that launched the Man of Steel, had its own ideas. An alien came to earth as a baby and grew up to “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” Superman couldn’t fly at first.
Today, however, fans expect a bit more from their heroes. Originally, the stories were focused around the “hero” masquerading as a “normal person.” Superman’s disguise was Clark Kent, not the other way around. Now, most story lines humanize these characters a bit more, so audiences can relate better.
In the 1990s TV series, “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” we first see this transition to Clark dealing with being Superman. He explains the dichotomy of his life to Lois in a way that is still being toyed with by writers. “Superman is what I can do,” Clark says, played by actor Dean Cain. “But Clark is who I am.”
The newest TV adaptation of the Supergirl character has been written this way too, as is CW’s “The Flash,” and “Green Arrow.” Kara, Clark Kent’s Kryptonian cousin, is raised on earth to be, essentially, a normal young woman but suddenly has to use her super-human powers to rescue her adopted sister during a plane crash. The event triggers the need for her character to suddenly adjust to being like her cousin – a superhero – while holding down a normal life and job.
The truth is, everyone feels like they don’t fit in at some point in life. Seeing the “super powerful” riding the same personal roller coaster may offer some sense of normal in an incredible storyline. Anytime fans identify more readily with characters, the property will become more successful.
To the second concept, the need to immerse ones self in the fantasy of a mythological savior, has birthed many a religion. Modern day mythology is created in comic books, on television and in movies. Stories are now told visually, with amazing special effects that help to suspend disbelief for a time and allow room for imagination and, yes, even hope.
For some, the idea of an alien visitor disguised as a mild-mannered reporter at a great metropolitan newspaper a far more tangible and acceptable concept than a religious figure perched on a throne in some ethereal plane.
No, there are no caped wonders flying around our cities protecting the masses, but there are superheroes out there. They come in the form of police officers, fire fighters, military, doctors, nurses, working parents, and all those who spend their time to benefit others in charitable works.
Good people will have to find a way to defeat the evils of the world without the Son of Krypton or the Dynamic Duo. But, it’s still great to look up at the marquee. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman (and Wonder Woman, and Captain America, and so on). Superheroes are here to stay and their popularity does not seem to be fizzling out anytime soon.