Superheroes always arise in times of great social stress, and they can even help drive the change that society requires. It’s no coincidence that the world’s first superhero was dreamed up in 1937. The Great Depression had inflicted misery on millions of people, and the Nazis and the Japanese posed formidable threats. This called for a powerful superhero who could take on the toughest challenges without flinching: Superman, who was soon joined by Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel.
The X-Men came out of a different era: The civil rights movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. These mutants are always being persecuted for being different, reflecting social concerns around racism. Marvel also used the X-Men to address other types of otherness. Northstar, for example, “came out” as gay in 1991 to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Now multiple Marvel fan favorites are LGBTQ+, such as Loki, Valkyrie, Iceman, Hulkling, and Miss America.
Then there’s Black Panther, the phenomenally successful movie that showed the world that superheroes don’t have to be white. It goes to show how far superheroes and society have come since 1937.
Superheroes look real on screen
Superheroes first came to life in comic books, but it was the movies that caused their popularity to surge. That’s largely thanks to the tremendous advances in special effects in the last couple of decades. Movies featuring mythical beings, deities, and superheroes have appeared since the beginning of cinema, but they’ve pretty much all been desperately lame. Movies like Clash of the Titans or the original Batman TV series were totally unconvincing. Then along came CGI (computer-generated imagery). Suddenly Hollywood could present the more fantastic elements of superhero stories in a realistic and believable way.
The first superhero movie to use CGI sorcery was Spider-Man, back in 2002. Audiences were wowed to see Spidey shooting webs from his wrists, performing feats of incredible strength, and swinging from heights so great you could get vertigo. A new era of superhero films was underway, and an entire franchise industry developed. Today, the MCU (Marvel Comics Universe) is the most successful movie franchise of all time, with a global box office total of close to $23 billion.
Superheroes draw supervillains
Let’s face it, a universe composed entirely of virtuous superheroes would be vanilla. In fact, without any evil to fight, there’d be no point in having superheroes at all. In other words, they need supervillains. One of the most iconic has to be Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, with his name derived from the playing card icon familiar to all people who play casino games. The Joker behaves unpredictably, the way chance works in casino table games. The difference is that people play online poker for fun, but the Joker is deadly serious. The relationship between him and the straight-laced Dark Knight generates a strange tension that keeps fans coming back for more.
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