The modern lineup of Avengers. These superheroes do not resemble the superheroes I grew up with.
During my December 2013 roundtrip plane flights from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to Munich, I watched three Superhero movies—“Iron Man 3” (2013), “Man of Steel” (2013) and “The Wolverine” (2013). The violence overwhelmed me.
Superheroes defy the odds-maker, even the greatest one of all. The non-stop action created a sense of numbness, a detachment from reality. I felt no sympathy for the thousands of innocent bystanders whose property was destroyed and lives were lost. They were meaningless secondary characters, a necessary sacrifice to enhance the magnificence of the superhero’s ultimate triumph.
As I watched these movies, a single thought kept recurring in my mind: “These are not the superheroes with whom I grew up. While I enjoy the characters, I do not identify with them. The evil they combat is more imaginary, menacing and absurd than real.” The 21st-century comic book superhero has moved from the comic book page to the video game universe. Rather than the former directing the latter, the latter now drives the storylines of the former.
Thinking of the past in simpler, happy terms is an aspect of aging. Yet, I cannot set aside an intense inner feeling that I did live in a much less complex time as a youngster and young adult. The black-versus-white, good-guy-versus-bad-guy mentality of the late 1940s and the 1950s was naïve. While there were just as many shades of gray as there are today, the economic, political and social mores of the times kept them subdued or buried. The good guys were white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, American males. So were the superheroes. It is ironic that Jewish writers and illustrators created so many of them.
Author’s Aside #1: Comic book superhero history divides into distinct periods. Each new generation’s view of superheroes is influenced by the superheroes encountered in their adolescence. Media interpretations via television, movies and video games also impact how Superheroes are viewed. The names are the same, but the personas are different.
Superheroes, including Captain America, fought America’s enemies in the Second World War and the communist menace during the Cold War.
The Golden Age of superheroes dates from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. It is the age of Batman and Robin, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Human Torch, Submariner, Superman, The Flash and Wonder Woman. Besides fighting injustice, these superheroes fought America’s enemies in the Second World War and the communist menace during the Cold War.
The Silver Age of superheroes extends from 1956 to circa 1970. This is the age of the Daredevil (Marvel), Fantastic Four (Marvel Comics), Justice League of America (DC Comics), The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel), The Incredible Hulk (Marvel) and The X-Men (Marvel). This period also marked the first age of the TV superheroes. “Batman” appeared in 1966. “Wonder Woman” arrived in 1975.
The Bronze Age of the superheroes begins in the early 1970s and ends in the mid-1980s. It is marked by stories that are darker in tone and that deal with social issues ranging from drug use to environmental pollution. Minority superheroes such as Blade, Luke Cage, Storm and Vixen joined Black Panther and Falcon.
The Modern Age (also known as the Dark Age) began at the end of the 1980s and continues to the present. The three 1990s Batman movies—“Batman Returns” (1992), “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Batman and Robin” (1997)—presented a much darker side to the character. Traditional superheroes were deconstructed, re-envisioned and confronted complex psychological issues. Content became much more adult focused. Superman died in 1992, to be revived briefly as several different characters before being merged as one.
The biggest change occurred with the arrival of independent comic publishers. Image Comics introduced Savage Dragon and Spawn. Marvel responded with Cable and Venom. These and other anti-heroes, along with a new genre of super villains, now dominate the comic book literature.
How many times can Hollywood drink from the same well? I cringe every time I hear that another Hopalong Cassidy movie project is in the works. Bill Boyd is Hopalong Cassidy; and Hopalong Cassidy is Bill Boyd. Why revisit, revise and destroy a legend?
“The Legend of the Lone Ranger” (1981) was an abject failure. There were good reasons Klinton Spilsbury won Razzies for Worst Actor and Worst New Star awards for that year. The death knell should have sounded. But, the venerable Walt Disney Pictures felt compelled to produce another. “The Lone Ranger” (2013), starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp was despicable. “TV Guide’s” assessment of the 1981 picture as “so inept it’s almost camp” (written tongue in cheek by the reviewer, I trust) applies to this stinker as well. I have no intention of watching it.
This is the Superman I know; the “alien from another world” who wore his red underwear outside of his pants.
This new Man of Steel is alien to those of us of a certain age.
There seems to be no end to the attempts to retell the origins of Batman, Superman and Spiderman. Each retelling departs further and further from the initial storyline, the writer feeling compelled to “modernize” the story to appeal to contemporary movie audiences. Forget the fact that Superman’s costume in “Man of Steel” departed significantly from the historic version, an unforgiveable diversion as far as I am concerned.
Author’s Aside #2: Why is it everyone forgets the fiasco created when Coca-Cola changed the taste of its classic product? There are some things with which no one should mess. Superman’s costume is a medium blue, his shield red and yellow, and his red briefs are found outside his pants. This costume, with some modifications, stood the test of time for more than seven decades. When Superman returned from the dead in 1992, comic book illustrators began tampering with the costume. Do you care that Superman’s costume in the “Man of Steel” more adequately reflects the Kryptonian dress of his home planet? I do not. Instead of old-time religion, give me the old-time Superman costume.
“Man of Steel” should have been called the “Hunk of Steel.” Again, since he returned from the dead, Superman has been bulked up; a Superhero on steroids. Superman’s pecs out-Schwarzenegger Arnold. Superman’s physique, with not a muscle or hair out of place, receives more attention than the injustices he fights.
The bulked-up superhero is not a new phenomenon. It is a continuing trend that originated in the 1990s. When purchasing action figures for my Christmas closet series, I decided to focus on female action figures, most of whom are comic book, movie and television characters. While only a few were superheroines, all were cast in the superheroine mold. One does not have to be a genius to understand where these ladies had been most enhanced. Each presented a major frontal challenge to their costume designers. Think “Xena: Warrior Princess,” with a Miss Universe build.
All of the variations of Batman as he has appeared in the pages of DC Comics.
While there was destruction and mayhem in the pre-1990 Superhero comic books, movies and television shows, it was controlled and occasional. In 2014, Superhero equates with unlimited, unparalleled and non-stop destruction. In the final scene in “Iron Man 3,” Tony Stark orders JARVIS to destroy all his Iron Man suit creations. This unselfish act causes no anxiety among the movie’s viewers. Everyone knows that Tony Stark will rebuild and continue.
Comic book superheroes are indestructible. As a result, they always live to fight another day. From the 1930s to the 1970s, their escapes were harrowing but plausible. Today’s superhero escapes are so unbelievable they are laughable. Modern escapes defy probability theory. They are the creation of special effect studios whose goal is to go, with my apologies to Star Trek fans “where no man (substitute superhero) has gone before.”
What is next? One answer is an upcoming film that unites Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. Do I remember reading a comic book story that included these three superheroes? Rumors are circulating that a film devoted to Shazam (Captain Marvel) and the Justice League is in the planning stage. The box office success of “Man of Steel,” which grossed more than $650 million worldwide, was a boon to Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Entertainment—little wonder both want to continue to milk the superheroes franchise.
Today’s superheroes may not be my superheroes, but I am compelled to follow them so that I can place into perspective the collectibles and other memorabilia theses superheroes generate. They are the collectibles of 2030 and beyond.
I have no intention of checking out or playing the video games associated with these new superhero clones. If I need that information, I will ask my grandson, Marcelo. He loves the modern superheroes. Likewise, I have no plans to introduce him to my superheroes. He would find them “boring,” to use his favorite phrase, which is said in a slow, lingering, emphatic tone.
Alas, the same applies to Grandpa from time to time.
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