Updated: Mar 8, 2021
Superheroes are an undeniable global phenomenon that have in and of itself become its own genre. People have flocked from all over the world to watch stories that originally started as humble art panels with speech bubbles. Today the visual literature has quickly transitioned to movies and television, as DC and Dark Horse Comics to name just a few publishers have licensed and had their work adapted to satisfy the soaring demand. Examples include, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Netflix’s The Old Guard, Bloodshot, and of course the most discernible case presently being Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). The Superhero genre has grossed millions in box office revenue, broken long-running records, and some have even gone on to be recognised by the film industry with Academy Awards. Evidently, audiences have superhero fever and so long as movies and TV shows based on them keep being produced then people will watch it.
As a comic book fan, I’m more than happy to be one of those dedicated fans that will continue to engage with everything super related that comes my way. In 2014, when Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out I would have told you that we were in a Golden Age of cinema. And when I watched Black Panther for the first time I can’t begin to tell you just how glad I was to see Black representation start to change. I could feel it was moving away from the depressing depiction of slavery and finally being associated with something more positive, and in line with the normality of all the other content we're used to watching. Having grown up with comics, it has been amazing and incredible to say the least to watch the characters and stories I read not only be brought to life on the big screen, but also be embraced by people in the way and on the scale that it is today.
In this series, creators have assembled to each talk about a single scene from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that they found compelling.
Currently, there are 176 videos in the playlist and it has over 2,000,000 views. Seems a bit of an understatement to say that people simply like supers.
That’s the big question though; why do people love superheroes and why on this scale?
There’s potential in every genre and every story, but this trend has grown bigger than any in recent history. So why have people gravitated to this one in particular? This got me thinking about what others see in it as well as how I perceive superheroes too. So I pose this question to everyone reading, myself included, What Does Superhero Pop Culture Mean to You?
Well, unlike most people who go to spend a couple of hours in a dark theatre, or set up at home for a binge watching session, I’m not watching things to just casually pass the time. I’m actively trying to find joy and a deeper satisfaction from the content I watch, which you don’t always get from something akin to the Fast and the Furious franchise which is heavily rooted in its entertainment value. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching fights ensue and epic high stake battles to save the world, but for me personally there’s more to gain from the superhero genre than just the fighting. Marvel are exemplary of this in that each of their movies, whilst full of spectacle, also upholds a surprising amount of depth in both character and story that impresses me almost every time.
GotG wasn’t just a space adventure about a band of criminals who didn’t get along, and Winter Soldier wasn’t just an action thriller about an old fashioned soldier sticking to his principles.
They represent more. The hook that gets me is that despite the real life impracticality of their superhuman heroics, they are portrayed as people that we the audience are still able to engage with on a human level. Characters like Captain America and Black Panther are brave, selfless, virtuous, and everything I should strive to be before they even got their powers. See, what I love about the genre is that underneath all the action of a superhero adventure is that there’s a lot more to the surface than meets the eye if you look for it (like most things technically).
Take these scenes for example; they’re not just a lull before the action hits or the slow part on the roller-coaster ride before the big drop. These are the cornerstones of their origin stories.
We're watching ordinary people turn into heroes in these small moments. These scenes are the soul, setting it apart from a generic action blockbuster like Transformers. Sorry Michael Bay but it’s true.
I don’t deny that the superhero genre shares many aspects with other genres, and that there isn’t anything that makes this one objectively unique or superior than the rest. All stories crossover in some shape or form, and elements such as the hero’s journey are a part of every protagonist’s arc from Aragorn to Walter White. I guess what I’m saying is, I just probably prefer my stories told through superheroes because of my personal attachment with comics. Maybe you share the same feelings I have towards the genre, maybe you don’t, maybe you do but for an entirely different franchise, but that’s the point. It’s the way we individually connect and attach ourselves with something or a lack thereof that each gives us our different perspectives on any given subject, in this case superhero based content.
Take Black Panther for example. I think it’s is a decent film, but by no means do I think it’s incredible beyond compare. Nor do I think it’s as bad as review bombers would initially have you believe for things such as Captain Marvel. As someone who is mixed race, (half Black to be more specific), you might be surprised to hear me say that despite the hype and praise it received, I think it’s average as far as superhero movies go. If anything it’s been done before. Like Thor, both movies tell a story about a Prince destined to become King. Thor and T’Challa have to go on their own journeys of self discovery in order to define the type of ruler they want to be. All whilst defending their claim to the throne from a relative, someone using villainous means to achieve the same end. Sound familiar? Well that’s because the parallels are glaringly obvious with the templates being altered slightly, one story revolving around Asgardian royalty and the other African royalty.
And yet, it is this slight change that makes all the difference and is so important because Black stories have never really been told in this way before. We’re being included. For once we are front and centre and being seen in a light nobody is used to. That’s why inclusion is powerful and important in more ways than those unaffected by it will ever realise. Whether you want to hear it or not, non-white characters have almost always taken second place to white characters. In mainstream media, we exist largely as side characters, afterthoughts, diversity quotas to meet, etc. no matter how you argue it. Superheroes are a massive part of current pop culture so when Marvel did a story around Black culture to the same standards of any average action blockbuster, let’s just say it meant a lot and started something significant.
May the Ancestors Guide You Safely Chadwick. Rest In Peace My King.
The way I’ve always viewed it; stories no matter the form, medium or platform they take are something that we all can engage with and take things away from it. The important morals and messages in comic books, and subsequently their on-screen adaptations are no different.
It was certainly harder than expected to put my feelings into words, but the conclusion that I've come to is that in a confusing and toxic world I've sought out refuge in the deeper meanings of the content I watch. I do this for escapism but everyone else I'm sure has their own reasons for liking the genre, disliking it, or not being opinionated on it at all. Like I said at the start though, it's undeniable that people are clearly drawn to superheroes otherwise their popularity wouldn't have lasted for over a decade and still going strong.
So I ask again, What Does Superhero Pop Culture Mean To You?