The Evolution of Superheroes

by Tulsi Shah 6 months ago in superheroes

Why the genre will never die ...

The Evolution of Superheroes
I bet at least 95% of you can recognise one of these characters .

Ever since Avengers: Endgame has ended the 10 year journey beginning from Iron Man (2009), there has been some groups admitting they are becoming tired of the superhero genre. There was even some who have felt tired of multiple superhero movies before endgame such as WhatNerd, who like many others, started feeling fatigue from superhero films.

They are not the only ones.

Here are some more:

  • Shelley Holmes article provides reasons for this fatigue she has experienced
  • CNET has labelled this as 'Superhero Fatigue Syndrome' in this article.
  • SplinterNews' article written by Hamilton Nolan makes it very clear how he feels about Superhero movies with a simple statement - Go To Hell

The Superhero genre, as a whole, has a very simple premise. It stars an individual who develops extraordinary abilities, who then uses these to protect the public and is often depicted with a gallery of rogues and archenemies.

It's all been done before!

Most superhero movies are now seen as easy to do. Either they are adaptations of a previous made hero, or they are just rubbish. Worse case scenario is that they are both.

Let's take the recent X Men Reboot movie Dark Pheonix (2019). This comic book arch of the same name was done already in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand. This tries to be an edgier, more morality based version of the same story. But, it fails because of the lack of character. The characters have wishy-washy purpose to the plot, the bad guy is the generic 'I want to destroy the world' as hell and the action doesn't hold up to other recent films such as Infinity War.

This film did try to explore morality through Jean Grey, but it doesn't work because she has no character other than her power in this film. There is no reason for me to feel bad for possessed Jean Grey because I barely know normal Jean Grey in this continuity. There's no reason for the audience to root for her. Beast shows more morality struggles and it is interesting to see how far he is willing to go in his quest, but there's no payoff. He probably gets the best ending out of everyone, no consequences for what he does in the film.

And this lies a fundamental issue with this genre and why people are tired - action over character and world making over one decent film.

Another classic example is Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

How do you screw up a film with two iconic characters who's battle makes up one of the most morality based and legendary battles in all of comic book history? You try and introduce too many characters into one movie in a 5 second monologue, replace any intelligent and thought-out reasoning with battles and action sequences as well as a rushed ending with no satisfaction.

From this, I understand why people are frustrated with the superhero genre. However, the superhero genre has survived something like this before. It is almost as old as film itself. I would like to make the argument that the history, flexibility and growing mythos is what will ensure the survival of the genre - even as the MCU has ended an era.

The History

The first ever superhero films came in the form of Saturday film serials (films that were popular in the silent era of films, with a simple plot developed in episodes over weeks.) with the first known as Mandrake the Magician (1936).

The earlier comic books of some of our more modern heroes was extremely violent. In 1954, following a hearing with the United State Senate of Juvenile Delinquents, the Comics Codes Authority created self regulatory code adopted by most comic book publishers until 2011.

There was a noticeable shift in tone. There was a clear black and white morality setting, where crimes could not be put in a sympathetic light or make people see criminals in a positive light. We also see a more comedic tone to be more friendly and to follow the new regulations.

This tone and mentality carried on into the movies from the 1970's to 1990's.

Richard Darmers 'Superman' (1978) was the first big budget superhero film, which is still considered to be a complete success and one of the best films of all time. After this, other superhero films followed such as Tim Burton's Batman (1989), The Punisher (1989) and Flash Gordon (1980) as a few examples.

It was only in 1994 when The Crow, the first independent comic superhero film, brought back violence that was absent from the other films before. It restored the violence from the original comics, which we see in many common films such as Men In Black (1997) and Blade (1998).

The point I'm trying to make here is, even though the government during the 1950's tried to blame comic books for the rise in juvenile delinquency,(nothing to do with the end of ww2, the new social stances people were taking after the war such as the feminist and civil rights movements , the 'boom' in technology and economy for a select few - no, it was comic books. This sounds very familiar to what video games go through now.) comic books and the superhero genres still prospered due to being able to adapt to the changing times. The Crow tested the regulations, and is now considered a cult classic for movie buffs and comic book enthusiasts. Not even the law could stop it forever.

This film revolutionised the superhero films into what we see today. Source: HERE

Evolving into the more modern twist:

The superhero genre, as seen by the history has another advantage that makes it so versatile. The superhero genre can be mixed and matched with other genres effortlessly. Because of its simplistic nature, any medium can take a spin on this premise to make each story unique and diverse.

In the 2000's, we had many superhero films which were critically and commercially successful.

  • The Spiderman Trilogy (2002-2007)
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)
  • Transformers (2007)
  • MCU Iron Man (2008)

I use these as examples, because each can be used to see a different type of film genre added to the superhero genre, adding to the adaptability of said genres.

If you want to see a teen coming to age movie mixed with heroic elements - people would see the SpiderMan trilogy (this can be said for Andrew Garfield's portrayal of the character as well as MCU's Tom Holland duo-logy.) For a detective noir sort of feeling, the Dark Knight trilogy follows a detective trying to fix his city from underworld bosses, corrupt law enforcement, and chaos all over the city. Want to see some Sci-Fi heroes? Transformers are alien robots who become Earth's protectors to face the evil forces of the Deceptions (and yes, I was humming the tune when I wrote that line.) For a movie about survival and overcoming obstacles, go to Iron Man who has his whole heart replaced with a piece of technology which becomes key to changing him and helping him become Iron Man.

The adaptability of this genre to mix and match is what makes this genre so easy and appealing to make. Audiences easily have a good guy to root for, and the adaptability means there is a superhero movie for everyone's different tastes, which can not be said for other genres such as horror, paranormal and erotica.

The Growing Mythos

The last point is that the superhero genre is constantly growing. As more people create heroes and villains, original characters are being added to established heroes and new mythos are ever evolving which could affect other adaptations in the future as well as current continuity.

The original Batman is a gun user who kills almost anyone who stands in his way. Does that sound like the Batman from the films, comics or cartoons today? No. As his mythos was developed, Batman gained the characteristics that are now known to the character such as the no gun rule and the no killing rule.

Young Justice: Outsiders created two custom heroes to add to their established world of DC heroes known as Halo and Geo-Force. These two characters may become popular enough , like the previously Young Justice exclusively created character Kaldur'ahm (Aqualad) to be featured in regular comic books and other adaptations.

Aqualad, originally created for Young Justice, in comics today SOURCE HERE

There have been many other superhero genres, who are known to be cult classics now in the superhero genre that were originals. Here are just a few examples:

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (Cartoon TV Show - we do not speak of the film) Hd a sequel and continues in comic books today as well as a Netflix reboot coming soon.
  • Ben 10 (2005 cartoon) has gandered sequels, movies (both live action and animated) as well as a remake (WHY?)
  • The Incredibles - gandered a sequel 7 years later (FINALLY)
  • Power Puff Girls - whilst originally created in 1998 has been rebooted and continuously adding new lore and characters in its mythos in the 2016 reboot
  • Danny Phantom - one of the most original superhero coming of age stories out there, no developments for a reboot or sequel just yet (Hopefully soon ...)


The superhero genre may seem simplistic from its basic premise. But, it has survived a long history of being censored, marginalised and labelled for being 'just for kids'. Like all areas of film, Tv and comics, the genre has developed to be more interesting, dynamic and allowed for some pretty big steps forward in the industry as a whole.

Wonder Woman was the first female superhero led and female directed film, which was a huge critical and commercial success. Marvel's Black Panther, the first African led superhero film, was also a commercial and critical success.

It is constantly evolving and adapting to current times. There will be a time when the superhero films slow down, but they will be back. Hey, we always need heroes to cheer for on the big and little screen as well as in the comic books and novels.

Tulsi Shah
Tulsi Shah
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Tulsi Shah

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