These Aren't Your Dad's Superheroes
We are now in the era of the post-modern era of the superhero craze and these aren't your day's super heroes anymore
Remember those Batman and Superman guys. Pretty lame right. And even those Marvel movies are all the same. I mean I watched a video essay where a guy told me as much, how they all look generic and grey and have shitty music that all sounds the same. But my parents love all that generic mass market cape shit. Even my grandma thinks she’s cool because she knows who Groot and Rocket Racoon are, but you know what I’m sick of it because
I’m ready for a new kind of superhero. A superhero that dances to cool indie music, a superhero who does edgy stuff stuff like having sex with dolphins, lasering people into goo, having orgasms, and fighting butts.
Because these aren’t your dad’s lame super heroes. These are superheroes with attitude. Superheroes that are ready to take on real important issues like politics, capitalism, and aren’t bogged down with any of that truth and justice normie mainstream bullshit. So watch out man, cause we’re in a new era, a new age where we’ll be seeing the real wild side of the cape. So you better get ready, cause these aren’t your dad’s super heroes.
So with Avengers: Endgame marking the end of the infinity saga, wrapping up the 23 marvel movies into one creative tapestry, and despite being the end of an era and the most successful pop culture brand in the past century, what it has done is given the mainstream film going public a superhero cannon that is as dense and complex as anything seen in the comics. And with this foundation in place we are seeing the emergence of new post-modern era of superheroes. Much like how in the 80s writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore created deconstructions of super heroes through their seminal comics like The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen, and Miracle Man, now we’re seeing a new wave of superhero TV shows and movies rising in the wake of peak superhero saturation.
The funny thing is that you’d think people would be sick of it by now. That at some point they’d be just too much crap thrown about that the audience would just throw up their hands in revolt and stop watching all together. Similarly to how just a few years ago we saw the young adult book boom where just about every novel with a young teenager coming of age in the apocalypse as a metaphor-for-growing-up got greenlit for a movie trilogy, where the last book would be split up into two parts, eventually that gold mine ran dry and it’s effectively dead as of right now.
But still the superhero capes march on. What I find really interesting in this new post infinity saga era is that the mainstream audiences have an accepted cannon in terms of what they think superheroes should be, now that audiences are more willing to look at deconstruction takes and we’re seeing a whole new slew of shows looking to appeal towards an audience that is now more familiar with how expansive the superhero genre can be. And so we have things like The Umbrella Academy, The Boys, and Doom Patrol all offering off-kilter takes or deconstructions of all the numerous tropes that mainstream audiences are now familiar with.
What’s especially interesting is when you go back and look at the Zack Snyder Watchmen movie. A movie that was supposed to be the next big thing after Zack Snyder was anointed as the wunderkind capable of bringing nerd stuff to the big screen with all the cinematic flare it deserved. After the one-two punch of his Dawn of the Dead remake followed by the slam dunk that was 300, he was a golden boy and he decided to tackle the 800 pound gorilla and holy grail of nerd properties. He was gonna do a movie adaptation of Watchmen. A slavishly faithful adaptation of the seminal Alan Moore graphic novel that made it onto the 98th spot of time magazine's list of the 100 greatest english language books of all time.
But the thing is outside of the nerd media, nobody really cared about the Watchman. The movie was a box office disappointment, a hard R-rated movie that cost over 130 million to make, which only brought in about 185 million. But nobody outside of nerdom cared, the movie was not a money maker. But it was also produced in an era very different from the nerd culture that has dominated mainstream media for the past decade. Mainstream audiences didn’t have a reason to care for a deconstruction of superhero tropes or a more adult take on the material.
At that point, each superhero series was its own separate island, completely unrelated. The best you could hope for is maybe someone would mention metropolis in a Batman movie. Spider-Man and the X-men were completely unconnected, living on their own pocket universes. Far far away from any idea of a shared universe. So despite the Watchmen being a comic con favorite in early trailers and promotional material, most general audiences could care less about Dr. Manhattan or his swinging blue dong. But now that we have super heroes flying into multiplexes for most of the year and we have an entire programming block on the CW devoted towards providing a shared universe complete with big crossover specials, now is the time for a deconstruction.
People aren't sick of superhero stuff, but they are ready for something new. Something that is designed to challenge their perceptions of the material. Now that we have an accepted cannon of the Marvel movies complete with time travel, space aliens, and universe shattering stakes, people are ready to see a darker side where super powers aren’t fun, but rather horrific (show a train death scene). Where the villains are less guys in power-armored super suits or aliens with weird chins and craggy makeup, but take on the form of abstract ideas. Where the kindly Professor X-style father figure is in actuality an amoral abusive monster who treats his child wards less like people and more like tools he picked up at a Home Depot.
And generally people seem to be enjoying this new take on superheroes. After the seemingly indifferent and lukewarm response towards the long awaited Preacher TV series on AMC, I was expecting The Boys to have a similar fate. And remember Preacher was something comic fans had wanted to see for ages. Another holy grail, edgy comic book adaptation from Garth Ennis, and the dream was to see it on HBO with no restrictions. But despite going on the second best option of AMC, the network that made zombie gut-munching mainstream, nobody seemed to give a shit about it.
It’s ending on its 4th season, it’s never gained much of an audience, and it’s nothing that anyone ever seems to talk about it in cultural discourse despite featuring hitler as a recurring character. But The Boys seems to have exploded because now that we’ve seen so many different superpowers represented through the power of CGI, the new novelty isn’t seeing heroes fight Thanos or a horde of CGI minions. The new novelty is to see the casual horror of what superpowers look like in a realistic context.
What’s even funnier is that Zack Snyder played up the casual horror of Dr. Manhattan’s power just like The Boys does, but I guess people were just too indifferent to the blue dong to really care. But The Boys has become one of the rarer hits for Amazon Prime. After 23 marvel movies people were ready for a vision of super hero-dom where they were actively encouraged to see the heroes as terrifying monsters. With The Homelander becoming a great surrogate for the frustrations that people feel with America itself.
Its the perfect pop culture manifestation of how a great many Americans see themselves on the world stage, as well as the larger world itself with America serving as a self-centered, psychotic narcissist who’s always two steps away from abusing his power completely because he just doesn’t give a shit about anyone else besides himself. Now one could say that The Homelander is a perfect reflection of our current and more contentious current president, but honestly this is an image of America that’s existed for most of the 20th century past World War II. So if you think The Homelander is designed to be a specific criticism of Trump, well let me remind you that The Boys comic was originally published in 2006 and ran until 2012; and honestly I’d say it’s a broader parody of the patriotism of characters like Captain America and Superman then anything more contemporary like the usual orange man is bad jokes.
But The Boys has become a sort of lighting rod moment where it seems like it’s a pop culture release valve. The undercurrent of loathing towards the genre as a whole is being channeled through the prism of this dark parody. Probably the most telling point that we’ve truly entered into the postmodern era of superhero fan culture is that Watchmen is coming back as the HBO series everyone always wanted it to be. But this time it’s being filtered through the prism of infamous lost creator David Lindeloff, in what appears to be a sort remix sequel that’s completely re-contextualizing a lot of the original iconic imagery into something wholly new. But it’s hard to imagine that whatever new form this interpretation will take won’t serve as a deconstruction of the current age of superhero pop culture.
But in a way, this all kind of makes sense. It’ll be nearly a year before Marvel releases its next movie with the Black Widow. So the MCU is going on a bit of a hiatus. And even Phase Four won’t feature any of the expected heavy hitters like Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, or even a Captain Marvel sequel. Even Marvel understands the value of introducing new flavors and giving some time to breathe so you can actually start to miss something before bringing it back immediately.
And as the king takes a breather before the release of the Black Widow movie and the deluge of Disney+ shows, it’s the perfect time for a new darker postmodern era to fill the void. Which creates vacuum for all of the odd balls and deconstructions to run amok. The most interesting thing is that Zack Snyder, when he had the reigns of the DCEU, tried to provide Dark Knight-inspired postmodern deconstructions of Superman and Batman. Assuming that because the characters have been around for so many years and despite the fact he was creating new versions in a new shared universe, he assumed that the cultural memory was strong enough to the point where he could get away with creating a mopey, objectivist Superman who’s father encouraged him to let people die to hide his powers and let people die, less the unworthy, unpowered masses rise up in revolt and try to take him out. Which they kind of do when they nuke him in BvS.
And of course you also have the BvS Batman who doesn’t seem to care much about casually murdering mooks and goons, and brands criminals to be sent to prison where they are instantly executed by other inmates. But, you know, before you can do your Elseworld's story of injustice or Red Son you kind of have to establish a mainstream cannon. You can’t break something down until you’ve built it up. And that is largely why we’re seeing this new post modern era of superhero fiction. Because through the sheer volume of things like the MCU and even the CW Arrowverse, we have a cannon which invites room for others to begin to break it down. So for all you counter-culture loving kids, there’s probably a new edgy deconstructionist superhero out there for you. One that’ll totally piss off your parents but might just to show you something new that you haven’t seen before.
Maybe it’s a gay superhero, which marvel has largely tried to avoid, less they risk having their movie banned or censored in China. So we’re in a bold new era where now that we’ve built up our heroes other people can come and knock them down; but as long as people are still hungry for superheroes, there will be more than enough people out there willing to try something new. With all of the series getting second seasons, chances are we’ll get to see this counter culture continue to grow and thrive as each new generation inspires other creators to pursue even weirder deconstructive depths. It’s not a coincidence that we’re getting the gritty, Taxi Driver, Joker movie with Jake Gyllenhall in just a few months. A movie that’s completely cut off from any Batman movie or even proper DC universe. So with the floodgates open, as the Green Goblin from ill fated Spider-Man musical might say, "A freak like me need company."