Everyone has a different view of superheroes. They can be silly cartoons, inspiring heroes and sexual fantasies. However you view them, they're making a lot of people a lot of money these days.
The superhero movement was started by one extremely iconic image: the cover to Action Comics #1 in 1938...
"Good luck getting out of the desert without a car, you hooligans!"
We're a little desensitized nowadays but back then, the image of a man lifting an entire car above his head was completely radical and unthinkable! Keep in mind, also, that the image is actually kind of generic in the sense that you can't tell if he's a good guy or a bad guy. He's just some dick smashing a car against a rock. It sure got people talking...and not just 10 year olds. People would see that image on the newsstand and think "What's that dick doing to that car?". Superman was an overnight success and has been in print every month since 1938.
Superheroes arose at a much simpler time in America. Beating your kids was a daily activity (30-40 minutes a day, if you wanted to stay in shape!) and publishers could get away with anything so long as Bugs Bunny didn't say "fuck" in print. The first superheroes, Superman, followed quickly by Batman, dealt mostly with crooked politicians and slowly became engrossed in battles with actual villains. Sometimes with anti-climactic results and little thought put into it. For example, most people know Batman's stance on guns....
I could create a de-vampire formula to make you human and help rehabilitate--ah, fuck it *BANG*
Much of Superman's time was spent catching women who fell out of windows all day. Apparently women were either suicidal in those days, just wanted to be caught in Superman's arms or were genuinely just fucking stupid.
These heroes existed in a time when there was no internet, homes barely had electricity and cities were the whole world to most people. Just the thought of Batman swinging from building to building was amazing enough but to think he fought crime while doing it? Boy howdy, how'bout that!
If you had an idea for a superhero back in the 40's, he probably made it to print. Many of the heroes you know today were created back in what is called "The Golden Age". There's the ever-popular "The Flash"....
...showing off his tap-dancing, I guess.
And there was the famous, ring-bearing "Green Lantern"...
Green Lantern vs. The Hover-In-Mid-Air Gangster
If you're wondering why the names don't go with the faces of these old men running around in sweaters, it's because these were the original models for the heroes you probably think of when you hear those names. The Golden Age Flash got his powers from drinking 'hard water' (you heard me) and The Golden Age Green Lantern had a magic ring (as opposed to a scientifically magic ring) that could blast green fire.
Many other heroes came and went over the years. Some teamed up (think of it as an NHL trade) and we got The Justice Society of America (a name so silly and foolish sounding that decades later, heroes would honour them by forming the same team but calling it The Justice League of America).
"Hawkman joins us today, against his will."
Many of the characters had extremely varied abilities, and therefore, types of stories. In the above image alone there is:
The Atom - a 5' guy in a mask with a mean left hook.
Sandman - a regular guy with a gas mask who shoots people with sleeping powder instead of fighting.
The Spectre - a human cop who's soul has forged with, I don't know, Casper's dad or something.
The Flash - he runs fast.
Hawkman - reincarnated Egyptian prince with the power to fly.
Dr. Fate - his helmet tells him magic spells and he just repeats them.
Green Lantern - allergic to wood.
Hourman - drinks a potion and has super-strength for, you guessed it, one hour.
Stories would usually center around some mysterious happenings around town and the various heroes would solve clues using their unique abilities. The dangers along the way would, of course, coincide with their powers; for example, Hourman might get trapped in a paper bag that would take a human being with super strength exactly 59 minutes to tear his way out of...just enough time to escape, then warn the others!
Eventually (and usually long after readers had figured it out), the heroes would discover all the missing gold was being stolen by some gold-powered villain who needs gold to survive and this is probably the 6th time the heroes had this same thing happen by the same villain.
It didn't take too long before these stories became repetitive and once television started entering people's homes in the 50's, westerns took over. Comic books featuring stories of these kids' tv heroes became the best selling books, alongside horror comics...it seemed superheroes were lame.
A more in depth view of The Silver Age of comic books can be found here.
What most people know about comic books, as general knowledge, all came from this era. The Flash, Green Lantern and other heroes were re-imagined in new costumes, better powers and a new person behind the mask.
Most heroe's secret origin stemmed primarily from that new thing all the kids are talking about, "science"!
I didn't know lightning 'sizzled'.
Also, the once "Timely Comics" became "Marvel Comics" and introduced us to an orgasm (not literally) of characters, including The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Uncanny X-Men, The Fantastic Four and Daredevil (adding that he is "the man without fear"...and when you think about it, if you can only really fear fear itself and you don't have any fear to begin with then you truly are fearless!).
Although, he looks slightly frightened here...
And apparently crapping his pants here.
Once television shows were running rampant, there was no better place to go than the hottest comic books for inspiration. Unfortunately, in most cases, the budget didn't exactly allow for stories as exciting as the books.
Spider-Man, Hulk, Dr. Strange and Captain Bike Helmet.
These early attempts at televised superheroics were met with extremely mixed reviews. The only successful superhero series (some might argue 'to this day') is The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk appeared in every episode at least once and the overall story per episode was actually well done enough to warrant watching. The makeup was minimal but perfect and the transformation from Banner to Hulk was a highlight every time.
The Spider-Man series couldn't even muster up a webshooter. Spidey's clunky wrist weapon (singular, as he only had one) was basically a prop. He would pretend to webshoot and the camera would cut to a rope literally being thrown and then looping around and around and around a pole.
(actual image from pilot episode)
As the years went on, many heroes were very close to getting major motion pictures. Spider-Man was originally supposed to be made by James Cameron after the successful T2. Fortunately, many films were not made as they would have made the characters look foolish and unworthy of respect as decent story material.
Ohhh, right. Shit.
The great thing about CGI and many other technicological advancements is we don't have to pretend to be able to make superhero movies anymore, we actually can! However, some advancements are clearly better than others. For example:
1978: You can barely tell where the strings are. Result: damn good.
2000: Holy fuck look at the huge apparatus attached to her hips. Result: ridiculous.
"Superman" showed what was possible in 1978, "Batman" showed that we'd barely made any advancements aside from finally agreeing that Batman was a bit of a brooding loner. It wasn't until 2000's "X-Men" that things really took off. A film full of not just one superpowered person, but two whole teams of superpowered people all executed (not literally, psh, we wish!) within an actually reasonable budget (for the time, $75,000,000, which it almost completely made back in it's opening weekend). A sequel was inevitable while other producers scrambled to look up other possible comic book properties to turn into crazy blockbusters and they succeeded!!!
...in ruining them for everyone!
The Spider-Man movies hit the mark in a way that many superhero movies have failed to in the past. We got an origin story with a loveable lead (stay with me, Toby-haters) that hit the mark on Spider-Man's number one character flaw: he takes responsibilty for everything!
Except weight gain, that was Burger King's fault, those fuckers.
However, despite all the comic-related movies being released, it wasn't until the release of Marvel's in-house production of "Iron Man" that everyone really agreed these movies and stories are the shit. "Iron Man" confidently tells the story of a genius who literally pretty much goes "Fuck this, I'm going to turn myself into a robot and kick the shit out of people I hate"...and then he does it!
...and a damn fine job of it. PTEW!
He's confident, charismatic and confidently takes matters into his own hands while holding himself responsible as he attempts to make past mistakes right. If only everyone had the kind of balls Tony Stark portrays.
"...the truth is...I am Iron Bush."
With technology allowing these characters to appear on the big screen and actually be taken seriously...
...not to mention the higher budget for costume production...
...some great writers and directors were ready and eager to hop on board. For years, some great writers, unable to have their scripts featured or taken seriously in hollywood, have turned to the comic book industry to tell their stories through these heroes, or just in their own comic book format like a larger graphic novel. Many films (animated and live action) have been carbon copies of these stories.
And some were inspired by a billion stories already told a billion times!
There are a few other reasons that superheroes have remained popular as artistry, imagination and technology have come to term...many of these up the windpipe dinosaur heffalump waist hip lamplighter.
Or whatever...like any of you are actually reading this section.
Artists can take whatever liberties they like to make the female body be perfection because, hey, why not be hot? You can already shoot lasers out of your ass. Take the new Supergirl...everybody else would!
Although I think going into battle with cohorts showing their booty and boobies would cause a high number of casualties but it also makes it looks as though fighting crime is no more than a Saturday night out to these people.
Seriously. That's her costume.
However, in the column for complaints about how female superheroes are portrayed...umm...yeah, whatever. Deal with it. They're hot.
Comics have often been called "soap operas for men", which we think is a fairly ridiculous comparison. Why just recently it was discovered by the Marvel superhero community that Iron Man, Professor Xavier and a few others had been meeting in secret for years in order to protect the planet from secret threats that not everyone needed to be in the loop about. Well, Captain America, upon hearing the news, became furious that Iron Man would keep such a thing from him and fired him from the Avengers team. Iron Man thinks that Cap's just upset that he wasn't included in the group and is lashing out. Spider-Man isn't sure what to think but he's busy dealing with his ex-wife Mary Jane becoming a close friend while he's in the middle of a new relationship with Carly. Oh, and The Fantastic Four? They're barely the "four" anymore. Johnny Storm ( you know, the Human Torch? "Flame on"?) was recently killed, but you know what? There's no body, so I bet you he comes back. I just bet you. Well, the others are real upset but they're going to carry on as a team anyway, isn't that great of them? I can't wait.
And don't get me started on that fuck-up, "Archie Andrews".
You IDIOT! She's not a 'secret millionaire', Veronica's an actual fucking millionaire, you ASS!
Comic books will, sadly, be a dead art within decades. The cost of paper will go up far too high to make monthly series' feasible. Larger, trade paperback collections will be the new norm, as well as online reading (and completely legal downloading). The characters, however, will live on forever in video games, movies and, very likely, ongoing television series and made-for-tv-movies.