Before the Ironman movie came out in the year 2008, many of us didn’t even know the character well. Of course, those who read comics or discussed them knew Ironman was a part of Avengers and many major storylines; but he wasn’t as famous as he is today. Today, we can’t even imagine an Avenger movie without Ironman. Interestingly, all the Avengers movie were more or less about Tony Stark.
But what made Ironman so famous suddenly? Did the character undergo some serious changes? No! A billionaire who used to be a womanizer, a genius, and a weapon-maker who saw the ugly face of terrorism and became a hero; that remained constant.
“Tony Stark – A billionaire who used to be a womanizer, a genius, and a weapon-maker who saw the ugly face of terrorism and became a hero”
It is not just Ironman, pretty much every superhero rose at one point and stayed there for some time. Most of the them stay there for a long time and then there were few that weren’t so fortunate. Superheroes like Phantom and He-Man lost the battle and are mostly forgotten today.
Superheroes go through 4 stages. These stages make them, de-construct them and present them as a new and much-improved character in terms of popularity. Few unfortunate characters like He-man and Phantom lose the battle somewhere in these stages.
Stage 1: The Creator and the Creation
A passionate and imaginative creator creates a superhero. He pours his heart into that character, and in most cases, these creators design the characters for a publisher. Nevertheless, they give their best in those characters.
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Usually, the creators are not wealthy and suffered in their real lives. Their suffering inspires them to create a superhero that would first rescue people like them from the world that tortured them. They have no idea that one day that character will be an icon that will not only affect the pop-culture but also will be worth billions.
The best examples are Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel, creator of Superman. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegal were Jewish immigrants, financially challenged, and two nerds. They made a character that was first a bald scientist with evil intentions but later made him as God-like, righteous, and a true champion of ordinary people. Their Superman could do everything they couldn’t; they were imperfect beings, but their Superman was perfect.
Another great example is Steve Ditko. Steve Ditko created Doctor Strange and Spiderman; the two characters who were Objectivists.
William Moulton Marston, a supporter of feminism, created Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman personifies socialist values and feminism — a strong woman who was no less than any ‘manly’ superhero.
All these characters were close to the creator’s heart as they created them based on their philosophy. Most of these creators were not greedy and didn’t create these characters to make money.
Stage 2: From the Creator to the Publisher
The second stage begins when these creators stop drawing or writing their characters. There can be many reasons behind that. Either they grow weary of writing because of financial problems, are underpaid, become disenchanted with too many interferences from the publishers, retire, fired, or sometimes die.
Sadly, the creators who brought these characters to life start losing control over their characters. The publishers take the command from their hand and assign other artists and writers to craft stories.
The publishers try their best so that the die-hard fans feel no difference. At the same time, they work so hard that they end up watering down. However, their primary objective is to profit from these characters, and they started marketing these characters to video game companies, big brands, action figure makers, movie makers, and even try to get their face on things that the characters have nothing to do with. For example, Batman on coffee mugs and Avenger themed cars, which were just cars but with the superhero symbol or colors.
To cater to a larger audience, the characters are dumbed-down to such a level that it becomes heartbreaking. Like the Batman Lego movie or the cartoon “Super Friends” that featured a watered down version of the Justice League.
Stage 3: The Re-Imagining Phase
The publisher realizes that people are no longer interested in seeing their favorite superhero on bubble gum wrapper or on the box of cereals. They now need someone who will deconstruct the characters down and re-imagine them. They want to bring back the mature version back.
It was done before with Frank Miller’s version of Batman, Peter David’s version of Spider-man, Garth Ennis‘ version of The Punisher, and Alan Moore’s take on the entire superhero myth with “Watchmen.”
Recently, we saw how Marvel Cinematic Universe set things right with Civil War right after Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron. People were not as excited about the Avengers 2 the way they were for the first Avengers movie. From Civil War, things got serious and more interesting. Characters like Tony Stark and Captain America became more serious and by the time Avengers: Infinity War came, MCU was back in the game and was again the ruler of the screen.
Stage 4: A Fan Takes Control
By now the characters were de-constructed, re-imagined, experimented with, and are now entirely dismantled. There is nothing left to try. The companies now turn to writers who are fans; writers and artists who grew up reading the comics and characters. They know by heart every adventure and every story. They have a complete understanding of the characters. They witnessed, psychoanalyzed, and dissected the characters completely over the years.
Geoff Johns, Kevin Feige, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid are perfect examples. They are all fans who are now working with these superheroes.
The Dark Knight trilogy has many comic references, and those who have read comics will agree that these three movies are more inspired by comics. Similarly, Zack Snyder’s DC movies are more comic-accurate than the bizarre Joel Schumacher movies. Geoff Johns made Aquaman great again.
A comic character goes through all these four stages and as a result, the readers witness these characters grow and evolve.
Over the years I witnessed all my favorite superheroes go through these stages and come out as winners.
Tell us what you think about the 4 stages or the journey of a superhero through these 4 stages?