The Rise of Superhero Culture: From Pages to Screens

Imagine its April 1938 and the excitement of a 15-year-old boy who holds the Action Comics #1 in his hands.

He brings home the comics with 10 cents and flips the cover and smells the pages.

In the cover, there is a man dressed just like a circus strongman with red trunks, blue bodysuit, and the cape flying in the wind.

The man has a car lifted above his head with his hands! There is a man cowered below, two men running away, and another person facing the readers.

That man who has lifted the car was Superman.

That was a seismic and exciting moment for American pop culture.

Action Comics 1

Probably that marked the beginning of the Superhero culture.

Imagining a person with God-like powers, an unmatched intellect, or a genius who can build a machine out of scraps isn’t too tough now.

But it was a challenge for the two Cleveland teenagers to imagine something that could revolutionize the pop culture. The two Cleveland teenagers were Jerry Seigal and Joe Shuster.

Today, Action Comics #1 is more valuable than you think.

It is estimated that presently there are less than 100 copies of the Action Comics #1 left.

Action Comics #1 was sold at $10 million in the year 2010. The second copy was sold for $1.5 million in the same year.

Actor Nicholas Cage had a copy, and in 2000 it was stolen. In 2011, the stolen copy was recovered and was sold for $2.16 million!

The two comic book giants, DC comics and Marvel Comics drove the superhero revolution.

Today, it’s ruling theatres.

However, today the audiences are more interested in Superhero movies than comics.

Read – 11 “Very Bad” Comic Book Inspired Movies

The world of comics is now clearly overshadowed by movies and big actors.

It’s sad in a way how the comics, the birthplace of so many incredible characters, has become a forgotten thing.

The two most iconic superheroes in the comic world, Superman and Batman, started the all-conquering genre.

Superman and Batman - Superhero Culture
Source: DC Comics

Interestingly, the majority of superheroes fall somewhere on the scale between these two characters, who themselves are natural opposites.

One stand in light wears no mask, and a symbol of hope whereas another is a figure of mystery hides behind a mask, and instil fear in the hearts of the criminals.

But what were the core ingredients that make a superhero?

Most superheroes have an unusual start in life. They would leave their house or parents, mostly to avoid a terrible fate.

For example:

Kal-El or Superman escapes from Krypton. Jonathan and Martha Kent adopted him on a nondescript Kansas farm.

The whole plot allowed future writers to reinvent the specifics and fill in the blanks.

Then the early superheroes’ parents were removed, making them self-reliant and self-dependent from an early age.

Superheroes have a selfless dedication and a strong moral code usually.

Their motivation to fight crime is often deeply personal.

For example:

The murder of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben by a mugger, or Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death at the hands of a common criminal makes them Spiderman and Batman. For Superman’s humanitarian service is related to his superior being. Similarly, Wonder Woman also started helping people because of some higher calling.

Young Bruce Wayne
Source: The Atlantic

Whereas some start fighting crime as some disturbed and troubled human being, some fight crimes as some God amongst humans.

Then these characters will go on and have a complex secret life or secret romantic relationship.

Some characters are seen with the superheroes on a regular basis, like Jimmy Olsen or Flash Thompson. These side characters and their relation to the superheroes, make the superheroes more relatable.

Such was the trend for a long time.

With time, the superheroes changed too.

As comic book readers matured, from the 40s, the war years, to the counterculture till the late 60s, many superheroes were developed, imagined, and diversified in fascinating ways.

The popularity of superheroes witnessed a downfall in the 70s. The superheroes were again reimagined and reinvented in the 80s and 90s.

Now the superheroes were more mature and serious.

comics in 90s - Superhero Culture
Source: Comic Book

After several failed restarts, the 21st century brought back the superhero rule with movie franchises.

The whole idea of superheroes is originally American, born and reshaped through the troubled economic times. However, these marvellous characters always keep changing to fit the new generation, challenges, and audiences.

The superheroes rose through a lot of depressed and troubled time. They were here, and they will be here even after we are long gone.

They will rule; either on screen or in the pages of graphic novels.

Also Read – Can Superheroes be Political?

What do you think?

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