Growing up, one of the many things I enjoyed was reading comic books. As yes, on occasion, had donned a towel and pretended to be Superman. I would jump high off my bed as well as leaping on to my bed all the while make whooshing air noises. Or pretend to be shooting spider webs like Spider-man or run down the street as fast as I can like the Flash. I wanted to be them even though I knew they were not real. On the same token, I had serious problems watching the Superfriends because there was not a whole lot of kick ass action like the comic books would have. On the same token, I would cringe at some stupid storylines like seeing Superman’s horse Comet or comic book tie ins with Radio Shack. But then, I grew up and so did comics. I needed to have more.
In many ways, the darkening of the superhero genre reflects the trajectory that comic books followed more than 30 years ago. 1986 was something of a watershed for the comic book industry — a year that is widely credited as ushering in “The Dark Age” of comics with the publication of acclaimed series like Alan Moore‘s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Suddenly, comic books were infused with darker political, psychological, and sociological undertones. Superheroes were no longer whiz-bang do-gooders who delighted kids, but anti-heroes with the same emotional baggage as the aging fans who read about them. As the subject matter moved away from the black-and-white morality that dominated the genre’s so-called Golden Age, it delved into the shades of gray that lie between right and wrong.
As stated above, there were great examples of darker stories that I loved. The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont is high on my list of all time favorite storylines. There was the death of Jason Todd the second Robin in which the fans voted to have him killed off. In the early 90’s, the death of Superman drew me back to collecting comics as well as Batman’s Knightfall where Bane breaks the Dark Knight’s back. These are the stories that are compelling and intriguing but after a while, how many times can you kill heroes and care? Johnny Storm, the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four, was one of those characters whereby you had a meh response to the news. There’s nothing like copying the success of others before the plot device is worn out.
As for superhero movies, not everyone was that dark. Except for Batman, it’s a given that he’s dark, I can’t remember a movie going as dark as the comics. In the tv pilot of Birds of Prey, there were elements of The Killing Joke but nothing like the comic. Now that superheroes are in the movie mainstream it is unlikely we’ll see a Rated R superhero movie. Yes, there was the Watchmen movie but I would not consider it in the same breath as Batman, Superman or an Avengers movie franchise. Where do we go from here?
I remember watching Superman: The Movie. Christopher Reeves played this hero perfectly. There was a goodness about him that was honest, unvarnished, and a hero for a much different time. I look at this movie today and think about wanting to go back to when things were not as scary as they are today. With the Man of Steel, a new Superman for this generation, this movie is completely different from the one I grew up with. While this has all the kick ass action I would want to see, would the little kid in my like Man of Steel if that was my first hero movie? That is a hard question to answer. My life is completely different from when I was growing up. The action scenes are more intense and the world is a much scarier place especially with my own kids. There is no reason to make both worlds equal and besides I want my kids to enjoy being kids. This means that I will have to resist the urge to take them with me to the movies as often and ween them on what I grew up with. However, after a crappy day at work, there was a day when I watched Ed Norton in the Incredible Hulk. When the Hulk yells, “Hulk Smash,” I had this euphoric release of emotion and the action on the screen helped to combat my inner turmoil. On occasion, you did need to have this emotional release through violent films.
Recently, I watched Hollywood Land with Ben Affleck. His portrayal of George Reeves was perfect. What made me love this movie more were the brief scenes of the show The Adventures of Superman. What brought a smile to my face was one scene where you hear the tv theme music playing and the narrator saying, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman …” As campy as the music and the words were, I loved it. Sure Clark Kent could change into his Superman costume in a flash, jump out of the window, fly on a table (spoilers), crash through walls, have bullets bounce off him but god forbid you run out of bullets. Superman’s weakness are thrown empty guns in which he has to dodge them because… (make up your own reason). Regardless, the violence and storyline were cartooning but then again, it was a lot of fun to watch him and watching him make a guest appearance on the I Love Lucy Show was the icing on the cake.
Perhaps, it’s time to go into my shed and dig up my old comics. Take them out and start living out my childhood again. I think there is now is no better time than to chew through the crappy comic book stories like Dial H for Hero and relive mindless adventures. It may not be the most ideal thing to do but as least I can escape for a while a be a kid again.