Do we get the superheroes we deserve?

This 2021 is the year of superheroes. On the one hand, the Disney series wandavision dared to deconstruct the Marvel universe. On the other, Zack Snyder brought his own Justice League in a big way on HBO despite being, basically, an extended four-hour version of a film that sucked at the box office in 2017. Recently, Amazon Prime Video also premiered the anime series of Invinciblea comic from a minor publisher that began as a parody of Superman crossed with elements of Dragon Ball and full of explicit violence in the style of another hit on the same platform: The guys.

In recent decades, superheroes have grown out of a subculture popularcornered in the comic and judged more or less childish, albeit with artistic traits – Tim Burton’s Batman, for example – to dominate the dominant current. They ate up the movie market. Every week, a new release of a series is announced on the platforms. A movie about a supervillain, Joker by Todd Phillips, also won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

For David Galán, screenwriter, screenwriter and director of the recent Secret Origins –nominated for the Feroz and Goya awards and the last Spanish born of the genre on the Netflix screens – the main recent change in superheroes is precisely that of ceasing to be niche: «Comics from the 1960s were aimed at children, in the 1980s they started to look at adult fans and in the 2000s they targeted everyone, fan or not. “A process that has a price:” Sure, it changed them. Now they are a product for the mass audience and they have to be much more responsible».

McCausland: “The superhero is an almost everyday figure forced to serve as a reflection for his consumers”

Similarly, journalist and writer Elisa McCausland, author of Wonder Woman: Feminism as a superpower, who studied phenomena such as The Avengers or Wait. “Everything is superhero these days, so nothing is superheroic. The superhero has become a means of understanding fact from fiction. It also has positives, like the intersection of the superhero genre with others, and the public debate about what it means to be a (super)hero and have (super)powers,” he explains. .

Before the 1960s, recalls McCausland, “the superhero was an icon” and, subsequently, “we dealt with his neurotic aspect”. This is the case of characters like Spiderman or The Thing, 4 great, for whom having superpowers was a bad luck rather than an advantage. At the turn of the century “the boom and there is great interest in the political role played by his figure. With a few exceptions like Zack Snyder’s films, the comic book, film and TV superhero is the new inhabitant of the fictional planet, an almost daily figure forced to serve as a reflection for its consumers».

Indeed, the basis of the theoretical debate about which superheroes we want or which we deserve – as proposed by Christopher Nolan’s film, The Black Knight, in 2008 – not much has changed in the last six decades. In 1964, Umberto Eco, in his famous essay Apocalyptic and integratedanalyzed the impact of culture popular European American, focusing on comics, superheroes and, in particular, Superman, the first and most iconic of all, to conclude that the key to the character was in Clark Kent when he said: “Clark Kent embodies, in a perfectly typical way, the average reader., afflicted with complexes and despised by their own peers. By an obvious process of identification, any employee in any American city secretly harbors the hope that one day, from the remnants of his current personality, a Superman able to recover from years of mediocrity.

Galán: “There is an approach that understands that superheroes are fun and their mission is to entertain”

McCausland isn’t far behind Eco when it comes to assessing the influence of movies and shows on today’s superheroes, even though 1960s Superman was able to make the sun shine while Scarlet Witch of wandavision just aim at a house surrounded by a white fence:The superhero has lost much of his visual iconicity: he’s more down to earth, both literally and figuratively.. In most of today’s comics, superheroes spend their time chatting, whether in coffee shops or in alternate universes. What they only reflect is a way of life random, close, consumable, leaving aside all the tradition of wonder”.

Galán understands that, even today, what we see on the screen, the eternal dispute between Marvel – Spiderman, X-Men, Avengers– and DC – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman– can result in two approaches to an ever more elastic genre. “There would be the approach that understands that they are entertainment and that their mission, beyond inspiring or being an example, is to entertain and not be afraid of light stories (without subtracting from the epic). The wonder would be framed there, for example ”, he categorizes. “Another aspect is who chooses to consider them as “the new myths” and wraps it all up in a great epic, where the works of Zack Snyder would enter the DC universe, and also others like Logano or also Jokers ».

David Aliaga, comics writer and critic, recalls that the change is not only thematic, but also technical, to bring the viewer back to the miniatures, the original space of the boys in tights who jump very high: “There is a greater refinement today. Authors and readers are better educated in visual storytelling. Furthermore, comics are a relatively young genre compared to literature and are in the early stage of their evolution. There are more creative avenues to explore. »

Galán: “Spanish superheroes are always treated as a parody. It’s as if the Spanish character prevents us from taking them seriously.”

Content-wise, he adds, “essentially the stories follow the same moral patterns, but have evolved as society has discussed these issues.” For his part, Aliaga recalls how in recent years “we’ve seen Marvel unapologetically incorporate racial diversity into their collections and update the role of women in his universe, sometimes, even against the will of certain readers who pretend to limit themselves to always re-reading the same stories, without nuances”.

This discussion, in fact, has always been the basis of all mass fiction. In the 80s, John Byrne decided it It was ridiculous that the Invisible Girl of the 4 great that’s what she was called, “girl”invisible girl in the original – when she was already a responsible adult. In response, as well as updating it to Woman, elevated her to the rank of most important character of the group. Chris Claremont also converted the file X Men in Marvel’s most multiracial group at the time. This tension between the sense of amazement, of heroes and heroines, which reflects the world that produces them, is for Aliaga “a false dilemma”.

David Galán, for his part, has created a Spanish superhero: Vértice, his protagonist secret origins, in the novel and in the film. “Spanish superheroes are always treated in a parody, it’s as if the Spanish character prevents us from taking native superheroes seriously. My goal was to fight that train of thought and the best way to make that work here is for the superhero not to want to be a superhero. Think of that cynical character that makes us disbelieve in them and use that as a character conflict.

The key is knowing how to make someone who can knock down a wall with a single punch credible. Superpower is, almost, the least of things. Indeed, David Galán’s Vertex is like Batman, a normal, fit human that he uses gadgets for the fight. The Clark Kent analyzed in the 1960s was too real in his civilian identity and, therefore, one marveled at his heroic identity. Now the second is taken for granted and Credibility is demanded of the “normal” face of the superman when he is not wearing a cloak.

In this line, Aliaga believes that “in an elementary way, and with all the nuances that the screenwriter wants to give it, a superhero continues to be an allegory of the ethical values ​​of each era and invites us to reflect on them. Elisa McCausland, for her part, believes it is still too early to draw a conclusion on what superheroes mean for this era:One day they will no longer be appreciated by the general public, and that’s when we’ll see what’s left of the genre. »

Do we get the superheroes we deserve? –