In recent years, Hollywood has made many superhero movies adapted from comic books. Many people are surprised at why the United States has so many superheroes. In order to answer this question, we have to start from the birth of the superhero.
The first superhero in history was Clark Kent, who was created in 1938. During this time, the Great Depression had just ended in the United States and World War II was about to begin. Faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a railway engine and tall enough to leap over tall buildings, this seemed strange and novel. However the structure is still the same as the mythical heroes in myths, or the master swordsman in martial arts novels. Look back on our martial arts literature; how many young people coincidentally end up with a set of martial arts skills and fight for justice? However through two Industrial Revolutions and. Unlike Chinese people, Americans are not able to accept that normal humans can defy Newton’s laws just by practising martial arts. So therefore, they designed this man as an extraterrestrial being so that it is more easily acceptable. Mythical heroes arriving in the readers’ era and living amongst them; what a great idea that is. This Kryptonian from rural Kansas was well-received, and under the market laws, publishers brought out a wave of comic books following Superman. Through advanced technology, nuclear radiation, mutation and even getting struck by lightning, people such as Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers become superheroes such as Batman and Captain America. Of course during that time, besides superhero comics, other genres of comics were extremely popular in the American comic book market.
The United States joined WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and superhero comics entered their Golden Age. Because of the war, superhero comics became the most popular comics in the market. Following the requirements of that time, the heroes from respective companies also joined the War. Captain America was one of the warriors on the front-line. Superhero comic books are portable, cheap and easy to read, which made them a favourite among the front-line American troops. Millions of pages of comics were sent to the front-line together with other military supplies. Superheroes fought side by side with the Americans in the war against Fascism in the Golden Age of Superhero Comics.
After the Second World War ended, the soldiers returned home. People were also tired of war and fighting, and superheroes seem to have lost the premise to use their powers. Readers started to shun away from superheroes, while romance, youth, humour, detective, crime and horror genres became readers’ new interests. The fall of the superhero seemed inevitable. In the 1950′s, the increasing rate of juvenile delinquency became one of the United States’ post-war social problems. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s book ‘Seduction of the Innocent’ highlighted many accusations about comic books, on the basis that comic books corrupt young children. Professor Wertham’s points received widespread support from many parents and the senator of Tennessee. This finally resulted in the formation of the Comic Code Authority (CCA), which is a body of the comic book industry. The CCA regulates the content of comic books just like the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television does with the content of films and television programs made in China. As romance, crime, horror detective and historical comic book genres easily overstep the red line, superhero comics became the safest topic, just like how period dramas made in China pass easily. Publishers also started to put no restrictions on superhero stories, dealing with celestial and extraterrestrial beings as well as monsters and demons. On the other hand, the emergence of television was a huge blow for the comic book world. Watching real people acting in romantic, detective and historical stories is better and more realistic than reading a comic. However the impact on superhero comics was very small, because if Superman was flying, a comic book artist can make him do so with a few pencil strokes. On the other hand, television producers spend a lot of money to shoot a flying scene only for audiences to laugh at how unrealistic it is. Hollywood was also affected by television during this period and started to make epic movies in order to lure audiences away from their televisions and back into the cinemas.
After the rise of the hippie movement in the 60′s, society started to open up. Underground comics which were not restricted by the CCA became extremely popular among the masses and publishers became bolder. They started to incorporate more elements into superhero comics: youth, romance, comedy, mystery, crime, horror as well as other social problems started appearing in the world of superhero comics. Spiderman’s story of young adolescent love, Batman dealt with crime and detective work (of course during a period of time, bat-brained comic writers turned Batman into a comedic character), Green Lantern and Green Arrow faced drug and racial issues. Other comic book genres found a new renaissance in superhero comics.
Not long after the birth of television, superheroes appeared on television. Bruce Lee once acted in the television-version of “The Green Hornet” as the title character’s sidekick Kato, but the influence of these series was only limited in the United States and because the production structure and skill requirements are limited, these shows were unable to withstand the test of time. Early superhero movies were not much better off than superhero television series. The first superhero movie to get a massive response was Richard Donner’s “Superman”. Made in the 1970′s, the film grossed more than US$100 million at the box office. China screened the film in the 1980′s, which was a sensation. From then on “Superman” had three sequels. Besides the second one, the rest were flops. Even though “Superman” had a bigger budget than other films of the 1970′s such as “Star Wars”, “Jaws” and “The Exorcist”, it grossed much less at the box office compared to these films.
In the 1980′s, American comic book publishers brought in many new talented writers from Great Britain, injecting new blood into the American comic book world. Add that to the rise of local artists such as Frank Miller, readers started to reach an age of maturity. During this period, the content in comics became darker and more realistic: heroes can get injured and die, and even anti-hero characters like the Punisher became very popular. The superhero programmes seen on television seem like children’s programmes compared to these. During the 1980′s, the most representative superhero movie was Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. Burton honoured the Batman movie in his own style and made the movie one of the biggest blockbusters of the 1980′s. During this period, other superhero movies were made but were unable to make an impact. Burton incorporated more of his own personal flair into the Batman sequel, and even though it wasn’t as successful as the first, it still received good reviews. The third film was made by Joel Schumacher, and even though the style changed, it still maintained the production level and was a blockbuster nonetheless. Schumacher was confident about the fourth film, but the big-budget production was a catastrophe: the plot was weak and the film performed poorly at the box office, but the worst thing was that Schumacher, who was gay, made the strange decision to add nipples onto the Batsuit.
Bryan Singer’s 2000 “X-men” performed reasonably well at the box office and received good reviews, but the movie which revived the new wave of superhero movies in the new millennium was Sam Raimi’s 2002 “Spiderman”. The film grossed over US$400 million at the box-office in North America, more than “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” to become North America’s biggest blockbuster of the year. Superhero movies were also able to resolve Hollywood’s shortage of screenplay and themes and adding that to the advancement of film shooting techniques, film production companies decided to explore the rich gold mine of superhero comics. In 2003, Hollywood brought out “Daredevil”, “Hulk” and “X-Men 2” among many other superhero movies. Although they were not as successful as “Spiderman”, they were still able to make money for the film companies. This proved that “Spiderman”s success was not coincidental. Soon, “The Fantastic Four”, “Ironman”, “Batman”, “Superman”, “Elektra”, “Green Lantern”, “Constantine”, “Wolverine”, “Thor”, “Captain America”, “Punisher”, “Kick Ass”, “Watchmen”, “Blade”, “Hellboy” and “Ghostrider” appeared on the silver screen, with more box-office successes than failures. The most recent superhero team-up movie “Avengers Assemble” has brought superhero movies to a new high point.
Besides reviving the box office, superheroes have a high potential for product development. Drawing from the popularity and advertising of the movie, audiovisual products, television, image endorsement, toys, games, clothing, stationary, food products, products for everyday use, theme parks and other related products are developed. These peripheral products bring in a much bigger profit compared to box office takings. “Titanic” is an epic blockbuster, but its peripheral products are not as wide-ranging as superhero movies. Also, movies like “Titanic” have no possibility of any sequels, but superhero movies can continue to churn out sequel after sequel, with the related products and merchandise selling like hotcakes every time. In the movie “Superman Returns”, producers added an ‘S’ logo onto Superman’s belt. This was a new design which had never been seen before, but viewers immediately knew that Warner Bros was planning on cashing in on the merchandise. Between 1989 and 2012, Warner Bros. made a total of seven Batman movies, which helped this character maintain its high popularity and at the same time the constant sale of its related merchandise. The global effect of films has made superheroes who use to only be popular in the United States become known world-wide. In the 1980’s, China was only familiar with Superman. Heading into the 1990’s, everyone was introduced to Batman, and now Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and the X-men as well as other superheroes have become household names in China. “Iron Man 3” will even be shot in collaboration with a Chinese film production company. Related merchandise has already started to bring in cash in China,
It can be said that superheroes have quite a monopoly on the market!
Source : my1510.cn, 28 September 2012