The Rise of Superhero Movies: Part One

In the last few years, the West has experienced a cultural shift, and it involves men dressing up in tights. Superheroes are in high demand. In fact, it seems nearly impossible to go to the movies without seeing a new trailer, whereby a hero arises, explosions abound, and clever one-liners burst from the screen. By my reckoning, there has been something like 60 plus superhero movies in the past decade alone. This rise of men in capes on the big screen has inevitably translated into large profits for comics. Guy Lubin, executive editor of Business Insider, reported, “Domestic sales of comics and graphic novels have been rising for years, reaching $870 million last year, up from $265 million in 2000.”

This growing number of superheroes in the theaters is certainly a cultural trend, one that has widespread impact on our collective values. To clarify my stance: I’m not the grumpy old man, sitting on his porch, yelling about “those darn kids and their darn superhero movies. Whatever happened to a normal movie where men dress up as women and get themselves involved in hilarious tap-dance competitions?” I hope to one day be that grumpy old man, but I’m just not there yet. Still, I simply want to know why. Why has our society taken such a keen interest in what appears to be characters made for children?

Alan Moore

(A picture of Alan Moore and his beard)

In an interview last year, comic book legend Alan Moore gave his take on this shift, writing,

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics.”

Moore proposes escape to be the common man’s solution, but it seems unreasonable to vilify escapism; that is, I feel that escape is mistreated here. In the word escape, one almost always tends to think about retreat. And retreat is nearly always synonymous with defeat, except in 1812.

In 1812, for instance, Napoleon’s Russian campaign was marked by retreat, particularly the retreat of the Russian army into the depths of its country. The French army responded by delving further into the country despite the onset of a harsh Russian winter. Napoleon pressed on, eventually making his way into Moscow. Instead of finding supplies and food (both of which his army desperately needed), he found the city mostly barren. Napoleon had to run back to France, losing about 400,000 men (80% of his troops) in the failed campaign. The retreat of the Russians was not, therefore, a defeat. It was victory. Napoleon’s escape, on the other hand, was an absolute disaster. He reminded the world of one of the most important history lessons: never invade Russia in the winter.

Escape, therefore, is neutral. It inherits the motives of the individual, and never does it act as a positive or negative entity unless first acted upon. Now if the general public has, as Alan Moore insisted, given up on trying to understand the complex world we live in, and turned towards trying to understand the much simpler world of superhero fantasy, then perhaps we are in trouble. Society needs people to answer its difficult questions, and certainly a population that avoids complexities in pursuit of meaningless realities can’t address complex problems. Rather a society that avoids issues may address the complex problem—except a society of avoidance will come up with the wrong answer, like an uneducated man given a calculus problem. The man may work towards an answer, but without proper training he will most certainly come to the incorrect conclusion. Now there must be a good deal of people who use escape negatively to avoid complex moral questions.

But are the realities of fantasy realms and superhero films absurd or meaningless? Or does our escape signify not a retreat from complexity, but a retreat to an ideal?

What’s Batman Really Hiding in His Utility Belt?

Batman is everyman’s hero. He wasn’t born with any superpowers; he doesn’t have any special abilities. He just uses what he was born with, getting by on his detective skills, brute strength, and martial arts knowledge. But wait, wait there’s more…

Fortunately, he was also born with a massive monetary inheritance that afforded him a bat-mobile, new decorations for the bat-cave, and (perhaps most importantly) his utility belt. You may protest: “But now he is just relying on gadgets to get by. He’s no longer just a dude on the street fighting to avenge his parent’s death.” A counter-argument: his gadgets in different hands would be far less effective, which makes him even cooler. He is able to use a flippin’ batarang. Could you do that? Probably not. Not unless you are Batman. And you can’t be Batman, because Batman is a fictional character. Cue mind explosion.

But what I really want to know is “What’s in Batman’s utility belt?” There is speculation, of course, and even legitimate comics that tell us what’s in Batman’s belt. See below.

Whoswho_ubelt

 

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But this isn’t real. It can’t be. It’s like when the government says, “Oh, no. We aren’t listening to your phone conversations. Hehehehe.” The ominous laughter really gives them away. Anyways, what’s really in Batman’s utility belt? Easy. Just think about it. Batman is a busy guy. He is always on the go, so he probably doesn’t have time to stop in the middle of crushing villains to have a bite to eat. The answer is simple: sandwiches. In every pocket of Batman’s belt is a sandwich. OR maybe, just maybe, every compartment holds an element of the sandwich, so that the bread doesn’t get soggy, and everyone knows that soggy bread makes for the worst kind of sandwich.

What do you think Batman’s really hiding in his utility belt?