A global phenomenon with a timeline that stretches as far back as the 1930s has become such a huge part of our life. No one can deny the impact comics have had on society, from the days where comics were featured on daily newspapers to the Hollywood studios in which they are now filmed. Taking shape during the great depression, the early pioneers who were so never imagined that later in the future they would be accountable for a billion-dollar industry.
Success does not come without its tribulations and for syndicates that lasted can attest to those days of uncertainty. During a time where media entertainment came in the form of theatre, film, radio, and television, comics have always made its way in the public eye. This interest although met with much enthusiasm for most of its existence by loyal supporters, however, was never taken as serious reading material by its critics.
One thing is for certain is that comic books resonated with society during a time where it was very much needed, to give hope, to build morale, to advocate for peace during times of conflict, for support of troops in war and for anyone seeking instant gratification through justice in an ever-changing and complicated world.
Today comic book heroes are continuing the tradition of fighting for justice while continuing to stay relevant in a roller-coaster industry. Yet, thanks to box office hits, superhero comics are just not fictional characters interwoven into the fabric of our culture but are now American icons and the pinnacle of what being American is about.
The birth of comics started around early 1890 to the early 20th century, as a form of entertainment for readers of the daily newspaper. Before superheroes comics were invented all comic strips were known for their comical nature, hence the word comic and entertained the average citizen during their commute through life. It wasn’t until the time of the Great Depression that comic strips started to expand into its own industry (“Super Heroes A Never-Ending Battle 2013”). At a time of great conflict, America was going through a shift in identity and the direction of the country was unknown. Out of the depression came World War I that drained the aspirations of a country and afterward seemed desperate to heal during a fragile time in American history. Comic strips along with the first comic book publications were used as a distraction from the chaos of World War I and various social issues. Comic books were the choice for entertainment for Americans at that time and were also seen as a morale booster for a country that needed to restore its confidence. While the nation was regaining hope through DC Comics, Superman, its instant success opened the doors to various syndicates producing an array of different comics with similar attributes. By the 1940s a good portion of American youth was reading comic books. It wasn’t long after that Superman graced the airways with the creation of its own radio show that was broadcast from 1940-1951 (Roshanem 2017).
The 1940s through the 1960s were crucial decades for superheroes comics as the demand for new material spouted new characters and villains. The notorious Shadow from Pulp magazines which were known for their darker non-traditional publication of comics which was given credit for inspiring the Batman character which was an instant sensation who fought for law and order and to stop all criminals (“Super Heroes A Never-Ending Battle 2013”). Wonder women was another major character that was instrumental at a time where women were striving for equality. The comic presents her as strong, powerful, and independent from men while showcasing her Lasso of Truth. The Lasso’s power forced anyone who was hypnotized by it to speak the truth. Over the years our history of superhero comics was not just for our enjoyment but to also inspire patriotism and social change. As mentioned briefly, comic books even during the early stages of its publications promoted social issues and political viewpoints and have done so throughout its existence.
These superheroes have become a huge part of American culture for many years through entertainment, propaganda and tackling social issues on a national level. As far back as I can remember superhero comics have always been used for a barrage of issues but not just any issue they were American issues. There seemed to be a pattern where comics have always thrived during times of war and conflict. It seemed as if superheroes were invented out of the convenience of American social issues. In the beginning, Superman & Captain America was used most of the time for many issues such as to promote the recruitment, build morale, to buy bonds, to support troops, and fight against communism. One famous comic had Captain America punching Hitler in the face and Superman fighting alongside American Soldiers against the Nazis and Japanese (Roshanem 2017). An example of this is when Captain America came out of a long retirement after World War II to help catapult the propaganda during the Vietnam War. Same can be said for Wonder Woman who was the original feminist comic book superhero, Batman and Superman who spoke out against discrimination, racism, Spiderman and Luke Cage fight against smoking (“6 Times Superheroes Tackled Social Issues”). Later comics would tackle issues of homosexuality, gay marriage, as Marvel staged the first gay wedding in comic book history and a reference of Catwoman being bi-sexual (Library of Congress).
Over the years billions of dollars have been spent on the superhero industry due to their extreme popularity and influence. With their roots in the early years of comic books, Superman and Batman have continued to push the limits of success through radio, television, cartoons, and major motion pictures. The public obsession with superheroes is more evident during the yearly Comic-Con conventions. Thousands travel, with many in costume to support their favorite superhero and spending thousands of dollars on countless merchandise. Many supported the continued celebration and community of comic books which had a major effect on sustaining the culture (Roshanem 2017). All that are involved including the fans dedicate so much of their time in support of their superheroes. Superheroes were the saviors of the free world, the ones that people trusted when they were looking a savior. The everyday person can connect to superheroes because of a common bond. Publishers are realizing that people who are reading comics want to see characters and a story that reflects their experience (Library of Congress). We have looked to Superheroes to feed our dependence due to our fascination with fictional characters with superpowers. Our addiction to them is because they make us want to be a better person or to help our self-esteem or just give us a different form of understanding. Superheroes might not be real phenomenon’s, but they exemplify the need to do what’s right, and they represent the morals and standards of America.
The evolution of comic books to Hollywood blockbuster hits was a long process starting back in the Golden era and fighting its way through the Modern Age. It was during the 1980s that started the current age we are in today. The modern age of the comics graced the silver screen in the late 70s with Superman but really didn’t produce more films featuring comic book superheroes until the late 80s and early 90s with series of Batman movies. I believe it was this pivotal time that helped superhero films revitalized and established the modern superhero genre we see in today’s blockbuster. Batman was a huge success not only for the comic industry but also at the box office where it profited millions. This soon gains the attention of film executives who began trying to produce superhero films for the big screen in hopes of producing similar box office sales as Batman (Willis). Although Superman and Batman movies made DC comics more popular than ever before. While DC comics was benefiting from its success at the box office Marvel was struggling to find its place in Hollywood.
Marvel came on the scene with its first release of series of movies called X-Men. Before then, Marvel who was not finding movie success started selling the film rights to its characters to anyone who would buy them. Before being acquired by Disney, Marvel had sold some of its properties and those transactions proved lucrative investments for the studios that purchased the licenses many years ago (Roshanem 2017). This gave Spider-man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and the Hulk to Sony, Fox, and Universal, respectively (Willis). It wasn’t long after that Marvel surpassed DC comics at the box office. The movie that propelled them to the top was the release of Spider-man. It was the first superhero movie that made $100 million at the box office during its first week (Whitbrook). For the comic industry, great success comes with its highs and lows and the movie industry is no different taking risks on potential blockbusters only to see them fall short of the standard at the box office. But it does not stop the studios in providing more superhero action films for the millions of fans worldwide. Investing heavily in on these types of films with a large fan base and substantial profits in merchandise encourages the cycle. Yes, the movie plots and stories are great, but the production of sequels and remakes of previously successful films is a business decision. Given their expensive production and marketing budgets, studios depend on the devoted fans of franchisees to purchase multiple tickets for repeat viewing to turn a profit (Grazian 124).
We can’t forget that we live in a capitalist society with movie production companies and corporations making decisions that benefit their investment. Media is a business that sometimes gets misinterpreted when finished product of multinational corporations don’t meet the standards of consumers. This is a complicated process and is not so cut and dry when millions if not billions of dollars are the bottom line. Grazian adds in the textbook that our favorite cultural product, “are just that, products that products for sale that are selected for production, manufactured, marketed, and distributed within a highly regimented organizational system” (121). The reason we are so bombarded with superhero movies is two-fold: they produce record-setting sales with the potential of reproducing the same effect financially. This is the reason that sequels or remakes are a generational tool for movie companies to continue success, success is measured by the number of zeros the sales produce. The need for more blockbusters is not necessarily for our entertainment but for financial reasons instead. Many of the movies released by the film industry never break even, which the only way to offset this death sentence for investors is by overproduction. This process is done by flooding the market with an array of movies of all content in hopes that a couple can gain blockbuster status to help cover the losses suffered by the other titles that year. Although risky organizations won’t buy completely in unless they are sure of at least one title can profit big, “But no matter-just one Jurassic World can pay for itself along with more than 10 commercial bombs as expensive and underachieving as Blackhat” (Grazian 123).
Movies this entertaining would not be possible without the help of technology. Most of the film today have been utilizing Computer Generated Images (CGI) as an effective and at the time cost saving additions to production. This form of technology along with greenscreens has been used for all media outlets including local news stations as far back as the early 1990s. Other software is used to incorporate 3-dimensional models which allow for production companies to solve issues that can’t be handled through natural processes stating that, “the studio’s films have always relied heavily on CGI, and we’ve peered behind the scenes of their blockbusters to bring you definitive proof. From MCU classics to the latest hits from Fox’s resurgent X-Men franchise, these Marvel movies all look totally different before the special effects are added” (Archbold). Green Screens are usually used to create environments by piecing together backgrounds and placing actors of objects within the background. Industries have also used CGI for a variety of animation films, commercials, television just to name a few.
The comic book industry is intertwined in a large web that is the entertainment machine. Never in its wildest imaginations did the early pioneers ever envisioned their passion for comic books would someday surpass their expectations. Of course, it helps when movie rights of certain characters are at the disposal of giants like Sony, Fox, and Universal. But to have success for as long as comics superheroes been around it shows its versatility and continued demand by movie studios as well as the consumers. Before the times of CGI in movie productions, Comic books reflected our culture in ways that other media couldn’t. The key was the evolution of its characters that reflected American trends and social problems which had a direct impact on readers. The age group that was attracted to comics were of all ages and sex, especially children who you would see running down the street with a cape on emulating their hero. Comics tackled social issues and allowed younger readers to understand the different perspectives and shape attitudes on topics of interest during important times in our history. And now the interest in superheroes is increasing due to technology and motion pictures. Comic books thrived in media with success at the box office and merchandising, so it’s safe to say that this genre and its multiple formats backed by billions of dollars is here to stay.
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