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Compelling, unique superhero stories are often neglected

Posted on 09.26.2018

Once, liking superheroes was a stereotype only associated with nerd culture. However, superhero adoration has passed beyond the boundaries of niche geekdom to dominate modern pop culture. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe overtaking the movie industry (being the highest grossing film franchise at over $15 billion according to Mental Floss), and the DC Universe also doing incredibly well with the Batman franchise alone making more than $4.5 billion, superhero-inspired merchandise is virtually everywhere. Fun challenge: try walking through a Kohl’s without finding a Captain America T-shirt.

Graphic by Ethan Gerling.

Graphic by Ethan Gerling.

Nerds across the world can rejoice that obscure characters they have loved for years are finally being enjoyed by everybody. There’s only one problem though: The wrong characters are being enjoyed. A lot of fascinating characters in the comic book world are being neglected, compared to all of these big-name heroes from the big screen.

Currently, the highest-rated live-action superhero film on Rotten Tomatoes is “Black Panther,” at a staggering 97 percent, with second place going to “The Dark Knight,” at 94 percent. The relevance of this can be seen in the popularity of the characters, Black Panther and Batman, before these films. It’s no doubt nearly everyone already knew who Batman was, especially since Adam West played the caped crusader on television in the 1960s. On the other hand, Black Panther was not nearly as well-known. Using Google Trends to judge popularity, “Black Panther,” as a phrase, garnered more than a hundred times more internet searches in February 2018 than it ever had before. Until the release of the film, the Black Panther was not a “famous” superhero. Despite this, the movie about the character has still achieved the overwhelmingly positive response, now being the ninth highest-grossing film of all time (at $1.3 billion, according to newswire).

That data shows that the world is paying attention to the wrong heroes, and if we can just refocus, then like the Black Panther, we can make some quality films. Billions of dollars are being spent on the production of films based on these already famous heroes, and the production companies are certainly getting all of that money, and plenty more, back. However, these new and refreshing names seem to have a larger impact on the audience.

One hero in particular who deserves more attention (and one of my personal favorites) is Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel. Previously, the title of Ms. Marvel was held by Carol Danvers, a woman who later went on to become Captain Marvel (and is now getting her own movie). Once the name became up for grabs, and Khan, a teenage Pakistani-American Muslim girl, discovers some fun new superpowers, the torch is passed, and we have a new Ms. Marvel. The comics, which first began their run in 2014, offer an entirely fresh perspective on the superhero world, and with the main protagonist having powers that allow her to stretch and shape-shift into virtually whatever she wants, it’s difficult for Ms. Marvel not to be interesting. And if my words aren’t enough to sell the character, then maybe the Hugo award that the series won in 2015 for best graphic story will be.

While I would love to continue rattling off more superheroes that I feel deserve more attention (like Squirrel Girl, Moon Knight, Swamp Thing, Nova, etc.), I would rather consider what makes the superheroes’ stories interesting.

I enjoy seeing the perspectives of all the different heroes, as each has a different sense of justice. That’s why huge events, such as the ones featured in “Captain America: Civil War,” are so fascinating: because they are major clashes of ideals. However, they stop being interesting when the same kinds of redundant heroes keep getting the spotlight. It’s just more of the same rich white guys having some tragedy that motivates them to become a hero.

I’d rather see a movie about Khan, who, already facing struggles from society and her family due to her faith and background, fights not only to maintain her unique vision of justice, but also to hold on to the youth she has so suddenly stripped away from her.

A movie about Squirrel Girl, a superhero who is a college student and doesn’t actually enjoy fighting all that much, would not only be compelling, but relatable. She’s always looking for ways to end conflict in a way that lets everyone be happy.

A movie about Nova, a boy from a small Nevada town who simultaneously is searching for his father and trying to live up to the standards his dad set as the previous Nova, would be another compelling tale to see on-screen.

Something that takes the genre in a new direction and tells the story from a new and refreshing perspective is what makes superheroes great. Currently, however, the movie industry is sleeping on compelling and unique super hero stories in favor of the big names.   

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