Will We Ever Have New Heroes?

In one of my other jobs, I’m a news editor for a movie site. I spend a whole lot of time covering all the films in the works in Hollywood, and one type of article gets more traffic than other. Well, other than ones that have leaked cell phone pictures of celebrities.

That would be those pertaining to superhero projects, with the attention these days cast on The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Each of these heroes has seen their story told many times over throughout the years, both in film, on TV and in of course, the comics. What I wonder sometimes though is how long these icons will BE our icons.

Superman made his debut in 1938, Batman in 1939. The fact that we’re here talking about them over seventy years later says everything it needs to about their staying power. In actuality, they’re more popular than they’ve ever been.

It’s fascinating to witness a modern age of mythology in action. No, we don’t believe in Batman the way the Greeks believed in their gods, but it’s a similar principle. There are established stories and universes built around these characters, and anything that deviates too much from the usual is tossed out. Many of these heroes have literally died over the years, but always, always they keep coming back.

I guess my question is where do these heroes go from here, and how long can we keep worshipping the same ones? What is it about Superman and Batman and the like that’s gripping enough where we keep coming back to them in iteration after iteration?

I’m also wondering how exactly we go about making NEW heroes in this day and age. I’m not talking about the likable leads of movies and shows and games we consume, I’m talking about true ICONS, ones that will have the branding and staying power of these superheroes, or names like Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones.

Yes, we have new “heroes.” Looking around at the present landscape, we have Dexter and Master Chief and Don Draper and Kratos, but will those be the kind of names that are still around decades later? I doubt it.

Looking to movies in particular, name one recent “hero” that truly stands out as an icon in the last ten years. I’ve been looking through the top grossing movies of the year, every year for the past decade, and few names jump out to me who aren’t already variants on long established characters, a large amount of superheroes among them. Hollywood might be able to produce new and entertaining versions of existing characters, but they’re sure as hell not great at creating them anymore. Ones that come close? Gladiator’s Maximus maybe. Captain Jack Sparrow perhaps. For a die hard contingent, Edward Cullen.

I can only think of one real example of a modern pop culture “icon,” offhand, and that would be Harry Potter. The ‘00s was the decade of Potter, and between his books and movies and simply what a great character he is, no one else can even touch him. However, even he might be forgotten someday, as for his name to live on as long as Luke’s and Batman’s, someone has to continue his story. Whether that’s JK Rowling, or other people, I don’t know, but the Potter universe can’t just end, and must keep growing if it really wants to cement icon status.

There’s nothing wrong with our icons per se. I loved The Dark Knight as much as anyone, and still fantasize about becoming a Jedi Knight. It’s just that I don’t know if we’re inventing new characters and universes like we used to anymore.  Do you disagree?


  • Mike

    Short Answers: There are great heroes and universes created, just that they are usually only exist in one form of media and thus the heroes can’t sore to the heights of classic heroes.

    Long Answer: There are a lot of great new heroes created and in great universes that expand in fan fiction and other media. However, there is so many medium today that not everyone knows the same heroes as each individual has their own. It is rare for a character to break out now; I agree Harry Potter is the only one. Dexter and Don Draper mean little to me, as I don’t watch a lot of TV, whereas Kratos, Master Chief and Nathan Drake mean little to someone who doesn’t play videogames. It’s this divide in media that makes it hard to have new heroes. Back when Batman and Superman were created there was little, radio, book, comic book and earlier stages of film. Batman, Superman, Spiderman, etc, would also crossover into all the other medias over time, giving them wide exposure. Everyone has some memory of say Superman, even if they’ve never picked up a comic.
    Star Wars and Harry Potter both became pop culture events, which are hard to reproduce, and of course people have tried and failed. As we know when Star Wars came out people line up well in advance outside of theatre, just as fans did outside of book stores for Potter. Star wars lived on because people love the universe and characters so much that they show their kids and Lucas won’t let a good dollar die. We will see if Harry Potter gets the same treatment.
    Now a days, it’s hard to a character to get noticed, especially if they don’t cross over into new media. Usually the jump is just to movies now, Lara Croft made this jump, although the movies were not very good, or good at all, and the character died off, and is now being reimagined. The resident Evil universe has made the jump, but there is not one hero that stands out for the universe like a Skywalker, a Han Solo or even a Chewbacca. The Mass Effect Universe is expansive and just as interesting as anything created before it. While the universe expands through fan fiction and some comic books, it’s hard to produce one hero, as everyone’s Shepard is different. If Mass Effect crossed over into movies, it would be hard for Shepard to be at the helm, as you control him/ her so would there be the same appeal to the fans of the games.
    I can think of one series that has made the jump from short stories, to novels, to a movie and TV series (which I hear sucked), to videogames, and graphic novels, and that’s the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a solid hero, but not well known in North America, besides some gamers, as the IP originates from Poland. I’ve only played the games, and have an interest in finding the books, not a pressing one. Being created outside of USA is another barrier for great heroes rising into pop culture.
    There are a lot of great heroes created these days, there is defiantly not the lack of good heroes and universe that you mentioned, but more heroes and more media that makes it hard for one to break out. Lastly, Hollywood is all about money now, and why take a risk on a new hero, when you know Batman, Superman, Spiderman and the established heroes are there and bankable.

  • Asdrubal

    I think taht one part of this is that when classic heroes appeared they were treasured and loved and even passed down through generations, but now there is great hunger for information that gets satisfied by media so fast that people is not “flavouring it” they are just “swallowing it” and even great heroes invented in our time just pass through the digestive system and end up the other side…

    Manga and anime brings good heroes too, but i dont really know how well they go in other countries, a few examples, Naruto has been in magazines for 13 years, Bleach for 10 and Hajime no ippo has been for 25 years now, its not a coincidence, they are good written heroes but maybe not enough exposure.

  • trashcanman

    Hollywood will invest in new heroes when you do. There is no shortage of quality stuff out there, but unless some company is willing to spend millions on hype to get the “brand” out there, good luck attaining icon status. You know how every Potter book was greeted with months of media fanfare? That creates an icon. Only once in a generation do we get a legit grassroots hero like Han Solo or Mario that comes from practically nothing and nowhere to become a household name. Was The Runaways better than most all of Marvel’s other properties put together? Pretty much. Did you read it? Probably not. Did you rush to import Death Note or go see the latest Pixar joint instead? Exactly. No reasonable adult would take talking toys/cars/dogs/rats/whatever over the brilliance of Death Note, but people are goddamn lazy and they will typically not go so far as to get off their couch to look for something new and different. They want same ol, same ol’, and that’s what they are being sold. If you want new icons, invest your time and money in new icons instead of buying two Call of Duty and Pokemon games a year, rushing out to see the latest movie sequels, or only talking about established comic book heroes. Money talks and….you know

  • Shane hannah

    I think a great new up and comig super hero is Invincble. It’s a comic published by Image and it’s in the works of being made into a movie that will be out within a few years. It’s a great modern day comic that came out in the early 2000’s. In super power terms he is closey related to superman but the side characters give it a totally original taste. Its hard to compete with super heroes that have had 70 years to get their stuff together and let’s face it you can come with a lot in that time. I feel invincible is a up and coming super hero that we will see competing with today’s current giants.

  • ted

    If a decent movie series was made using Nathan Drank and the Uncharted universe, he could have some staying power as a hero.

  • porgins

    Link, the hero of time. Specifically Ocarina Link. I know that’s cliche but I was born in 1990, and I honestly can’t think of a single hero from comics or movies or classical literature that I revere more. He faces every challenge head on, and his silence allows you to project yourself into his adventure and makes him appear even more stoic. Still the greatest game ever.

  • the Dylanthropist

    Totally agree on Invincible. Bar none, the BEST superhero comic on the stands these days. Any fans of the Walking Dead and Robert Kirman in particular will understand, the guy has a head for dialogue, pacing, and captivating and relevant drama that makes all of his (extremely varied) properties a masterclass in storytelling. For all the talk of the new DC universe and its pitfalls, all the need to do is look at the 80+ issues of Invincible to see superheroes down right!! Action, Comedy, Drama in every issue! This is my Superman!

  • Jeff

    Can’t agree more with Invincible–it really has the chance to be iconic. Brian Michael Bendis is also doing some interesting things with Ultimate Spider-Man. He killed off Peter Parker (for good, he claims) and is introducing a completely new protagonist. Still kind of a rehash in a way, but if it’s done well, it could be refreshing.

  • oifjovi

    I think you really have to be careful too with the divide between heroes and icons. Being a hero, going on grand, epic journeys and struggling against some sort of evil opposition, is vastly different from being an icon. I think there have been some other icons with staying power that have emerged in recent years, but not really any heroes. I would say the biggest and most obvious of these is Homer Simpson. Not necessarily a hero, but I think he’s certainly been as wide-spread as the heroes you pointed out in the article.

  • Giauz

    I’ve been watching this show on Cartoon Network called Generator Rex. Although it can be a bit cheesy at times (the mark of all great comic book super heroes if you read enough Cracked), it is honestly my favorite cartoon since Avatar: The Last Airbender. The art style seems to take from both the late 90-early 2000’s Superman and Batman cartoons and anime. They also really do well with badass music, interestingly written characters, and a good mix of episodic content and an over-arching main story with plenty of mistique. Hopefully, producers can do what they did for our current icons in keeping Rex and gang alive across multiple medias forever. Seriously, check out the show, Paul. It’s a good time for your inner-child.