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?