Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Superhero – Not Just a Genre

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 24, 2016

Last week, the trailers (well, a teaser and a trailer) to two new superhero movies dropped. Or at least, movies from the same superhero-laden comic book universe. Both are action movies. But they couldn’t be more different in style or tone.

First off, Guardians of the Galaxy 2:

Next, Logan (AKA Wolverine 3):

Apparently Logan is shooting for an R-rating, and is based on an eight-issue comic series entitled “Old Man Logan.” The mutants are mostly dead, Logan’s healing power is fading and his age is thus catching up to him, and Xavier is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

On top of all this, I’ve been non-binge-watching (NO TIME!!!!) Netflix’s Luke Cage:

And then of course, next week, Doctor Strange hits theaters. I already have my tickets to a special viewing.

If I were to ignore the fact that these all come from the same Marvel Comics universe … and even ignore the “super-powered” part of them, having not seen them I might label these Space Opera / Comedy, Dystopian or Dark Future, Gritty Crime Drama, and Epic Contemporary Fantasy. Or something like that. I’m not 100% up on marketing labels for subgenres these days.

I have a number of thoughts on all this. First of all, there’s the thought that I must have made a wish with a genie back when I was 13 that finally came true. There are so many movies that have come out in the last decade or so that are based on comics or at least inspired by comics that do not suck. I do not want to talk about what passed for a superhero movie or TV series back when I was a kid. (Well, okay, The Incredible Hulk and Six Million Dollar Man were popular, but…) Just like the state of fantasy films, there just wasn’t much of quality out there.

ridinganostrilA major second point that seemed to have been forgotten until the 2000s: ANY story is about characters. The titles I followed back in the 1980s were as much about the relationships between these characters as the fight scenes. They were angsty and over-the-top, just like any soap opera, with the fight scenes serving as a catalyst or catharsis or some other nice turning point to give the characters something new to argue about.

The spectacle of the fantasy powers was a big deal… it was what made these stories interesting to me in the first place. But while I came for the action, I stayed for the characters. Sadly, for years, it seemed like the comics had figured that out but the movies–which should have known better–had not.  (Sadly, the comics sometimes go too far in that direction). But now, if you check out those trailers, they are all very heavily character and relationship based. The Doctor Strange trailer goes a bit further into the high-concept area, which … well, in a way, that does define Doctor Strange’s character.

The most important part, though, is that while I tend to think of “superhero” as its own little genre, it’s not. Netflix kinda nailed this one by labeling Daredevil as “Crime Drama” and Jessica Jones as “Psychological Thriller.” Just like science fiction (and fantasy) should really be more of a setting than a genre. The golden-age superhero comics were really just derivatives of popular pulp fiction, after all. Superman was really just something of a combination of Clark “Doc” Savage (the Man of Bronze) and an inversion of John Carter (instead of an Earth man going to an alien world and gaining super powers and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s an alien coming to Earth and gaining those same powers).  And of course, Batman came from pulp mystery and detective stories.

So yeah. I’m glad to see this kind of expansion. If nothing else, it keeps things interesting.

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