More Like Super-Boring | The Decline of the Superhero ‘Genre’

More Like Super-Boring | The Decline of the Superhero ‘Genre’

Superhero content has been boring me recently. I want it to change to appease me, and me only.

And then I said, a new superhero show aimed at adults? I thought you said a poorly made show with some swear words and excessive gore that attracts mainly children!

Oh no, how embarrassing, I’ve accidentally written the end of my stand-up routine in the wrong word document. Oh well, now that I’ve got you here I may as well make something of it.

I don’t know if this is a popular opinion, or if my cynicism is slowly becoming more akin to that of depression than it is a quirky writing persona, but I feel completely and utterly exhausted by superhero based media.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve not always been like this, in fact back in my day I was bullied; so make no mistake when I tell you that I was into superheroes.

My life was first ruined back in 2012 when, in what should be considered some form of child abuse, I was taken to see The Avengers in cinema. Before this, I was what you might call a ‘casual fan’ of superheroes. I knew all the big ones: Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Kite Man etc. but I never really appreciated them as an artform; that was until The Avengers came into my life and showed me the radioactive, gamma filled light.

From this point I was a certified heroine (and hero) addict; I consumed all superpowered media: comics, novels, TV, and especially film. I wasn’t picky what universe they came from, but Marvel had always held a soft spot in my heart. Any previous Marvel film that I hadn’t seen, I found and watched with unblinking attention, and I of course begged to be taken to any future releases.

This habit continued for many years, I am ashamed, but not embarrassed, to admit. When life got to be too much; whether it be the stress of school, my slowly diminishing health, or issues within my marriage, I always found the hand of superheroes to be a comfort I knew all too well.

I don’t know if this was an intentional decision or not, maybe I had subconsciously had enough of this life and wanted a change, but either way, I soon found myself enjoying these films less and less. It first started with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It was the first time that I had noticeably not enjoyed a Marvel flick, yet everyone else around me seemed to still be just as enthralled.

And this didn’t stop, each time I watched a new film my heart just wasn’t in it. The tipping point was with Avengers: Endgame, the crossover had been hyped up for years, it was a cinematic achievement. All these franchises had been masterfully weaved together, hints and references being planted across a number of films and decades. Yet when it came, I was simply underwhelmed.

Of course there was no feasible way that it could live up to any expectation set by anyone, but it was still particularly disappointing. I discovered that I simply had no attachment to the world or characters anymore, this was all the films had been building to for the longest time, and if this couldn’t make me feel something then how would anything after the fact? And so, along with Tony Stark, my love for the MCU died, and I’m yet to watch anything from it again…

Fortunately for me, there are other studios that make superhero content! Unfortunately for me, they all suck!

Way back in 2019, Amazon Prime blessed the nation with their new hit show, The Boys: a dark and gory, mature superhero show for adults, set in a world with corrupt superheroes and taking an interesting look at what it would be like if superman were evil…

On the flipside, this year of 2021 Amazon Prime blessed the nation with their new hit show, Invincible: a dark and gory, mature superhero show for adults, set in a world with corrupt superheroes and taking an interesting look at what it would be like if superman were evil…

Ok, hang on a second, something doesn’t quite seem right here.

You see when you’ve been on the superhero train for as long as I have you start to see the overlaps and similarities between them all. It’s all origin stories, or figuring out how to live with powers, or the real power was inside all along, or ‘WhAt IF SupERMan BuT EVIL???!!’

 I’ve touched upon this before in other articles (I’m sure you’re well versed in my work and as such know exactly which ones I refer to, but just in case), but one of my biggest pet peeves in film is just how lazy and unoriginal writers can be. They’ve been given this gift of writing and the opportunity to write for screen and they waste it on yet another overdone trope. They have the chance to make whatever they want, and it feels like they just tap out – submitting to whatever paradigm seemed to have worked last time. This feels especially evident when it comes to superheroes.

There is no genre that allows you to create such intricate and creative worlds and characters like that of superhero. Nothing else sends me into a nerd rage more than when a show has a superhero team, and they all end up basically being the Justice League. You’ll have the super strong one who is fast and can fly and can do a bunch of other random bullshit for no reason, then there’s the female version of the strong one who is the same but never quite as strong, and then the generic fast one who is faster than the fast and strong one except only sometimes, and then you have the dark and mysterious one who has no powers and always deals with petty crime for reason, and then fish.

A child doing a drawing of themselves as a superhero could come up with more creative powers.

People who defend this type of behaviour will say that the creators are playing on a trope, or parodying the source material. But it gets to a point where so many are doing it that it stops being parody and becomes the norm; soon people will be parodying the idea of parodying this generic superhero team.

I get that ideas are cheap and that a show or film’s merit is in how well the idea is executed, not how original it is. But I just don’t understand why so many people fallback on these clichés. I want people to take more risks, I want there to be more failed franchises out there, because that proves that people are trying and it proves that innovation is on the rise.

One of my favourite books of all time is All my Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. This underrated novella is romance with an ever so slight superhero/fantasy twist. We follow Tom, normal guy in superhero filled Toronto as he tries to make his hypnotised wife believe that he is fact visible. It is genuinely very well written, and tells a great story.

All My Friends Are Superheroes Cover

 But what initially drew me to the book was how it dealt with powers; they’re all mostly useless. In a world with real life supes, no one is special, in fact Tom is seen as the weird one for being normal. No one can use their powers to get a job, no one fights crime, they just live life. One person’s power is that they have stretchy arms, seems cool, but they only use it to try and reach out into the past to save their dead partner. Another can travel forward in time, but the future doesn’t exist yet, so it’s just nothingness. One guy lost his shadow and now enjoys doing the dishes.

I love this, its unique and it says something. All the powers are metaphors for real life problems; the shadowless man’s power isn’t that he doesn’t have a shadow – the imagery of losing a shadow and now having a different outlook on life is representative of leaving a toxic relationship, or being lifted from a depression, the idea of no longer having this dark shadow following you around all the time.

I want more stories like this, I want to see more pieces of fantastical fiction reflecting on real life issues. When the X-Men first came out, it was genuinely trying to say something about acceptance and discriminating against people for something they can’t control, the beauty in being different. Now it’s about time travel and there’s maybe two Cyclops or maybe it’s the same but younger?

When I say I want change in the superhero genre, I don’t mean I want everything to be all artsy like this, I just want things to be a bit different. Not everything mind you, I am on record as saying that not everything created needs to strive for high art (that was a weird day in court), sometimes things are just fun for fun’s sake, or dumb for dumb’s sake. So no, I don’t want everything to become different, people enjoy the stuff that we get spoon fed from Marvel.

 All I want are a few more risk, in a sense I want superhero to stop being a genre. Superhero stories should be of any other genre, with the gimmick of spandex and superspeed; when you pigeon hole any story with a powered individual in the same genre, it’s being set up to fail, and to do the same tropes as all the things that came before.

Labels are for cans guys, not films. And the sooner we can accept that, the better.

About The Author

Matthew Cowan

Hey, I'm Matthew, a 20-year-old writer, and creative based in Glasgow (writer meaning I like to write, and does not necessarily indicate quality or professionalism). Currently, I'm studying Broadcast Production: TV & Radio at UWS. As far as writing is concerned I mainly enjoy comedy writing and screenwriting, but I like to get my metaphorical foot wet in any genre of writing. When I'm not writing I like to watch anything on a screen, read, listen to podcasts, and worry about how I'm wasting my time by not writing.

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