Comic books have been an integral part of pop culture since the late 1930s, spawning fans across the globe. Since then, they’ve only gained popularity. Conventions, movies, TV shows, toys, graphic novels, you name it; you can’t swing a cat today without hitting something at least tangentially related to comic books. In the midst of this, there’s been an underlying fear that the sheer excess will lead to burnout from fans, and in turn the death of superheroes in mainstream pop culture forever. To understand the validity of these concerns, it’s important to observe how that cycle works.
There are two different kinds of trends within pop culture: Fixtures and flashes in the pan. A fixture is something that stands the test of time, eventually becoming a pervasive presence that transcends things like burnout and over-saturation. Think Star Wars and Doctor Who. A flash in the pan is exactly that: An all-too-fleeting trend that everyone loves for a time, but is doomed to a future of appearances on nostalgic Buzzfeed lists. Essentially, your Tamagotchis and Beanie Babies. What we need to figure out is where superhero movies fall on this spectrum.
If the last half-century of comic books are any indicator, superheroes in cinema have a fair amount of staying power. Fans of the comics don’t withdraw when there are too many comic books to read. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; it’s a fandom that deals in excess and world-building. The more material there is to consume, the better. Thematically, superhero stories are profoundly self-contained. Because of this, there’s always a way to construct a brand new adventure down the road. All the while, the built-in fanbase only continues to expand.
We have this belief in society that every bubble has a bursting point. As Marvel and DC laid out their 5-year plans for their respective cinematic universes, everyone’s first thought was that eventually we’d all get tired of superheroes. But the growth has yet to slow down. Even Ant-Man, a film marred by on-set controversy featuring a lesser-known main character, made almost $500 million at the global box office. Things are looking just as bright for DC’s fledgling film universe. Starting in 2016, they’ll be rolling with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad; both feature trailers on YouTube topping 50 million total views.
All of this could mean one of two things: 1. We’re simply at the zenith of the comic book movie trend and soon it’ll take a nosedive, or 2. This is only the beginning. The rise of superhero films has not only spurred on the existing comic audience, but also brought millions of brand new fans into the fold, many of whom are just now discovering these stories for the first time. Things are continuing to trend upward with no end in sight, as both Marvel and DC continue to reap the benefits.
The simple answer is that superhero cinema has become more of a fixture than a flash in the pan. We’re far beyond the time where it wavers between the two. Hollywood has yet to miss a beat, and fans are on board for the next half-decade of comic book adaptations. There may come a day when we really have had enough, but that fateful occasion is not arriving anytime soon. For now, all we can do is enjoy the ride.
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