Superheroes, since Superman debuted in the 40’s, have always held a special place in pop culture. Though they’ve always had their place, they’ve never had the mainstream popularity that they do now, largely due to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve almost always been popular in movies, with pre-MCU movies like ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Spider-Man’, and ‘The X-Men’ were largely successful. The MCU’s model has certainly contributed to the mainstream popularity, but that’s in part because they’re great movies that really stuck to the source material. That leads me to believe that it isn’t necessarily the movies that people love, the movies simply made great characters accessible to people in a medium that without it, they wouldn’t have come across. We don’t just love the movies, we love the heroes.
Superheroes are the new mythological heroes. Ancient civilizations had characters like Hercules and Theseus. The Medieval Europeans had King Arthur and Thor. Today, we have characters like Superman, Spider-Man, and coincidentally, Thor (Thank you, Marvel). We’ve always had that fascination with larger than life heroes. They move and inspire us. Superheroes serve to inspire us to find our greatness within. A character like Spider-Man, a meek and quiet teenager as Peter Parker, but secretly a powerful hero once he puts on his costume, resonates with us because Peter can be seen as an everyman, but is secretly truly special. We all want to feel like we have that in us.
We may not be from an alien planet, like Superman, or been bitten by an irradiated spider like Peter Parker, but we want to know that we are capable of greatness. We also want to feel like there may be someone out there looking after us. They’re symbols of hope. Superman was created by two Jewish men during the rise of Nazi Germany. It was also not lost that superheroes regained popularity in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Superheroes can be that reminder that maybe all hope isn’t lost because after all, in the comics and the movies, no matter how bad things get, you know that Superman will show up right when you need him.