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While comics books, television shows about comic books, and movies about comics books have maintained a constant following for the past eighty years, it is safe to say that over the past decade there has been a resurgence of media shaped around the characters appearing on comic book pages. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment when love for superheroes went mainstream (as in, considered acceptable for social consumption outside of young children and niche groups of teens and adults) but the results (and revenue) speak for themselves. Nolan’s edgy Dark Knight Trilogy both questioned and revitalized the moral landscape of “superhero” movies, earning two Oscar wins and over two billion dollars at the box office. The Spiderman franchise is poised to start its third reboot since 2002.  X-Men is currently shooting its eighth movie since its big screen debut in 2000. And perhaps the most palpable example of this pop culture phenomenon is the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the premiere of the first Iron Man movie in 2008. By 2019, the Marvel Studios will boast 20 superhero films, all interconnected within the same broader universe, a feat that no other film studio has accomplished. In response, DC Entertainment (Marvel’s long time rival) is planning on releasing their own series of superhero movies, to culminate in the Justice League in 2017.

The media landscape is so chock full of superhero stories they have perforated onto our live action television screens as well. Smallville, a television show about Clark Kent and the origins of Superman, ran for an unprecedented ten seasons from 2001-2011. The success of that show is likely the reason the CW greenlit shows about the Green Arrow and the Flash, now two of the network’s biggest ratings draws. Netflix has recently released two series based on Marvel’s Defenders’ comics – Daredevil and AKA Jessica Jones – to great critical acclaim.  These two behemoth studios have further plans to create shows based upon the rest of the Defenders roster (tentatively named Luke Cage and Iron Fist) before combining all of the properties into a single entity.

The question, then, is why the resurgence of mainstream popularity for these superheroes? Why do these particular stories seem to resonate with American culture at various moments of our social history? What do these narratives mean to us, collectively and individually? Why are we drawn to them?

The answer is as varied and complicated as the moral quandaries presented within the texts themselves.  There is no one “right” answer, only shades of grey. Different stories represent different experiences for a collective of individually unique people. Still, there are broader theories – psychological and sociological – that aim to explain the superhero phenomenon. Clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg believes that superhero narratives often inspire those who watch or read them, by providing models for coping with adversity. In her article below, she illustrates the three types of life-altering experiences superheroes usually face, and how we find similarities and strength within ourselves in conjunction to these stories.

I will also link a few other articles about superheroes and our fascination with them for your perusal. The reads are thought-provoking and compelling, if not psychologically relevant. Hopefully, they at least provide some food for thought as we head into our second decade of superhero-pop-culture domination.

  1. Why are we so obsessed with superhero origin stories?
  2. The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories
  3. Why Are We Obsessed with Superheroes?
  4. Why Do Americans Love Superheroes So Much?

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