History of Superheroes
Today the term “superhero” refers to a heroic character who has been endowed with superhuman powers, be they supernatural or other extraordinary abilities. Superheroes are always protectors and defenders of civilization and the general public. There are many characters who share similarities with superheroes and are sometimes even called superheroes, but they do not actually have super abilities or powers. These characters may be called masked vigilantes, masked crime fighters, or costumed adventurers. Although not technically superheroes, individuals like Green Arrow, or Batman, do often walk in the same league as actual superheroes. They frequently take up secret identities and even coexist, fighting on the same team and for the same general purposes.
Aside from superheroes there are also superheroines which act as female superheroes. Superheroes and superheroines are often pitted against supervillains, who often take the form of a superhero’s archenemy. Superheroes face other threats, as well, such as aliens or supernatural beings.
Superheroes as we know them became popular in comic books during the 1930s along with the rise of Superman, but the term was known a couple of decades previous. The term “superhero” goes back to at least the year 1917. During this time most superheroes were not exactly as we envision them now. These earliest so-called superheroes included characters like Robin Hood, Zorro, Popeye, and others. The 30s at last combined characters who possessed super strengths and those who had masked identities to produce the superheroes we think of today. These earliest modern-themed superheroes included Ogon Brat, Mandrake the Magician, and of course Superman.
The 1930s transformed the way society views superheroes. It is impossible to write about the history of superheroes without putting in a noble and formidable word about Superman. Although Superman took some time in the making, going through a period when he was a villain and many years of rejection, in 1938, Superman finally stuck. By the 40s Superman was everywhere and everyone knew who he was. A few months after Superman stole people’s hearts it was Batman, which was then called The Bat-Man. Batman had about the same impact as Superman did and soon was just as well-known and loved.
The 30s began the Golden Age of Comic Books and gave birth to some of the most note-worthy superheroes of all time who have lasted nearly a century—like Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. The reason that superheroes had such a hold on the country during the 1930s is somewhat tragic, as this was also the time of the Great Depression. Many people sought routes of escape that would provide solace from the harsh reality of everyday life. People had a need then, and comic books—superheroes–fulfilled that need.
William Moulton Marston, a psychiatrist in addition to being co-created of the lie detector, eventually became involved with DC. First, he made Wonder Woman—the first female superhero in 1941, and then he gave Batman a young sidekick named Robin in an effort to appeal to a younger audience. This set in motion a new trend and soon other young sidekicks were sprouting up. There was Bulletgirl for Bulletman and Toro for Human Torch. Eventually there was even a child-superhero who could transform himself to the legend known as Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was too close to Superman for DC’s liking, however, and after a long lawsuit Captain Marvel resigned.
During the 1940s early superhero films were produced, like Adventures of Captain Marvel, Batman, The Phantom, Captain America, and Superman. The 40s brought with them World War II, and comic books soon began integrating themselves into the culture. Superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman were fighting against the Axis Powers. After the war was over, however, superheroes ran out of new villains to battle. It was also not long after World War II that the Cold War began.
During the Cold War interest in superheroes was put somewhat on a back burner. Another blow to comic books and superheroes was Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s book which was called Seduction of the Innocent. This book was published in 1954 and accused superheroes like Wonder Woman and Superman, as well as Batman, for corrupting the youth in various ways. Seduction of the Innocent prompted the creation of “Comics Code Authority” which required that all comics be approved of before being released. This altered many things in comic books and didn’t particularly help sales.
The Silver Age of Comic Books lasted from the 50s-70s. During this era superheroes got a new makeover. The Flash was the first one to undergo a hero-upgrade as his creators made him younger and gave him a sleeker costume. After The Flash other superheroes soon followed suit, each becoming more modernized.The Silver Age of Comic Books also saw the creation of Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Supergirl, Miss Arrowette, and Black Panther, the first black superhero.
Stan Lee did not like the idea of sidekicks and thought that young people should be able to be superheroes too. From his imagination came Amazing Fantasy, and in th early 60s Spiderman was born into the world of superheroes. Spiderman, like Superman before him, was a new cultural phenomena and became very popular among comic book readers.
The 1970s brought the age of Marvel’s X-Men, and the Bronze Age of Comic Books. In essence the X- Men—who possessed mutant powers—represented minorities such those based in race and religion. The X-Men, like minorities, were hated for being different. The 70s also saw an end to the Comics Codes Authority through an anti-drug story that didn’t get approval before hitting the shelves. After this first story other comics began to do the same.
Throughout all of these decades superheroes are still very much alive and real in our culture. The turn of the millennium brought comic book films with it such as X-Men, and films about Spiderman, The Hulk, Batman, and Superman, among others. Recently Avengers and Captain America made the big screen, once again giving superheroes a place in our hearts and minds. The back-history of these characters, like Superman and Batman, have not changed much—Superman is still Clark Kent, Kryptonian, and Batman is still the wealthy orphan who uses cool gadgets to fight crime. Even though superheroes have struggled through the years they refuse to die at the hands of time. Take a look at the different home entertainment systems and devices you can use to view your favorite superheroes.