We all know and love superheroes like Superman and Batman. But who could have known that all this would almost never have happened? That it could have come that we would now have to live in a world without these heroes? That is not really imaginable for many. But more about that later!
The definition of a “superhero”
A superhero is a fictional character with mostly superhuman abilities and/or high-tech equipment. He protects humanity and fights the evil of the world with his typical character traits. These character traits are typically courage, selflessness, and loyalty to his city or country. Usually the superheroes we know keep their true identity hidden, they costume up and appear under a pseudonym.
The history of superheroes
Precursors of modern superheroes can already be found in ancient literature and mythology, for example, there were already sagas about superhuman heroes in antiquity, such as Heracles or Achilles. Mythology also contains figures that could be considered precursors of modern superheroes, including Väinämöinen. One example of the direct adoption of a mythical hero is the “Thor” comic series.
Concrete precursors that can be directly identified as such can be found in the 18th century: Sherlock Holmes and Allan Quaterman stand out as literary figures with special abilities. But Robin Hood or Tarzan also had a direct influence on the development of later superheroes.
The history of our classic heroes can be divided into four sections.
1. the early days of superhero comics, also known as the “golden age
In 1938, the story of Superman appeared for the first time. However, this was only published because a magazine was still missing pages that needed to be filled. Before that, the creators of the original superhero Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster got rejections from every publisher, because no one was interested in a superhero story. The comic’s success was just a fluke that no one expected! Now if this magazine had not published the action comic at the time out of desperation, we might not have a superhero today! Even though there were similar stories before Superman, he is generally considered the first superhero. Due to the extremely positive reaction to the comic, DC decided in the following months to let Hawkman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Batman and a little later Robin, as well as WonderWoman (the first superhero) make their appearance.
The Golden Age is primarily the time when the first superheroes were created and more and more publishers were creating and marketing their own superheroes. Superheroes of this time were typically white, young men of the middle and upper classes.
After World War II, however, the heroes had almost completely disappeared from the scene, only reviving in the late 1950s.
2. resurgence of superheroes: “The silver age”.
The revival of well-known superheroes began in 1956, when DC published a new version of “The Flash”. Due to its success, the other well-known heroes also began to be relaunched and given new stories and faces. Now it was really about restaging the existing heroes. In this era, DC and Marvel developed the first team series “The Justice League of America” and “Fantastic Four”. Superheroes establish themselves, depart from old patterns (the first non-white superheroes appear) and the emancipation of women plays a major role socially, which is why more and more strong female heroines appear in the comic world.
3. The Emergence of Somber Themes: “The Bronze Age”
During this time, successful antiheroes are created, like the Punisher or Wolverine. These characters are plagued by doubts and traumatized by dark pasts. In addition, DC designs the DC multiverse to erase existing contradictions of their heroes. In the 1990s, however, there was a renewed countercurrent aimed at reviving the classic superheroes.
Since then, the value of comics has been determined primarily by collector’s editions. In addition, hardly any new superheroes have been created; producers focus primarily on the old ones, restaging them and revising them and their stories.
Sales of comics were higher in the 1990s than ever before, but television is giving them strong competition. The medium of film is becoming increasingly important in the modern age. Thanks to new technologies, superheroes can finally be portrayed realistically and believably, so Hollywood discovers the potential of the superhero genre. Since the late 1990s produced a variety of superhero movies that have achieved worldwide success.
Well, we owe the success of superheroes to a happy coincidence. Until 1938, publishers saw the stories of characters with superhuman abilities for a genre that would not bring success and profit in society. But the creators of Superman didn’t give up and eventually met a magazine that was desperate for filler material for the next issue. They probably won’t have regretted it.