Top 10 Superhero Tropes That Need a Break
There's a new superhero movie, TV show, or video game dozens of times a year at this point -- and [...]
There's a new superhero movie, TV show, or video game dozens of times a year at this point -- and what does that mean?
Well, in part, it means we've seen a lot of repeated stories, concepts, and ideas that have recurred.
In the comics, there's been thousands of stories over decades, told to a fairly small audience of dedicated fans who understand the language of superhero storytelling.
In the movies, on TV, and in video games, you only get a certain number of stories -- and so the repeated patterns become more obvious (and more distracting.
What are the things we don't need to see again anytime soon? Well, read on...
THE EVIL TWIN
The Red Skull.
The list goes on and on, and it just needs a break.
There was actually a whole scene about it in Savage Dragon around the time Ant-Man came out and featured yet another dark, twisted take on the title hero.prevnext
THE BIG HOLE IN THE SKY
Whether it's Marvel's The Avengers, Suicide Squad, The Flash's first (and second, and third) season finale, or any of a handful of other big, cosmic stories, so many superhero movies these days seem to come down to a giant hole in the sky, raining death and chaos down on the world.
This isn't unique to superhero stories, of course; we've seen it in movies like Ghostbusters too. But it has happened in enough superhero stories that there's a segment of the audience that just tunes out when they see it.prevnext
Whether it's last year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, last week's Injustice 2, or last night's Supergirl finale, everybody wants Superman to be an angry, homicidal badass with Angry Red Eyes of Anger (as From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast calls the ever-present glowering heat vision eyes).
We were big fans of Man of Steel and the official ComicBook.com verdict on Batman v Superman is a mixed bag, with some very staunch defenders -- so this isn't about "the right version" of Superman or some other nonsense that says Superman can never, ever be compromised.
But it seems like outside of the comics themselves, popular culture doesn't know what to do with a Superman who can't be corrupted, and longs for Superman: Red Son or at least the extended, violent misdirection of "What's So Funny Bout Truth, Justice, And the American Way?"
It can become a self-perpetuating cycle, of course; audiences whose primary experience with Superman is informed by "compromised" versions of the Man of Steel then expect him to be that way. It's easy enough to argue that the current crop of cynical, angry, violent Superman stories are a response of people who grew up reading The Dark Knight Returns.
Time for them to read Kingdom Come.prevnext
HEROES FIGHTING HEROES
We had Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War within just a few weeks of each other last year, but even before and beyond that, we have the meet-fight-team-up trope that's been going in comics for decades.
We saw it plenty in Marvel's The Avengers, and we're kind of glad to see that it doesn't look like it will happen in Justice League.
It's a fun, fan-fiction-y concept, but frankly it wears thin prety quickly -- and going back to Kingdom Come again, we have to wonder: are you really a "hero" if your time isn't spent doing anything heroic but rather fighting other metahumans for unclear reasons beyond just being the winner of the fight?prevnext
ANONYMOUS HORDES OF GOONS
Whether it's the weird black magic zombies of Suicide Squad, the Mirakuru soldiers of Arrow, or the Chitauri and the Ultron hordes in the Avengers movies, it seems like when you get more than one superhero in the same place at the same time, the writers have to give them a limitless supply of faceless mooks to hit.
That's fine -- it makes sense, on some level, and certainly we expect we'll see that at least one more time with the Parademons in Justice League (even though faceless mooks designed by Jack Kirby probably deserve a little bit of love on principle)...but it's BORING most of the time, especially with the more powerful heroes whose combat scenes are CG rather than a dude in a practical suit.
Seeing CG blurs smacking into each other until one of them falls is usually pretty boring, and the faceless mooks are by definition the kind of characters -- inasmuch as you can call them that -- introduced specifically to allow the characters to knock someone around or kill someone without any real emotional attachment from the audience.
But without emotional attachment, they might as well be punching at nothing at all.prevnext
RITE OF SINGLE COMBAT
If there's anything that really, really excites us about tomorrow's Arrow finale, it's the line heard in the trailer "I have no interest in this being a fair fight."
Last night during the Supergirl finale, we though "Wow, it's great and handy that every warlike race in all of sci-fi and fantasy allows the hero to challenge the villains' leader to single combat for all the marbles."
It was subverted somewhat in Supergirl -- but In these and basically all action movies, it seems to be a way to give the hero and villain a climactic tete-a-tete, even if one doesn't make rational sense within the confines of the story.prevnext
If you have a costume that gets redesigned for the movies so that you can show off the actors' faces (X-Men, for instance), that's one thing.
If you've got a mask on your costume, but you're constantly flipping it up, pulling it down, or wearing the costume without it, just stop.
Masks and secret identities have both fallen out of fashion with most live-action filmmakers, but they're a trope of superhero storytelling that won't go anywhere anytime soon becuase the costumes can always look so much cooler on the page than in live action.
And fans appreciate the commitment to the bit. Yeah, the Marvel movies are great, but every time there's a superhero movie poster where everyone is sitting around with their masks off, there's a new round of jokes. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck's Batman and Karl Urban's Judge Dredd became fast fan favorites in part because they looked like they popped right off the page.prevnext
THE THREAT IS COMING FOR THE HERO
In Man of Steel, Zod and his followers only came gunning for Earth because Kal-El was on it.
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex brought Doomsday to life and ultimately caused Lord knows how much damage and loss of life simply because he wanted to kill Superman.
In Captain America: Civil War, the terror attacks that kicked off the movie were directed at The Avengers, and in Infinity War, it seems pretty likely Thanos's interest in Earth will come because of them, too.
None of these things (or others like them) are technically the heroes' fault...but it's difficult, when you watch a movie like Man of Steel, to explain to a new viewer who isn't aleady invested in Superman why his presence was a net positive for the world. It's doubly difficult to explain when you consider how many superhero movies and the like are origin stories, so there's no years-long history of Superman saving lives and doing good before his presence suddenly collapses the sky down on people.
Maybe, just maybe, it's worth taking a look at your script and thinking "if this whole thing could have been avoided by the hero not being here, then maybe we need a better motivation for the villain."prevnext
In the '80s, the rebooted Superman titles got rid of Superboy, Supergirl, and the Legion of Super-Pets, among various other Kryptonian characters and elements. They were, on the whole, not re-added to the mythology until around 2000, when management at DC started to again favor a more Silver Age approach to superhero storytelling and Krypton started to look less and less like John Byrne's version and more and more like the "world of super-men" introduced years before.
It's not exactly the same thing to note that too many superheroes -- on the page, and onscreen -- spend so much time around other super-people that they have basically no personal life that's normal and human...but the idea is similar.
First of all, if you introduce too many similar sidekicks and allies, it can water down your main hero. It also makes it difficult for (especially more powerful or alien) heroes to relate to everyday people when everyone who joins their orbit immediately becomes part of their crimefighting squad.
Secondly, too often it falls to the love interest to "ground" the hero, which makes them the most formulaic and boring part of the story and reinforces the idea that character development and romance are incompatiable with action-driven storytelling.prevnext
The death of a parent or parents is a primal fear all people feel; someone you have loved your whole life, and who you know it's likely you'll have to survive them, makes for an easy target to play on the emotions of an audience.
And of course, the death of a parent or loved one provides cheap, easy motivation and angst for any hero, not just superheroes.
But in the "everyone wants to be Batman" age of storytelling, creating new dead-parent narratives to terrorize characters like The Flash and Iron Man just feels...unnecessary.prev