By Ethan Harmon
In recent years, comic book characters have grown beyond pages and inks and have exploded on the silver screen, becoming a world-wide phenomenon. It is strange, though, for comics to suddenly have a massive cultural impact now, instead of the 90s, before its inevitable collapse, when the industry was booming. But today, we have Marvel’s The Avengers, which is the third highest grossing movie of all time and Iron Man 3, which is the fifth. Why did these movies have so much success? What caused everyone to flock to a theater to watch these films – along with The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-man – over films like The Butler and The Way, Way Back? It is because comics, and the characters within them, have a deeper, more personal meaning than people recognized years before.
Iron Man and Batman Begins were the films that changed comic book films. Instead of presenting campy, cheesy heroes fighting one-note, flat villains, they showed troubled, multi-layered characters that were driven to become something more. They showed people who pushed through adversity to do more with their lives, to become the heroes that we now idolize. But these representations did more than show great writing or display superheroes that were more than a quip and a punch; they connected with audiences in a deeper way than ever before. They resounded deep within, revealing the best in ourselves, showing that even with problems and deep issues, we can push through and become something better. We can make something more out of ourselves.
And yes, the movies are the main reason why comics have exploded recently, but that is not to say that the movies are the only thing that pushed more and more people into comic book stores and online comic shops. It’s the characters and the situations presented in the comics that continue to pull more into these fictional landscapes. Superior Spider-man is a huge top-selling comic, not because of the hero, but because of what the hero is doing, how he is dealing with his situation, and how he continuously strives to be a better man despite his constant running into problems. Batgirl is another incredible comic which shows Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) struggle with PTSD, deal with a divided household, and try to put her life into perspective, pushing forward into an uncertain future, hoping to save herself, her family, and the city she holds dear.
Comics books matter because they give us not only entertainment (who doesn’t want to read about people with superpowers?), but inspiration. Comics give us a hero we can see in ourselves, one that we can aspire to be. Even though these heroes battle their inner demons and fight off hordes of monstrous villainy, they continue to push forth, becoming modern-day legend. Yes, comic books are for their face-value entertainment and escapism purposes, but they can – if you let them – form a deeper meaning, and in turn, connection within. We all want to be Spider-man or Iron Man or Batgirl or Green Lantern or the seemingly endless number of heroes that fill these universes. What we fail to see is that we are them. They are just a reflection of ourselves. We just need to read them and be the heroes. And of course, have fun and enjoy the stories!