Answer Man

This is why superhero movies have gotten so popular

Spider-Man: Homecoming

A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging superhero in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
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A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging superhero in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Q: What’s behind the spate of superhero movies? Comic books have been around for decades but it seems like in the last 20 years, you’d think they’re a new creation! Now, even “super” heroes I never thought were very super (Thor, Ant-Man, etc.) are getting their own blockbuster films. Why?

T.C., of Edwardsville

A: Faster than a speeding bullet, several industry, demographic and societal trends have coalesced in the past 15 years, prompting a cinema phenomenon that has proven more powerful than a locomotive. (With a few exceptions, of course. Can you say “Fantastic Four” or “Catwoman”? I knew you could.) Perhaps Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote the scripts for “Captain America: The Winter Solstice” followed by “Civil War,” summed it up best:

“Why are comic books so prevalent?” they asked a group of reporters on the Imagine Games Network. “In some ways, we’ve become a genre that you can do well now given the world of computers. Perhaps it’s also just a time in the sun. When you went to the movies in the ’50s and ’60s, you went to a Western. So at this point, you’re going to a superhero movie. It’s taken over that same black-hat, white-hat mythology. I don’t have a much smarter answer than that.”

But let’s take a little closer look at what makes so many of these movies able to leap tall box offices at a single bound:

Perhaps leading the way is the improved technology. If you watch old Superman reruns, you almost laugh over how primitive it looks when ol’ Supe crashes through a wall of obviously cardboard blocks or “flies” in front of a filmed backdrop. (Apparently, the wires that held Reeves up snapped once, causing Reeves to drop to the floor. He reportedly refused to do any more wire work after that.)

Now, film studios usually pour in tons of money, allowing producers to hire A-list actors and use the latest special effects, IMAX cameras and other high-tech equipment. Even when characters are largely CGI (like the Hulk in “The Avengers”) they come across as realistic, giving the movie Academy Award standards rather than something out of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” In 2015 alone, five comic-based films earned Oscar nominations.

This reason is more personal, but I was overjoyed when the sleeping giant finally awoke — Marvel Comics. As a child, I quickly came to believe that DC stood for “Definitely Crummy” once I was introduced to such wise-cracking, full-of-angst characters as Spider-Man, the Thing and Iron Man along with such imaginative creations as Dr. Strange and the psychedelic fun of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Since its first film success with Blade in 1998, Marvel frequently has seen its huge bullpen of characters earn a boffo gate.

Don’t forget, too, that even 80 years after Superman first popped up in Action Comics No. 1, comics are still hugely popular.

“Other forms of media have deviated in characterization and their choice of storyline, but to many fans the comics stay true to the genre,” Natasha Price writes at creators.co. “With the increased popularity of the films, more people are likely to buy the comics, craving more of the superheroes’ storylines and backstories.”

Price also points out that these movies appeal to a much larger audience than geeky superhero fans. The genre mixes action, romance, science fiction and comedy, meaning filmgoers are looking for more than whether Thor will survive Loki’s latest onslaught. Such movies might also be seen as the film industry’s comfort food. With such real evil in the world as ISIS and Kim Jong Un, it’s fun to see Captain America, et al., pound no-goodnicks into mush. And Marvel has learned to hook audiences even more by tying one movie to another while ending them with teasers and cliffhangers.

“People my age, now in their 40s, have been reading comics since they were children and have dreamed of the day that their heroes might actually come to the big screen,” one blogger wrote. “It wasn’t until CGI that this could actually happen. Now that it has, it is a dream come true for us grown manchildren.”

So make sure your best tights and cape are laundered, because there’s more than a dozen flicks in the pipeline, starting with “Thor: Ragnarok” on Nov. 3 and the Justice League on Nov. 17 followed next year by the Black Panther, Avengers, Deadpool and Ant-Man/Wasp, just to name a few.

Today’s trivia

To celebrate next Monday’s dazzling celestial event, let’s begin a week of eclipse trivia: Which Major League Baseball team was the last to lose game seven of a World Series on the night of a total lunar eclipse?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Talk about an idea that was stillborn. To save resources and hasten decomposition, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II decreed on Aug. 23, 1784, that the dead could no longer be buried in coffins. Instead, their naked bodies would be sewn into a linen bag, placed in a coffin and taken to the cemetery. Once lowered into a 75-inch-deep pit, the bottom of the coffin would be opened to dump the body in the hole. The coffin would then be raised, taken back to the church and reused over and over again.

“To cut expenses, it has to be arranged that every parish acquires an appropriate number of well-made coffins of various sizes, which must be provided to everybody for free,” Joseph ordered. Not surprisingly, the idea itself apparently died a quick death after just a few months. However, you can still see one of these reusable coffins (as I did) on display at the historic Melk Abbey in Austria (http://currentinwestfield.com/2017/melk-abbey-and-its-reusable-coffin/). Moreover, according to historians, Joseph’s decree was never carried out in Vienna, so the idea that Mozart was buried in one when he died in 1791 is simply a fictional touch added to the 1984 film, “Amadeus.”

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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