There's a newspaper article that's been doing the rounds in the last week or so, bewailing all the superhero movies and TV series that are so popular on our screens of late. I didn't read it in full - barely skimmed it, if the truth be told - but the gist of it appears to be that any adults who like superheroes or read comics need to get a life. Apparently, such things are the domain of the adolescent or the immature. The author of the article even went as far as to say he "grew out of" comics such as 2000AD when he hit puberty and discovered the approved distractions in life. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are mentioned, but I can't recall in what context. I could read the article again, but it seems like that's what the writer would want me to do. A similar thing happened in a free newspaper when The Force Awakens came out, and it was a shameless publicity stunt. This one, though, is from one of the more "respectable" newspapers.
Me, I grew up with 2000AD. I'm not going to paint a picture of an only child with no friends, but that comic kept me company on the cold winter nights when nobody was playing out. My parents would watch TV downstairs - usually a cop show, it was all cop shows in the early 80s, wasn't it? - while I'd pour over the current issue, images of which I can still see in my head to this day. As I matured, so did the comic; perhaps too much, as there were a few newer stories that I didn't quite get. I've re-evaluated some of them for reviews lately, and found them to be bitingly satirical of the time in which they saw print and, more frighteningly, still relevant thirty years later.
I gave up on 2000AD in favour of the American comics. These would eventually become all about the art, which would begin to triumph over story at the start of the 1990s, but the issues of X-Men and New Mutants that I read at the time dealt with segregation issues, how people coped with the attitudes towards them for being different; depression and mental illness were even touched upon, bringing them out into the open at a time when they were all too often brushed under the carpet. Even Batman, the 1960s theme tune jangling in my head even now, turned out to be a man at war with himself as well as the criminals of Gotham City: so much so, that Bruce Wayne often seems to be the mask worn by Batman, rather than the other way round.
Stories such as this have translated well on the big and small screens, while others don't appeal so much. For me, the best Marvel films are the two Captain America movies. The ones I'd expected to like the least, they've turned out to be tales of bravery and friendship, with Chris Evans shining as Steve Rogers. Yet, go back a few years to watch him in the Fantastic Four and, while it has its heart in the right place, there's something uncomfortable about it, as if the actors sometimes feel like they're being childish rather than embrace their roles. It lacks much of the depth that would be seen in later films. Saying that, some of the more recent films seem to be more about spectacle than story. The parts of Age Of Ultron that worked for me were the quiet moments between the battles. That opening sequence was amazing, but made me want to reach for a game controller; Iron Man v Hulk was all it was cracked up to be, but it was how they got to that point that mattered to me.
That's just one film that can divide the fans. I'd say that anyone who disagrees with me has a right to do so; if they enjoyed Age of Ultron because of the scenes I've mentioned, then that's fine. Everyone's entitled to like different things, or like the same thing for different reasons, but they should never be judged based on their opinions of it. I wouldn't pay £50 to watch a game of football, but hundreds of thousands do just that, week in week out, but I'd never criticise them or tell them they need to grow up. For those fans, it's more than "just a game" and I'm fine with that; their lives, their choice. If their heroes wear a football strip rather than a cape and cowl, that's fine too.
I'm obviously biased when it comes to the things I like, but I'd never dream of criticising those who watch the programmes or films I don't like. TV talent shows pull in huge ratings, but I can't stand them: those early stages where people who obviously don't have talent are paraded on a stage for an audience to laugh at make me cringe, but the end result is that someone may get to realise a dream they've had for years, and who am I to criticise that? Same with the football fans who wear the strip, is there much difference between them and the person who cosplays as Batman? The former won't get a came, and the latter certainly won't fight crime, but both are equally entitled to show that allegiance to the things they like.
I'm not saying the world of comics and superhero media is perfect. The representation of women, be it creators or characters themselves, isn't as good as it could be, but it's getting there. The format does succeed in catering to all ages, be it in spectactular splash panels or dialogue that makes the reader think, and while what floats one boat may sink another, it's the variation that makes the format so interesting. A huge amount of stories can be told, stories that can entertain, inform, or both - just like in any media.
I don't watch soap operas, but they keep millions entertained day in day out, so something must be good about them, especially if they're used to tell a story that gets the viewer thinking or highlights issues that are often swept under the carpet (hey, just like those X-Men comics did all those years ago...) often winning awards and praise for doing so. The likes of Jessica Jones and Daredevil have done that too, and many viewers have said that watching the shows have helped them come to terms with current and past events of their lives.
That's how good these stories can be - the heroes aren't just those in the costumes: they're the creators who have the ability to tell a story (be it about a superhero, a cop, a crook, the landlord of a fictional pub) that can resonate; they're the viewers or readers who can see them in action and take courage from what they see and use it to change their own lives for the better. Entertainment can be inspirational, just don't tell me what I should be watching or reading to get inspired.