Well before the onslaught of superhero movies over the past 10 years, superheroes had been making their way onto the small screen both through adaptations of comic books (Wonder Woman) and with completely new characters developed for television (Heroes, No Ordinary Family). Many of these shows have become huge hits and part of pop culture immortality (Batman) while others have ranged from forgettable to downright embarrassing (Automan).
Superheroes have appeared on television as far back as the 1950s with Adventures of Superman, and the genre hit its stride in the 70s with Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk and The Six Million Dollar Man (as well as its spinoff The Bionic Woman), making the superhero TV show a staple in television programming. In the ’80s, though, the genre started to lose ground with short-lived shows like Automan and Misfits of Science that provided a lot of flash but little to no substance. The genre rebounded a bit in the ’90s when Lois and Clark demonstrated that a superhero show could appeal to superhero fans as well as to people who wanted to see a well-executed romantic comedy/drama.
Indeed, the best superhero stories strive to balance super heroics with human emotion so audiences have characters to care about while they’re dazzled by special effects (Heroes). Too often, though, the high concept of people who can fly or turn invisible or punch through walls overwhelms any character development, leaving audiences with little to hold on to.
Recent hits like Smallville and Heroes were able (for the most part) to maintain this proper balance, and it seemed like the time was right for a new wave of superhero shows. Unfortunately, shows like the Bionic Woman reboot failed to capture audiences, and Heroes itself started to decline midway through season two. This season, the superhero TV show is set to make yet another comeback, beginning with No Ordinary Family, which rework the familiar concept of a family of superheroes. Then The Cape arrived, telling the story of a framed police officer who adopts the persona of his son’s favorite comic book character to fight crime. Both shows hope to tap into the pop culture popularity of superheroes while appealing to a mainstream audience.
Recently after speaking with a friend about books based on the Tv show Heroes, I began to think about what a fantastic show Heroes started out to be, full of momentum, plot twists, it had real potential. Only to demise by the writer’s strike and lack of support from the networks to keep this show running on its feet. Recently The Cape was cancelled after only 10 episodes, and personally, I am happy that this Superhero rip off has come to an end. Networks do not have the determination and drive these superheroes deserve. Meanwhile, Comic books offer readers action, entertainment, mythological references and recognizable characters, and important themes. Comic books are produced for entertainment. But really, comic books looks at society, looks at you and me and the world around us and through narration makes us see our world through the eyes of the characters, the artist, and the writer. Comic books mirror our world including the good and bad with a touch of superpowers.
With the recent revival of the Wonder Woman Tv series being cancelled before even appearing in lounge rooms, here’s to hopeful wishing Superheroes will continue to be shown the only ways they should, in cinema’s and their original comic books where the budget and determination to reinvent characters and have a large invested interest in squeals and more comic books ahead.
Mars on Life.