The Dark Ages

The weekend of February 12th featured the release of a highly anticipated, unconventional superhero film.

The titular anti-hero is no member of the Avengers or the Justice League.

No, he’s in a league of his own.

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The character first appeared in comics in 1991 though the 2016 film introduces this “hero” to newer audiences as a character that adamantly refuses to let himself fall into the conventional superhero mold.  He does not have a set of values that he obliges himself to abide by.

He merely seeks revenge.

The film itself featured elements audiences are not entirely familiar with: strong violence, sexual content, and language. Despite this unfamiliarity, the film succeeded in employing these aspects.  The crude humor and excessive violence are essential in the Deadpool comics and for these reasons, the anti-hero stands out amongst others.  Therefore, a faithful film could not be made without these elements even if it put the film at risk at not appealing to a wider audience due to the R-rating.

What some audience members are not aware of though are how mature the content of superhero comics and films have been before this film, and I don’t just mean the darkness and complexity we see in The Dark Knight trilogy; I’m talking about the fallibility of superheroes and their questionable moral compasses.

The 1970s and 80s featured a stark change in the comic book world.  The stories got darker and the motivations of the heroes became questionable.

The Punisher was introduced and 1974 and featured a man who had no remorse in killing because to him, it was just.

In 1992, The Death of Superman was released and depicted the mortality of a man perceived to be a god.  Despite the readers’ perceptions of Superman as insusceptible to death, he indeed was and thus the hero succumbed to the evil that defeated him.

Batman has always been a notably dark hero and one of Alan Moore’s works, The Killing Joke, features Batman in a morally compromising situation.  The ending of the graphic novel features him and his arch-nemesis, the Joker, facing off on a high wire.  The final panel features Batman reaching out to grab his enemy, leaving the reader to wonder if Batman did indeed kill the man who has caused so much death and chaos.  This story also featured a disturbing sequence in which Commissioner James Gordon is stripped naked and tormented by images of his daughter, Barbara Gordon, after she has been shot and rendered paralyzed by the Joker.

Therefore, The Killing Joke not only features the disturbingly sadistic nature of the Joker, but also the potential compromise of Batman’s moral code that has separated him from the villains he has faced.

One of the most innovative pieces in this mode of representing the superhero was Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s masterpiece, Watchmen.  Its setting is 1985 in an alternate universe in which vigilantes have been outlawed, and the world is on the verge of nuclear war.  The ending of this graphic novel features a former superhero who destroys half of New York City through the guise of an alien invasion so that the nations of the world can unite against a common enemy, therefore ending the threat of nuclear war.  Many former crime-fighting peers allowed him to conduct this plan, while one man did not believe millions of lives were worth the compromise.

This is a story that certainly had not been seen in any superhero story before.

“We’re all puppets, Laurie.  I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.” – Dr. Manhattan

A film adaption directed by Zack Snyder was released in 2009, and I recall a few people I know going to see it and being surprised by the sexual and violent content as well as the overall grittiness that was present throughout the film because they went into the film expecting to see a familiar superhero movie.

What they were not aware of was that superheroes are not always meant for children.

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