Superheroes Television in the 1950s gave us the image of a muscle-bound superman standing in front of the American flag, committed to “truth, justice and the American way.” In the late Depression, these comic-book superheroes reinvented and replaced strong men of earlier American folklore. Superman, Batman and Wonderwoman shared not only extraordinary strengths and talents but also compelling traits like mysterious origins and disrupted families, a secret identity concealed by an ordinary position within a complex city (usually resembling New York City, NY), a patriotic devotion to country and justice that overrode the “letter of the law,” and powerful demonic antagonists who mingled science and magic in bizarre plots. After going to war, these superheroes spread into television and cinema; after the mid-1950s, surviving early figures were joined by ever- wider legions who slowly incorporated more minorities and real-life social problems—drugs, racism, sexuality—into this mythic world. While television’s Batman became camp in the 1970s, elaborate Hollywood productions of Superman and Batman in the 1980s and 1990s, which also grapple with the heroes’ humanity, have adapted these figures to changing social mores. The success of 2000’s X-Men shows that superheroes still have American—and global—appeal.
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