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How do comic book characters remain so relevant today?

March 28th, 2015 by Marc Comments


In the early days of the internet, researchers predicted that the “long tail” effect of having access to millions of books, films and TV shows would drive a cultural wedge between people. The idea went that as we all gained access to the entire world’s “library” of entertainment, each of us would discover our unique tastes and be less dependent on one another for recommendations.

Skip forward 15 years and almost the opposite has happened. True, we all have access to vast amounts of content, but the instant ability to share thoughts worldwide has meant that the latest books and TV shows can go viral, attracting a far bigger audience than they might have in the past. Take “The Killing,” a Danish police TV series, which received rave reviews. A few decades ago those reviews might have meant a small cult following abroad or maybe a few late night re-runs on international TV. In the internet age The Killing became a global phenomenon, discussed widely on Twitter, and earned a big budget remake by AMC.

Viral fame however does not guarantee long term success. Shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones have attracted a rabid following on a global scale – but how many of us will still own those “Heisenberg” T-Shirts and mugs in 10 years’ time?

There is one class of character however that does seem to have made the transition to internet stardom very smoothly indeed – those in comic books. Many of the characters we watch in superhero blockbusters like Iron Man, Batman and the X-Men appeared in print decades ago, but we still flock to buy branded merchandise or watch their latest silver screen adventures.

Years after The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger’s Joker is still an instantly recognisable and marketable figure and has even been portrayed in a vast amount of games, including this one reviewed at Red8’s. Iron Man also has been turned into a highly popular slot, and over 70 years after Superman’s first publication, it’s hard to walk into a gym without seeing the iconic “S” symbol on at least one sweaty T-shirt!

So how have comic book heroes remained relevant as other, often immensely popular, characters have fallen by the wayside? In part, I would argue, it is their very datedness which keeps them in the public imagination.

Batman doesn’t ask for a warrant, Tony Stark rarely seems bothered by ethical conundrums and Superman always saves the damsel in distress. In short, these characters represent ideals of Justice, Honour and Strength, which are universally relatable. Admittedly some of the content is past its sell by date (some might seem misogynistic to modern eyes, for example); but Hollywood is never averse to airbrushing out a few wrinkles in search of a good story!

Let us know your thoughts below, @NerdFollowing on Twitter or on Facebook

Marc is a self-confessed nerd. Ever since seeing Star Wars for the first time around 1979 he’s been an unapologetic fan of the Wars and still believes, with Clone Wars and now Underworld, we are yet to see the best Star Wars. He’s a dad of two who now doesn’t have the time (or money) to collect the amount of toys, comics, movies and books he once did, much to the relief of his long-suffering wife. In the real world he’s a graphic designer. He started Following the Nerd because he was tired of searching a million sites every day for all the best news that he loves and decided to create one place where you can go to get the whole lot. Secretly he longs to be sitting in the cockpit of his YT-1300 Corellian Transport ship with his co-pilot Chewie, roaming the universe, waiting for his next big adventure, but feels just at home watching cartoons with his kids….