|Stylistic origins||Early 20th century United States|
|Cultural origins||Golden Age of Comic Books|
|Features||Focus on the adventures of heroic figures possessing superhuman abilities.|
Superhero fiction is a type of speculative fiction examining the adventures, personalities and ethics of costumed crime fighters known as superheroes, who often possess superhuman powers and battle similarly powered criminals known as supervillains. The genre mainly originated in and is most common to American comic books, though it has expanded into other media through adaptations and original works.
Common plot elements
Main article: Superhero
A superhero is most often the protagonist of superhero fiction, although some titles, such as Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, use superheroes as secondary characters. A superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a type of stock character possessing "extraordinary or superhuman powers" and dedicated to protecting the public. Since the debut of the prototypical superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes—ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas—have dominated American comic books and crossed over into other media. The word itself dates to at least 1917. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine (also rendered super-heroine or super heroine). "SUPER HEROES" is a trademark co-owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
By most definitions, characters do not strictly require actual superhuman powers to be deemed superheroes, although terms such as costumed crime fighters or masked vigilantes are sometimes used to refer to those such as Batman and Green Arrow without such powers who share other common superhero traits. Such characters were generally referred to as "mystery men" in the so-called Golden Age of Comic Books to distinguish them from characters with super-powers. Normally, superheroes use their powers to counter day-to-day crime while also combating threats against humanity by their criminal counterparts, supervillains. Long-running superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Iron Man have a "rogues gallery" of such enemies. One of these supervillains might be the superhero's archenemy. Superheroes will sometimes combat other threats such as aliens, magical/fantasy entities, natural disasters, political ideologies such as Nazism or communism (and their proponents), and godlike or demonic creatures.
Main article: Supervillain
A supervillain or supervillainess is a variant of the villain character type, commonly found in comic books, action movies and science fiction in various media. They are sometimes used as foils to superheroes and other heroes. Whereas superheroes often wield fantastic powers, the supervillain possesses commensurate powers and abilities so that he can present a daunting challenge to the hero. Even without actual physical, mystical, superhuman or superalien powers, the supervillain often possesses a genius intellect that allows him to draft complex schemes or create fantastic devices.
Another common trait is possession of considerable resources to help further his aims. Many supervillains share some typical characteristics of real world dictators, mobsters, and terrorists and often have aspirations of world domination or universal leadership. Superheroes and supervillains often mirror each other in their powers, abilities, or origins. In some cases, the only difference between the two is that the hero uses his extraordinary powers to help others, while the villain uses his powers for selfish, destructive or ruthless purposes.
Main articles: Secret identity and Alter ego
Both superheroes and supervillains often use alter egos while in action. While sometimes the character's real name is publicly known, alter egos are most often used to hide the character's secret identity from their enemies and the public.
With superheroes, the duality of their identities is kept a secret and closely guarded to protect those close to them from being harmed and to prevent them from being called upon constantly, even for problems not serious enough to require their attention.
With supervillains, by contrast, the duality of their identities is kept a secret and closely guarded to conceal their crimes from the general public, so that they may inflict greater harm on the general public, and to enable them to act freely, and hence illegally, without risk of arrest by law-enforcement authorities.
Main article: Comic book death
Death in superhero fiction is rarely permanent, as characters who die are often brought back to life through supernatural means or via retcons (retroactive changes to the continuity), the alteration of previously established facts in the continuity of a fictional work. Fans have termed the practice of bringing back dead characters "comic book death".
Another common trait of superhero fiction is the killing off of a superhero's significant other by a supervillain to advance the plot. Comic book writer Gail Simone has coined the term "Women in Refrigerators" (named after an incident in Green Lantern #54 where Kyle Rayner's girlfriend Alex DeWitt is murdered by the supervillain Major Force and stuffed into Rayner's refrigerator) to refer to this practice.
Main articles: Continuity (fiction) and Canon (fiction)
Many works of superhero fiction occur in a sharedfictional universe, sometimes (as in the cases of the DC and Marvel Universes) establishing a fictional continuity of thousands of works spread over many decades.
Changes to continuity are also common, ranging from small changes to established continuity, commonly called retcons, to full reboots, erasing all previous continuity.
It is also common for stories works of superhero fiction to contain established characters and setting while occurring outside of the main canon for those characters.
Main article: Fictional crossover
Crossovers often occur between characters of different works of superhero fiction. In comic books, highly publicized "events" are published featuring crossovers between many characters.
Intercompany crossovers, between characters of different continuity, are also common.
The mythologies of many ancient civilizations feature pantheons of gods and goddesses with superhuman powers, as well as heroes such as Gilgamesh, Perseus, Odysseus and David and demigods like Heracles. The hero's journey is a well-known archetypal story type in which the protagonist undertakes a quest to achieve both material advantage and psychological and ethical maturity, and is generally considered to function as a metaphor and guide for children transitioning to adulthood or from egoism to altruism as the core concept of the self.
Antecedents of the superhero archetype include such folkloric heroes as Robin Hood, who adventured in distinctive clothing,Penny dreadfuls, shilling shockers, dime novels, radio programs, and other popular fiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries featured mysterious, swashbuckling heroes with distinct costumes, unusual abilities and altruistic missions, with the 1903 play The Scarlet Pimpernel and its spinoffs popularizing the idea of a masked avenger and the superhero trope of a secret identity; such characters as the Green Hornet, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, and Spring Heeled Jack, the last of whom first emerged as an urban legend, would follow. Likewise, the science-fiction heroes John Carter of Mars and Flash Gordon, with their futuristic weapons and gadgets; Tarzan, with his high degree of athleticism and strength, and his ability to communicate with animals; Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian and the biologically modified Hugo Danner of the novel Gladiator, were heroes with unusual abilities who fought sometimes larger-than-life foes. The word "superhero" itself dates to at least 1917.
The most direct antecedents are pulp magazine crime fighters such as the masked and caped Zorro (introduced by Johnston M. McCulley in 1919 with The Curse of Capistrano) with his trademark "Z," the preternaturally mesmeric The Shadow (1930), the "peak human" Doc Savage (1933), and The Spider (1933), and comic strip characters such as Hugo Hercules, Popeye, and the Phantom. The first masked crime-fighter created for comic books was writer-artist George Brenner's non-superpowered detective the Clock, who debuted in Centaur Publications' Funny Pages #6 (Nov. 1936). Historians point to the first appearance of Superman, created by Jerome "Jerry" Siegel and designed by Joseph "Joe" Shuster, in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) as the debut of the comic-book archetype of the superhero.
Outside the American comics industry, superpowered, costumed heroes such as Ōgon Bat (1931) and the Prince of Gamma (ガンマ王子) (year unknown), were visualized in painted panels used by kamishibai oral storytellers in Japan.
Main article: Golden Age of Comic Books
In 1938, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who had previously worked in pulpscience fiction magazines, introduced Superman. (Siegel, as the writer, actually created the central and supporting characters; Shuster, as the artist, designed these characters, and gave Superman the first version of his now-iconic uniform.)
The character possessed many of the traits that have come to define the superhero: a secret identity, superhuman powers and a colorful costume including a symbol and cape. His name is also the source of the term "superhero," although early comic book heroes were sometimes also called mystery men or masked heroes.
DC Comics, which published under the names National and All-American at the time, received an overwhelming response to Superman and, in the years that followed, introduced Batman, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern, The Flash, The Hawkman, Aquaman, and The Green Arrow. The first team of superheroes was DC's Justice Society of America, featuring most of the aforementioned characters. Although DC dominated the superhero market at this time, companies large and small created hundreds of superheroes. The Human Torch of the Golden Age and the Sub-Mariner, from Marvel Comics (then called Timely Comics and later re-branded Atlas Comics), and Plastic Man and Phantom Lady from Quality Comics were also hits. Will Eisner's The Spirit, featured in a comic strip, would become a considerable artistic inspiration to later comic book creators. The era's most popular superhero, however, was Fawcett Comics's Captain Marvel, whose exploits regularly outsold those of Superman during the 1940s. When Fawcett Comics went out of business as such, DC Comics, which had been embroiled in a bitter copyright dispute with Fawcett Comics over Captain Marvel, bought out the copyright to not only the character but also his ancillary "Marvel Family" of heroes and villains.
During World War II, superheroes grew in popularity, surviving paper rationing and the loss of many writers and illustrators to service in the armed forces. The need for simple tales of good triumphing over evil may explain the wartime popularity of superheroes. Publishers responded with stories in which superheroes battled the Axis Powers and the patriotically themed superheroes, most notably Marvel's Captain America as well as DC's Wonder Woman.
Like other pop-culture figures of the time, Superheroes were used to promote domestic propaganda during wartime, ranging from the purchasing of war bonds
Following superheroes's popularity during this time, those characters' appeal began to dwindle in the post-war era. Comic-book publishers, casting about for new subjects and genres, found success in, particularly, crime fiction, the most prominent comic of which was Lev Gleason Publications's Crime Does Not Pay, and horror. The lurid nature of these genres sparked a moral crusade in which comics were blamed for juvenile delinquency and the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency began. The movement was spearheaded by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who famously (but falsely) argued, especially in his infamous book Seduction of the Innocent, that "deviant" sexual undertones ran rampant in superhero comics. In 2012, his methodology was reviewed and his results were found to be misleading if not falsified.
In response, the comic book industry adopted the stringent Comics Code. By the mid-1950s, only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman retained a sliver of their prior popularity, although effort towards complete inoffensiveness led to stories that many consider silly, especially by modern standards. This ended what historians have called the Golden Age of comic books.
Main article: Silver Age of Comic Books
In the 1950s, DC Comics, under the editorship of Julius Schwartz, recreated many popular 1940s heroes, launching an era later deemed the Silver Age of comic books. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and several others were recreated with new origin stories. While past superheroes resembled mythological heroes in their origins and abilities, these heroes were inspired by contemporary science fiction. In 1960, DC banded its most popular heroes together in the Justice League of America, which became a sales phenomenon.
Empowered by the return of the superhero at DC, Marvel Comics editor/writer Stan Lee and the artists/co-writers Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Bill Everett launched a new line of superhero comic books, beginning with The Fantastic Four in 1961 and continuing with the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, and Daredevil. These comics continued DC’s use of science fiction concepts (radiation was a common source of superpowers) but placed greater emphasis on personal conflict and character development. This led to many superheroes that differed from predecessors with more dramatic potential. For example, the Fantastic Four were a superhero family of sorts, who squabbled and even held some unresolved acrimony towards one another, and Spider-Man was a teenager who struggled to earn money and maintain his social life in addition to his costumed exploits.
In the 1970s, DC Comics paired the Green Lantern with the Green Arrow in a team-up series, Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow. Writer Dennis O'Neil portrayed the Green Arrow as an angry, street-smart populist and the Green Lantern as a good-natured, but short-sighted, authority figure. This is the first instance in which superheroes were classified into two distinct groups, the "classic" superhero and the more brazen anti-hero.
Likewise in Marvel Comics, Captain America was revived in the Silver Age, as a hero out of his time after spending decades in suspended animation. The character grew to question his patriotic ideals until he received a traumatizing shock at the end of an adventure that was the Marvel Universe's analogy to the Watergate scandal. Disillusioned, the Captain gave up his persona in favor of Nomad until he came to a personal epiphany that he could champion America's ideals alone.
DC Comics also returned Batman to his roots as a dubious vigilante, and Marvel Comics introduced several popular antiheroes, including the Punisher, Wolverine, and writer/artist Frank Miller's dark version of the longtime hero Daredevil. Batman, The Punisher, and Daredevil were driven by the crime-related deaths of their family members and continual exposure to slum life, while X-Men's Wolverine was tormented by barely controllable savage instincts. Iron Man, already a heart-transplant patient subject to occasional heart attacks, now also struggled with debilitating alcoholism. The trend was also seen in the 1986 miniseriesWatchmen by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, which was published by DC but took place outside the DC Universe with new characters. Some of the superheroes of Watchmen were emotionally unsatisfied, psychologically withdrawn, sexually confused, and even sociopathic. Watchmen also examined perceived flaws in the superhero mythos such as the inculpability of vigilantism, and the supposed ultimate irrelevance of fighting crime in a world threatened by nuclear holocaust.
Another story, The Dark Knight Returns (1985–1986), continued Batman’s renovation/reinterpretation. This miniseries, written and illustrated by Frank Miller, featured a Batman from an alternate/non-continuity future returning from retirement. The series portrayed the hero as an obsessed vigilante, necessarily at odds with official social authority figures, illustrated both by the relationship between Batman and retiring police commissioner James Gordon, and by the symbolic slugfest between the Dark Knight and Superman, now an agent/secret weapon of the Federal government of the United States.
Miller continued his treatment of the Batman character with 1987's Batman: Year One (Batman issues #404-407) and 2001's The Dark Knight Strikes Again (also known as DK2). DK2, the long-awaited follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns, contrasts the traditional superhero-crimefighter character with the politicized characters that evolved during the 1990s; this was, perhaps, epitomized by The Authority and Planetary, both written by British author Warren Ellis. In DK2, Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor is the power behind the throne, controlling a tyrannical American government, as well as Superman himself. Superman's submission to Luthor's twisted power structure, in the name of saving lives, is contrasted with Batman's determined attack against corrupted institutions of government; the dual message has been interpreted to be that crime can occur at all levels of society, and that heroes are responsible for fighting both symptoms and causes of societal dysfunction and corruption.
Struggles of the 1990s
By the early 1990s, anti-heroes had become the rule rather than the exception, as The Punisher, Wolverine and the grimmer Batman became popular and marketable characters. Anti-heroes such as the X-Men’s Gambit and Bishop, X-Force's Cable and the Spider-Man adversary Venom became some of the most popular new characters of the early 1990s. This was a financial boom time for the industry when a new character could become well known quickly and, according to many fans, stylistic flair eclipsed character development.
In 1992, Marvel illustrators Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld—all of whom helped popularize anti-heroes in the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises—left Marvel to form Image Comics. Image changed the comic book industry as a haven for creator-owned characters and the first significant challenger to Marvel and DC in thirty years. Image superhero teams, such as Lee’s WildC.A.Ts and Gen¹³, and Liefeld’s Youngblood, were instant hits but were criticized as over-muscled, over-sexualized, excessively violent, and lacking in unique personality. McFarlane's occult hero Spawn fared somewhat better in critical respect and long-term sales.
In this decade, Marvel and DC made drastic temporary changes to iconic characters. DC's "Death of Superman" story arc across numerous Superman titles found the hero killed and resurrected, while Batman was physically crippled in the "KnightFall" storyline. At Marvel, a clone of Spider-Man vied with the original for over a year of stories across several series. All eventually returned to the status quo.
Throughout the 1990s, several creators deviated from the trends of violent anti-heroes and sensational, large-scale storylines. Painter Alex Ross, writer Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore himself tried to "reconstruct" the superhero form. Acclaimed titles such as Busiek's, Ross' and Brent Anderson's Astro City and Moore's Tom Strong combined artistic sophistication and idealism into a super heroic version of retro-futurism. Ross also painted two widely acclaimed mini-series, Marvels (written by Busiek) for Marvel Comics and Kingdom Come for DC, which examined the classic superhero in a more literary context, as well as satirizing antiheroes. Magog, Superman’s rival in Kingdom Come, was partially modeled after Cable.
In non-comics media
Main article: Superhero film
Superhero films began as Saturday movie serials aimed at children during the 1940s. The decline of these serials meant the death of superhero films until the release of 1978's Superman, a critical and commercial success. Several sequels followed in the 1980s. 1989's Batman was also highly successful and followed by several sequels in the 1990s. Yet while both franchises were initially successful, later sequels in both series fared poorly both artistically and financially, stunting the growth of superhero films for a time.
Hit films such as Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man (2002) have led to sequel installments as well as encouraging the development of numerous superhero film franchises in the 21st century, both successful (such as the 2005 reboot of the Batman film franchise) and unsuccessful (such as 2004's Catwoman). Although the genre's commercial appeal has been relatively uneven, the subgenre have become a major element of mainstream film production with outstanding successes like The Dark Knight in 2008, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, Iron Man 3 in 2013, and Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015 attracting major revenue and critical plaudits. This trend was reinforced in 2016 with the outstanding success of the critically lauded Deadpool, a film adaptation of a relatively minor Marvel Comics character that premiered at over $100 million in February, a time of year generally considered poor for movie audience interest. In 2017, the film Sign Gene featured about deaf superheroes who use sign language.
Live-action television series
Main article: List of superhero television series
Several live-action superhero programs aired from the early 1950s until the late 1970s. These included Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves, the action-comedy Batman series of the 1960s (often interpreted as being campy) starring Adam West and Burt Ward. In the 1970s however, the genre would find a newfound credibility in the medium with the original series, The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff, The Bionic Woman, being sustained successes. This led to direct adaptations of comic book superheroes such as ABC/CBS drama series Wonder Woman of the 1970s starring Lynda Carter. The Incredible Hulk of the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, had a more somber tone. Superboy ran from 1988-1992 in syndication. In the 1990s, the Power Rangers, adapted from the Japanese Super Sentai, became popular. Other shows targeting teenage and young adult audiences that decade included Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. In 2001, Smallville retooled Superman's origin as a teen drama. The 2006 NBC series Heroes tells the story of several ordinary people who each suddenly find themselves with a superpower. The British series Misfits incorporates super-human abilities to undesirables in society. In this case, young offenders put on community service all have super powers and each use them to battle villains of sorts. (In the 1980s, an unsuccessful attempt was made to realize this last concept in the United States with the short-lived action comedy, Misfits of Science.).
DC series include Shazam!, The Secrets of Isis, The Flash (1990 TV series), Swamp Thing, Birds of Prey, Gotham, Legends of the Superheroes, Human Target (1992 TV series), Human Target (2010 TV series) and Powerless . Arrowverse series include Arrow, The Flash (2014 TV series), Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and Constantine. Marvel series include The Amazing Spider-Man, Spidey Super Stories, Spider-Man (Toei TV series), Mutant X and Blade: The Series. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter and Inhumans are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Netflix series include Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher. The Gifted and Legion are part of the X-Men universe. Series based on independent titles include Conan the Adventurer, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, The Tick (2001 TV series), The Tick (2016 TV series), Witchblade, Powers, Night Man, Lucky Man and The Phantom. Tokusatsu series include Ultraman, Spectreman and Kamen Rider. Disney produced family-oriented superhero sitcoms including Mighty Med, Lab Rats and Lab Rats: Elite Force. Nickelodeon also aired family-friendly comedies including The Secret World of Alex Mack, Henry Danger and The Thundermans. Other programs include- Captain Nice, Mr. Terrific, The Green Hornet, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, The Greatest American Hero, Dark Angel, No Ordinary Family, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, Angel, Automan, Black Scorpion, M.A.N.T.I.S., RoboCop: The Series, RoboCop: Prime Directives, Man from Atlantis, Manimal, My Secret Identity, My Hero, No Heroics, The Cape, Alphas and Heroes Reborn.
Main article: Superheroes in animation
In the 1940s, Fleischer/Famous Studios produced a number of groundbreaking Superman cartoons, which became the first examples of superheroes in animation. Since the 1960s, superhero cartoons have been a staple of children’s television, particularly in the U.S.. However, by the early 1970s, US broadcasting restrictions on violence in children’s entertainment led to series that were extremely tame, a trend exemplified by the series Super Friends. Meanwhile, Japan's anime industry successfully contributed its own style of superhero series, such as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.
In the 1980s, the Saturday morning cartoonSpider-Man and His Amazing Friends brought together Spider-Man, Iceman, and Firestar. The following decade, Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men, aimed at somewhat older audiences, found critical success in mainstream publications. Series that followed included Superman: The Animated Series (1996) and Cartoon Network's adaptation of DC's Justice League (2001) and Teen Titans.
Comics' superhero mythos itself received a nostalgic treatment in the 2004 Disney/Pixar release The Incredibles, which utilized computer animation. Original superheroes with basis in older trends have also been made for television, such as Cartoon Network's Ben 10 franchise and Nickelodeon's Danny Phantom.
Beginning 1940s, the radio serial Superman starred Bud Collyer as the titular hero. Fellow DC Comics stars Batman and Robin made occasional guest appearances. Other superhero radio programs starred characters including the costumed but not superpowered Blue Beetle, and the non-costumed, superpowered Popeye. Also appearing on radio were such characters as the Green Hornet, the Green Lama, Doc Savage, and the Lone Ranger, a Western hero who relied on many conventions of the superhero archetype.
Novels, prose, poetry
Superheroes occasionally have been adapted into prose fiction, starting with Random House's 1942 novelThe Adventures of Superman by George Lowther. In the 1970s, Elliot S! Maggin wrote the Superman novels, Last Son of Krypton (1978) and Miracle Monday, coinciding with but not adapting the movie Superman. Other early adaptations include novels starring the comic-strip hero The Phantom, starting with 1943's Son of the Phantom. The character likewise returned in 1970s books, with a 15-installment series from Avon Books beginning in 1972, written by Phantom creator Lee Falk, Ron Goulart, and others.
Also during the 1970s, Pocket Books published 11 novels based on Marvel Comics characters. Juvenile novels featuring Marvel Comics and DC Comics characters including Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Justice League, have been published, often marketed in association with TV series, as have Big Little Books starring the Fantastic Four and others.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Marvel and DC released novels adapting such story arcs as "The Death of Superman" and Batman's "No Man’s Land".
Original superhero or superhuman fiction has appeared in both novel and short-story print forms unrelated to adaptations from the major comic-book companies. It has also appeared in poetry.
Print magazines devoted to such stories include A Thousand Faces: A Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction, published since 2007 in print and electronic form, and online only as of 2011 and This Mutant Life: Superhero Fiction, a bimonthly print publication from Australia, published since 2010. The latter magazine was one of the few to also publish superhero poetry, ceasing to do so as of 2011. Superhero poems there included Philip L. Tite's "Brittle Lives", Mark Floyd's "Nemeses", and Jay Macleod's "All Our Children".
Novels with original superhuman stories include Robert Mayer's Superfolks (St. Martin's Griffin, March 9, 2005); James Maxey's Nobody Gets the Girl (Phobos Books, 2003); Rob Rogers's Devil's Cape (Wizards of the Coast Discoveries imprint, 2008); Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible (Pantheon Books, 2007); Lavie Tidhar's The Violent Century (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013), David J. Schwartz's Superpowers: A Novel (Three Rivers Press, 2008); Matthew Cody's Powerless (Knopf, 2009); and Van Allen Plexico's Sentinels series of superhero novels (Swarm/Permuted Press, beginning in 2008). Collections of superhuman short stories include Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories, edited by Owen King and John McNally (Free Press, 2008), and Masked, edited by Lou Anders (Gallery, 2010). With the rise of e-book readers like Kindle and Nook, a host of superhero stories have been self-published, including Aleron Kong's The Land: Founding (2015), R. R. Haywood's Extracted (2017), and R. T. Leone's Invinciman (2017).
See also: Category:Superhero video games
While many popular superheroes have been featured in licensed video games, up until recently there have been few that have revolved around heroes created specifically for the game. This has changed due to two popular franchises: The Silver Age-inspired Freedom Force (2002), City of Heroes (2004), and Champions Online (2009), a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG), all of which allow players to create their own superheroes and/or villains.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Internet allowed a worldwide community of fans and amateur writers to bring their own superhero creations to a global audience. The first original major shared superhero universe to develop on the Internet was Superguy, which first appeared on a UMNEWS mailing list in 1989. In 1992, a cascade on the USENETnewsgroup
For other uses, see Superhero (disambiguation).
A superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a type of heroicstock character, usually possessing supernatural or superhuman powers, who is dedicated to fighting crime, protecting the public, and usually battling supervillains. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine (also rendered super-heroine or super heroine), although the word superhero is commonly used for females also. Superhero fiction is the genre of fiction that is centered on such characters, especially in American comic books since the 1930s.
By most definitions, characters do not require actual superhuman powers or phenomena to be deemed superheroes. While the Dictionary.com definition of "superhero" is "a figure, especially in a comic strip or cartoon, endowed with superhuman powers and usually portrayed as fighting evil or crime", the longstanding Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the definition as "a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also: an exceptionally skillful or successful person". Terms such as masked crime fighters, costumed adventurers or masked vigilantes are sometimes used to refer to characters such as the Spirit, who may not be explicitly referred to as superheroes but nevertheless share similar traits.
Some superheroes use their powers to counter daily crime while also combating threats against humanity from supervillains, who are their criminal counterparts. Often at least one of these supervillains will be the superhero's archenemy. Some long-running superheroes such as Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Thor, the Flash, Wolverine, Green Lantern, and Hulk have a rogues gallery of many villains.
Main articles: Superhero fiction § History, History of comics, and Superhero film
The word 'superhero' dates to at least 1917.Antecedents of the archetype include such folkloric heroes as Robin Hood, who adventured in distinctive clothing. The 1903 play The Scarlet Pimpernel and its spinoffs popularized the idea of a masked avenger and the superhero trope of a secret identity. Shortly afterward, masked and costumed pulp fiction characters such as Zorro (1919), The Shadow (1930) and comic strip heroes, such as the Phantom (1936) began appearing, as did non-costumed characters with super strength, including Patoruzú (1928), the comic-strip character Popeye (1929) and novelist Philip Wylie's protagonist Hugo Danner (1930).
In the 1930s, both trends came together in some of the earliest superpowered costumed heroes such as Japan's Ōgon Bat (visualized in painted panels used by kamishibai oral storytellers in Japan since 1931), Mandrake the Magician (1934), Superman in 1938 and Captain Marvel (1939) at the beginning of the Golden Age of Comic Books. The precise era of the Golden Age of Comic Books is disputed, though most agree that it was started with the launch of Superman in 1938. Superman is the most recognizable Superhero to this day. The success of Superman spawned a whole new genre of characters with secret identities and superhuman powers – the Superhero genre.
During the 1940s there were many superheroes: The Flash, Green Lantern and Blue Beetle debuted in this era. This era saw the debut of first known female superhero, writer-artist Fletcher Hanks's character Fantomah, an ageless ancient Egyptian woman in the modern day who could transform into a skull-faced creature with superpowers to fight evil; she debuted in Fiction House's Jungle Comics #2 (Feb. 1940), credited to the pseudonymous "Barclay Flagg". The Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, a non-costumed character who fought crime and wartime saboteurs using the superpower of invisibility created by Russell Stamm, would debut in the eponymous syndicatednewspapercomic strip a few months later on June 3, 1940.
One superpowered character was portrayed as an antiheroine, a rarity for its time: the Black Widow, a costumed emissary of Satan who killed evildoers in order to send them to Hell — debuted in Mystic Comics #4 (Aug. 1940), from Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel Comics. Most of the other female costumed crime-fighters during this era lacked superpowers. Notable characters include The Woman in Red, introduced in Standard Comics' Thrilling Comics #2 (March 1940); Lady Luck, debuting in the Sunday-newspaper comic-book insert The Spirit Section June 2, 1940; the comedic character Red Tornado, debuting in All-American Comics #20 (Nov 1940); Miss Fury, debuting in the eponymous comic strip by female cartoonist Tarpé Mills on April 6, 1941; the Phantom Lady, introduced in Quality ComicsPolice Comics #1 (Aug. 1941); the Black Cat, introduced in Harvey Comics' Pocket Comics #1 (also Aug. 1941); and the Black Canary, introduced in Flash Comics #86 (Aug. 1947) as a supporting character. The most iconic comic book superheroine, who debuted during the Golden Age, is Wonder Woman. Modeled from the myth of the Amazons of Greek mythology, she was created by psychologistWilliam Moulton Marston, with help and inspiration from his wife Elizabeth and their mutual lover Olive Byrne. Wonder Woman's first appearance was in All Star Comics #8 (Dec. 1941), published by All-American Publications, one of two companies that would merge to form DC Comics in 1944.
In 1952, Osamu Tezuka's manga Tetsuwan Atom (more popularly known in the west as Astro Boy) was published. The series focused upon a robot boy built by a scientist to replace his deceased son. Being built from an incomplete robot originally intended for military purposes Astro Boy possessed amazing powers such as flight through thrusters in his feet and the incredible mechanical strength of his limbs.
The 1950s saw the Silver Age of Comics. During this era DC introduced the likes of Batwoman in 1956, Supergirl, Miss Arrowette, and Bat-Girl; all female derivatives of established male superheroes. 1958 saw the debut of superhero Moonlight Mask on Japanese television.
The Marvel Comics teams of the early 1960s typically included at least one (and often the only) female member, much like DC's flagship superhero team the Justice League of America (whose initial roster included Wonder Woman as the token female); examples include the Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl, the X-Men's Jean Grey (originally known as Marvel Girl), the Avengers' Wasp, and the Brotherhood of Mutants' Scarlet Witch (who later joined the Avengers). In 1963, Astro Boy was adapted into a highly influential anime television series. Phantom Agents in 1964 focused on ninjas working for the Japanese government and would be the foundation for Sentai-type series. 1966 saw the debut of sci-fi/horror series Ultra Q created by Eiji Tsuburaya this would eventually lead on to the sequel Ultraman, spawning a successful franchise focused upon the Giant Hero subgenre where the Superheroes would be as big as giant monsters (Kaiju) that they fought.
In 1972, the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman anime debuted, which built upon the superhero team idea of the live-action Phantom Agents as well as introducing different colors for team members and special vehicles to support them, said vehicles could also combine into a larger one. Another important event was the debut of Mazinger Z by Go Nagai, creating the Super Robot genre. Go Nagai also wrote the manga Cutey Honey in 1973, although the Magical Girl genre already existed, Nagai's manga introduced Transformation sequences that would become a staple of Magical Girl media.
The 1970s would see more anti-heroes introduced into Superhero fiction such examples included the debut of Shotaro Ishinomori's Skull Man in 1970, Go Nagai's Devilman in 1972 and Gerry Conway and John Romita's Punisher in 1974.
The dark Skull Man manga would later get a television adaptation and underwent drastic changes. The protagonist was redesigned resemble a grasshopper, becoming the renowned first masked hero of the Kamen Rider series. Kamen Rider is a motorcycle riding hero in an insect-like costume, who shouts Henshin (Transform) to don his costume and gain superhuman powers.
The ideas of second-wave feminism, which spread through the 1960s into the 1970s, greatly influenced the way comic book companies would depict as well as market their female characters: Wonder Woman was for a time revamped as a mod-dressingmartial artist directly inspired by the Emma Peel character from the British television seriesThe Avengers (no relation to the superhero team of the same name), but later reverted to Marston's original concept after the editors of Ms. magazine publicly disapproved of the character being depowered and without her traditional costume; Supergirl was moved from being a secondary feature on Action Comics to headline Adventure Comics in 1969; the Lady Liberators appeared in an issue of The Avengers as a group of mind-controlled superheroines led by Valkyrie (actually a disguised supervillainess) and were meant to be a caricatured parody of feminist activists; and Jean Grey became the embodiment of a cosmic being known as the Phoenix Force with seemingly unlimited power in the late 1970s, a stark contrast from her depiction as the weakest member of her team a decade ago.
Both major publishers began introducing new superheroines with a more distinct feminist theme as part of their origin stories or character development. Examples include Big Barda, Power Girl, and the Huntress by DC comics; and from Marvel, the second Black Widow, Shanna the She-Devil, and The Cat. Female supporting characters who were successful professionals or hold positions of authority in their own right also debuted in the pages of several popular superhero titles from the late 1950s onward: Hal Jordan's love interest Carol Ferris was introduced as the Vice-President of Ferris Aircraft and later took over the company from her father; Medusa, who was first introduced in the Fantastic Four series, is a member of the Inhuman Royal Family and a prominent statesperson within her people's quasi-feudal society; and Carol Danvers, a decorated officer in the United States Air Force who would become a costumed superhero herself years later.
In 1975 Shotaro Ishinomori's Himitsu Sentai Gorenger debuted on what is now TV Asahi, it brought the concepts of multi-colored teams and supporting vehicles that debuted in Gatchaman into live-action. In 1978, Toei adapted Spider-Man into a live-action series. In this continuity, Spider-Man had a vehicle called Marveller that could transform into a giant and powerful robot called Leopardon, this idea would be carried over to Toei's Battle Fever J and now multi-colored teams not only had support vehicles but giant robots to fight giant monsters with.
In subsequent decades, popular characters like Dazzler, She-Hulk, Elektra, Catwoman, Witchblade, Spider-Girl, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey became stars of long-running eponymous titles. Female characters began assuming leadership roles in many ensemble superhero teams; the Uncanny X-Men series and its related spin-off titles in particular have included many female characters in pivotal roles since the 1970s. Volume 4 of the X-Men comic book series featured an all-female team as part of the Marvel NOW! branding initiative in 2013. Superpowered female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Darna have a tremendous influence on popular culture in their respective countries of origin.
With more and more anime, manga and Tokusatsu being translated or adapted, western audiences were beginning to experience the Japanese styles of superhero fiction more than they were able to before. Saban's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, an adaptation of Zyuranger created a multimedia franchise that used footage from Super Sentai. Internationally, the Japanese comic book character, Sailor Moon, is recognized as one of the most important and popular female superheroes ever created.
Most dictionary definitions and common usages of the term are generic and not limited to the characters of any particular company or companies.
Nevertheless, variations on the term "Super Hero" are jointly claimed by DC Comics and Marvel Comics as trademarks in the United States. Registrations of "Super Hero" marks have been maintained by DC and Marvel since the 1960s, including U.S. Trademark Serial Nos. 72243225 and 73222079. In 2009, the term "Super Heroes" was registered as a typography-independent "descriptive" US trademark co-owned by DC and Marvel. Both DC Comics and Marvel Comics have been assiduous in protecting their rights in the "Super Hero" trademarks in jurisdictions where the registrations are in force, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and including in respect of various goods and services falling outside comic book publications.
Critics in the legal community dispute whether the "Super Hero" marks meet the legal standard for trademark protection in the United States: distinctive designation of a single source of a product or service. Controversy exists over each element of that standard: whether "Super Hero" is distinctive rather than generic, whether "Super Hero" designates a source of products or services, and whether DC and Marvel jointly represent a single source. Some critics further characterize the marks as a misuse of trademark law to chill competition. To date, aside from a failed trademark removal action brought in 2016 against DC Comics' and Marvel Comics' United Kingdom registration, no dispute involving the trademark "Super Hero" has ever been to trial or hearing.
In keeping with their origins as representing the archetypical hero stock character in 1930s American comics, superheroes are predominantly depicted as whiteAnglo-SaxonAmerican middle- or upper-classheterosexual young adult males who are typically tall, athletic, educated, physically attractive and in perfect health. Beginning in the 1960s with the civil rights movement in the United States, and increasingly with the rising concern over political correctness in the 1980s, superhero fiction centered on cultural, ethnic, national, racial and language minority groups (from the perspective of US demographics) began to be produced. This began with depiction of black superheroes in the 1960s, followed in the 1970s with a number of other ethnic superheroes. In keeping with the political mood of the time, cultural diversity and inclusivism would be an important part of superhero groups starting from the 1980s. In the 1990s, this was further augmented by the first depictions of superheroes as homosexual. In 2017, it emerged Sign Gene, the first group of deaf superheroes with superpowers through the use of sign language.
Ethnic and religious minorities
See also: Ethnic stereotypes in comics, African characters in comics, List of black superheroes, List of Asian superheroes, List of Latino superheroes, List of Native American superheroes, List of Jewish superheroes, List of Filipino superheroes, List of Middle Eastern superheroes, List of Russian superheroes, and List of Italian and Italian-American superheroes and villains
In 1966, Marvel Comics introduced the Black Panther, an African monarch who became the first non-caricatured black superhero. The first African-American superhero, the Falcon, followed in 1969, and three years later, Luke Cage, a self-styled "hero-for-hire", became the first black superhero to star in his own series. In 1989, the Monica Rambeauincarnation of Captain Marvel was the first female black superhero from a major publisher to get her own title in a special one-shot issue. In 1971, Red Wolf became the first Native American in the superheroic tradition to headline a series. In 1973, Shang-Chi became the first prominent Asian superhero to star in an American comic book (Kato had been the deuteragonist of the Green Hornet media franchise series since its inception in the 1930s.). Kitty Pryde, a member of the X-Men, was an openly Jewish superhero in mainstream American comic books as early as 1978.
Comic-book companies were in the early stages of cultural expansion and many of these characters played to specific stereotypes; Cage and many of his contemporaries often employed lingo similar to that of blaxploitation films, Native Americans were often associated with shamanism and wild animals, and Asian Americans were often portrayed as kung fu martial artists. Subsequent minority heroes, such as the X-Men's Storm and the Teen Titans' Cyborg avoided such conventions; they were both part of ensemble teams, which became increasingly diverse in subsequent years. The X-Men, in particular, were revived in 1975 with a line-up of characters culled from several nations, including the Kenyan Storm, GermanNightcrawler, RussianColossus, IrishBanshee, and JapaneseSunfire. In 1993, Milestone Comics, an African-American-owned media/publishing company entered into a publishing agreement with DC Comics that allowed them to introduce a line of comics that included characters of many ethnic minorities. Milestone's initial run lasted four years, during which it introduced Static, a character adapted into the WB Networkanimated seriesStatic Shock.
In addition to the creation of new minority heroes, publishers have filled the identities and roles of once-Caucasian heroes with new characters from minority backgrounds. The African-American John Stewart appeared in the 1970s as an alternate for Earth's Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and would become a regular member of the Green Lantern Corps from the 1980s onward. The creators of the 2000s-era Justice League animated series selected Stewart as the show's Green Lantern. In the Ultimate Marvel universe, Miles Morales, a multiracial American youth who was also bitten by a genetically-altered spider, debuted as the new Spider-Man after the apparent death of the original. Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager who is revealed to have Inhuman lineage after her shapeshifting powers manifested, takes on the identity of Ms. Marvel in 2014. Her self-titled comic book series became a cultural phenomenon, with extensive media coverage by CNN, the New York Times and The Colbert Report, and embraced by anti-Islamophobia campaigners in San Francisco who plastered over anti-Muslim bus adverts with Kamala stickers. Other such successor-heroes of color include James "Rhodey" Rhodes as Iron Man, Ryan Choi as the Atom, and Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle.
Certain established characters have had their ethnicity changed when adapted to another continuity or media. A notable example is Nick Fury, who is reinterpreted as African-American both in the Ultimate Marvel as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuities.
Sexual orientation and gender identity
Main article: LGBT themes in comics
See also: List of LGBT characters in comics
In 1992, Marvel revealed that Northstar, a member of the Canadian mutant superhero team Alpha Flight, was homosexual, after years of implication. This ended a long-standing editorial mandate that there would be no homosexual characters in Marvel comics. Although some minor secondary characters in DC Comics' mature-audience 1980s miniseries Watchmen were gay, and the reformed supervillain Pied Pipercame out to Wally West in an issue of The Flash in 1991, Northstar is considered to be the first openly gay superhero appearing in mainstream comic books. From the mid-2000s onward, several established Marvel and DC comics characters (or a variant version of the pre-existing character) were outed or reintroduced as LGBT individuals by both publishers. Examples include the Mikaal Tomas incarnation of Starman in 1998; Colossus in the Ultimate X-Men series; Renee Montoya in DC's Gotham Central series in 2003; the Kate Kane incarnation of Batwoman in 2006; Rictor and Shatterstar in an issue of X-Factor in 2009; the Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott is reimagined as openly gay following The New 52 reboot in 2011; and in 2015, a younger time displaced version of Iceman in an issue of All-New X-Men.
Many new openly gay, lesbian and bisexual characters have since emerged in superhero fiction, such as Gen¹³'s Rainmaker, Apollo and Midnighter of The Authority, and Wiccan and Hulkling of the Young Avengers. Notable transgender or gender bending characters are fewer in number by comparison: the alter ego of superheroine Zsazsa Zaturnnah, a seminal character in Philippine popular culture, is an effeminate gay man who transforms into a female superhuman after ingesting a magical stone. Desire from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series and Xavin from the Runaways are both characters who could (and often) change their gender at will. Alysia Yeoh, a supporting character created by writer Gail Simone for the Batgirl ongoing series published by DC Comics, received substantial media attention in 2011 for being the first major transgender character written in a contemporary context in a mainstream American comic book.
The Sailor Moon series is known for featuring a substantial number of openly LGBT characters since its inception, as Japan have traditionally been more open about portraying homosexuality in its children's media compared to many countries in the West. Certain characters who are presented as homosexual or transgender in one continuity may not be presented as such in others, particularly with dubbed versions made for international release.
An animated short The Ambiguously Gay Duo parodies comic book superheros and features Ace and Gary (Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell). It originated on The Dana Carvey Show and then moved to Saturday Night Live.
In 2017, Pluin introduced Sign Gene, a film featuring a group of deaf superheroes with supernatural powers through the use of sign language. The film was produced by and with deaf people and nurtures the culture's self image by reflecting correctly the core of the Deaf culture, history and language. 
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