The first exposure I can remember to superheroes were the Superman movies and the old Batman television series. The former was rather earnest and the later was incredibly campy, and both set the bar in my mind for what type of film or television was possible when based on a comic book. The initial Batman movie was such a phenomenon in 1989! Culture moved so much slower back then (trust me), so Batman owned what felt like a year or more of everyone’s attention. The movie expanded my perception of what was possible in a movie based on comic book characters, and it fueled an interest in comics as a hobby.
My first and really only dive into comic books was during the early 1990s when Image Comics splashed onto the scene. I was certainly aware of comic books before then and knew a few things about common superhero lore, though I didn’t start collecting until I had a chance to be in on the ground floor of something. The idea of getting caught up on characters and franchises that had been going on for many years or decades seemed daunting, and starting with #1 of any new book felt exciting.
Somewhere in my mother’s house sits several long boxes of early-era Image comics such as Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Savage Dragon, Youngblood, Wetworks, Cyberforce, Shadowhawk, The Maxx, Pitt, Gen 13, Witchblade… I set out to collect all the Image stuff.
And for a time, I did.
I also sprinkled in other titles from those days like Spider-Man 2099 and the Star Wars Dark Empire issues. It all became too cumbersome and expensive though, and my interest in comics faded as I progressed through high school and into college. Superheroes remained something I was aware of, and I slowly got interested in graphic novels many years later – finding titles like Watchmen and Y: The Last Man quite profound.
Superhero Films Revival
The first X-Men film in 2000 was a reminder that the stories within comic books can be translated into quality entertainment at the cinema, and the first sequel in 2003 was a wonderful comic book movie featuring talented actors performing interesting roles with twisting allegiances, snappy dialogue and stunning visuals. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 arrived around this time, and both of them delivered quality experiences. The Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy started in 2005, and the massive success of The Dark Knight (released July 18, 2008), fueled by the otherworldly and tragic performance by Heath Ledger, gave superhero movies increased credibility.
A few months earlier in 2008, another superhero movie, Iron Man, opened and started a chain reaction of events that would result in the following completely silly and staggering box office numbers below. Even with the success of several superhero movies and franchises, nothing could predict the outrageous popularity and success of what became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
Look at those numbers. It is absurd!! Twenty-BILLION dollars worldwide and counting from worldwide box office!? And that doesn’t factor in merchandising and gods-only-know what else they have as revenue streams.
Marvel released a movie about Ant-Man, and made half-a-billion dollars worldwide. 500 MILLION!? Ant-Man!?
I believe I have seen every one of these films in the theater, likely within a week or two of them releasing. They rarely fail to deliver on entertainment, and they have continued to thrive at the box office and avoid (for the most part) the natural cultural backlash that comes with anything that is this wildly successful.
I’ve tweeted this numerous times over the years; it amazes me how Marvel continues to keep this up. The casting has been fantastic, the marketing is always top-notch, and the films deliver escapism entertainment with heart and humor, and they make it look easy.
It’s not easy.
So after I saw Avengers: Endgame, I wanted to explore how this all happened. How did Marvel get the point that it could release a three-hour movie about a group of heroes battling back against a cosmic villain most people hadn’t heard of 10 years ago that culminated a 20-film story line – and it would be the highest-grossing movie of all time (most likely soon)?
How is Nebula, a side character from the pages of in a C-level comic book (in the eyes of the mainstream), one of the narrative linchpins of this film?
How does it all work!?
In the latest episode of Childhood Ruined, my co-host and I welcomed Duane Sibilly to the show to discuss these questions, and geek out about the wondrous splendor that is Avengers: Endgame.
I hope you’ll give it a listen!
And special thanks to the supporters of my Patreon including: Ashton Ruby, Adam J, Michael Shea, Duane Sibilly, Faience, Hawke Robinson, Jana Flesher, Samuel Dillon, and Sinan Turnacioglu.