The History of the Superhero Movies: Chapter 1, The Pulp Era
Pop culture has been dominated by superhero movies for the past decade. Pop culture was once dominated by vampires, with movies like dusk and show like Real blood gain a lot of attention. Before it was wizards, with the Harry potter books and films. Now it’s the superheroes, who have been a big part of the mainstream since 2008 with the first Iron Man movie. The modern concept of the superhero movie wasn’t created in 2008. But to set a definitive start date for superhero movies, we first need to define what a superhero is.
Definition of superhero
I’m sure most of you have an idea of what a superhero looks like in your head. Perhaps it is a man or woman wearing a tight-fitting costume with a mask and possibly a cape, who possesses supernatural powers. You might think they belong to DC or Marvel. But not all superheroes wear capes (The Hulk) or masks (The Hulk / Superman) or a cape (Captain America / Daredevil.) So those definitions don’t work. And anyway, if you think of DC and Marvel, what would the Incredibles fall into? Or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? After all, the latter fits all the criteria of what a superhero would do, except superpowers, if you didn’t count his sword fighting ability. Where is the line drawn between what’s a superhero movie and what’s not. How do you separate Thor from characters like Will and Eleven from Strange things, who have supernatural abilities and are tasked with saving Earth.
The answer varies from person to person. Wikipedia defines superhero fiction as “a speculative fictional genre examining the adventures, personalities and ethics of costumed crime fighters known as superheroes, who often possess superhuman powers and battle criminals with similar powers known as supervillains .“While I think it’s a good start to figuring out what superhero fiction is, there are issues with this model. First, superheroes don’t always wear costumes. Do you consider what Thor wears in a costume? Not necessarily, it’s just the way he dresses in God. Hulk? Crow? Cyborg ? While I think most of Wikipedia’s definitions are correct, I also think that another key element is missing from this definition: morality. After all, superheroes all embody “good” morals, or generally operate according to moral guidelines described as “good” to the public. Superheroes are always protagonists, while villains are always antagonists. If a superhero isn’t portrayed in his best light, then he’s not really a superhero anymore: he’s an anti-hero.
What sets superheroes apart from other protagonists in the film is that they have a characteristic that physically sets them apart from the average person. For The Hulk, it’s his size. For Thor, that’s what he wears. Therefore, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles realistically count as superheroes while Eleven and Will from Strange things no.
So my definition of a superhero movie, for the purposes of this article, is a movie whose protagonist has very “good” character and whose physical appearance differs from an “average” person.
The pulp era (1916-1977)
I’m sure you saw this in the title and wondered what I meant. After all, Wikipedia, Looper, and several other sites simply list this period as the “early years.” However, this is a very boring title and doesn’t quite capture what that part of the time was.
In the early 1900s, when movies first premiered, fictional superheroes were limited to pulp fiction, comics, and later comics. There was never a place for superheroes in mainstream novels or plays, which were popular mediums at the time. So the superheroes of this era came from pulp novels (also known as dime novels) which were very cheap and affordable books, hence the price of a dime. Many of the characters who are beloved around the world today are from books intended to please the poor who could not afford more expensive titles. Characters like Tarzan and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde first appeared in pulp novels. As well as Zorro.
Before entering The mark of Zorro First I have to quickly mention the very first superhero movie which was the 1916 French film: Judex which was followed by the 1918s Judex’s new mission. While they were only short soap operas. I’ve explained in previous posts what serial movies are, but to repeat it here, these were TV shows before TV was a thing. They would play weekly, on a Saturday matinee, where primarily children and families would pay the price of a chapter of the series as well as cartoons and two feature films. Each chapter was about 20 minutes long. What’s interesting about Judex is that it was created for the screen and wasn’t based on any books or comics that wasn’t a trend that lasted and ended with Judex. .
The mark of Zorro came next and was the first superhero feature film (if we’re going to follow my definition.) The film performed pretty well at the time and spawned two sequels, Don Q, son of Zorro and The daring Caballero.
As Zorro marks the first superhero movie, the big two, DC and Marvel, were just starting to create comics. DC released a lot of the heroes we know today, including Batman and Superman, in the 1930s, and it wouldn’t be long before they started getting movie adaptations in the 1940s. And Marvel at that stadium only had Captain America, who would also be adapted soon. The 1930s had a few Flash Gordon soap operas and an adaptation of a pulp magazine called The spiderweb, but not much else from that time. In 1941, DC’s first film was released, titled The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Of course, by “Captain Marvel” I mean Shazam, as the name was licensed in Captain Marvel before the licensing conflicts led to its current title. Two years later came Batman and four years later, it happened Superman. A number of soap operas have been released in the meantime, featuring now unknown characters, including Spy smasher and Harrigan Hops.
From the Marvel side has come Captain America in 1944. That’s all. Marvel didn’t take superhero comics seriously until the 1960s, because superhero comics didn’t perform as well before. This is the first and last time I will be talking about Marvel until the next chapter.
Ten years after their first series, DC’s first feature film was released, with three films to be released before 1978. Superman and the Mole Men was a theatrically released pilot for the Superman TV shows. Stamp Day for Superman was a government public service announcement. And Batman was linked to the Batman Very popular television series at the time.
And this is the pulp era of superhero movies. Like the pulp novels, these “pulp movies” were not of the highest quality and were cheap to make, but were still important to the larger history of superhero movies as a whole. . After all, they were the first and brought on-screen characters who have remained there to this day.
The History of the Superhero Movies: Chapter 1, The Pulp Era