Are we a society that values propriety or notoriety?
The answer should be obvious. We always seem to champion the hero. In looking at most American-made movies, the underdog story is easily one of the most common stories we see re-hashed in movie after movie. Still, what is the underdog story. It’s usually a hero’s rise to fame or success when faced with insurmountable odds. In essence, it’s an origin story.
But when looking at the other most common origin stories, such as the superhero film, we see a very different emphasis. While the first film in a series typically does a recount of the heros motivation and the driving forces behind what made him or her such an extraordinary being, as the movies progress, the shift changes from the hero to those of the villains.
For instance, when looking at The Dark Knight Rises, it’s already assumed that Christian Bale is attached as Batman. Whether it was Bale or some other actor, the origin of Batman remains the same throughout the series. Most of the interest in the film seems to be aimed at the villains of the piece. This may be a unique phenomenon to the world of comics, but considering the notoriety of real-life figures such as Osama Bin Laden or even Hitler, one could argue otherwise.
One theory, as it relates to the real world and leaves comics behind, is the safety of a unified front. It’s easier to express interest in something bad because it finds a way to bring people together in a shared experience of frustration or anger or even remorse. While I’m not saying we should thank evil people for being evil, it doesn’t provide a sort of cultural serenity that we’d otherwise be without if we didn’t have people to hate to bond over.
Still, in the world of entertainment, I’m not sure if this theory holds up. I mean, you could certainly make a case for it, but movies, comics, and other mediums are supposed to be “fun”, right? This doesn’t mean they’re without their cultural worth. In fact, if it did, I’d be pretty obsolete in my field. Still, from a purely entertainment standpoint, something must be said for the spectacle of evil. Not only is its visual possibility so much more (explosions, gun fights, chaos, and all the sort) but there’s also the thrill of deviation. There’s the obvious deviation from society’s norms, but even in terms of comics themselves.
Comics are known for being a rather fluid form. If the writers have written every possible option, they simply retcon. (For non-nerds, that stands for retroactive continuity, but it basically means comic book writers get a do-over) So, as it stands now, there are a number of different ” beginnings” for popular series such as Batman or X-Men. For the most part, a lot stays the same. Well, not necessarily “a lot” but the basic themes of identity and the struggle for justice remain the same. Meanwhile, villains aren’t afforded this same luxury. For instance, in some arcs of Batman, Catwoman is a jewel thief whereas others, she is a prostitute trying to escape the life. Sure, her actions and even her intentions largely remain the same (such as her commitment to herself over others), but the different origins create different stories, as opposed to Batman’s loss of his parents, which remains constant. In this sense, neither “good” or “bad” are truly good or bad. batman just represents the familair, the reliable or even the dependable. Catwoman just offers a change of scenery.