Superhero comics have been a staple in American pop culture since the 1940s. Caped Crusader, Man of Steel, Web-Head, and more have sparked the imaginations of children, teens, and adults for years.
But it wasn’t until the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or perhaps the Sam Raimi Spiderman Trilogy and Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy, that superheroes truly found themselves at the forefront of global collective culture. Four of the world’s top 10 movies (adjusted for inflation) are the superhero movies – Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and The Avengers.
Today, superheroes and the intellectual property of comics are the golden goose for companies such as Disney, Sony and others. Companies have been eager to use these old IP addresses for more than just a big screen. Superheroes can be found on smaller screens with TV series like Marvel’s Punisher, Daredevil and Defenders, The CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and more.
But superheroes don’t just succumb to a purely negative entertainment experience. Video games were one of the early adopters of comic book IPs, although often with lukewarm results.
Video games on superheroes were either the result of an association with an upcoming movie and thus incredibly unpolished and half-baked, or games that didn’t have much narrative weight for them even if it was a fun experience.
The emergence of video games as a storytelling experience in the latter half of the 2000s is finally beginning to see the true power of the genre bending over to the IPs of superheroes. Batman: The Arkham series by Rocksteady Studios and the Injustice series by NetherRealm Studios marked the beginning of a truly glorious time for video game superheroes.
The first installments in either series were also released in time to be close to the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the growing interest of the “mainstream” audience in superheroes.
Marvel’s Spider-Man, developed by Insomniac Games nearly a decade later, totally captivated audiences and made them feel what it would be like if they were the “Friendly Neighborhood of Spider-Man”. The spin-off/supplementary film, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, wowed audiences in equal measure and is widely expected as Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
Rocksteady’s return to DC Comics IP, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is also expected to be released next year after a delay in the release window. Expectations are high from the developers of the best superhero video game franchise.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, developed by Square Enix, also collected extensive reviews, albeit not on the same levels as the previous two levels. Marvel’s The Avengers, also from Square Enix, had a more significant reception for everything from its gameplay to its service model.
Upcoming video games include Monolith’s Wonder Woman title, Marvel’s Midnight Suns from Firaxis, WB Games Montréal’s Gotham Knights (who also contributed to Arkham’s first game title), and Insomniac’s Marvel’s Wolverine.
But when it comes to superhero IP addresses, which type works best? Video games or movies? Well, the answer is completely subjective. Marvel movies have often been criticized for being popcorn flicks, and titles like Logan (2017), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), Black Panther (2018), Wonder Woman (2017), The Dark Knight (2008) and more have shown that it is possible to make Great movies using IPs like superheroes.
At the same time, the growing consensus supports the legitimacy of video games as a form of narrative art, and some of the titles mentioned above can showcase the genre’s power as an interactive medium for storytelling.
But perhaps the discussion should be about the kind of superhero stories that can easily be adapted to multiple channels of storytelling. From harmless comics to movies, video games, and more.