Romance in the Superhero genre

I was shocked to realize how romance pervades contemporary popular culture, in its maniestation in some of the biggest science fiction, fantasy and action franchises, especially in the film industry. My first reaction was “What doesn’t fall under Romance?”

That’s when I thought about the most recent trend in blockbuster films, the superhero genre. As Professor Clayton traced through the romance circle as seen in both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, I followed along tracing through one of my favorite films, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

It was eerie how well it fit. As a non-English major, the magic tricks of English professors has yet to cease to amaze me. It always seems like they are pulling things out of thin air and I always come at their analysis with skepticism that inevitably turns to awestruck wonder. It seemed too perfect to be true, how pervasive this structure was. I quickly ran through other popular blockbuster genre films and saw the repeated patterns.

I quickly realized that presence of the romance structure in recent superhero films wasn’t unique to just Nolan’s batman, also IronMan, Spiderman, Xmen wolverine, etc. However, what did occur to me was that while this was true for many recent film remediations of these characters, it didn’t seem to quite fit for the narrative structure of the original comic books the films were remediating. Although only having read a handful of comics, from what I have seen, it seemed that the bulk of the time was spent post-romance structure with the established and stable hero character as they fight off a rogue gallery of villains. And yet most films remediating the superhero characters are invariably about how they came to be. There are many reasons why a disproportionate amount of films are origin stories rtather than spending time post-identity construction. The economy of film making means that they rarely have the momentum and money to continue the character into several iterations of villain fighting compared to more cheaply and quickly made comics. In this regard, the original comic structure is more similar to television which does often have the more episodic quality with stories following the ‘villain of the week’ with an established and static hero character.

It was interesting to me to analyze how perhaps romance is more suited to films and books compared to television and comics.

-Diana Zhu


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