DC Comics are joining forces once again as Justice League hits theaters nationwide this Friday, and this begs the question, why do we seem to prefer our superheroes darker, angrier? DC movies have been notoriously darker than their Marvel counterparts over the years, and while they haven’t been as critically-acclaimed, most DC movies have all done well at the box office. It’s also safe to say that comic book fans, cinephiles, and the Internet, in general, have had a slightly unhealthy obsession with Batman, A. K. A., “The Dark Knight” who was voted the “greatest comic hero” ever in 2009. So, why is it that we seem to take pleasure in the additional pain and suffering of superheroes who are already having a hard time trying to save the world? Why do we seem to like Batman more than Superman? To get to the bottom of this question, I interviewed a licensed psychologist and a professional storyteller about the dark side of our superhero addiction.
Natalie Feinblatt, PsyD, Psychologist in Los Angeles
Natalie Feinblatt, a licensed psychologist and comic book fan, believes that our affinity for dark superheroes comes from our need for an authentic connection. “Humans connect best to stories that reflect our realities,” said Feinblatt. “This can be seen through all mediums of storytelling – films, music, books, TV, comics, etc. The more classic or traditional, ‘100% good and clean,’ superheroes are a nice ideal to aspire to, but they don’t accurately reflect our reality. Our reality is messy and comes in many shades of gray. That’s why people prefer superheroes who are darker, angrier, troubled, or conflicted. We have parts of us that are dark and angry, and we can connect better with superheroes that are the same. This connection is almost primordial and can even be seen in infants who stare longer at people who are making the same faces the infant is (sticking tongue out, smiling, etc). This connection verifies our existence and reality, making us feel authentic and real. So while aspiration is nice, authentic connection is more significant.”
Feinblatt also had her own take on the Marvel universe, adding, “Quite frankly this is also why the Marvel superhero movies are doing well too, except that they present the shades of gray that are on the lighter side. They are funny, sarcastic, rebellious, and a bit naughty. Again, playing to the shades of gray that we are attracted to.”
Sydney Liu, Author and Co-Founder @ Commaful
I also wanted a professional storyteller’s take, so I talked to Sydney Liu, author, and co-founder of Commaful. Liu said, “We never really stop being the little kid running around with the Superman cape pretending to save the world, but our lives do get a bit more complex, and darker heroes help us relate and see ourselves as heroes despite our complicated lives. Many writers will exaggerate their own flaws and powers to create their superheroes. The flaws, which typically stem from dark backgrounds, make the characters a lot more relatable and create juicy storylines.”
Liu also discussed the typical motivations of superheroes saying, “Both the Arrow and the Flash, for example, draw their motivation from dead family members. Both heroes face a lot of issues within their personal lives from romantic ties to family struggles to psychological issues. If you look at popular Arrow fanfiction, you’ll find that most of these fan stories center around romantic relationships and family drama, not the actual crime fighting themselves. These heroes reflect more relatable views of our own lives. The tragedy, sadness, and struggles as well as our good deeds.”
What are your thoughts on why we prefer our superheroes darker, angrier? Leave a comment below!