When I was walking my kids to school this morning, my 11 year-old daughter and I were having a rambling conversation about a variety of topics as we so often do and we somehow came to the subject of superheroes. After a short while, she turned to me and asked, "Why don't they make superhero movies that kids can go see in the theaters? All the ones they make are for teenagers and adults." It's a good question and one that's vexed me for a while. A few years ago, my son was a huge Spider-Man fan, but there was no way I could show him any of the live action Spider-Man movies, which were simply too violent and intense for a boy his age in my opinion. The same goes double for the latest Batman movies. I think maybe last summer's Captain America could qualify as appropriate for kids, but, if so, it's a rare exception to a longstanding trend.
It's funny, because, as I remember it, back in the 70s and early 80s, comic books and superhero movies were routinely dismissed by the teenagers I knew as "kid stuff." When I was in high school, I hung out with a lot of nerdy guys -- shocking, I know -- and I don't think any of them was still into comic books at that age. They'd all moved on to computers and wargames and jazz music, leaving their childhood superheroes far behind. I myself was never much of a comic reader anyway, though I always liked the idea of superheroes, which is why I enjoyed my fair share of superhero RPGs over the years. But, as geeky interests go, superheroes were always way, way down the list for me after I reached adolescence.
Nowadays, superheroes are everywhere. They're a staple of our movie theaters and the release of video games based on them is big news. Unlike my own youth, superheroes nowadays seem to be aimed at an older audience. Broadly speaking, I don't have a problem with making superhero comics or movies or games something teenagers and adults can enjoy unironically. How could I? I'm a guy who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and writing about, never mind playing, games where I pretend to be an elf. Reflecting on my daughter's question, though, I have to wonder why things are so strongly skewed toward the more "mature" -- and I use that word loosely -- end of things these days. Why must every superhero movie be dark and gritty?
Mind you, I could ask the same thing about roleplaying games ...