Superhero By Numbers – Lisa Watson and Phil Stocks
January 29, 2009 by angelan
Abstract: This paper reports on results of a statistical analysis correlating superhero characteristics such as powers, motivations, weaknesses, and costumes with commercial viability as represented by comic book sales and number of appearances in new media such as cinema and television. Results indicate that features of a character have little impact in the comic book market, and that new media trends support a move away from god-like, untouchable heroes to heroes displaying more human frailties and highly visual super abilities.
The superhero is an ingrained part of popular culture that has seen resurgence in the last decade through the introduction of prominent characters to new audiences through expanded media. There was a time when superheroes were entrenched firmly in the comic book medium. However, advances in technology and changes in distribution channels have changed the superhero industry considerably. With comic books barely achieving a fraction of early sales volumes, publishers are trying to revive their comic book heroes by taking them from the “Silver Age” to the silver screen and other fora. However, with greatly advanced media come great financial risks. In order to secure their investments, the sponsors of these types of ventures must have a solid understanding of the modern superhero audience and what it is looking for in an iconic protagonist.
Heroes and villains express cultural values regarding what society reveres as admirable and fears as deviant (Klapp 1962). Bradford Wright’s (2001) book “Comic Book Nation” outlines the evolution of comic book stories and characters mimicking cultural change; however, this discussion was done retrospectively (as were others). These types of observations tell us that what was popular during the golden age of comic book heroes will surely not be desirable in today’s society. It would be useful if publishers were able to determine what readers are drawn to now so that they might better meet the demands of this generation of reader. Empirically studying the popular appeal of superhero traits can give us insight into our society and trends within its development.
What makes a character popular or prominent as we enter the Aquarian age? How important is boundless virtue or courage in the face of insurmountable odds? How relevant is the softer, vulnerable side of a character? Do readers have preferred super powers? Is an Achilles’ heel necessary? Moreover, what characteristics are enduring? Answers to these sorts of questions should provide the insights that will tell companies which avenues should prove the most lucrative and least risky to pursue in bringing superheroes back to the masses. The aim of this study is to analyse trends in superhero characteristics empirically in order to establish current popular superhero traits. Following standard practice for writing academic articles in the applied social science of marketing, study findings are then used to develop a series of managerial implications for businesses. In this instance, findings may be used to reduce risk in choosing existing heroes to introduce to modern audiences, or to create a new breed of hero that is better able to reach the target readers, viewers and players of the future.
Superheroes made inroads into popular culture in the 1930s at newsstands around America. The “Golden Age” of comics set a precedent of seemingly indestructible superheroes who held secret identities and were dedicated to upholding truth and justice (Bongco, 2000). After struggling to maintain reader interest through the early 1950′s, the “Silver Age” of comics saw revamping and reintroduction of characters thought to be buried deep in the archives at the Hall of Justice, this time bringing some more human qualities to the fore. Now, “when you think of Superman, you most likely think of...
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