'Superhero' is the name and distinguishing characteristic of a genre which dominated and continues to dominate the comic book industry, with offshoots into virtually all other media. There are indeed other genres of comic book, some as popular or moreso (in terms of sales) than the superheroes, but superheroes (and their opposite numbers the Supervillains remain mostly associated with the form.
So far, superhero history can be divided into four eras...
Prior to and during the Second Great War the premise of the superhero arose. These were the main characters in the most popular comic books published in the NAL but sold throughout much of North America as well as Europe. They began as a form of propoganda in children's form during the Second Great War, with bigger-than-life warriors like Captain Commonwealth or Khoroshij Polkovnik battling super-villains like The Iron Cross.
They were also heavily influenced by various pulp novel heroes such as the Doc Sauvage Series and Jacques Cartier from Louisianne and of course The Masked Detective, published in the NAL. More than anything else, it was this over-the-top "feel" which gives the era its name. However, there was also the question of continuity. Most superheroes appeared no more than a dozen or so times, with perhaps only half-a-dozen cross-overs or joint appearances. At least six or seven major publishers were responsible for nearly all the best-selling titles of the time, which were almost universally anthologies in format. A single issue would have three to five stories, usually. Among the many, many superheroes of this era were:
- Captain Revenger
- The Owl
- The Webmistress
- Red Amazon
- Lady America
- Captain Scotland
- The Hummingbird
- Wonder Boy
- The Trickster
- The Simian Avenger
Sales of comic books declined in the post-war years, leading one company in particular to buy up most of those that remained--Millennium Comics.
During the early 1960s superhero comics took a new direction as Millennium Comics (based in New Amsterdam) produced a series of best-selling titles centered around various new (or reissued) heroes. All the new heroes had slightly greater complexity, tended to be outsiders in some way, and operated out of a fictional metropolis called Millennium City (which was pretty clearly a turbo-charged version of New Amsterdam). This was a direct editorial decision by a new group that had taken over Millennium in the late 1950s. They decided to tweak old characters and put them in a common setting, even having them fight each others' foes sometimes. Over time, the mutual nature of their backgrounds became more and more integral to the books and genre.
The "Big Five" heroes of Millennium were and are (in order of appearance):
- Stingray - A brilliant Afroe scientist who builds a fantastic super-submersible, which he then uses to battle the imperial designs of the undersea empire of Atlantis.
- Captain Silver - The son of an archeologist, Oswald Lambert found a ring in an ancient temple.
- Mentor, The Synthetic Man! - An automaton from an alien world, this super strong being is found inside a meteor (actually a spaceship) by a retired police scientist who manages to repair him.
- Doc Gabriel - The accidental creation of Doc Satan, a handsome super-villain who tried to make evil copies of superheroes but accidently created a good copy of himself.
By 1970 the comic book superhero was undergoing a true renaissance. In 1971 the "top five" became the core of a team called the Legion of Light (formed in opposition to a vast alliance of supervillains called the Coalition of Evil, founded by Doc Satan). In 1979 another superhero group was developed called the Sisters of Justice, but it petered out by 1990. It was re-invented into a new format in 2002 and has been selling well.
Other comic books published by Millennium included:
- Thrilling Tales From The Stars originally featuring the Martian Marvel.
- Justice Club of America a humorous look at the genre launched in 2001.
Incredible, Cardiac, and All-Fair Comics
The success of Millennium Comics’ superhero line inspired publishers to test other genres. Two of these were Incredible Comics, which published war stories, such as Western Action and Dalmatian Mercenary Tales, and Cardiac Comics, which published romance comics, such as Never Been Kissed and Shame and Honor. Both Incredible and Cardiac did not make enough money to thrive against the giant of the inudstry, Millennium. These companies, along with their chosen genres, seemed doomed to extinction, until both were bought by the same publisher as All-Fair Comics. The one-shot nature of many of the stories and constant cast turnover from marriage and war casualties encouraged All-Fair Comics to combine the two, starting with the suitably named Shame and Honor. The handsome young men of the romance tales soon all wore uniforms, and the women were more frequently exotic, although the focus of a particular tale was either female romance or male war-making. Newer titles included War Nurses In Love, War Bride Romances, and Exotic Fighting Tales. The romance stories ranged from the fairly literary 'The Return of Manuel Guerrera', 'Sense and Spinsterism', and 'Season of My Tejano Soldier', to the melodramatic 'Destroyed By Love!', 'War Made Me A Virgin Bride, Then A Virgin Widow!', and 'I Raced To Ruin'.
Another line from All-Fair was adolescent romance, of which the most prominent and successful example was and is Godfrey.
The romance/war combination on which All-Fair kept afloat was supplemented in the 1980s by numerous licensed adaptations of movies. Some of these adaptations received criticism for being too loose with the scripts.
The darkening of comics in the 1990s also affected All-Fair, which started a new series, "Flowers of the Forest". The series was more explicitly erotic than previous publications and became a great success. The full color holographic version of "120 Jours de Sodome", however, was several steps further than most customers were willing to tolerate.
By the late 1980s, Millennium started to have some serious competiton from the Chicago Press (CP) comic book company. Their heroes were of a different style, more grittily realistic. For example, they lived in real cities and tended to deal with genuine problems like paying the rent.
Probably the most famous of the CP heroes is WinterMan, who dons a mask and uses a special "freezing gun" to fight injustice. In real life, he is Owen Nguyen, an orphan in his twenties still recovering from years of abuse. WinterMan is not only his heroic alter-ego, in a lot of ways he is a symptom of Owen's psychological ills. More, since he doesn't restrict himself to tracking down criminals but injustice in general he is viewed with profound suspicion by the official police.
But CP's first best-selling title was The Infernal Five, an assortment of people in one way or another cursed. One is a Vompire. Another is a minor demon who longs to earn her way back to heaven. Still another sold his soul to Satan and is seeking redemption. The fourth is a defrocked priest who botched an exorcism. Last is a tough-as-nails mercenary who had a near-death experience and glimpsed his own eternal damnation.
In response to CP Comics' growing popularity, Millennium has given its own stable of superheroes a makeover.
CP Comics' success has also inspired other companies to enter the market once dominated by Millennium. In general these are more specialized books, featuring (for example) specifically Kemrese or Lithuanian heroes, gay heroes, graphic novels (high-end, glossy works of greater length and complexity), even the further re-invention of all-but-forgotten heroes of the Pulp Era.
One of the most controversial of these is Rapier, a New Francy superheroine who is openly gay, yet wields the angel-crafted sword of Joan of Arc. She is the creation of Fleur-De-Lis Comics, which has focussed on very edgy, high-end comic books.
Rumors persist that the Alliance for Public Decency is looking into funding a more "wholesome" alternative to the mainstream superhero comic books of today.
Several motion pictures are currently in development highlighting popular superheroes.
Prominent amongst their superheroes are:
- Storm and Surge - a brother and sister team of crimefighters, and main protagonists in the Storm Surge series
- Magnus - A powerful superhero, with a clouded past.
- White Spider - A student, who is given his powers by a mysterious talisman.
- Foxbat - Wealthy industrialist with sonic powers, and the ability to fly.
- Silverwind - Native American superhero, with mystic powers. He is is main protagoinst of the Tales of Silverwind.
- Rabbit - A Japanese girl with power beyond her size.