A superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a fictional character "of unprecedented physical prowess dedicated to acts of derring-do in the public interest". Since the debut of the prototypal superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes — ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas — have dominated American comic books and crossed over into other media. The word itself dates to at least 1917. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine (also rendered super-heroine or super heroine).
By most definitions, characters need not have actual superhuman powers to be deemed superheroes, although terms such as costumed crimefighters are sometimes used to refer to those without such powers who share other common traits with superheroes.
Many superheroes work independently. However, there are also many superhero teams. Some, such as the Fantastic Four and X-Men, have common origins and usually operate as a group. Others, such as DC Comics’s Justice League and Marvel’s Avengers, are "all-star" groups consisting of heroes with separate origins who also operate individually. The shared setting or "universes" of Marvel, DC and other publishers also allow for regular superhero team-ups.
Some superheroes, especially those introduced in the 1940s, work with a young sidekick (e.g., Batman and Robin, Captain America and Bucky). This has become less common since more sophisticated writing and older audiences have lessened the need for characters who specifically appeal to child readers. Sidekicks are seen as a separate classification of superheroes.
Superheroes most often appear in comic books, and superhero stories are the dominant form of American comic books, to the point that the terms "superhero" and "comic book character" have been used synonymously in North America. With the rise in relative popularity of non-superhero comics, as well as the popularity of Japanese comics (manga), this trend is slowly declining . Superheroes have also been featured in radio serials, novel, TV series, movies, and other media. Most of the superheroes who appear in other media are adapted from comics, but there are exceptions.
Marvel Characters, Inc. and DC Comics share ownership of the United States trademark for the phrases "Super Hero" and "Super Heroes" and these two companies own a majority of the world’s most famous and influential superheroes. Of the "Significant Seven" chosen by The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History (1989), Marvel owns Spider-Man and Captain America and DC owns Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man. Although, like many non-Marvel characters popular during the 1940s, the latter two were acquired by DC from defunct publishers. However, there have been significant heroes owned by others, especially since the 1990s when Image Comics and other companies that allowed creators to maintain trademark and editorial control over their characters developed. Hellboy, Spawn and Invincible are some of the most successful creator-owned heroes.
Although superhero fiction is considered a form of fantasy/adventure, it crosses into many genres. Many superhero franchises resemble crime fiction (Batman, Punisher), others horror fiction (Spawn, Spectre) and others more standard science fiction (Green Lantern, X-Men). Many of the earliest superheroes, such as The Sandman and The Clock, were rooted in the pulp fiction of their predecessors.
Within their own fictional universes, public perception of superheroes varies greatly. Some, like Superman and the Fantastic Four, are adored and seen as important civic leaders. Others, like Batman and Spider-Man, meet with public skepticism or outright hostility. A few, such as the X-Men and the characters of Watchmen, defend a populace that misunderstands and despises them.
Many features of superhero costumes recur frequently, including the following:
To the heroes and villains who have a secret base, the base can serve a variety of functions.
There have been successful superheroes in other countries most of whom share the conventions of the American model. Examples include Cybersix from Argentina, Captain Canuck from Canada and the heroes of AK Comics from Egypt.
Japan is the only country that nears the US in output of superheroes. The earlier of these wore scarves either in addition to or as a substitute for capes and many wear helmets instead of masks. Moonlight Mask, Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai (the basis for Power Rangers), Metal Heroes and Kikaider have become popular in Japanese tokusatsu live-action shows, and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Casshan, The Guyver, and Sailor Moon are staples of Japanese anime and manga. However, most Japanese superheroes are shorter-lived. While American entertainment companies update and reinvent superheroes, hoping to keep them popular for decades, Japanese companies retire and introduce superheroes more quickly, usually on an annual basis, in order to shorten merchandise lines. In addition, Japanese manga often targets female readers, unlike U.S. comics, and has created such varieties as "magical girl" (e.g. Cardcaptor Sakura) for this audience. .
In 1947, Filipino writer/cartoonist Mars Ravelo introduced the first Asian superheroine, Darna, a young Filipina country girl who found a mystic talisman-pebble from another planet that allows her to transform into an adult warrior-woman. She was the first solo superheroine in the world to get her own feature-length motion picture in 1951 and has become a cultural institution in the Philippines.
British superheroes began appearing in the Golden Age shortly after the first American heroes became popular in the UK. Most original British heroes were confined to anthology comics magazines such as Lion, Valiant, Warrior, and 2000AD. Marvelman, known as Miracleman in North America, is probably the most well known original British superhero (although he was based heavily on Captain Marvel). Popular in the 1960s, British readers grew fond of him and contemporary UK comics writers Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman revived Marvelman in series that reinvented the characters in a more serious vein, an attitude prevalent in newer British heroes, such as Zenith.
In France, where comics are known as Bande Dessinée, literally drawn strip, and regarded as a proper art form, Editions Lug began translating and publishing Marvel comic books in anthology magazines in 1969. Soon Lug started presenting its own heroes alongside Marvel stories. Some closely modeled their U.S. counterparts (such as the trio of Harvard enthomologists-Olympic athletes Mikros, Saltarella and Crabb or the S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque saga of C.L.A.S.H.), while others indulged in weirder attributes, such as the shape-changing alien Wampus. Many were short-lived, while others rivaled their inspirations in longevity and have been the subject of reprints and revivals, such as Photonik.
In India, Raj Comics, founded in 1984, owns a number of superheroes, such as Nagraj, Doga and Super Commando Dhruva, that carry Hindu ideas of morality and incorporate Indian myths. Some of the Indian / Hindi superhero movies include Mr. India, Shiva, Shehenshah, Ajooba, Toofaan, and Krrish.
These categories often overlap. For instance, Batman is both a skilled martial artist and gadgeteer and Hellboy has the strength and durability of a brick and some mystic abilities or powers, similar to a mage. Wolverine also fits into a healing category. Very powerful characters, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Dr. Manhattan and the Silver Surfer can be listed in many categories, and are sometimes in a category all their own, known as "original," as they were some of the earliest heroes in comics.
Nevertheless, variations on the term "Super Hero" are jointly claimed by DC Comics and Marvel Comics as trademarks. Registrations of "Super Hero" marks have been maintained by DC and Marvel since the 1960s. (U.S. Trademark Serial Nos. 72243225 and 73222079, among others).
Joint trademarks shared by competitors are rare in the United States. They are supported by a non-precedential 2003 Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision upholding the "Swiss Army" knife trademark. Like the "Super Hero" marks, the "Swiss Army" mark was jointly registered by competitors. It was upheld on the basis that the registrants jointly "represent a single source" of the knives, due to their long-standing cooperation for quality control.
Critics in the legal community dispute whether the "Super Hero" marks meet the legal standard for trademark protection in the United States—distinctive designation of a single source of a product or service. Controversy exists over each element of that standard: whether "Super Hero" is distinctive rather than generic, whether "Super Hero" designates a source of products or services, and whether DC and Marvel jointly represent a single source. Some critics further characterize the marks as a misuse of trademark law to chill competition.
Early mythologies feature pantheons of gods with superhuman powers, as well as heroes such as Gilgamesh and Perseus. Later, folkloric heroes such as Robin Hood and the 19th century protagonists of Victorian literature, such as the masked adventurer The Scarlet Pimpernel, featured what became such superhero conventions as secret identities. Penny dreadfuls, dime novels, radio programs and other popular fiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries featured mysterious, swashbuckling heroes with distinct costumes, secret identities, unusual abilities and altruistic missions. These include Zorro, the Green Hornet, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and Spring Heeled Jack, the last of whom first emerged as an urban legend. Likewise, the science-fiction hero John Carter of Mars, with his futuristic weapons and gadgets; Tarzan, with his high degree of athleticism and strength, and his ability to communicate with animals; and the biologically modified Hugo Danner of the novel Gladiator were heroes with unusual abilities who fought sometimes larger-than-life foes.
The most direct antecedents are pulp magazine crime fighters — such as the "peak human" Doc Savage, the preternaturally mesmeric The Shadow, and The Spider — and comic strip characters such as Hugo Hercules, Popeye and The Phantom. The first masked crime-fighter created for comic books was writer-artist George Brenner's The Clock, who debuted in Centaur Publications' Funny Pages vol. 1, #6 (Nov. 1936). In terms of superpowered characters, many historians consider the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) the point at which the comic-book archetype began.
In 1938, writer Jerry Siegel and illustrator Joe Shuster, who had previously worked in pulp science fiction magazines, introduced Superman. The character possessed many of the traits that have come to define the superhero: a secret identity, superhuman powers and a colorful costume including a symbol and cape. His name is also the source of the term "superhero," although early comic book heroes were sometimes also called "mystery men" or "masked heroes".
DC Comics, which published under the names National and All-American at the time, received an overwhelming response to Superman and, in the years that followed, introduced Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman, Aquaman and Green Arrow. The first team of superheroes was DC's Justice Society of America, featuring most of the aforementioned characters. Although DC dominated the superhero market at this time, companies large and small created hundreds of superheroes. The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner from Marvel Comics (then called Timely Comics) and Plastic Man and Phantom Lady from Quality Comics were also hits. Will Eisner's The Spirit, featured in a comic strip, would become a considerable artistic inspiration to later comic book creators. The era's most popular superhero, however, was Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel, whose exploits regularly outsold those of Superman during the 1940s.
During World War II, superheroes grew in popularity, surviving paper rationing and the loss of many writers and illustrators to service in the armed forces. The need for simple tales of good triumphing over evil may explain the wartime popularity of superheroes. Publishers responded with stories in which superheroes battled the Axis Powers and the patriotically themed superheroes, most notably Marvel's Captain America as well as DC's Wonder Woman.
After the war, superheroes lost popularity. This led to the rise of genre fiction, particularly horror and crime. The lurid nature of these genres sparked a moral crusade in which comics were blamed for juvenile delinquency. The movement was spearheaded by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who famously argued that "deviant" sexual undertones ran rampant in superhero comics.
In response, the comic book industry adopted the stringent Comics Code. By the mid-1950s, only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman retained a sliver of their prior popularity, although effort towards complete inoffensiveness led to stories that many consider silly, especially by modern standards. This ended what historians have called the Golden Age of comic books.
In the 1950s, DC Comics, under the editorship of Julius Schwartz, recreated many popular 1940s heroes, launching an era later deemed the Silver Age of comic books. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and several others were recreated with new origin stories. While past superheroes resembled mythological heroes in their origins and abilities, these heroes were inspired by contemporary science fiction. In 1960, DC banded its most popular heroes together in the Justice League of America, which became a sales phenomenon.
Empowered by the return of the superhero at DC, Marvel Comics editor/writer Stan Lee and the artists/co-writers Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Bill Everett launched a new line of superhero comic books, beginning with The Fantastic Four in 1961 and continuing with the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, and Daredevil. These comics continued DC’s use of science fiction concepts (radiation was a common source of superpowers) but placed greater emphasis on personal conflict and character development. This led to many superheroes that differed from predecessors with more dramatic potential. For example, the Fantastic Four were a superhero family of sorts, who squabbled and even held some unresolved acrimony towards one another, and Spider-Man was a teenager who struggled to earn money and maintain his social life in addition to his costumed exploits.
While the superhero form underwent a revival, the rise of television as the top medium for light entertainment and the effects of Comics Code Authority obliterated genres such as westerns, romance, horror, war and crime . In the coming decades, non-superhero comics series would occasionally rise to popularity, but superheroes and comic books would be forever intertwined in the eyes of the American public.
In the 1970s, DC returned Batman to his roots as a dubious vigilante, and Marvel introduced several popular anti-heroes, including The Punisher, Wolverine, and writer/artist Frank Miller's dark version of the longtime hero Daredevil. Batman, The Punisher, and Daredevil were driven by the crime-related deaths of family members and continual exposure to slum life, while X-Men's Wolverine was tormented by barely controllable savage instincts and Iron Man struggled with debilitating alcoholism. The trend was taken to a higher level in the 1986 miniseries Watchmen by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, which was published by DC but took place outside the "DC Universe" with new characters. Some of the superheroes of Watchmen were emotionally unsatisfied, psychologically withdrawn, sexually confused, and even sociopathic. Watchmen also examined flaws in the superhero mythos such as the inculpability of vigilantism, and the ultimate irrelevance of fighting crime in a world threatened by nuclear holocaust.
Another story, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1985-1986), continued Batman’s renovation/reinterpretation. This miniseries, written and illustrated by Frank Miller, featured a Batman from an alternate/non-continuity future returning from retirement. The series portrayed the hero as an obsessed vigilante, necessarily at odds with official social authority figures, illustrated both by the relationship between Batman and retiring police commissioner James Gordon, and by the symbolic slugfest between the Dark Knight and Superman, now an agent/secret weapon of the U.S government. Both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were acclaimed for their artistic ambitiousness and psychological depth, and became watershed series.
Miller continued his seminal treatment of the Batman character with 1987's Batman: Year One (Batman issues #404-407) and 2001's The Dark Knight Strikes Again (also known as DK2). DK2, the long-awaited follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns, contrasts the traditional superhero-crimefighter character with the more politically conscious characters that evolved during the 1990s (perhaps epitomized by The Authority and Planetary, both written by British author Warren Ellis). In DK2, Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor is the power behind the throne, controlling a tyrannical American government, as well as Superman himself. Superman's submission to Luthor's twisted power structure, in the name of saving lives is contrasted with Batman's determined attack against the corrupted institutions of government; the message is that crime can occur at all levels of society, and the heroes are responsible for fighting both symptoms and causes of societal dysfunction and corruption.
By the early 1990s, anti-heroes had become the rule rather than the exception, as The Punisher, Wolverine and the grimmer Batman became popular and marketable characters. Anti-heroes such as the X-Men’s Gambit and Bishop, X-Force's Cable and the Spider-Man adversary Venom became some of the most popular new characters of the early 1990s. This was a financial boom time for the industry when a new character could become well known quickly and, according to many fans, stylistic flair eclipsed character development. In 1992, Marvel illustrators Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld — all of whom helped popularize anti-heroes in the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises — left Marvel to form Image Comics. Image changed the comic book industry as a haven for creator-owned characters and the first significant challenger to Marvel and DC in thirty years. Image superhero teams, such as Lee’s WildC.A.Ts and Gen¹³, and Liefeld’s Youngblood, were instant hits but were criticized as over-muscled, over-sexualized, excessively violent, and lacking in unique personality. McFarlane's occult hero Spawn fared somewhat better in critical respect and long-term sales.
In this decade, Marvel and DC made drastic temporary changes to iconic characters. DC's "Death of Superman" story arc across numerous Superman titles found the hero killed and resurrected, while Batman was physically crippled in the "KnightFall" storyline. At Marvel, a clone of Spider-Man vied with the original for over a year of stories across several series. All eventually returned to the status quo.
Throughout the 1990s, several creators deviated from the trends of violent anti-heroes and sensational, large-scale storylines. Painter Alex Ross, writer Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore himself tried to "reconstruct" the superhero form. Acclaimed titles such as Busiek's, Ross' and Brent Anderson's Astro City and Moore's Tom Strong combined artistic sophistication and idealism into a super heroic version of retro-futurism. Ross also painted two widely acclaimed mini-series, Marvels (written by Busiek) for Marvel Comics and Kingdom Come for DC, which examined the classic superhero in a more literary context, as well as satirizing antiheroes. Magog, Superman’s rival in Kingdom Come, was partially modeled after Cable.
There are men, wrote Aristotle, so godlike, so exceptional, that they naturally, by right of their extraordinary gifts, transcend all moral judgment or constitutional control: 'There is no law which embraces men of that caliber: they are themselves law.'
Note that not all superheroes are vigilantes. During the Silver Age, for example, Batman was a deputized officer of the Gotham City police force. Other superheroes have worked, either openly or covertly, with or for government or international organizations. In 1986, John Byrne's Superman was officially deputized by the Metropolis mayor to allow him to arrest criminals legally.
Writer Ariel Dorfman has criticized alleged class biases in many superhero narratives in several of his books, including The Emperor's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Mind (1980). Contemporary critics seem to be more focused on the history and evolving nature of the superhero concept, as in Peter Coogan's Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre (2006).
The idea of the superhero has also been explored in several well-received contemporary graphic novels. Daniel Clowes' "The Death Ray" (2004) examines the idea of the superhero as a non-costumed delusional misanthrope and serial killer and Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) reimagines the Superman archetype as a mercurial god-like figure.
The first known female superhero is writer-artist Fletcher Hanks's minor character Fantomah, an ageless, ancient Egyptian woman in the modern day who could transform into a skull-faced creature with superpowers to fight evil; she debuted in Fiction House's Jungle Comics #2 (Feb. 1940), credited to the pseudonymous "Barclay Flagg".
Another seminal superheroine is Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, a non-costumed character who fought crime and wartime saboteurs using the superpower of invisibility; she debuted in the eponymous syndicated newspaper comic strip by Russell Stamm on June 3, 1940. A superpowered female antihero, the Black Widow — a costumed emissary of Satan who killed evildoers in order to send them to Hell — debuted in Mystic Comics #4 (Aug. 1940), from Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel Comics.
Though non-superpowered, like the Phantom and Batman, the earliest female costumed crimefighters are The Woman in Red, introduced in Standard Comics' Thrilling Comics #2 (March 1940); Lady Luck, debuting in the Sunday-newspaper comic-book insert The Spirit Section June 2, 1940; the comedic character Red Tornado, debuting in All-American Comics #20 (Nov 1940); Miss Fury, debuting in the eponymous comic strip by female cartoonist Tarpé Mills on April 6, 1941; the Phantom Lady, introduced in Quality Comics Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941); and the Black Cat, introduced in Harvey Comics' Pocket Comics #1 (also Aug. 1941). The superpowered Nelvana of the Northern Lights debuted in Canadian publisher Hillborough Studio's Triumph-Adventure Comics #1 (Aug. 1941), and the superhumanly strong Miss Victory was introduced in Holyoke (comics) the same month. The character was later adopted by A.C. Comics.
The first widely recognizable female superhero is Wonder Woman, from All-American Publications, one of three companies that would merge to form DC Comics. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston with help and inspiration from his wife Elizabeth and their companion Olive Byrne. . Wonder Woman debuted in All Star Comics #8 (Jan. 1942).
Starting in the late 1950s, DC introduced Hawkgirl, Supergirl, Batwoman and later Batgirl, all female versions of prominent male superheroes. Batgirl would eventually shed her "bat" persona and become Oracle, the premiere information broker of the DC superhero community and leader of the superheroine team Birds of Prey In addition, the company introduced Zatanna and a second Black Canary and had several female supporting characters that were successful professionals, such as the Atom's love-interest, attorney Jean Loring.
As with DC's superhero team the Justice League of America, with included Wonder Woman, the Marvel Comics teams of the early 1960s usually included at least one female, such as the Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl, the X-Men's Marvel Girl and the Avengers' Wasp and later Scarlet Witch. In the wake of second-wave feminism, the Invisible Girl became the more confident and assertive Invisible Woman, and Marvel Girl became the hugely powerful destructive force called Phoenix.
In subsequent decades, Elektra, Catwoman, Witchblade, and Spider-Girl became stars of popular series. The series Uncanny X-Men and its related superhero-team titles included many females in vital roles.
In the late 1960s, superheroes of other racial groups began to appear. In 1966, Marvel Comics introduced the Black Panther, an African king who became the first non-caricatured black superhero. The first African-American superhero, the Falcon, followed in 1969, and three years later, Luke Cage, a self-styled "hero-for-hire", became the first black superhero to star in his own series. In 1971, Red Wolf became the first Native American in the superheroic tradition to headline a series. In 1974, Shang Chi, a martial artist, became the first prominent Asian hero to star in an American comic book. (Asian-American FBI agent Jimmy Woo had starred in a short-lived 1950s series named after "yellow peril" antagonist, Yellow Claw.)
Comic-book companies were in the early stages of cultural expansion and many of these characters played to specific stereotypes; Cage often employed lingo similar to that of blaxploitation films, Native Americans were often associated with wild animals and Asians were often portrayed as martial artists.
Subsequent minority heroes, such as the X-Men's Storm (the first black superheroine) and The Teen Titans' Cyborg avoided the patronizing nature of the earlier characters. Storm and Cyborg were both part of superhero teams, which became increasingly diverse in subsequent years. The X-Men, in the particular, were revived in 1975 with a line-up of characters culled from several different nations, including the Kenyan Storm, German Nightcrawler, Russian Colossus and Canadian Wolverine. Diversity in both ethnicity and national origin would be an important part of subsequent X-Men-related groups, as well as series that attempted to mimic the X-Men’s success. In the modern age, minority headliners are still rare but almost all teams feature at least a few minority characters.
In 1993, Milestone Comics, an African-American-owned imprint of DC, introduced a line of series that included characters of many ethnic minorities, including several black headliners. The imprint lasted four years, during which it introduced Static, a character adapted into the WB Network animated series Static Shock.
In addition to the creation of new minority heroes, publishers have filled the roles of once-Caucasian heroes with minorities. The best known example is perhaps John Stewart who debuted in 1971 in the socially conscious series Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Stewart was a black and somewhat belligerent architect who Green Lantern’s alien benefactors chose as Hal Jordan's standby, an idea that initially discomforted Jordan and was meant to discomfort some readers. In the 1980s, Stewart became the Green Lantern permanently, making him the first black character to take the mantle of a classic superhero. The creators of the 2000s-era Justice League animated series selected Stewart as the show's Green Lantern, boosting his profile.
DC has recently passed some other long-established superhero mantles to ethnic minorities. These include the new Firestorm (African-American), Atom (Asian) and Blue Beetle (Latino). Alternatively, Marvel Comics revealed in an acclaimed 2003 limited series that the "Supersoldier serum" that empowered Captain America was subsequently tested on Isaiah Bradley, an African American man.
In 1992, Marvel revealed that Northstar, a member of Alpha Flight, was homosexual, after years of implication. This ended a long-standing editorial mandate that there would be no LGBT characters in Marvel comics. Although some secondary characters in DC Comics' mature-audience miniseries Watchmen were gay, Northstar was the first openly gay superhero. Other gay and bisexual superheroes have since emerged, such as Pied Piper, Gen¹³'s Rainmaker, and The Authority's gay couple Apollo and Midnighter.
In the mid-2000s, some characters were revealed gay in two Marvel titles: The Ultimate Marvel incarnation of the X-Men’s Colossus and Wiccan and Hulkling of the superhero group Young Avengers. In 2006, DC revealed in its Manhunter title that longtime character Obsidian was gay, and a new incarnation of Batwoman was introduced as a "lipstick lesbian" to some media attention.
Superhero films began as Saturday movie serials aimed at children during the 1940s. The decline of these serials meant the death of superhero films until the release of 1978‘s Superman which was a tremendous success. Several sequels followed in the 1980s. 1989's Batman was also highly successful and was followed by several sequels in the 1990s. The Superman and Batman franchises were initially successful but later sequels in both series fared poorly, stunting the growth of superhero films for a time. In the early 2000s, blockbusters such as 1998's Blade (often credited with starting the current superhero revival in American cinema), 2000’s X-Men, 2002’s Spider-Man, and 2005's Batman Begins have led to dozens of superhero films. The improvements in special effects technology and more sophisticated writing that both respects and emulates the spirit of the comic books has drawn in mainstream audiences and caused critics to take superhero films more seriously.
Several popular but, by modern standards, campy live action superhero programs aired from the early 1950s until the late 1970s. These included Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves, the psychedelic-colored Batman series of the 1960s starring Adam West and Burt Ward and CBS’s Wonder Woman series of the 1970s starring Lynda Carter. The popular Incredible Hulk of the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, had a more somber tone.
In the 1990s, the syndicated Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, adapted from the Japanese Super Sentai, became popular. Other shows targeting teenage and young adult audiences that decade included Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In 2001, Smallville retooled Superman's origin as a teen drama. The 2006 NBC series Heroes tells the story of several people who "thought they were like everyone else, until they woke with incredible abilities".
In Japan, tokusatsu (Japanese term for special effects) superhero TV series are very common.
Since the 1960s, superhero cartoons have been a staple of children’s television, particularly in the U.S.. However, by the early 1980s, US broadcasting restrictions on violence in children’s entertainment led to series that were extremely tame, a trend exemplified by the series Super Friends. Meanwhile, Japan's anime industry successfully contributed to the genre with their own style of superhero series, most notably Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.
In the 1990s, Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men led the way for series that displayed advanced animation, mature writing and respect for the comic books on which they were based. This trend continues with Cartoon Network’s successful adaptation of DC's Justice League and Teen Titans.
The comics superheroes mythos itself received a nostalgic treatment in the acclaimed 2004 Disney/Pixar release The Incredibles, which utilized computer animation. Original superheroes with basis in older trends have also been made for television, such as Cartoon Network's Ben 10 and Nickelodeon's Danny Phantom.
In the 1990s, the BBC broadcast radio plays adapting comic-book stories from at least three publishers.
Also during the 1970s, Pocket Books published 11 novels based on Marvel Comics characters. Juvenile novels featuring Marvel Comics and DC Comics characters including Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Justice League, have been published, often marketed in association with TV series, as have Big Little Books starring the Fantastic Four and others.
The Wild Cards books, created and edited by George R. R. Martin in 1987, were a non-comic book-based science fiction series that dealt with superpowered heroes. The characters in the series follow many of the superhero archetypes.
Science-fiction author Michael Bishop parodied superheroes in his 1992 novel Count Geiger's Blues in which a pop culture-hating art critic plunges into a pool of toxic waste and transforms into a costumed superhero and gains an allergy to high art.
The plot of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay focuses on two fictional Golden Age writer/illustrators and their character The Escapist. The Escapist stories detailed in the novel were later adapted into an actual comic book series published by Dark Horse Comics.
The music video of the song "Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down is themed around superhero lore; it features an old man reminiscing about his past as a superhero. He puts the costume back on and tries to help people, but no one takes him seriously.
In The Music video for the song "Land Of Confusion" by Genesis, while the world is in danger of "The Man Of Steel"(Joseph Stalin), Superman is called on for help but insteads ends up at home and sitting on his couch watching TV.