If you mention the word ‘superhero’ these days, everyone and their mum can tell you a potted history of it all, because they’ve sat through numerous phases, extended TV series, and animated side-specials of expansive character-development, culminating in extraordinary final chapters, with the screen literally stacked full of characters battling one another while your eyes bleed with excitement and spectacle. 

But before 1997, people would generally only think of a few things: Christopher Reeve smiling as he keeps a watchful eye over Earth’s atmosphere, Michael Keaton running around Gotham while dressed in moulded rubber. Nichoals Hammond’s Spider-Man being hauled up a wall on a rope, pretending to grip it, while also being a foot away from it. Bill Bixby trying not to get angry, Flash Gordon arriving in another galaxy, that was essentially a soft porn film, Dolph Lundgren mumbling in broken English while Frank Langella hammed behind a mask, and how Michael Crawford dressed like a bird was the closest thing Disney had to a cinematic universe. 

Despite starting on a high in 1978, by 1997 there could be no doubt that the genre was dead. Out was the sheen of verisimilitude, and in were Bat-credit-cards, ugly CGI, slashed budgets, rubber nipples and Martin Sheen in a girdle. 

So, whatever happened to the heroes? Join John Rain as he walks through every film of note from 1978 to 1997, and examines just what went wrong, and how. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s SUPERBOOK


Published November 2023


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