Column | Is the ‘anti-superhero’ genre of movies and shows at risk of getting saturated?


Just like in the show ‘The Boys’, the youngsters at the heart of ‘Gen V’ too were all given Compound V by their opportunistic parents.

Just like in the show ‘The Boys’, the youngsters at the heart of ‘Gen V’ too were all given Compound V by their opportunistic parents.

With the proliferation in the number of superhero stories across film/ TV and OTT, it was only natural that creators moulded existing genres to give them a superhero flavour. Gen V, the recently premiered spinoff to Amazon Prime Video’s ‘anti-superhero’ series The Boys, brings the gore, action and satire of its parent show to a college-set coming-of-age framework.

For the uninitiated, The Boys is one of Amazon Prime’s most successful shows. Its central narrative critiques the horrific crimes and media-manufactured faux-heroism of ‘The Seven’, a corporate-owned superhero (called ‘supes’ colloquially in this universe) team, the members of which were injected with ‘Compound V’ as children, giving them superpowers. The youngsters at the heart of Gen V too were all given ‘Compound V’ by their opportunistic parents.

Sadly for the ‘blood-bending’ Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), the protagonist of Gen V, she accidentally kills her parents when her powers manifest. Years later, she gets accepted into the Godolkin University, which is basically a feeder school for Vought’s various superhero-linked businesses. The best handful of students get assigned ‘real’ superhero jobs, like protecting cities. The rest end up selling various kinds of Vought superhero merchandise, either through direct advertisements or scripted films/ shows.

Beware of cliches

Gen V is a smartly written show, often funny and gory and achingly sad, all in the same episode, much like The Boys. And yet, there’s the lurking feeling that the ‘anti-superhero’ theme might be at risk of getting saturated. A couple of years ago, when Marvel’s miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier first premiered, I had written about a then-nascent trend: exploring the idea that superheroes are often proto-fascists. The Boys, with its Trumpian superhero/ villain Homelander, had finished a season by then. Now, of course, it’s one of Amazon’s fan-favourite shows, having already spawned two separate spinoffs.

DC’s Titans (on Netflix), which completed its four-season run this May, became an anti-superhero show by the end, having started off as a fairly conventional superhero narrative. Sylvester Stallone’s Samaritan (on Prime) was another underwhelming variation on the same theme, and even its leading man’s undoubted charisma could not rescue the film.

Which brings us to an uncomfortable question that both Gen V and The Boys must eventually confront — how soon before the pointed satires and the real-world jokes become indistinguishable from the thing they’re parodying? In my view, both of these shows must be careful lest they fall into the same trap as some of the others in the ‘anti-superhero’ subgenre. Shazam: Fury of the Gods (also on Prime) is a good example — its parody of the superhero genre eventually becomes so broad-strokes that in the second half, the story devolves into the same narrative cliches it targets in the first half.

When you think about it, this actually happens all the time in Hollywood — parodies and critiques are eventually assimilated within a commercial framework in a nudge-wink way. If you look at the MCU, it’s clear that the Ant-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy movies, especially, are explicitly designed as sardonic commentaries (often written like ‘irate fan’ commentaries) on the rest of the Marvel universe. Deadpool is another in-house franchise that goes out of its way to make fun of Marvel superheroes.

Get all eyeballs

It’s a mega-corporation’s way of maximising outreach. They want the ‘normie’ teenager’s money, the one who’s unironically in love with Iron Man (pun unintended). But they also want his geeky bookworm friend’s money, the one who feels most superhero films are a waste of time (but maybe some of ’em are cool and sarcastic). The best way to achieve this outcome is to make both kinds of movies consistently and within the same overarching narrative framework.

Saturation, therefore, is a real concern in this space. Luckily for fans of The BoysGen V is off to a promising start and the parent show has — to its credit — maintained its quality across three seasons. So far, so good. Both of these shows and indeed, future entrants in the anti-superhero subgenre, must work extra hard to stay fresh and relevant. Streamers are in an arms race to acquire superhero content and it won’t be long before the ‘anti-superhero’ plank starts wearing thin.

The writer and journalist is working on his first book of non-fiction.



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