Formulas are described in Ray Browne’s Popular Culture: a Reader as “a sophistication and narrowing of the concept of myth into the realization that all cultural expressions develop in a mixture of the old and new, the well established and the newly developing, that is, conventions and inventions” (Browne, 2005). Formulae are used in every story we read, every movie we watch, every video game we play, and every comic book hero that we idolize. It is a tried-and-true way of created a “new” story that we already know people love because they have gone to see it again and again and Marvel comics are no exception.
Marvel comic book heroes all follow the same basic pattern: weak and powerless person suffers some tragedy that they were unable to prevent, they gain powers (via mutation, genetic experimentation, radioactive contamination, or a simple “super suit”), and then use those powers to attempt to stop anyone else from suffering tragedy like they did, saving all of humanity in some instances. We also never see a super hero truly die. Many super heroes have been killed off in an epic battle only to be brought to life an issue later to save their town from impending destruction.
The formula of underdog-beats-the-odds is not new to mainstream entertainment: it is very popular in sports movies, children’s movies, and even romantic comedies (a maid marrying a millionaire sound like a typical underdog to me (Maid in Manhattan, 2002). But the comic book industry uses it only to start their story off. Someone weak usually suffers some sort of tragedy—we’ll use Ororo Munroe (aka Storm) as an example—Storm was the daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American photojournalist and lived with her parents in Cairo until she was five years old—when a plane crashed into her home and killed both of her parents. There was nothing at all she could have done to stop that from happening (nothing anyone could have done without some sort of unnatural powers). She then lived a hard life as a street urchin and pickpocket, her powers not showing themselves until she was in her teens. She then gained the ability to control the weather and served a tribe in Kenya as their goddess, protecting them from supernatural threats until she was called to help save the world and join the X-Men (Ororo Munroe). Even without someone calling her to help save the world, she offered her power to help those unable to do so, to save people from suffering the same fate she suffered.
As stated before, heroes never stay dead. DC Comics killed off their most beloved super hero, Superman, in the 90s, selling more than 2 million copies of the issue that he died in (When DC killed superman they almost killed the comic book industry, 2010). But he didn’t stay dead long. He came back to life and it soon became a common thing to kill off super heroes and have them resurrected to fight again. There is a saying in the comic book industry that “no one stays dead except for Uncle Ben” (No One Stays Dead in Comics, 2014) and Uncle Ben is not killed in every universe within the Multiverse, so technically, he is not 100% dead. Many Marvel characters even have the ability to resurrect themselves (or regrow their body after it being smashed to bit in Wade Wilson’s ( Deadpool) case) and don’t stay dead as a part of their own story and ability set.
While different comic book characters may all seem very unique and have very different abilities or backgrounds, all suffer from the same basic origin story: weakling suffers tragedy, weakling gains power, now-powerful-weakling seeks to protect others (and possibly avenge said tragedy). This basic formula of a weak person becoming strong and defeating evil is something that has brought viewer to movies, readers to books, and gamers to video games. It is a classic tale and loved by everyone. Resurrecting characters, however, is more of a publicity stunt, acting on reader’s emotions to sell more copies for a storyline that keeps you on the edge. Knowing that all things that are made to sell contain some formula that was used by the writer to garner interest makes some stories a little less interesting, but the many different personalities seen in comics help to hide this so that you do not feel as if you are seeing the same origin story over and over again.
When DC killed Superman they almost killed the comic industry. And Marvel is about to reload the gun…. (2010, November 27). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from https://comicbookgrrl.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/when-dc-killed-superman-they-almost-killed-the-comic-industry-and-marvel-is-about-to-reload-the-gun/
Browne, R. B. (2005). Profiles of popular culture: A reader. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Williams, O. (2015, October 9). No One Stays Dead In Comics: 16 Superhero Deaths And How Long They Lasted. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/comic-book-deaths/
Deadpool (Wade Wilson). (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://marvel.com/universe/Deadpool_(Wade_Wilson)
Ororo Munroe (Earth-616). (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Ororo_Munroe_(Earth-616)