8 Superhero Tropes Too Silly For Live-Action (and How to Make Them Work)


We’re fourteen years now into the superhero movie trend that rules Hollywood, restarted in earnest by Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie. Since that humble beginning, we’ve seen comic book tropes I never thought we’d see make it into the live-action arena, stuff like the way the entire Marvel Cinematic universe has been handled, and soon time-travel in an X-Men film, a part of the mutant mythos I thought they’d never touch.

However, there are still some tried and true classic superhero concepts from the pages of comic books that haven’t made it to the big and small screen, mostly because the studios would no doubt be afraid to even try to attempt them, for fear of being “too much” for mainstream audiences. Here are eight classic comic book/superhero tropes Hollywood has avoided as being just one step too far… and how to do them anyway, and make them work.

1. Mischievous, All-Powerful Imps


Ever since 1944, one of Superman’s most noteworthy adversaries has been the imp from the 5th Dimension, Mr. Mxyzptlk. It makes sense from a certain standpoint that DC would create a villain like this for Superman, a character who is constantly referred to as “God-like.” Well, he’s not so God-like that he can create things and change reality with the snap of a finger, and Mxy can, making him one of the few beings that can give the Man of Steel a challenge. The only way Superman could defeat Mxy was to make his somehow say his name backwards, because omnipotence apparently makes you stupid somehow. Mxy was so popular, DC gave Batman a similar all powerful imp character with Bat-Mite. Yet despite being a key part of DC’s stories for most of his publishing history, there is almost no chance Mxy (and especially Bat-Mite) will make it into the live-action films at this point. The notion of floating little people in funny hats and bow ties is just not gonna fly these days.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

Everyone just assumes that an all powerful God-like character is totally undefeatable; however the Star Trek franchise has done wonders with the character of Q, the all-powerful cosmic brat played by John deLancie. Q worked well enough they were able to utilize him across three different Trek series. If you make Mxy like Q, then it could work in a modern Superman movie. Ok, maybe not as a little person in bowler hat that floats around in the lotus position, but if you gave the character a total visual overhaul, it could conceivably work, and modern audiences could buy into it.

2. The Evil Doppelgangers


A tried and true cliche, not just for superhero comic books, but for almost all genre fiction: the evil versions of the good guys. In some cases, it’s literal, like Star Trek’s good Spock vs. bad Spock from the “mirror universe,” who taught us that all our evil counterparts have facial hair, or in the the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s metaphorical, like the “evil Slayer” named Faith. No matter how cliche, fans of this kind of material love seeing their heroes go up against some kind of bad versions of themselves. In comics, the doppelganger tends to almost always be more literal; Superman has Bizarro, Flash has Reverse-Flash, etc.

As little as ten years ago, I would have said this is a classic comic book trope that we’d never see in live action, but I also said we’d never see the crazier time-travel aspects to the X-Men lore, or a full on Avengers movie. Almost anything goes now, possibly even including the good guys fighting evil versions of themselves and not coming off as silly.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

Ok, let’s say the Justice League movie happens. At this point, we all know it’s going to. I imagine the League will face off against Darkseid in their first movie. Which leaves one to wonder..who can top Darkseid in the inevitable sequel? The easy answer is the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3, the evil versions of the Justice League, currently reeking havoc in the DCU in Forever Evil. Using the Syndicate solves so many problems from a storytelling standpoint – how do you top fighting an evil god? You fight yourselves! How do you save money by not having to hire a new A-list actor as the villain? Make the heroes the villains! It’s such a no-brainer. Plus, every actor loves to play evil and chew the scenery. Of all the “far-fetched” comic booky stuff on this list, I’d say this one has the best chance of coming to pass.

3. Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet


It’s the one thing people love to make fun of the most when it comes to the character of Wonder Woman, especially people who don’t know the character from the comics and only know her from television appearances on the old seventies TV show and Super Friends. And yet, it’s a huge part of her iconography that general audiences might expect to see when the character (finally) appears in live-action in the modern era.

The biggest problem with the invisible jet is how it’s been portrayed; instead of a plane with, to use Star Trek terminology, a cloaking device, everything in the plane is invisible except the occupant, making it look like a woman floating in the air, just sitting and steering. It looks really stupid, and I’m saying this as someone whose favorite character is Wonder Woman. Because of its reputation as one of the lamer parts of Diana’s lore, filmmakers would be tempted to ditch it completely, as has been done in the comics in more recent years.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

Despite being mocked on everything from Family Guy to most recently The Lego Movie, the invisible plane is one of Wonder Woman’s most well-known pieces of iconography. Warner Brothers might be tempted to use it, because if they did it right, and just made it a kick-ass jet which simply has a cloaking device (making everything invisible, including the people inside, as it should be) it could redeem the entire concept. This isn’t really a hard one to fix. I mean, everyone thinks Klingon ships are cool, right?

4. Luke Cage’s Costume and Superhero Name


When Luke Cage first made the scene back in 1972 as Marvel’s “Hero For Hire”, he became the first African-American hero with his own comic book. His costume, for lack of a better word, was a bright yellow blouse, blue pants, pirate boots, a chain belt, and a silver tiara. In recent years, the notion of Luke Cage having a costume (any costume) has been dropped, making him just wear regular street clothes as to appear more “badass”. I think that something was lost when Luke Cage stopped being called by his superhero code-name Power Man and just started going by his real name all the time, and lost the costume.

Despite the fact that Luke Cage went by a superhero name and wore a costume for all that time, for some reason Marvel is now ashamed of it and wants everyone try to forget that their most prominent black superhero once looked and dressed like, well…a superhero. He just wears regular jeans and a t-shirt now, and Wonder Woman-esque bracelets for some reason. With Luke Cage getting his own series on Netflix soon, Marvel is sure to drop all those more classic superhero aspects the character originated with.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

Because it’s a buff dude in an afro with a silver tiara: who doesn’t wanna see that? Seriously, I’m tired of every African-American comic book character having to look “street”- Superman is from Kansas; that doesn’t mean his costume is overalls, or that Hal Jordan’s look somehow looks like a test pilot’s uniform. Luke Cage can still be from the hood, and not have to have a costume that is so on the nose as to be insulting and just looking like your average hip-hop artist. You can be more creative than that. Marvel, if it’s not a yellow blouse buttoned all the way down, Power Man can have some kind of costume.

5. The Idea of a Multiverse


Both Marvel and DC love the idea of a multiverse: alternate universes with alternate Earths featuring various different takes on our favorite heroes. DC has more of a reputation for these “Infinite Earths,” so to speak, but Marvel has been publishing a whole line set on an alternate Earth of their own in the form of the Ultimate Comics titles since the year 2000. So far, none of the big superhero flicks has even broached the subject of a multiverse, probably with the thinking that the idea of multiple universes is too much for a mainstream audience to swallow.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

I’m not entirely sure when one of these superhero movies could cross into the idea of multiverse; it could be a Crime Syndicate vs. the Justice League movie I mentioned above, or maybe a lot sooner than that. People have been wanting to tie-in TV shows like Arrow and the upcoming Flash series on the CW to the DC Cinematic Universe that was set up in Man of Steel, but the likelihood of that happening the traditional way (having the TV versions of Green Arrow and The Flash join the big-screen League) is slim to none. Flash will almost certainly be another actor in the JL movie when that happens. But a way of making the TV versions “count” would be to explain their existence as part of a greater multiverse. TV Flash would be just as valid as movie Flash, and part of the bigger picture in a way, but still separate, and fanboys and fangirls would love it.

6. Death and Resurrection


Death almost has no meaning in superhero comics, at least not in the traditional sense. Despite whatever Max Landis says, the concept of death has been “broken” in comics since long, long before Superman kicked it fighting Doomsday back in 1992. Personally, I have no problem with this; if we are to accept that superheroes are our modern-day mythology, then death and rebirth is a part of that kind of storytelling and always has been, in almost every culture. However, up until now, in superhero movies, dead means dead. The only exception really being Jean Grey, who “died” at the end of X2, but even by the end of that particular film, it was made clear that Jean wasn’t dead really.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood joins in on the idea that super-powered heaven doesn’t have Pearly Gates so much as revolving doors. Pretty soon, a villain in one of these Marvel movies is going to be so popular that it won’t matter if he’s dead and buried; in a sequel he’ll crawl out of the grave, zombie style, or we’ll find out it wasn’t really him that died in the first place, or any of those convoluted ideas that are part and parcel of comic book storytelling. The movie versions of these stories have mostly tried to keep things like mortality somewhat grounded in reality, but expect that to change before too long.

7. The Kid Sidekick


Starting with Robin back in 1939, and followed quickly by Captain America’s kid partner Bucky Barnes, the kid sidekick has long been a trope of superhero fiction. And by “kid-sidekick” I don’t mean a teenager, well into puberty. I mean the classic “12 year old being put in serious mortal danger by an older superhero who should know better” thing. When Marvel Studios did Captain America: The First Avenger, they wisely made Bucky into Steve’s contemporary, age-wise. Even when Joel Schumacher did his camptastic Batman movies back in the nineties, they knew better than to make their Dick Grayson into a twelve year-old kid. (although Chris O’Donnell looked twenty-five and not sixteen, and that didn’t work either.) Kick-Ass made a joke out of the whole kid sidekick thing with Hit Girl, and the only reason that worked is because it played up the whole idea of how ridiculous the notion of a little kid being put in terrible situations like this really is, and just reinforced the idea that Big Daddy was crazy.

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

Let’s be honest, the only kid sidekick that really still matters anymore is Robin. If they ever make a 1940’s era Human Torch movie (they won’t, but just go with my hypothetical here) no one is gonna be like “but where is his kid sidekick Toro??” People only really care about Robin as far as kid sidekicks go. And no, Jimmy Olsen doesn’t count; he’s been portrayed as a legal-age young adult for decades now. So when you inevitably reintroduce the Robin concept to the Batman mythology in feature films, you simply make him (or her) older, like closer to sixteen or seventeen. Yes, it’s still morally questionable, but not nearly as bad as putting a little kid in harm’s way. A few years does make a difference in this case.

8. Pets With Super Powers


This is a trope that’s almost exclusive to Superman lore, although Batman had a “Bat-Hound” for several years as well (and it even wore a little mask.) See, Superman had a dog from Krypton once named Krypto. Krypto proved to be so popular that he spawned a whole bunch of other super animals from Krypton…there was Streaky the super cat, Beppo the super monkey, Comet the super horse (who wasn’t actually from Krypton, but whatever). During the Silver Age, it seemed everyone made it off Krypton in the nick of time, from whole cities to criminals to the local pet store. (Everyone but Jor-El and Lara, it seems.) These animals even formed the Legion of Super-Pets. I shit you not.

So do I really need to explain why this won’t ever happen in a live-action movie? Can you imagine how that would play out? Imagine Henry Cavill’s Superman, down for the count after getting into a brawl with Metallo or someone, having destroyed yet another portion of downtown Metropolis, when in comes the cavalry of the local Petco, but with adorable little matching capes? Have I painted a clear enough picture of why that won’t ever happen outside maybe a Dreamworks animated movie?

How You Can Make It Work, and Make It Cool

Ya know, you really can’t. Sorry, this is silly no matter which way you slice it. Although it would be beyond adorbz to see this in a movie, wouldn’t it?


Previously by Eric Diaz:

10 Reasons Why American Horror Story: Coven Is The Gayest Horror/Fantasy Show Ever

The Ten Worst DC “New 52” Costume Redesigns

The Top Ten Substance Abusers in Comics

Nine Reasons a Flash TV Show Could Be Better Than a Flash Movie

The Ten Heroes Most Unworthy Of Justice League Status (Who Joined Anyway)