The Big Wide World of Comics: From Marvel to Movies, Video Games, and More

Comic books used to be an isolated medium, reserved for rowdy elementary school boys and socially reclusive men in their thirties too immature and unseemly to make it out of their moms' basements. At least that's the stereotype. Ask any of the thousands of people worldwide today who read and enjoy comics in public and in broad daylight, and you'll get a much different impression. Comic book fans are boys, girls, men, women, grannies, and grandpas. You can find them in theaters, in bookstores, in living rooms (sometimes basements), in shopping malls, and in bright and sunny California for the nation's biggest convention of the year—and you'll see them socializing with friends, not crying in the corner alone. That's right, it's okay to love comics.

Comics are more popular and more important than we give them credit for. Their spandex-legged heroes, many of whom have upgraded to leather or other more fashionable materials, star in one of our country's biggest industries: movies. That's been a huge push not only to comics (sales of graphic novels have spiked since Hollywood gave their characters movie publicity), but also to the film industry itself. You can choose to go see another movie about another famous but not-too-funny comedy actor cross-dressing as a rotund and outspoken middle-age woman, or you can go see Robert Downey Jr. charm ladies and blow up robots in Iron Man. And if the theater isn't your scene, then you can take home an excellently produced animated movie released straight to DVD—like this year's Thor: Tales of Asgard.

Superheroes of all origins are on television, too, inspiring widely watched and completely non-cartoon shows like The Big Bang Theory. Vice versa, hit television shows (and books, and video games) are making their way into comic book line-ups, creating series like The Stand and graphic novels like Castle: Richard Castle's Deadly Storm. Even if you're just in the mood for a good ol' superhero cartoon, comics publishers have you covered with shows like Marvel Anime: Iron Man and more traditional, Western-looking series like Wolverine and the X-Men.

As far as video games go, superheroes have infiltrated that medium, too, and not just with cheap adaptations. Titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom have excelled in reviews and sales. According to the Entertainment Software Association this year, over 70% of American households play computer or video games. That's a lot of people who have or might one day web sling as Spider-Man or throw a hammer as Thor. Other times, the super-powered have inspired all-new superheroes, who have made their debut in games like InFAMOUS. Comic books themselves have acted as the models for the cut-scenes in Max Payne and the plot about an aged superhero in Viewtiful Joe.

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Comics have entered the space of novelizations, toys, and clothing lines. They soar high over New York in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. They're on us as tattoos, and whole blogs and web communities exist to discuss them. They've even benefited the gender movement, so girls and women can read comics and play video games with pride and acceptance. Superheroes aren't just about comic books anymore. They're about movies, video games, books, and fashion. They're about equal rights. And just because they're good that way, they're on Broadway and your underwear, too.

With so much prominence in today's culture, it's easy to forget what superheroes really stand for, no matter what form they take. These heroes are our idols. Their stories are more mature, dramatic, and daring than ever before, but they're with us through heartache, moral dilemmas, and global alien takeovers. They remind us of the heroes in real-life, the men and women who fight to protect us and the citizens who help us through everyday emergencies. They inspire the best in us. And whether they're real or fiction, they're here to stay.