“So what do you call your team anyway?”
“A work in progress.”
As you know, I have been defining each character type by their relationship to the Hero. For instance, in X-Men, Wolverine is the main Hero and Rogue is the main Secondary Hero because she fights with Wolverine and becomes a hero by following his example of bravery. On the other hand, Cyclops exists in something of a gray area. Technically, he is not the Hero, even if he has all the trappings of one (powers, a Damsel, etc.). This is one of the main problems that arises from films about groups of superheroes, because often each one could be picked out as a Hero. The Fantastic 4 and Watchmen also have this problem of too many Heroes and unclear character definitions. For instance, Sue Storm could qualify a Secondary Hero as well, but her main function in the film is to be the Damsel.
Sue’s case is not unusual. While there are very few female Heroes and Secondary Heroes, that doesn’t mean that Superhero movies are devoid of butt-kicking ladies. In reality, there are a lot of female superheroes, but most of them are members of a team. Batgirl, Rogue, Storm, Jean Grey, the Invisible Woman, Silk Spectre, Elastigirl, Black Widow, Hit-Girl, all are superheroines who are overshadowed by men. In addition, virtually all of them double as Damsels, often simply by being the only main female character. This is an unfortunate symptom of a male-dominated genre, and something that I hope will change in the future.
Roles can also vary from film to film within a franchise. A character can start off as a Confidante in the first film, become a Villain during the second, and end up as a Secondary Hero in the third (see Harry Osbourne in the Spider-Man series). However, there are very few instances where the Hero gets replaced during the course of a franchise. Perhaps the only case in which this happens comes between Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. In Batman & Robin, it is Robin who takes on the role of the Primary Hero, while Batman behaves much more like a Mentor. This is likely a due to Robin’s sidekick nature and the fact that these two films are focused on his rise as a hero, since Batman’s has already been established. In addition, the rest of the characters in the film seem to revolve much more around Robin than Batman. Robin is the one who gets a true Damsel in the film (Barbara), while all Bruce gets is a little arm candy. In addition, Poison Ivy is much more Robin’s Villain than Batman’s. She is Batman’s dark mirror, but only inasmuch as she represents a mother figure to Robin where Batman is the father. This forces Robin to choose between his “father” and his “mother”, making the conflict much more personal for him than for Batman.
I mentioned earlier that most Mentors die in the first act of a film, but there are many that survive. Some Mentors, such as Whistler and Xavier, act as a amalgam of Mentor and Confidante, and their status can vary from scene to scene. Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul is another interesting example of a Mentor who ends up becoming the Villain. What is most interesting about this particular case is that Ducard “dies” and then seems to come back to life as Ra’s, not so unlike his comic book counterpart. Ducard’s near-death during the first act provides a distinct line between his two functions, and in doing so makes him more effective in each role. We fear Rah’s much more exactly because he taught Bruce how to become Batman.
The next two years will certainly be an interesting one for Superhero Films, and it is likely that the way we think about many of these characters will change even within the next few months. Certainly The Avengers will shatter many of the rules of the Superhero Genre by using previously established Heroes and having them unite against a single villain. In addition, the recently announced Wonder Woman series could be the key to bringing more female Heroes to the forefront and will certainly have lasting ramifications on the idea of the Damsel. The only thing we can say for sure is that the characters of future Superhero Films will, if nothing else, be super.