Superheroes and superhero stories are, let’s be honest, kind of weird. These are grown men and women in themed, skin-tight costumes, evil geniuses that want to take over the world and there is no such thing as permanent death. With the strange tropes of the genre, plus the fact that superheroes have been around since 1938, it’s no wonder there are so many superhero satires and parodies out there. Some of the best spoofs have found their own place as staples of pop culture, standing on their own legs as stories rather than just parodies.
It’s a really great way to write a modern superhero story, recognizing all the tropes and cliches and spinning them into something new and self-aware. It’s hard to find a modern superhero comic that doesn’t do this in some small part. Heck, even Marvel and DC poke fun at themselves from time to time. Some of these satires act both as a play on superhero cliches and as a tribute to them, usually coming from a place of love from the creators. We love superhero stories, which is why we love these superhero parodies even more!
16. THE TICK
He’s big, he’s blue, he’s not all that bright, he’s… The Tick! Created in 1986 by Ben Edlung, The Tick was conceived to be a mascot for the newsletter of the comic store, New England Comics. He eventually earned his own spin-off comic where he was depicted as a mental institution-escapee. The Tick’s depiction has changed a bit over his various comics and TV shows, always joined by his moth-suit-wearing sidekick, Arthur.
Perhaps The Tick’s greatest claim to fame was the 1994 animated series. The cartoon aired on Fox and lasted for three seasons, introducing characters both old and new and going through nearly every superhero trope there is. The Tick stands as one of the greatest superhero f all time, both as a parody and as his own character, which is why we can’t wait for the new Amazon original series to premiere.
15. THE INCREDIBLES
Though it isn’t based on any comic book, Disney’s The Incredibles is considered by many to be the best superhero movie of all time (and the only good “Fantastic Four” movie). While not exactly a parody or spoof of sorts, The Incredibles still manages to poke fun at superheroes, paying tribute to the genre at the same time. Bard Bird created the film as a combination of his favorite boyhood spy movies and comic books, and it pays off.
The Incredibles’ initial premise is in itself a satire of the superhero genre; superheroes have retired and gone into hiding, but a new threat brings Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their children into action. The twist with the film’s villain is also a great spin on the classic “sidekick gone bad” comic storyline, and there are countless other genre tributes that make the film the perfect superhero movie.
14. THE POWERPUFF GIRLS
While the current Powerpuff Girls reboot on Cartoon Network has met with, shall we say, less than favorable reception, we can always go back and watch the amazing, hilarious and overly-violent original. Craig McCracken’s Powerpuff Girls is one of the greatest tributes/satires of the superhero genre. Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are three adorable little girls who happen to have pretty much every superpower imaginable. Though they’re young, they manage to save the day and defend the city of Townsville from daily supervillain attacks.
From the villains to the plots, the original Powerpuff Girls was rife with superhero cliches and spoofs, each zanier than the last. Who can forget the Mayor of Townsville, an incompetent, bumbling buffoon who relied on the girls for everything (much like Commissioner Gordon on Batman ’66). PPG is not only a great superhero satire, its a great superhero show, period.
13. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon that captured the hearts of millions of kids with the release of the 1987 cartoon. The franchise has become somewhat kid-friendly over the years with two other animated series and two live-action family movies, so most people might not know it had dark satirical beginnings.
Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the characters to pay tribute and satirize the popular comics of the ’80s. At the time of TMNT’s creation, the most popular comics were Frank Miller’s Daredevil, which is where they got the ninja aspect; the New Mutants, where the teenage mutants come from; and to a lesser extent, Dave Sim’s Cerberus the Aardvark, which is where they got the talking animal aspect. Though the comics started out as a dark satire of these comics, it eventually grew into its own, awesome entity.
Kickass, both the film and the original comic by Mark Millar, is a fantastic deconstruction of superheroes. Taking place in “the real world,” it follows Dave Lizewski, a comic nerd who is inspired by his favorite heroes to don a homemade costume and take on crime. Kickass is a brutal take on “real-life heroes,” showing the dark psychological side of being a vigilante.
Both the film and the comic point out a lot of superhero cliches, often juxtaposed next to the reality of being a superhero. There are no tragic origin stories, no superpower-granting toxic waste vats, just people who try to fight crime and face the real consequences of it. There are some mixed opinions on the book and both films, but it’s hard to deny the great satirical aspects of Kickass.
Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, which is soon getting a film adaptation, is perhaps one of the most honest superhero comics of all time. Invincible is self-aware, satirical and all-around cheeky when it comes to the classic aspects of superhero and superhero storytelling. The comic takes place in a world full of superheroes, to a point where their crazy adventures are seen as mundane.
This is one of the strongest aspects of Invincible, the tongue-in-cheek, nonchalant approach to a world full of superheroes. The superheroes and their friends and family react to bonkers, out-of-this-world events and attacks like it’s just another Monday, because to them it is. This, along with the spoof characters and bait-and-switch storytelling are what make Invincible such a great superhero satire, and a great comic overall.
10. DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG
In 2008, Joss Whedon released an internet series that became an instant hit. It was called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and was produced for a small budget by Whedon himself so that he could have total creative freedom. It tells the story of Dr. Horrible, a mad scientist super villain who aims to be worthy of joining the Evil League of Evil. Neil Patrick Harris plays the titular role with Nathan Fillion playing Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible’s nemesis.
The show does a lot to play with superhero storytelling, the main twist of course being that the story is told from the perspective of the villain, Captain Hammer, being portrayed as the antagonist. Fillion’s Captain Hammer is self-centered and kind of a bully, the main conflict between him and Dr. Horrible stemming from their shared love interest, Penny (Felicia Day.) Plus, you know, everyone’s singing the whole time.
9. ONE-PUNCH MAN
Combining elements of both American and Japanese superhero tropes, One-Punch Man settles between parody and badass battle anime. One-Punch Man is a bit different from most other anime in that it’s based on a manga that was based on a webcomic. The original comic was written and drawn by an author who simply goes by “ONE.” The webcomic was adapted into a manga with ONE writing and Yusuke Murata drawing, and follows Saitama, a superhero who is so powerful he defeats every enemy in one punch.
This all-powerful life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as Saitama, who is only a hero for fun, has become bored with this one-punch life. The series’ villains and other heroes are all spoofs or satires of superhero tropes, and the anime switches back and forth between comedy and amazingly animated fight scenes at breakneck speeds.
Alright, alright, technically M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable isn’t a superhero satire in a lot of ways, but stick with us here. Though there is little to no comedic approach to Unbreakable, the pseudo-superhero film is very aware of the classic aspects of superhero storytelling. In fact, Samuel Jackson’s character, Elijah Price, serves to fill both David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and the audience in on classic hero tropes.
Unbreakable has so many superhero cliches and tropes in it; almost too many to name. There’s the alliteration of the main character’s name, the villain’s tragic backstory, a final climatic battle and so much more. The movie even pokes fun at the idea of superheroes knowing exactly where to be at the right time to save the day. After Shymalan’s Split was revealed to be a sequel of sorts, Glass was announced to be a third entry of the Unbreakable series.
7. DARKWING DUCK
One of the more unconventional superhero shows on this list is Darkwing Duck, a strange but immensely popular venture by Disney. After the success of the original Ducktales, Disney tried something new with original characters, keeping with the theme of anthropomorphic ducks. Darkwing Duck followed Drake Mallard: ordinary citizen by day, vigilante by night. As Darkwing Duck has no power and relies on gadgets, he is of course a parody on Batman and pulp hero, The Shadow, with other superheroes and their villains serving as spoofs of other famous heroes.
Darkwing Duck is remembered as one of the best after-school cartoons of its time, and for good reason! The show was brilliantly crafted in both its comedy and action. Darkwing Duck was part of Disney’s ambitions foray into TV animation, which also brought us shows like Goof Troop and Talespin, but none of those compare to the superhero satire of Darkwing Duck.
6. MADMAN AND FREAKAZOID
When Bruce Timm and Paul Dini stated that when they were developing Freakazoid, they had Mike Allred’s Madman comics open constantly. Mike Allred would later criticize the show for lifting too much from his works, but there was no further action taken. Despite the controversy, the two works have a lot to offer individually, both standing as excellent examples of superhero satire and parody.
Madman got his powers after he died and was Frankensteined back to life, giving him faster reflexes and various psionic abilities. Freakazoid is also known as Dexter Douglas, a computer nerd who was transformed into Freakazoid after being zapped into the internet. While Madman’s adventures are more satirical, Freakazoid is a lot more cartoony, zany and self-aware, often breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience of his cartoon. Despite the issues with their similarities, Madman and Freakazoid are both hilarious and fun superhero parodies.
5. SKY HIGH
Sky High is about Will Stronghold, the son of two superheroes: The Commander and Jetstream,; however, Will has no powers of his own. The movie follows Will as he starts school at Sky High, a high school for training the next generation of superheroes. However, because of his lack of powers, he is put into the sidekick class. The film has a lot of great messages while poking fun at some of the crazy cliches and tropes of superhero comics and high school movies.
Sky High is a great little supes flick, giving us the classic origin story with the twist of high school and the concept of legacy. It’s not a story we haven’t seen before, but it manages to give its own unique take on the genre and narrative while being a whole lot of fun. It also featured some famous action-stars in supporting roles like Lynda Carter and Bruce Campbell.
4. THE AWESOMES
Though the animation of The Awesomes isn’t up to the same standards of Batman The Animated Series and the like, the show’s biggest strength is in its writing. Created by Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker, The Awesomes follows Prock Awesome, the son of Mr. Awesome, the world’s greatest superhero and leader of The Awesomes. After Mr. Awesome retires, every other superhero quits The Awesomes. In order to keep the world safe, Prock makes a new Awesomes from third-rate heroes that he sees potential in.
The show has a lot of heart, both in its comedic storytelling and its honest love of the superhero genre. Seth Meyers clearly loves comic books, and it shows in The Awesomes, which plays as both a spoof and a love letter to superheroes. The Awesomes ended after three season on Hulu, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Like Dr. Horrible, Dreamworks’ Megamind flipped the superhero script by following the villain’s story. Will Ferrell plays the title villain, who finally manages to destroy he nemesis, Metro Man. Following his victory, Megamind becomes bored with his life as a villain, and aims to make a new superhero to fight against. Things go a bit crazy and end up with Megamind becoming the hero of Metro City, learning that he was a good guy deep down all along.
Megamind manages to do a lot of great superhero genre-based humor. Metro Man, voiced by Brad Pitt, is a fantastically egotistical version of Superman, complete with a ridiculous sequinned and tasseled costume. Plus, the love interest is Roxie, a reporter who wrote about Metro Man before his “demise.” Megamind, like many other entries on this list, recognizes some of the silliest superhero tropes and spins them into something fun and new.
A homeless drunk who has super strength, super speed, flight and invulnerability: that’s comedy gold right there. Though Hancock was a bit of a disappointment in the end (mostly due to the strange second half of the film), the idea and the way it deconstructs the superhero narrative are pretty damn smart. The basic concept of a drunk, worthless superhero is a great reversal of the perfect boy scout superhero type.
Again, the film got a little weird in the second half, shifting the superhero idea into more of a mythical drama, but it still earns a place on this list, if only for the concept itself. It’s only been nine years since the film was released, but maybe a reboot would be a good idea, since the setup of Hancock is too good to pass down. Hopefully we get to see a better executed version of this deconstructed superhero story.
If you want a superhero move that gets dark, then you need to check out Super. The 2011 black comedy/drama starred Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page and was directed and written by Guardians director, James Gunn. It follows Frank Darbo, who creates the superhero identity “The Crimson Bolt” after his wife is leaves him for a drug dealer who gets her addicted. Joined by “Boltie,” his new sidekick, he engages in a crusade against crime by punishing rule breakers and attempting to save his wife.
It might sound like a Kickass ripoff, but Super is so much more. For one thing, the dark-comedy hits a lot harder, striking at your emotional core, while still being action-packed. Though the film’s ending is somewhat bittersweet, Gunn made a masterpiece of superhero satire that stands on its own as a fantastic film.
Can you think of any other superhero parodies, satires or pastiches that far exceed Marvel or DC fare? If so, let us know!
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