comics

X-Men: Apocalypse, the sixth X-movie in 16 years (give or take a couple of Wolverine solo flicks and the breakout spinoff Deadpool) begins and ends with wearying campaigns of computer-animated mayhem. Pyramids, then skyscrapers dissolve. The body count must be high, but the stakes feel low.

If you haven't heard of the Marvel superhero Black Panther, that's going to change very soon.

Marvel Studios

With its gothic-inspired Gotham sets and brooding hero, Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) may have been the first modern superhero film, but really the current tidal wave we’ve been riding didn’t get started until after the advent of CGI special effects. By the time the 2000 film “X-Men” came out, filmmakers had the visual tools needed to create mass destruction onscreen, and with few exceptions they’ve been going to town ever since.

After he won a National Book Award, and one of the MacArthur Foundation's so-called genius grants, no one anticipated Ta-Nehisi Coates' next move.

"What's the good of getting a MacArthur genius grant if you can't go and write a comic book for Marvel?" Coates tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "I don't know. There are things that people consider to be genius, and then there are things that deep in my heart I've always believed to be genius."

Comic books from several discrete decades get mashed up in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, while swaths of real estate — uninhabited swaths, we're repeatedly assured — just get pulped. But no text is quoted more directly than The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller's influential 1986 tale of an over-the-hill Batman coming out of retirement to clean up a Gotham gone to hell. It was the greatest Batman story ever told, and it had the unforeseen side effect of draining every particle of sunlight out of superhero stories for years to come.

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