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It's Time to Watch This Video Essay and Have Serious Thoughts About Gritty Superheroes

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Robert Pattinson as Batman.
Robert Pattinson as Batman.
Image: Warner Bros.

Gritty superheroes. Are we for them? Are we against them? Patrick H. Willems, one of the best video essayists on YouTube, is mostly just confused.

You can’t fully blame him. After all, no matter how you shake it, these characters were initially for kids and the young at heart. Their transformation into mature, gritty, sometimes nasty characters has been an odd and storied one. And maybe it’s a story you’ve heard before, if you hang out at places like io9, but Willems tells it in a fascinating way and wrings a lot of interesting analysis about the way superheroes are (and aren’t) the way they used to be, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

The video also includes thoughts from none other than Gerry Conway, one of the superhero comic writers who guided the trends that led superheroes to becoming more mature in the first place. The video is everything Willems does best: fair and entertaining pop culture analysis, with high production values and increasingly bizarre running gags (hey, 2020 has been hard on everyone).

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I don’t have very strong opinions about this matter one way or another. Dark superhero stories can be good, traditional optimistic superhero stories can be good. I largely just want good stories, however they’re aligned on the dark and gritty scale. But it’s a thought-provoking conversation, and feel free to hang out in the comments and chat about it further.

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