By Darren Franich
Updated September 17, 2010 at 07:22 PM EDT

Image Credit: Stephen Vaughan; DC ComicsThe formula for superhero movies hasn’t really changed that much since Bryan Singer’s X-Men ten years ago. Make it grim and gritty. Remove all primary colors. Tell the actors to scowl. Don’t put anyone in a costume unless you have to. The post-Matrix vogue for bleakly dystopian action movies merged with the post-Frank Miller trend of “realism” in comic books, and the result was Batman’s Alec-Baldwin-with-strep-throat voice.

Friends, there is another way. Look no further than Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s epic All-Star Superman, a miniseries that supercharges all the hokiest elements of an unabashedly hokey character – Bizarro talking funny! Time-traveling Superman from the future! Kryptonite in every color! Jimmy Olsen! – and becomes a funny, sad, world-beating epic. According to The Hollywood Reporter, All-Star Superman is next in line for DC’s well-regarded series of direct-to-DVD animated movies. (Christina Hendricks is voicing Lois Lane, and I’m already sweating.) A DVD-movie intended for kids ain’t exactly a blockbuster, but could we be witnessing the end of the Grim Superhero era?

Short answer: probably not. Captain America is set during World War II, and only Mel Brooks and Quentin Tarantino can get away with making funny movies about Nazis. Thor looks like hobo-Jesus with daddy issues. Speaking of daddy issues, The Green Hornet is shoehorning in a backstory about a disappointed father. But look farther out on the horizon, and you’ve got Avengers (directed by screwball-dialogue loving Joss Whedon) and X-Men: First Class, a purposefully retro treat (check out January Jones!) that seems like a purposeful rebuttal to the everybody-in-leather style of the original X trilogy.

Of course, there’s also Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie, which presumably will continue the franchise’s unremittingly grim streak. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I kinda like the Bat-voice. But going gritty has ruined some superheroes. Neither of the Punisher movies were as funny as they should have been. Ghost Rider just looked underlit. Hancock was chugging along as an enjoyable super-farce before the mid-movie twist turned it into a mock-tragic love story. Iron Man 2 sapped all the fun out of the original by turning Tony Stark into a tragic figure…with, yes, daddy issues.

PopWatchers, are you excited for superheroes who smile occasionally? Or do you prefer things bleak and hopeless? Should we just put these poor heroes in therapy? And has there been a comic yet about a superhero therapist? Because if not, TRADEMARK!

Iron Man 2

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 125 minutes
  • Jon Favreau