My birthday was almost two months ago. Lordy lordy, look who’s 39! It was a pretty insignificant birthday, to be honest. Nothing spectacular to celebrate or lament. I had lunch with my mother, and took my flight back home (I was on a business trip that week).
I’m at the age where no one plans birthday parties for me, so I figured I’d do something low key the day after…we have a nice new backyard, so I figured I’d put some meat on the grill, have some friends over, and just have everyone have a good time. I pictured friends sitting in chairs in the backyard, talking about when we were single (we were all friends before kids and mortgages and so forth). I sent out invitations 2 weeks before, got responses from about 16 people, planned for that many.
Only problem was…only one family showed. Food went in the trash, that “Expectation vs Reality” scene from (500) Days of Summer was playing out in my mind. I was really annoyed about this. I swore I’d never have another birthday party again. Screw those people! They’ll all know my pain!
Or…maybe I’m just not a good friend recently.
I could have seen this coming, because I’ve seen this play out in comic book movies over the last decade, in the form of the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes. A little background is in order.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
The term ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ didn’t exist before 2008, when Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk hit the theaters. The movies were a hit, much to many peoples’ surprise, but even more surprising was the appearance of post credits scenes with tie-ins to other Marvel characters. After positive response to these teasers, movies followed for Captain America, Thor, then a second one about Iron Man, and then to tie them together they all show up in The Avengers in 2012.
DC Extended Universe
DC has been more popular in the movie scene over the decades with multiple Superman movies in the 1980s followed by multiple Batman movies in the 1990s and the Dark Knight series reboots of Batman in the 2000s. In 2013, Man of Steel rebooted the Superman franchise and was well recieved. In 2016 the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was started by Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. This served to reboot Batman, and introduced Wonder Woman into the mix with Superman to connect multiple DC characters into one universe. Followed up by Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and just last week Justice League, a multitude of new characters have been introduced with standalone origin stories planned for the Flash, Aquaman, and potentially even Harley Quinn and Cyborg.
DCEU appears to be hitting its stride now, but has had a rocky start, with Batman vs. Superman being poorly received by critics and requiring follow up movies to smooth out some rough plot points. MCU movies have been better received by critics, and The Avengers in particular was a box office smash, shooting up at one point to be the third highest grossing movie at the box office…ever.
So, what was the difference?
The Avengers was a supergroup movie, with origin stories for all the contributing members before the movie even started…no time had to be spent on backstories because they’d already been told for each member and it was time to get right to the action.
Batman vs. Superman was a supergroup movie as well, but it had to take timeouts to tell backstories for Batman, introduce the world to Wonder Woman, and after that when the action finally started it had to be crammed in because there wasn’t enough time for a villain backstory at the same time. It left a lot of people, myself included, thinking “Huh?” at the end of the movie, and I had to do a lot of Wikipedia-ing to figure out what just happened. Once you read the backstory, Lex Luthor and Doomsday are interesting characters but more research was required to bridge that gap.
The Lesson I Learned
After comparing DCEU’s and MCU’s first tries at a supergroup movie, I think I see the error of my ways. We have young kids, so we haven’t been very social lately because it’s stressful to arrange events with other families. My attempt at a birthday party was a Batman vs. Superman type of event instead of the “Avengers, Assemble!” party I was hoping for. I should have seen this coming…the supergroup event isn’t going to be as effective if you haven’t worked out all the supporting details.
The solution? It’s time for some origin stories! Some of my groups of friends are individual families, and relationships have to be cultivated with each of these families before anyone can feel comfortable in a group setting. We’re going to make plans with smaller groups (families, usually 2-5 people) on a regular basis and keep these going for awhile before we try a super group event again. This way, it doesn’t feel rushed, and if the big event never happens it’s not a crushing blow because I know these people are my friends.
Simply put, being a “super friend” means having individual relationships with each of your friends that stand on their own. It’s not about killing it at the box office of your life, it’s about having players on your stage that mean something to you.