Once a garish, juvenile embarrassment, superheroes have escaped from the margins of Western culture to become the dominant paradigm for blockbuster entertainment in our moment. In 2019 alone, Avengers: Endgame (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo) pushed the record-breaking tradition of the hyperpopular Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise to its highest heights yet, becoming the number one highest-grossing movie of all time after taking in $2.79 billion at the box office—while the muted, cerebral Joker (dir. Todd Phillips) became the single most profitable superhero film ever, grossing more than $1 billion on a tiny $60 million budget, perhaps inaugurating a new type of middlebrow superhero film in the bargain through its calculated pastiche of critically acclaimed dramas (especially two of Martin Scorsese’s early works, Taxi Driver [1976] and The King of Comedy [1983]). Scorsese (who was for a time attached to Joker as producer...

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