The summer movie season is under way, and that means a new crop of superhero movies.
In recent years, Hollywood has been inundating us with blockbuster films based on famous comic-book heroes. In just the past few months, studios have released four sequels to hit Marvel films. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" comes out this weekend. Before that, we had "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" earlier this month.
Meanwhile, DC Comics has inspired such hits as the Dark Knight Trilogy and last summer's latest version of the Superman saga, "Man of Steel."
The success of superhero-related media has spawned TV shows such as Marvel's "Agents of S. H. I. E. L.D.", the CW's 10-season run of "Smallville" and the current "Arrow" series.
Superheroes have been around for a long time, first popularized as comics in the early 1900s and since adapted into cartoons, novels, video games and even Broadway shows.
Why have superheroes endured this long?
As an avid superhero fan (I watch the movies, though I don't read the comics), I can appreciate why superheroes continue to enthrall a diverse range of people.
As a group, they share unique powers, idealistic views of what the world can be and a strong commitment to doing what is right. They all are flawed, but they always try to better themselves.
Individually, each superhero embodies specific attributes and themes.
Take Spider-Man. He is relatable because he embodies the pressures teens face balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities and social lives. Sure, most teens don't masquerade as vigilantes in red and blue spandex suits and don't shoot webs from their wrists while trying to save New York City from being obliterated.
But teens still do a lot. Some take five AP classes, spend two hours a day at practice for varsity sports or pull all-nighters, composing college admissions essays.
And superhero or not, Peter Parker still has to deal with ordinary problems. He gets lectured by his Aunt May for forgetting to go to the grocery store and worries about relationship issues when his girlfriend (spoiler alert!) decides to move to London.
All along, Spider-Man reinforces the idea that anyone can make a difference. As he explains to "nobody" Oscorp employee Max Dillon, "You are somebody."
We all recognize Superman in his iconic suit and cape, zooming through the sky and saving lives. Underneath that image, though, he is a complex person struggling to discover his identity.
Just as our mentors guide us morally, Superman's adoptive parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent, steer him toward doing the right thing. Superman must also deal with his insecurity about being inherently different from humans because of his Kryptonian heritage and his peers' ridicule. His acceptance of who he is arguably defines one of his strongest moments. This sends a clear message about the need for acceptance and the harm perpetrated by narrow-minded views directed against those who are different.
Batman's story has a different feel to it than the others. Gotham City is a dark place. And the Batman characters, such as Catwoman, who starts off as a burglar but redeems herself through helping Batman, often blur the line between hero and villain. This conveys the idea that people are multidimensional and that doing something you are not proud of does not necessarily make you a terrible person.
Batman is not a superhero in the literal sense. He doesn't have Superman's ability to fly, the Hulk's incredible strength or the Flash's speed. But he takes the initiative to learn how to fight to bring the city's criminals to justice. We aren't all billionaires like Bruce Wayne, but we, too, don't need special powers to do great things. Through determination and hard work, we can change the world.
If recent Hollywood trends are any indication, superheroes won't be going out of fashion any time soon. The box office success of many of these films is generating sequels, including a second Avengers movie and a follow-up to "Man of Steel." Studios are also exploring lesser-known characters, such as those in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" coming out later this year. These figures and others will continue to make their mark on the world as role models for people of all ages.
Shilpa Rao attends San Ramon Valley High School in Danville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.