(CNN)For comic-book fans, the release of "X-Men" in 2000 represented a watershed moment: after years of indignities and disappointments on screens big and small, a serious, well-made superhero movie helped set in motion the dominant cultural and box office force they have become.
Will 'Logan' trigger a wave of R-rated superheroes?
So it's appropriate that two offshoots of that franchise -- the latest Wolverine saga "Logan," and to a lesser degree the FX series "Legion" -- are at the center of questions about whether the genre has crossed another threshold, one where R-rated movies and more cerebral and ambitious TV offerings might be the next evolutionary phase.
It's also possible, though, that "Logan" is something of an anomaly -- not quite a perfect storm, but a title that lent itself to more adult and, yes, bloody treatment than might be advisable for most comic book fare.
Certainly, the proliferation of such titles, and Marvel's enormous success and influence since embarking on a series of films that began with "Iron Man" in 2008, have opened the door in ways that once would have seemed unimaginable.
Moreover, "Logan" -- which opened to huge box office returns around the world -- follows "Deadpool," another R-rated Fox hit.
In a similar vein, FX's "Legion" offers a darker, more cerebral take on mutant powers -- a show that has very little in common with the splashier aspects of the Marvel universe. That follows Netflix's darker run of series devoted to second-tier Marvel characters, including "Daredevil," "Luke Cage," "Jessica Jones" and the upcoming "Iron Fist," which premieres this month.
It's all a rather heady time for comic book fans, having long endured a period where screen incarnations of superheroes resorted to camp, exhibiting little faith that a mass audience could take the core material seriously.
By contrast, in the wake of "Logan's" brawny opening Shawn Robbins, chief analyst of Boxoffice.com, told CNN the movie could herald "where the next era of the entire genre may be heading."
At this point, there's clearly no going back to the bad old days, where even director Tim Burton's landmark "Batman" was followed by sillier sequels.
But "Logan" might also be a relatively novel situation, featuring a Wolverine character with 17 years of screen equity built up, whose razor-sharp claws were perfectly suited to reveling in greater mayhem.
Fox also embraced the more adult tone going in. As one of the writers told the Hollywood Reporter, "We didn't have to sell happy meals."
With Marvel and its parent Disney engaged in what amounts to an arms race with DC Entertainment, owned by Warner Bros., the interest in such movies has only proliferated. Yet as that happy meal reference indicates, not only do these franchises potentially generate box office success, but they offer plenty of ancillary benefits, in everything from merchandising sales to theme park attractions.
As most reviews noted, "Logan" is pretty crazily violent, and certainly not for younger kids. That means sacrificing a portion of the audience -- not incidentally, the quadrant that clamors for action figures -- on the altar of edginess.
In that context, R-rated movies have a place in the superhero toolbox. It would be naïve, however, to assume the benefits of painting with those crimson colors doesn't come with associated costs and risks.
As a spinoff of the "X-Men" franchise, "Logan" had earned the right to organically evolve into the direction that it followed. That said, seeing the movie as a license to kill -- and kill and kill -- might be misreading its lessons.
Then again, it wouldn't be the first time Hollywood has seized on a hit and, in the frenzy to replicate it, engaged in what amounts to overkill.