Superheroes

Posted: July 9, 2010 in Braak, comic books
Tags: , ,

Am just throwing this together now; it’s part of a broader piece I’m going to try and write about superheroes.  I just want to have some notes together, here.

What do superheroes fight?

Marvel

X-Men:  Evil mutants, apocalyptic threats, the government, prejudice.

The Avengers:  Evil governments, giant monsters, other avengers, robots built by other Avengers.

Spider-Man:  Crime.

Daredevil:  Crime.

Punisher:  Crime.

Dr. Strange:  ???  Dormamu, obviously.  Once I think he fought a house that was a vampire.  Not really crime, though.

Fantastic Four:  Aliens.  Doctor Doom.

Iron Man (w/o the Avengers):  Evil espionage organizations, the Chinese, Godzilla.

Captain America (w/o the Avengers):  Terrorists, Russians, the government.

Blade the Vampire Hunter:  Vampires.

Wolverine (w/o X-Men):  Ninjas, Sabretooth.

DC:

Superman:  Space aliens, Lex Luthor, Braniac, mother nature herself.  (Sometimes:  crime).

Batman:  Crime, the mentally-handicapped.

Green Lantern:  Does he do crime?  Mostly aliens, I think.  Does the Lantern Corps even have a mandate to pick up bank robbers?

Wonder Woman:  Witches, minotaurs, giants.  Demigods.

The Flash:  Oh! Crime.

Green Arrow:  Crime.

The Martian Manhunter:  I guess he does crime, too, doesn’t he?  Or he did.  Mostly I think he just hangs out with the Justice League, now.

The Justice League:  Aliens, the INjustice League.

The Doom Patrol:  Well, who the shit knows?  They fought a sentient black hole before, and also the Brotherhood of Dada.

Hmmm.

Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, and I don’t read all of those titles, so I don’t know if they’re a hundred percent accurate.  But a quick, broad overview like this suggests that, actually, most superheroes DON’T fight crime.

(For the sake of this consideration:  supervillains that have plans like, “I will rob this armored car” count as crime.  Supervillains that have plans like, “I will use my psychic powers to enslave all of Manhattan” don’t really count as “crime,” per se — basically, anything that you could reasonably expect the local police to handle in lieu of Spider-Man counts as “crime”.)

It makes me wonder why we think of superheroes as being interchangeable with crimefighters.  I think Batman and Superman have a lot to do with it, and that makes me wonder:  Batman was created in 1939.  This is only six years after Prohibition, and Prohibition is, generally, accepted as the fertile ground in which grew the specter of Organized Crime.  Is it that kind of social structure — one in which it feels like society is basically run by gangsters — that makes people really interested in the idea of a costumed vigilante, as opposed to a hero like those Olde Viking Heroes, who fought to protect mankind against supernatural giants?

Obviously, I’m not the first person to ask a question like this.  Alan Moore makes a point similar in Watchmen:  “Who needs all this hardware to catch muggers and prostitutes?”  In his Batman novel, Andrew Klavan memorably has Batman point out:  “I always thought I fought crime.  Now I think I was just fighting criminals.”

It’s weird, because I think that for as long as I’ve been reading comics, most of the superheroes (or, at least, most of the ones I’ve read) haven’t been particularly interested in street-level crime.  And, in fact, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Wolverine had to contend with a bunch of muggers.  Most of these guys outclass typical “real-world” criminals by several orders of magnitude.

This leads me back to the issue of costumes; since none of these guys are fighting crimes, and many of them don’t have secret identities, and really only Batman is purposefully trying to create a mythic iconography around himself — why do any of these guys have costumes at all?  (Iron Man is, obviously, excepted).

And, really, why are all of these guys on the same list?  Why, in fact, should I even be putting The Doom Patrol in the same category of heroes as Green Arrow?  Why would we treat the X-Men as being the same class of stories as Spider-Man?

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Comments
  1. Moff says:

    I move that we stop calling them “superheroes” and start referring to them as “powerpeople.”

  2. braak says:

    I second the motion, on the condition that when they do something awesome, it be referred to as “powerific.”

  3. Lord Wackadoo says:

    “I don’t want to stop crime. I just want to fight it.”
    -The Tick

  4. Erin says:

    Superheroes are defined less by what they fight than why. With very few exceptions superheroes are driven by a desire to protect something. Sometimes it’s a city, such as Gotham or Metropolis. Sometimes it’s a group, like Mutants. Or an ideal, like Captain America. Sometimes it’s the entire Ocean (Aquaman) or the human race or the planet Earth (more or less the mission statement of the JLA). Or a quadrant of space (Green Lantern). Or the concept of dreams (Sandman).

    But the role superheroes play as guardians is fairly consistent. There’s a territory – physical or conceptual – and they’re present to protect it. Interestingly, they’re almost always very possessive.

    There are a few exceptions to this rule: The Punisher comes to mind – he’s just out for revenge. But I think it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    Move to strike all references to “Powerpeople,” since it infringes on the trademark of my upcoming funk-rock supergroup. You should see the costumes. They are glitterrific.*

    *”Glitteriffic” TM and copyright Powerpeople, 2010.

    Otherwise, you need to do a full draft of this post because it sheds a very interesting light on superhero comics and the way people write them (COUGHDrStrangeIsntaSuperhero
    HesADamnWizardandShouldntbeanAvengerCOUGH).

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