thoughtsOn Superheroes

I'd like to talk for a moment - if I may - about superheroes. Specifically, I'd like to talk about why we don't see superheroes in the real world.

Oh, I know, we occasionally get stories of immense bravery from firefighters and the like. I'm not talking about that. Those are just heroes, not superheroes. (It's like the difference between models and supermodels. A model is anyone who gets the job done, a supermodel is individually identifiable, a celebrity in their own right.)

I'm also not talking about the growing community of "Reals", people who dress up in spandex and walk for breast cancer or something. Some of those guys are very serious about what they do, and it's usually either heart-breakingly lame or frighteningly sociopathic. We'll ignore those guys for the purposes of this article.

No, I'm talking about Superman, Spider-man, Invincible; characters whose extraordinary vigilante activities define their genre. It has now been 77 years since Clark Kent donned the cape. Where are the real-life superheroes?

The first-glance answer is the lack of superpowers. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of a more dynamic era, radiation has thus far failed to produce significant improvements to the human musculatory, nervous, or immune systems. This explanation, however, does a disservice to the multitude of superpowers that are available in our modern era (to say nothing of dissing Batman).

Depending on study schedule and natural talent, a dedicated person can obtain a black belt in karate or judo in three to five years. Combine that with parkour's philosphy of free movement, and the wide variety of steroids and stimulants that are widely available, and you could easily surpass the average criminal on the physical level by a fairly wide margin.

Likewise, body armour is easy enough to make. There are instructions for creating things like smoke bombs and tear gas online, and if you've passed high school shop class, you could probably bash together an improvised taser. If you're really into high tech, you could get some of those new directed energy or acoustic weapons, but the homemade stuff should be all you need for crowd control. Eye lasers are entirely superfluous.

The powers are not the problem.

(As a side note, those superheroes who develop or invent entirely unique powers, and then hoard them? Screw those guys. When Edison invented the incandescent lightbulb, did he keep its secret to himself, and then bust nocturnal crime as the Illuminator? Fighting the nefarious Doktor Lightning with the help of the Amazing Flight Brothers? No. Because, as a man of Science, he was familiar with Newton's statement about the shoulders of giants.)

The second-glance answer, of course, is motivation. Sure, you could spend a few years toning your body, boning up on tactics, and practicing your flying tackles with the ultimate goal of anonymously taking down bank robbers, but why would you? It's a lot of work, and most of us have forty-hour day jobs (or, if we don't, we can't afford body armour and protein shakes).

This, of course, ignores the vast, vast, vast quantity of crazy people out there.

Think about it. You know at least one person in your immediate social circle that you'd describe as "crazy", even if you felt the need to utilize air quotes around "crazy". Now, multiply that by the six billion people in the world. Now, multiply that crazy by the sort of crazy you'd get when Joe Chill murders your parents, or when someone shoots your Uncle Ben.

The motivation is not the problem.

The problem is logistics.

Crime is, necessarily, unpredictable. If robberies happened regularly at the same place, at the same time, they could be easily prevented by regular authorities, or even a simple security system. In order to truly thwart a crime, you'd have to either know about it in advance or be able to hear about it and get there almost instantaneously.

While a wide variety of powers are indeed available in the real world, precognition and teleportation are not among them. Superman works, as a superhero, because he has the ability to hear crime from across the city and fly to it in the blink of an eye. Spider-man works, as a superhero, because he has a bird's eye view and a psychic sense for danger.

Batman is the most realistic of the superheroes not merely because of his entirely mundane powers (which are, of course, essential), nor because of his traumatic psychoses (equally essential), but because he is The World's Greatest Detective. He does the legwork, he does the investigation, and he has the co-operation of the local police, who recognize his anonymous vigilantism as a necessary evil.

And let's not kid ourselves: anonymous, unaccountable, freelance law enforcement is a terrible idea. I can only imagine it being even remotely justifiable in cases where the local police force was corrupt or incompetent to the point of complete irrelevance. No matter how well-prepared you are, you are not going to be as competent as a small army of full-time professionals that is funded with taxpayer money. No matter how motivated you are, you are not going to be as ceaselessly diligent as a well-oiled machine of manpower and regulations that functions 24 hours a day. No matter how well-intentioned you are, you are not going to be as legally and morally unassailable as someone with the backing of a democratically elected mayor (to say nothing of miles and miles of nice, imposing paperwork).

And, of course, regardless of how thorough your surveillance network, you will never be as well-connected as a contingent of squad cars, interspersed throughout a city, constantly in contact with each other over a designated radio frequency, nor will you be able to rush to the scene as quickly as a cop car with sirens blaring, speeding through red lights with impunity.

And if you do, somehow, develop a special power or device that allows you to anticipate crimes or teleport to the scene... well, then you have the choice of either becoming a superhero with it, or patenting it, mass-producing it, becoming insanely rich, and putting it in the hands of the police who are already equipped and motivated to fight crime far better than you can anyway.

So, regardless of setting, the superhero is an unrealistic role.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with this, and I can suspend my disbelief and enjoy a good superhero story as much as the next guy. But, at the end of the day, I much prefer having my own personal tax-funded army three phone digits away, instead of having to rely on individual celebrities with randomized superhuman abilities, thank you very much.

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