15 Possible Explanations for Why You’re Not Likely to Find Folks Becoming Superheroes Here in the Real World
1. The science, she just ain’t there — at least, not yet.
For argument’s sake, we’ll assume the lack of evidence proving the existence of aliens, mutants and supernatural beings means they aren’t out there, and therefore the possibility of any superhero with powers deriving from any of these sources is immediately out of the question (sayonara, Superman, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, etc.). You still have to wonder, though, where all the science-based heroes are. Where are the Iron Men or the Steels of the world, those heroes whose powers and abilities come from their super-scientific gadgets and such? The simplest answer is science hasn’t caught up with our imaginations — not yet, at least. Iron Man looks great in his high-tech suit, but in the real world engineers haven’t figured out the numerous engineering feats it would take to create a suit with that kind of firepower, let alone how to make it fly without gallons of jet fuel strapped to his thighs or how to keep the armor and weaponry light enough to get the pilot off the ground.
2. In real life, bones get broken when people go looking for trouble.
In Kick-Ass, a Marvel/Icon series by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. (and a 2010 feature film), an average teenager decides to put on a mask and fight crime… but his first attempt at it results in a savage beating courtesy of a gang of thugs (and just for good measure he gets hit by a car while reeling from the attack). This leads to weeks of intense physical therapy, which is what tends to happen when a human body experiences massive amounts of pain. (He keeps his secret identity by ditching the costume and blaming his injuries on a mugger.) Comic-book superheroes will occasionally get hurt in the line of duty, but more often than not it’s only painful enough to keep them sidelined until the next issue. In real life, people who get hurt tend to stay hurt for a long time.
3. It takes many years to master the kinds of skills a superhero would need, and who’s got that kind of time?
OK, so would-be superheroes risk their health if they go out on patrol untrained and unprepared for danger. The obvious solution is to get the kind of martial-arts training you would need to prevent those injuries from happening in the first place. And to be a really effective superhero, you’re going to need — at the very least — training in weaponry, surveillance, interrogation techniques, etc. E. Paul Zehr’s Becoming Batman is a fun book that discusses, among other things, just how much time it would take for a Batman-like superhero to prepare himself for his crimefighting career. Without spoiling the ending for anyone, let’s just say an aspiring hero can count on spending a lot more time training for a superhero career than actually enjoying their superhero career.
4. Putting on a mask and punching people? Yeah, it’s still illegal.
And speaking of Batman… a character like him is only able to do his work with the tacit support of the local police department (specifically, a sympathetic Commissioner who feels Batman has earned his trust). If someone in real life chose to become a superhero and went out on patrol in search of trouble without the support of local law enforcement, then we have what the law would call a vigilante, and there are laws against that kind of behavior for many very good reasons…
5. Think facing a super-villain is bad news? Wait until you meet his lawyer.
…not least of which is to protect would-be heroes from the legal trouble they can get into by taking the law into their own hands. Remember Pixar’s The Incredibles? The superheroes in that film had to go into a government protection program after Mr. Incredible saved a suicidal man who didn’t want to be saved — and later sued Mr. Incredible for the injuries he sustained during his rescue. That one lawsuit led to a lot more filed by citizens who rightly asked, “Who asked these ‘heroes’ to charge in and save the day, anyway?” In a society like ours, where people can (and will) sue over just about anything, you can imagine the legal bills a real-life superhero would rack up from criminals screaming brutality, insurance companies looking to recoup their losses, and innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.
6. Let’s be honest: why should anyone take you seriously if you went out in a mask and cape?
A man in a mask stands on a rooftop, his cape billowing in the breeze while the city he protects looms in the background. In the comics, it’s a heroic pose. In real life, not so much. Comic-book superheroes (particularly those residing in the Marvel or DC universes) are able to function in part because comic books didn’t exist in “their” universes before they came along (early Fantastic Four stories made it clear the team licensed their likenesses to a fictional comic company within their universe — a neat bit of meta humor that Marvel occasionally milked). But the superhero archetype has been a part of our pop culture for so long that — well, try to imagine someone in real life wearing a superhero costume while walking down your street and not looking like a lost attendee from a comic-book convention.
7. Exactly where does one go to find the crime that needs fighting?
In the comics, a superhero’s story invariably opens with the hero swinging/flying/driving by and happening across a crime already in progress — a mugging, a late-night warehouse theft, you name it. A quick whiff/bam/pow later and the miscreants are gift-wrapped for the police while the hero continues on his merry way. In real life, most serious crimes happen either behind closed doors or take just a few short moments to happen, so a real-life hero would either have to be very lucky to be in the right place to stop the crime from happening… or he would need access to information about where the next “big score” will happen. Telepathy and clairvoyance being in short supply in the real world, most would-be superheroes without an extensive network of reliable snitches would likely end up sitting on a lonely rooftop waiting for something to happen.
8. Forget finding enough crime to fight. How do you plan to get there?
Let’s assume that, given biological limitations and the current state of aeronautics, you don’t have the ability to fly or access to a nifty pair of jet-boots. Question: How do you plan to get around town while in your superhero identity? Unless you live in a city where all the crime conveniently happens within a three-block radius, you are going to need some kind of transportation (and preferably not public transit) to get around. So, what kind of wheels will you get? Who will repair it? Who will pay for fixing it? How do you plan to deal with the likelihood of criminals spotting your vehicle? How do you get around traffic and other city obstacles? Where do you park the car while you’re off climbing over rooftops, and how do you make sure it’s handy when you need to give chase to the criminals in your sights? Logistics: they’ll get you every time.
9. “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”
That’s a great line by the Joker from the first Batman movie, and the answer is simple: he pays for them, Jack. Being a superhero is not easy on the budget, what with the weapons and high-tech gear and such, which is why a lot of heroes in Comic-Book Land tend to be industrialists and millionaire playboys — the kind of people with the means to buy their superhero accessories in bulk and hide their extra-legal purchases from nosy accounting types. Face it, friend — unless you have a trust fund or another source of independent wealth, those weapons you keep slinging around town are going to end up costing you, and it’s only going to be a matter of time before someone (a spouse, a sharp-eyed sales clerk, a nosy tax collector) is going to cotton on to your extra-curricular adventures.
10. Last time I checked, there were still only 24 hours in a day.
Another advantage that rich people have in the superhero racket is a certain amount of flexibility in their schedules. If Bruce Wayne takes off work to go battle a super-villain, no one is likely to bat an eye — hey, he’s the boss and it’s not like anyone around the office is supposed to know where he is 24/7 anyway. But those of us who need our jobs to support habits like eating and not shivering in the cold… well, it can be a little hard to work a side career as a vigilante into the calendar, especially when a family is involved.
11. There ain’t nothing secret about anyone’s identity in the Internet Age.
One of the sadder subplots in Alan Moore’s Watchmen (which is, among other things, a look at how superheroes would be received in the “real” world) involves a Golden Age super-heroine whose career and life are cut short by rumors about her sexual orientation. That was then. Fast forward to today, a world where the transgressions of minor reality TV stars regularly show up on tabloid TV shows and websites like The Smoking Gun. Given the number of people out there walking around with cellphone cameras and Twitter accounts, how long can any masked hero reasonably expect to hold on to their secret or avoid becoming tabloid fodder? Even if you never get caught on tape, even if hawk-eyed hero-‘shippers don’t share info with each other about your every move, sooner or later someone is going to sell you out for a chance at some quick cash or 15 minutes of fame.
12. The costumes that come with the gig aren’t exactly user-friendly.
And speaking of Watchmen… another tragic subplot from that story involves a masked hero who dies in a hail of bullets after his cape gets snagged in a revolving door. If a costume is a must-have for becoming a superhero, then a big reason we don’t see more heroes running around is that capes can get in the way, masks can slip and obscure your vision, utility belts can weigh you down, and weapons can be hard to conceal when it’s time to slip back into civilian duds. God forgive me for even remembering this, but there was a great scene in Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (a lame anthropomorphic parody title from the ’80s) where “Captain Ameri-cat” hides his shield by wearing it strapped to his back underneath his business suit… and someone hurts their hand giving him a pat on the back, but still doesn’t notice the big circular disk under his suit jacket.
13. You need supervillains to appear, well, superheroic.
This one’s debatable, but there’s here is where my half-baked Superhero Theory of Proportionate Response comes into play. Namely, a big reason we don’t see larger-than-life superheroes in real life is because there aren’t any larger-than-life threats for them to go up against. And when a lack of malevolent gods, evil super-scientists, or homicidal tycoons means your arch-nemeses are an assortment of purse-snatchers and bank robbers — most of whom are more misguided or desperate than truly evil — eventually you’re just going to come off looking like a dick in a mask who just likes punching people.
14. Your message of truth and justice is going to get hijacked by someone with their own agenda.
Imagine, if you will, a real-life superhero — maybe a Daredevil type who uses his martial arts and acrobatic skills to clean up a troubled neighborhood — suddenly appears on the streets of New York City. How long do you think it will talk for TV pundits and radio hosts to stake their claim and explain to their audiences about what the hero’s appearance symbolizes? Some will say the hero’s actions are a natural response to crime running out of control (“and it’s all the President’s fault!”); others will say he’s the logical response to a corrupt system in which the rich look after themselves and average people have no one else to look after them (“and it’s all the President’s fault!”). Meanwhile, the hero’s actual motives and goals are lost in the blogosphere’s search for “meaning” in his actions. You’ll still have a job, but you’ll have a major PR issue on your hands if the wrong people end up adopting you as one of their own.
15. When all else is said, there are far more productive ways to make a difference in the world than by wearing a mask and punching things.
A rich child who loses his parents at an early age has a few choices ahead of him. He can choose to train his body and mind to perfection and devote vast amounts of money to attack crime one criminal at a time. Or he can channel that same energy and resources into things that attack the root causes of crime: stay-in-school programs, drug rehab centres, urban redevelopment projects, job-creation plans, anti-poverty legislation — the list goes on. The second option may not be as cathartic as wearing tights and cracking skulls, but it has a better chance of achieving success in the long run because it’s the option that recognizes we’re all in this together. And while that sentiment may go against the peculiarly American brand of individualist, kick-ass philosophy that many superheroes espouse, this thing we all share is called “real life” for a reason — it’s real, and we all have to live in it together.