Comic Clichés, Part V: Civilians, Police and the Media

Despite overwhelming evidence of extraterrestrials walking among them, civilians will regularly profess amazement and shock every time they encounter an otherworldly being and/or look up to witness the start of yet another alien invasion. No civilian will ever be shown looking up at a giant alien ship and muttering, “Cripes, again…?”

All civilians, even those living in the most crime-infested cities on the planet and presumably able to take precautions when going out at night, are completely helpless when confronted by muggers until a hero arrives on the scene.

Common street thugs and muggers always travel in multi-racial packs, with at least one member sporting a green Mohawk and/or safety pins through some part of his/her face. Matching leather jackets with the name of the gang on the back are optional.

Regardless of how many times the hero has saved the planet, all it takes is one slanderous news story and/or case of mistaken identity for the entire city to turn against the hero and pelt him/her with rocks and rotten vegetables when the hero makes an appearance.

Corollary #1: There will always be someone carrying bricks, rocks or overripe vegetables whenever a hero with a PR problem arrives on the scene.

Corollary #2: The city will repent and love the hero wholeheartedly again once (a) the real villain is exposed or (b) they are shown the error of their ways by a young, possibly handicapped, youngster.

No civilian in a comic-book world will ever say, “Y’know, nine times out of ten these super-villains come by and bust up our city just because that’s where the heroes are. Howzabout we tell these heroes to leave town and take their psycho opponents with them?”

In any situation involving a super-powered villain, the legal authorities will be completely powerless to stop the threat until the hero arrives on the scene.


A superhero held in high esteem by the general public need not worry about having to reveal his/her secret identity in a court of law because everyone, including the judge, will readily accept that it is in fact him/her underneath the mask, and not some imposter who could, you know, just be wearing the same costume or something.

Corollary: Heroes are never expected to testify against the villains they arrest, even though they are often the only real witnesses to the villain’s crimes.

The extra-legal actions of a superhero in apprehending a super-villain is never used by that villain’s lawyer to call for a mistrial.

All army commanders are gung-ho, General Patton types who are tired of having to listen to “lily-livered” bureaucrats in Washington.

Heroes never have to worry about lawsuits concerning massive property damage, injured bystanders, illegal arrest procedures, etc. Even in America, a mask automatically protects you from the wrath of lawyers and their clients.

Police commissioners who leave all their major cases to mysterious crusaders are never given trouble by their superiors or the voters for delegating their duties to possibly unstable vigilantes.

Corollary: Police officers rarely, if ever, face any sanctions for allowing masked vigilantes to tamper with a crime scene or for looking the other way when the hero leans on a criminal for information.

All prisons in the comic-book world are little more than revolving doors, with the villains able to escape at their convenience.

Police never arrive on the scene until after the hero has dealt with the criminal in his own signature way, leaving the criminals gift-wrapped and ready for the first squad car that arrives.

All government agencies mentioned in a comic book are “shadowy,” complete with covert operatives and unseen commanders with sinister purposes.

All government agents assigned to work with superheroes or act as a liaison between the heroes and the government are double-crossing jerks who will never tell heroes anything about the true purpose of their mission, or which dark masters they truly serve.

In any story where the police are shooting at the hero because of a misunderstanding, they’ll miss. Their aim is either atrocious, or the hero has a way to deflect the bullets (thus begging the question of why the police would start shooting in the first place).

All female soldiers and police officers are supremely qualified for their jobs and kick butt harder than anyone except for the headlining hero.

All night watchmen in comic-book stories can save the villains a lot of trouble and just shoot themselves in the head as soon as their shift starts, because they’re only purpose in the story is to define “dead meat.”

Despite the legendary jadedness of real-life reporters and their readers, superheroes will never news of their latest exploits relegated to the inside pages next to the Jumble puzzle and horoscopes; all newspaper stories about superheroes appear above the fold on the front page, preferably with a full-page, all-caps banner headline.

Super-villains always fall for the old “we’ll plant a fake story in the newspaper about a valuable item on display that only he/she would consider stealing” trick.

Regardless of the decade in which the story is set, all reporters wear suits and fedoras with “PRESS” tags in the hatbands, and news photographers use flashbulb cameras of a type not seen since the 1950s.

All editors smoke cigars. Lovable gruffness is optional.

Reporters, photographers, and television crew members on the scene of the latest superhero slugfest need never worry about sustaining injuries from a stray fist, laser, lightning bolt, etc.

Regardless of the time of day, all a hero has to do is turn a television set… and at that very moment, the news anchor will be right in the middle of reporting a story that’s pertinent to the hero’s current case.

The records department of any major newspaper will have complete records, in perfect order and condition, of every crime that has occurred in that city for the past 100 years.

The media will always spell a hero or villain’s name correctly after hearing it just once, even if the hero or villain favors a creative misspelling (“Wyldfyre,” “Nitechilde,” “Darquelord,” etc.).

All would-be villains are well aware that reporters close to the hero, regardless of how many times this is attempted, will always fall for the “I’m an anonymous source and meet me alone in a secret location” ruse.

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