Q&A: Super Reputation

Do you think people would be scared of Superman/heroes in real life? I watched the a movie and he was asked to answer for things he could potentially do. Not things he had actually done. In Suicide Squad, everyone acted like people will powers are automatically bad (yet the Joker has no powers and is bad and there are bad people w/o powers in the real world). So why don’t superheroes have people who are jealous of their powers or awed by them? If they existed, would they be seen as a threat?

To be clear, asking someone to defend themselves from potential actions, rather than actual transgressions is a Red Herring fallacy. People do this. I’ve been on the receiving end of many ad hominum attack over the years. There’s no real value in saying, “but, you could choose to drive your car through a gaggle of nuns, so clearly you can’t be trusted with functioning limbs.” It’s so many steps removed to be ludicrous. However, you will still see people making these kinds of arguments. So, it’s stupid, but quite realistic.

You cannot hold someone accountable for what they might do; only what they have done or attempted to do.

Also worth remembering that, on top of being a terrible movie, Suicide Squad is about about getting a team of supervillains and coercing them to play nice. It’s an interesting, little, genre subversion of a book. That didn’t translate well to screen, when it’s in contrast to a Superman who kills people, and a Batman who looks like he escaped from Dark Knight Returns.

A universal problem for adaptations of the more subversive comics, is that the “ecosystem” of comic book films doesn’t reflect the tone that mainstreams comics has. For comics like The Tick, this isn’t stumbling block. But, when you’re adapting stuff like WatchmenPowers, Deadpool, or Suicide Squad, the assumed setting they riff on doesn’t really exist in that medium. I’m not saying these are automatically bad. Except Suicide Squad, and it’s problems are far more extensive than a lack of, “bright and upbeat,” comicbook adapted films to play against.

Ironically, The Tick was written as a repudiation of the darker and edgier comics of the 80s and 90s, and plays better as an adaptation today, than the original comic.

How would people react to superpowers? Yeah, all of the above. Not, necessarily the same individual, but all of those are potentially realistic responses.

Fear is a reasonable, irrational response. People can be afraid of anything they don’t understand. So, could people be afraid of someone who has the power to destroy the city? Yes. Absolutely. That’s a serious threat. There are people who are afraid of far more benign things, like spiders or snakes, which don’t have the ability to end all life on earth because of a bad breakup.

Like I said, Suicide Squad is a bad example, because with the exception of Rick Flag, these are psychopaths. Okay, mixed vote on Deadshot. But, still, not nice people. And, everyone on the prison staff has absolutely no sense of self-preservation.

However, the premise you’re outlining, that superpowers are inherently dangerous, or evil isn’t unheard of. From the superficial with characters like Spawn, to more social commentary like X-Men, there’s a lot of comics that discuss and play with these ideas. There’s stuff like The Authority, and Watchmen which start questioning what superheroes are good for. There’s even plenty of stuff exploring questions like, what if Superman was raised by an abusive asshole, with various degrees of tact and subtly.

The question is: Why does society view superheroes the way they do in your world?

If the first person to publicly display superpowers in your world was a villain, that’s going to color the way people look at superheroes. Not your audience, the people in your world.

The source of a character’s powers will influence how people look at them. I mentioned Spawn earlier, if you’re unfamiliar, the character is literally empowered by hell, and sent back to earth to lead an assault on heaven. So, yeah, not exactly family friendly. Also, he originally burned to death, and he’s covered in horrific burns, so still not exactly a photogenic hero. That said, your character might be able to conceal the source or origin of their powers, or their powers entirely, if they’re careful.

 What your character does can affect how people view superheroes. This gets into the concept of scale. A street level hero might be able to, over time, change the minds of people in their neighborhood, but it’s a long road ahead. Someone like Superman might be able to change public opinion, eventually.

You can see some of these themes with characters like Daredevil, or Spiderman. Where they have a strong influence on the people around them, but are unable to affect larger public opinion changes the way groups like The Avengers can.

Can people be jealous? Yes. Even among superheroes. Just because your character got superpowers, they may still feel inadequate when presented with someone who’s powers completely eclipse theirs. This is to say nothing of normal characters who feel they should have received those powers by right.

People can be jealous of anything someone else has that they don’t. That includes superpowers. It’s also worth remembering that jealousy is a human instinct. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing it, so long you don’t act on it, or feed into it. Don’t judge yourself in contrast to others. It’s not healthy, and it won’t end well.

Can people worship superheroes like gods? Yes. Cult of personality is a real thing, even before you start mixing inexplicable powers into the mix. It’s entirely possible you’d have a superhero who accidentally founded a religion. The important details would be in setting that up so that it makes sense, but it’s not that far fetched that someone would view a superhuman being as a god, or a divine representative. This can quickly get complicated, because there’s a lot of different ways this could go, depending on the individuals involved.

The short version is that most of this is reasonably plausible within some context, regardless of whether it makes sense in those films. Even some of the mutually exclusive concepts. You could have some people revering your superhero as a god, while others are terrified.

-Starke

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