Marvel, this past month, announced that it was placing its comics online for a small fee. It appears that many new and past issues are already online and others will be shortly. I usually don’t think about comics too much (even though I’m a huge fan of the Justice League on Cartoon Network). But, every time I watch these shows or go see a Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, movie etal, I realize that I have a basic problem with the premise of the Superhero.
I’ll focus on Batman, but this applies to about every Superhero out there. He’s also my favorite Superhero. He’s just a normal guy (well, normal in the no real super powers sense); except that he is stinking rich. His parents were murdered when he was a child and now he avenges their death by capturing criminals in his adulthood. He dons a cape and mask and calls himself Batman. What possible problem can you have with Batman, right?
Batman, mostly, deals with small time psychos – Joker, Penguin, Riddler, etal. While a little crazy, each of these criminals can be dealt with via the proper application of law enforcement. Instead, Batman’s presence and constant dealing with these criminals, has forced people in the city to believe that he is their only savior. By continuing to provide this free protection, the city (and police) have become dependent on one man who is answerable to no one but himself. The cops no longer do their job; they call for Batman to help them with the Bat signal. Abdicating their responsibility to protect the public to a vigilante – whom they don’t even know.
And how does Batman reward the public that has come to rely on him so much? Upon capturing the Joker, for example, he puts him back into a flawed system which guarantees that the Joker will escape again so that the city will need the Batman again to save him. Proper application of law by real law enforcement people (who use guns) would probably kill the Joker at some point and that’d be the end of it. But Batman goes out of his way not to kill a man whose only goal in life seems to be murder and mayhem. So, in the end, it seems that Batman needs the villians to maintain his control over the populace of Gotham City. It’s a little sadistic, isn’t it? Batman’s unwillingness to kill a criminal – who probably deserves it – is causing the death of innocent people.
The theme is much the same for every superhero. They offer up their protective services (much like the mob) without being asked, or in most cases, needed. Proper application of legitimate law enforcement can deal with most of the super villians that the comic book world creates. Instead, law enforcement has become impotent by relying on masked vigilantes to solve crimes that are their responsibility.
What is the common theme here?
Citizenship relying on an overpowering omnipresent person who protects them. Functional institutions impotent because they have become too reliant on that same overpower omnipresent person.
Let’s simplify this into a more day-to-day concept.
If you had someone who always watched over you to make sure you had food, shelter and money – what incentive is there to do anything on your own? You’ve chosen security over freedom and you really have neither. By accepting this sort of dictatorial rulership, you are giving up your freedoms – lest that omnipresent individual decide you’ve gone violated the rules of what he deems acceptable behavior and have become what they’ve decided they want to rid the world of.
I, for one, do not want to be ruled by a super powered dictator, whom I had no power in selecting and whose power is unquestioned (and unquestionable in many cases) by those whom I have elected.
Focusing on a few more Superheroes, for a moment.
The Green Lantern is part of an intergalactic police force who enforce laws, bring criminals to justice and generally police the galaxy. Generally thought of as a “right wing” superhero because of this; he is quite the opposite. Jon Stewart (the face of Green Lantern that I think of) was a former US Marine. He no longer upholds the law of this country and upholds the rule of law, he abides by an inter-galactic law and enforces it upon a country that had no choice of its implementation. If he were a true believer in the rule of law; wouldn’t he be enforcing US law not international (or inter-galactic) law?
The Green Arrow is another that is curious to me. He is generally thought of as “left wing” superhero. He fights “small time” criminals and helps poor people out of situations – and that he had a heroin addicted sidekick. Then he goes back to his billion dollar mansion, living the life of luxury. Of course. Somehow this is to make you believe that he cares about their plight. But does he really? If he did, wouldn’t he be starting a “Green Arrow Charity” and donating his money to help lift them out of poverty? It’d seem that the Green Arrow needs the poor to fulfill his desire for power as well.
I believe the only time I’ve seen the dictatorial powers of the Superheroes challenged was in the Justice League Unlimited on Cartoon Network. Where a governmental agency, called Cadmus, wanted to find a way to match their power. The goal of Cadmus, of course, was the proper one. A free nation simply cannot have a set of super powered non-elected vigilantes answerable to no one but their conscience hovering over them, literally, at gun point. But, in the end Cadmus was destroyed because – well, because America is evil, I guess – Americans do not have the right to defend themselves. That’s the message that I got out of it, at least. Whomever wrote the script apparently believes that this country should be protected by proactive benefactors (re: *cough* the UN *cough*) rather than our own military and officials.
And really, isn’t that just an expansion on the overall theme of these comics? You are helpless. You can’t defend yourself. Let someone do it for you.
What other lesson is there?