Batman, Iron man, Green Hornet superheroes or not?

I was remarking to my son today that the Seth Rogen The Green Hornet looks like an interesting addition to the recent run of superhero movies. Then I corrected myself and said, 'I guess he’s not really a superhero. He doesn’t have any super power."

To which he replied, “Well most people would consider Batman to be a superhero. He’s not just Bruce the Gadget Guy.”

So what is the thinking? Are one or more super powers required to be a superhero?

As a free bonus interesting bit of trivia, the 1966 TV show, in which Bruce Lee played Kato, was shown on TV in Hong Kong as The Kato Show.

The standard answer is that you need to have several of a list of features to be a superhero. The list varies a bit, but it includes a highly distinctive costume, super powers, appearing alongside other super heroes, larger-than-life heroic antics and a recognition within your own universe as a superhero.

No hero needs all of those, though some, such as superman, get them all. Batman ticks all the boxes except one (no super powers) so he is definitely a superhero.

The Green Hornet ticks just one box, larger-than-life heroic antics, and even that is only marginal. He has no powers. His costume isn’t distinctive it’s just an off-the-shelf suit with a cheap mask. He doesn’t hang around with other heroes (though he is the Lone Ranger’s grand nephew which kinda counts). He isn’t considered a super hero in his own universe.

There are other marginal superheroes such as The Phantom, The Punisher and Th Shadow.

The Phantom has the costume for sure. He has been known to hang with Mandrake. His antics are certainly larger than life. He is considered s super hero by inhabitants of his universe, at least the pirates and “native villagers”. He might arguably have powers (looking at his face is unmasked face is fatal, his voice can freeze men’s hearts etc). The Phantom is probably a superhero.

The Shadow isn’t. Powers but no costume, no superhero buddies, no recognition in his own universe etc.

The Punisher is truly borderline. Costume yes. Hangs with heroes occasionally. Larger-than-life antics that are questionably heroic much of the time. No powers, no recognition in universe. The Punisher is an oddity that could be argued either way.

I have a friend who prefers the term Comic Book Hero to make the distinction. I have heard all the discussions and still feel indifferent. Super Hero pretty much conveys enough meaning for me to understand what is meant.

Look Batman in the face and tell him he’s just a guy in a cape.

Especially if he’s just grabbed you by the back of the hoodie as you left a convenience store with your ill-gotten gains, and his squinty cowl is an inch from your face.

Go ahead, try.

Of course Batman’s a superhero. If he weren’t, Aquaman would have kicked him out of the SuperFriends.

Only a few of the heroes in the 1940s comic books had superpowers. Most of them imitated Batman rather than Superman. They wore costumes, they fought crime, they could punch or shoot better than the bad guys, but they weren’t super.

The term superhero according to ngrams doesn’t take off until the mid 1960s, when Stan Lee was popularizing Marvel.

There’s a tiny bump in the 1940s. I found an example from an Ohio State University Educational research bulletin: of 1944 that’s interesting.

That works pretty well for comic books, too.

All heroes were better than ordinary, some a lot better, some literally super. But they were all part of the same pot that writers scooped out for stories. You’re a superhero because you’re part of the superhero genre and treated and marketed like a superhero. Your actual physical powers aren’t really the issue.

What happened over the years is like grade inflation. Every new hero had to have better powers than the ones before. Every new villain had to be more of a challenge than the ones before. Superman fought ordinary mortal crooks for years before he started juggling suns. Comic books had three stories an issue through most of the 50s, and Superman was in several titles. If you need to come up with a dozen stories a month for more than a decade, you start juggling suns yourself for plots.

It’s circular, I know. Superheroes are superheroes because we call them superheroes even if they aren’t super because they look and act like superheroes. That’s why Kick-Ass was fanboy porn. It didn’t tell people that anyone could be a superhero if they just tried. It said that if you wished hard enough real superheroes would appear and save your sorry ass because you’re the one who believes. It’s Tinker Bell for modern audiences. Did Big Daddy and Hit-Girl have superpowers? No. (Though they did have toys that don’t exist in the real world.) Was it a superhero movie? Absolutely. Why? Because they said it was.

Can we bring back the terms “Mystery Men” or “Masked Crimefighter?”

Referring to Iron Man:

Tony Stark is a super-genius intellect and inventor. The suit which he created certainly does give him super powers (including flight, resistance to damage, superhuman strength, and various weaponry). Just because his “powers” (other than his intellect) aren’t innate to his body doesn’t mean he isn’t a superhero.

In the old Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game, they outlined four basic types of superheroes:

  1. Altered Human. A normal human who gained super powers at some point, often via exposure to radiation. Examples: the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man
  2. Mutant: A human who was born with a genetic mutation (often caused by radiation) which grants superpowers. Examples: the X-Men
  3. Alien: A member of a non-human race whose abilities are “super-powered”, compared to those of “normal” humans. This includes members of extraterrestrial alien races, as well as those from other dimensions (such as Thor and his fellow Asgardians).
  4. Gadgeteers: A normal human who has abilities beyond those of a normal human, due to technology. Examples would be Iron Man (and Batman, though he isn’t a Marvel character).

Of course Bruce is a Superhero. His super powers:

  1. Being Crazy Prepared.
  2. Having the Wonderful Toys to back up his Preparedness
  3. Being able to pull the right Bat Anti Thing Spray from his utility belt the first time, every time.

(Well, okay, so his superpowers boil down to being the Protagonist, but still.)

I once proposed the “alley test” for if you’re an “action” hero or just some schmo. Late at night in the bad part of town you find yourself boxed into a dead-end alley by six guys, all over six feet tall and two hundred pounds weight, armed with knives and clubs. If five minutes later you walk out of the alley unscathed leaving your opponents laying on the ground, you are an action hero.

Definition of a Superhero:
Any sentient entity with powers, abilities, attributes, skills or technologies far beyond those of ordinary mortal men, who uses these capabilities to fight injustice & defend mankind.

I think we should consider having a very high level of intelligence, charisma, or combat ability a superpower of its own, even if it’s something that could conceivably exist in the real world. I think having superhuman levels of ability is more crucial to being a superhero than superhuman kinds of abilities. A genius who could invent technology decades ahead of mainstream science, a super assassin who could take out world leaders without getting caught, or a man who could build a worldwide organization from scratch would realistically be better equipped to be a superhero or supervillain than some freak with the ability to, say, bend spoons with his mind or hover two feet off the ground.

Of course, you also need a silly code name and a silly costume to match, otherwise it would just be wrong. A silly catchphrase and a silly underground base are also nice.

Heh heh, about the ONLY one in the movie that even came close to “deserving” the superhero title anyway, was the little girl (the little killer) - Hit Girl. Kick Ass himself was a joke, only good at getting beat up.

Yes, that’s the point. Kiss-Ass wasn’t himself a superhero. But he was the one who *believed *in superheroes. The ultimate fanboy.

You don’t even have to wait 5 minutes. As far as I’m concerned, we can tell what kind of hero you are by your emotional reaction to seeing the six huge thugs:

  1. Pant-peeing fear: you’re normal.

  2. A wry grin and you flex for battle: you’re an action hero.

  3. Exasperated boredom – is THIS it???: you’re a superhero.

According to the stories I’ve read, Bruce Lee consequently was a real life action hero, going into bad parts of various towns and picking fights with groups of bad people, just to keep in practice. Not that I’d consider that a good reason, but it meets the definition.

This converstaion has centered too heavily on the super, and not enough on the hero. The distinquishing characteristic of a true hero is nobility of spirit, the desire and motivation to do what is right without regard to self. It is this quality in super proportions that makes the Batman, Ironman, and those others not blessed with alien origin, exotic DNA or radiaoactive blood superheroes.

This is another example of Samuel R. Delany’s “red screamer” analogy. Basically, it’s making the inaccurate assumption that “superhero” = “super” + “hero”. But the two words “super” and “hero” do not define a superhero, any more than the two words “red” and “screamer” define a firetruck. Yes, a firetruck is red, and it screams as it goes down the street, but that doesn’t mean a yellow fire truck is something different.

Superman is a red firetruck. Batman is a yellow one (or a dark one). But they are the same.

I never read it, but I liked this scene in the Watchmen movie. By that standard, they are semi-superheroes, because it was a combo of 2 and 3 and they were in a pair.