Is there a place for superheroes in our world?

I think a real superhero could find a way to use their powers in the real world, but it wouldn’t play out as it does in comic books.

In a case like this, the hero could wear a body camera, and call the police before confronting and then restraining the criminal until the police arrive. He’ll have evidence of the crime, and that the criminal started a physical confrontation. I think there’s a way to do it that would use their powers, but not run afoul of the law.

A hero with the classic Superman set of powers could fly around rescuing people from natural disasters, or be a human shield to protect innocent civilians in shooting situations. Someone invulnerable to all weapons wouldn’t need to defend himself, but could defend others. You wouldn’t have the big confrontation scenes between the hero and villains, or any of the legal issues of the hero acting as a vigilante. They would still be performing a public service.

As others have said it really depends on the powers the hero has, and what their tactics are. Somebody who saves people from burning buildings or drowning won’t have the legal issues that somebody beating up "evildoers"will. And with the right powerset they can go ahead play superhero and nobody can stop them, or possibly know they are doing it at all.

I’ll add the government and social conditions also matter a great deal. In more lawless or corrupt places they will both find it easier to justify and probably get more public approval to boot. And might well be both heroic and in opposition to the law. At that point you’ve basically got a benevolent warlord, just one who calls themself a superhero.

Also: if someone uses their superpowers to save the lives of innocents — say, by rescuing people from burning buildings — we pretty much have a go-to word for that; we’d presumably refer to them as “a superhero.” But: what would we call someone who (a) uses superpowers to legally acquire staggering amounts of money, and then (b) uses staggering amounts of money to save the lives of innocents?

Let’s go with Spiderman and Spiderman physics. He’s not going to be catching thieves like flies, because there isn’t that much mugging around and a guy in the air jumping between buildings is easier to spot than one of many humans on the ground who happens to be robbing another. If he attacks organized crime, he’ll get himself killed regardless of his spider sense: just put enough lead in the air with sufficient lead time.

Spidey would be a great Olympic athlete, a passable movie star, and a great chemical researcher. His acrobatics would make him popular in Vegas. He might be able to leverage his spidey sense to be an effective day trader.

Aunt May is invincible and would end up ruling the world.

If radioactive blood doping doesn’t get him banned for life. :grin:

To be an effective real life superhero you would have to keep your very existence a secret. Not a secret identity; but just be completely invisible to government and media. Sure. Take out the whole Russian army or assassinate every despot in the world. But it has to look like chance, karma, the invisible hand of God, or just plain unexplainable. If it becomes known that you can do these things, the whole world will attempt to manipulate or neutralize you.

Subtlety is good, but it really depends on the hero. Superman can do what he wants, though he would probably end up working for the government and voluntarily subjecting himself to democratic legislation. One Punch Man, the only entity that can defeat Superman mano a mano, would definitely end up as a government employee as his powers lack entertainment value and again, finding crooks on the make is difficult, time consuming, and boring in practice. Light Yagami, owner of the Death Note, would definitely try to work in secret (and screw it up due to excessive ego). Iron Man would be a military contractor of course. Daredevil, with his ability to detect lies, would start in law and move on to consulting and negotiations. Punisher with his non-lethal bullets would sell his technology to Axon Enterprise, purveyor of the Taser. Ditto for Ricochet Rabbit.

I’m not sure about Gandalf.

ETA: Yeah I read a comic during the 1980s where the Punisher (who had started out as a villain a few years earlier) switched to stun bullets or some other such nonsense. Poking around the internet, I can’t find reference to that concept. Which is good, as I didn’t buy it either.

Ah: here we go. Mercy bullets:

According to Reddit, mercy bullets are, “non-lethal rounds that contain a powerful sedative.”

Punisher with his what?

Problem is, he’d probably just be banned in order to keep things fair for the other athletes. Superpowers would be treated like PEDs.

Unless he kept it really subtle. For instance, doing the pole vault, long jump, but in a way that’s just 5-10% better than the typical gold-medalist, so that he wins. Maybe running 5% faster than Usain Bolt. But then he’d still draw suspicion because his physique probably wouldn’t look like that of an athlete who’s actually honed and trained.

I think the Olympics would have to hold a separate category of events, for supers.

How a super would function would depend on the powers. I remember the Marvel Comics character Wonder Man wanted to be an actor. His thespian abilities left much to be desired, but since he was physically invulnerable, he got steady work as a stuntman.

Captain America would probably trade the costume for camouflage, and join the green berets or the navy seals.

Batman could probably do more good working for the police department as a detective. Or he could turn Wayne Industries into the world’s premier manufacturer of body armor, communications gear, and police cars.

In a thread on World War II, I once opined that Superman would probably be more valuable to the war effort using his heat vision to power steel mills.

A lot of crime today is pretty mundane. The villains in classic comics had all these grand plans that needed thwarting. A crime that would be relatively complex today would be ramming a truck into a closed convenience store to get to the ATM, which would later be abandoned after the criminals get tired of trying to open it.

What we really need is Network Man, who could defend us against hackers and scammers. Maybe he could transmit remote commands over networks and telephone connections to make these a**holes turn themselves in to the nearest authority with criminal jurisdiction. He could do it from a couch in his parents’ basement.

But then you have the question, how do you distinguish the bottom end of “superhuman”, from the top end of “normal human”?

Classic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic on the topic

“Spidey-sense tingling… Murray, sell! Sell!!!”

Along similar lines to mbh and Chronus, Frank Miller in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), had Flash running on an oversized hamster wheel to power the east coast under the leadership of President Lex Luthor, who kept Flash’s wife as a hostage to provide motivation.



If he’s acting as essentially an arm of the police, the evidence he collects will be subject to rules that apply to police. For example breaking and entering without a warrant or sufficient cause will get the footage tossed out, even if he collects incontrovertible evidence of a murder plot he’ll be legally required to give it back, like in Dirty Harry.


The reason why superheroes have the place they presently do in our world is people don’t trust the cops. Besides the impossibility of cops stopping all crime, the existence of corrupt/brutal/racist cops is enough to make the public long for a protector without those vices. Hero worship is originally a cultural theme we got from the ancient Greeks, and before that, it goes back to Proto-Indo-European mythology. Super-beings like the Divine Twins, who fight evil and show up in all kinds of places. There are similar hero myths in Semitic-speaking cultures, Uralic, Turkic, etc., within the extended ambit of Proto-Indo-European. In the old days they came from the heavenly realm; now they come from other planets, which is a pretty similar concept. Their popular appeal nowadays expresses frustration and disillusionment with the police.

I recall the take on that in the opening three-parter of Superman: The Animated Series. Supes started off flying in, rescuing somebody, and flying out, but preventing an airline crash (or, more precisely mitigating it to a rough landing the occupants could walk away from) put him on the radar. Martha advises him to roll with it: “It wouldn’t be bad if people knew a little more about Superman. I don’t want anyone thinking you’re like that nut in Gotham City.”

The catch is that if superpowered people actually existed, some of them would be corrupt/brutal/racist as well (an issue addressed in some stories such as The Boys).

I am called!

This sounds familiar. Allowing for misremembering, it might be Niven’s The Meddler or Clement’s Needle - but I’m going to think a bit more about whether I can identify the story as described