Should Superheroes be Regulated?

So I know this could go either in Cafe Society of Great Debates, but since I am not discussing a particular work I figured I would put it here and see what happens.

So, if suddenly we discovered that there were people with superpowers in our midst, people who could perform incredible feats that made them basically a superweapon, should they be required to submit to regulation as a weapon? Should they by virtue of this ability be subject to a different legal code with seperate standards of civil rights than a normal person is?

If so, then what standard should they be held to?

Heck, if you want superstrength and speed, you can always climb behind the wheel of of a pickup. Mechanization allows us to accomplish many “superhuman” feats and we have existing laws for their misuse.

I’m developing a series that involves the appearance of superpowers thanks to technology, so I’m interested on this subject too.

Although this article is from a gaming company, it does offer great points on how the law can interact with superheroes:

To comply with the OP, one has to take into account that superheroes do appear in our midst suddenly. It is important then to realize that cases involving them can set precedents. But, like Bryan Ekers said, it is very likely that the courts will find similar precedents already in the books and the law will adapt to superheroes. There will be no need for a different legal code.


If current history is our guide, the fate of these superheroes will depend on their support or opposition to the powers that be:

I think Frank Miller hit the nail on the head with Batman: The dark night returns, superheroes that comply will be hidden from view and follow the orders of the executive powers; superheroes that don’t comply will turn into outlaws, even if they are the good guys.

I think it would largely depend on how powerful they are as well. Batman is one thing; going after a Superman is another. It’s just like international behavior. Nuclear armed countries are treated better. Nobody is going to want to outlaw someone who could just level the capital if he felt like it.

Marvel Comics is gearing up for a storyline tackling just this issue called Civil War. Essentially, the government introduces a Super-Human Registration Act, and the capes-and-masks community is divided on whether or not to support it. Give it a few months to see how it plays out.

Didn’t you know? In Canada, superheros are registered with La régie des superhéros et pouvoirs surhumains and The Superhuman Resources Directorate of Agriculture Canada.

I understand the paperwork is mind-boggling.

The problem here, of course, is that of discrimination. One can not, generally, force any class of people to register themselves, for simply any reason. The two exceptions to this are males of the age of 18 and older with the local draft board, and criminals.

It would certainly be possible to regulate costumed vigilantes, and necessary and proper to do so. But I am not sure that mandatory registration of anyone with a power of some kind would pass muster, provided the power was inherent to them, acquired without their choice, and not sought after. That is, your typical mutant hero, or your typical hero who gained their powers through accident (Spidey, Flash) (Sometimes called mutated or science origined heroes).

Technological heros, with power armor, could be regulated, of course, if they wanted to operate their armor on public streets or in public airspace, or if they were armed with weapons.

That sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll buy a few comic books. It’s been a long time. Do you have any more info on that?

I have always thought that anyone who turned up with superhuman abilities and used them in the public arena, either for good or evil, would be the target of a dozen government agencies(from many countries) trying to recruit, control or kill said person.

John Ridley has two novels out concerning superhumans and the elite team of cops who hunt them down. They are ‘Those Who Walk In Darkness’ and ‘What Fire Cannot Burn’. In this world they were regarded as heroes, until a battle between superhero and supervillian turns half of San Francisco to a smoking crater. Now they are ALL hated, feared and hunted. Both books are a good read.

Any government Machiavellian enough to be worth its salt (read: none of them) would have the insight to make the registration worthwhile to the superhero. There would be a liason officer from the appropriate agency and the superhero would be an official or de facto agent of said agency. (I am thinking along the lines of The Greatest American Hero or Hellboy.) The whole point of the supers’ use of their powers is to deal with situations where “mere mortals” (or “norms”) cannot go. The use of a liason officer is to have someone who can deal with the intricasies of bridging the gap between the norms’ laws and society and the supers’ (often justified) disregard for such niceties. Thus, there is someone who can advice the super about the best legal way to apprehend the villians. Of course, as is SOP for such agencies, a file, with detailed exams / fitreps / discriptions is kept on the super.

As to any supers not working with the government, I would imagine that they would be contacted as found by a recruitment officer (empathic super?). Said officer would would file a report of known abilities as they are discovered.

One other option would be to make the registration for draft a requirement for both sexes, then include a section on super powers.

I guess the real question comes down to how many supers spring into existence. Unless the number is a significant percentage (say, over 0.001% of the population - 3,000 in the US), it should be fairly easy to create and maintain a record of such people. As the percentage of individuals with powers grows larger, it may very well be that the supers actually want such registration, so long as everyone is required to register.

After we’re done debating this, perhaps we should discuss whether it would be moral for George Jetson to go back in time and have sex with Wilma Flinstone, thus cuckolding Fred, fathering Pebbles, and becoming his own great-great-etc-grandfather.

On the superhero MUSH my wife and I run (online text-based RPG) we worked out a set of laws which we thought maked sense to deal with this. Granted we were choosing rules designed specifically to allow people in the game options to play what kind of character they wanted. We decided to make registration voluntary, as no reliable method for detecting who has superpowers in the game world exists, and instead made registrartion beneficial to the super in question. Registered supers have to make their real identities and abilities known to the government, said information being kept under tight security, and must agree to be on call when the government finds a situation requiring their abilities. In return they get legal coverage and leeway to use their abilities as needed to fight crime and such. Unregistered supers can still operate in accordance with Good Samaritan laws, but are at significantly more legal risk as to damage or injuries incurred as a result of their activities.

In J. Michael Strascynzki’s “Rising Stars” some kind of cosmic energy bombards Earth and affects 113 children in utero in the town of Pederson Illinois. These children grow up with super powers and the government steps in and starts to control them as children, monitoring their every move and forcing them to go to a special school. A major portion of the plot revolves around reactionary government measures that eventually makes it so that the ‘specials’ can’t even have bank accounts, but by virtue of being super powered they just go and take what they need outside of the bounds of society. It chronicles the lives of those that want to be normal people, those that want to use their super powers for celebrity, those that were psychologically damaged by factors growing up, and those that want to be superheroes. It’s the comic that precipitated this question.

It’s a pretty major recurring issue, and a major plot point of the X-Men. I think X-Men III will be a much more open conflict regarding the issue.

I feel like the idea of registration will make people nervous as some might identify it with the holocaust. Something I always wondered was why, say Magneto didn’t just level New York City, he could have done it in a matter of minutes, and any battle between him and other heroes trying to stop him could still bring down a city made of metal very quickly. Bringing down New York would disrupt the world economy quite a bit. Magneto is the perfect illustration of why a government would want to register supers, and also a good example of why they probably shouldn’t.

Another issue at stake, at least if you take the Marvel comics mutant angle is that maybe they really ARE the next step in evolution, and do we as a race really want to be at odds with the next step? How can we progress as a race if we resist that next evolutionary step. Also, I think that super powered humans kind of make the laws of the land obsolete, because if one can fly then why should they be bothered with borders? What do they need with the apparatus of the system other than maintaining social bonds with others who still need it.

You’d also have the humans who’s power structures are upset by these people. People who worked hard to move up the ranks in the military or the CIA, only to see people who were BORN with a power level that is comparable to theirs, and who if they cannot control threaten the very power structure that their temporal power relies upon.


Mark Millar is writing a 7-issue miniseries called Civil War, and it’s supposed to span a number of books, including New Avengers (where Captain America and Iron Man are on the outs because of differing opinions on the registration act). Considering most of the superheroes have spent their entire careers desperately trying to hide their true identities, demanding that they reveal themselves to the government is going to be a big problem.

There was this thread a while back that addresses this problem with regards to the Marvel U.

The problem is, if you take it to extremes, on one hand you’ve got the equivalent of someone wandering around with a bomb. On the other hand, they are human and so should be entitled to the same rights as the rest of us.

I think the best bet would be (in agreement with the previous thread) voluntary regulation. That should pick up enough superheroes so that, in the event of a problem, you should have at least one person with useful powers. Some will undoubtedly want to ignore their powers and live normally - they would be allowed to do so. Supervillains that go around committing crimes could be “taken out” by your regulated heros.

The only people who get it in the shorts would be Superheroes that want to keep their anonymity and don’t register, but still do good, since they’d have the full weight of the law against them in all cases of collateral damage. IANAL, so I don’t know what laws they would be protected/in breach of/could be sued under.

I thought the Incredibles handled this fairly well. A government agency that monitored and looked after the Supers. That is until political concerns drove the Supers underground.

I often wondered what prevented the government there from enlisting them in the defence of the country or some such.

I think it’s hilarious that this thread is still in GD.

It’s not quite the same as someone wandering around with a bomb. A bomb is something someone voluntarily picks up. It’s certainly understandable that if there were people with the ability to level cities the government might consider them a risk to public safety.

What about real life situations. If a group of scientists make a discovery that has incredible destructive capabilities and military possibilities, does the governent come in and claim the right to control access to this information? How did that work with the atomic bomb? Are there any other examples such as chemical warefare?

It would have to fall under some unaccetable risk to the general public right?

Hilarious? It’s a serious, thought provoking thread! :smiley:

Yep, I agree.

I think the problem with this is what you’ve said in this post - they have no choice about their abilites, they’re innate (or radiated spider caused) and can’t be taken away - unless we develop gene therapy to the point where we can, and even then, would it be right to alter someone to make them more the norm without their permission?

Another problem - we don’t know who is able to cause acceptable risk without testing them, and in order to test them we need their cooperation (good luck forcing Superman to submit to tests he doesn’t want to). And if we’re testing, then we have records - and I would imagine that whatever is decided, the government is going to keep those tests “just to be on the safe side”.

The problem with following government edicts is that there is all sorts of secrecy as to who has access to that information. As much as we like to pretend such information is private, a lot of the most unscrupulous scam artists in the world are the ones attracted to the intelligence services, so by having your weaknesses on public record, even if that record is classified is asking you to submit to an unfair risk as forces from within the government could attempt to coerce you to bend to their will.

And eventually the Sentinel question will come up: awhat about people with powers too dangerous to be unregulated, whether they want to be or not? A recent issue of X-Men featured a kid who’s power simply disintegrated anyone in a 2 mile radius, and he only found out that morning. What methods should be used in this circumstance? Or in the example of Magneto, who simply wouldn’t care and would level a city to enforce his views? Where do you balance treating them like people to the greater safety? I’d say that, regrettably, regulation would not only be needed but critical.

I think anyone with ESP should be rgulated. Fined and put in jail for scamming the gullible.