Superheroes and crime in comic books

So, recently I was inspired to try my hand at some superhero-themed fiction. I began looking over some recent titles out there, and I’m noticing something that concerns me; superheroes don’t seem to fight crime much.
Most titles I’ve seen these days fall into three categories:

  1. Invasions. Huge military adventures wherein teams of heroes have to stop the city / nation / world from being taken over, and it’s handled in a largely military-story way.

  2. What I’d hesitantly call ‘political wrangling’. Two teams of metahumans hold vastly black-and-white different views of some moral / political stance (often involving the rights of superbeings / mutants), and end up slugging it out with glee.

  3. Retro stories. I -have- seem crime fighting, but it’s mainly in stories centered in alternate histories, or presents that are, ostensibly, how the world would be if 1950’s sci-fi (or occasionally steampunk) were how the current world was.

So… Why is this? I was wracking my brain, trying to come up with plausible, large-scale crime that superheroes could actively be working against, and I’ve come up blank; not because crime doesn’t exist, but because the current crop of comic books and the heroes within just don’t seem to have anything to do with actual crime that’s not some evil force targeting heroes or territories.

Am I wrong about this? Am I just not reading the right comics to find these things? And if I’m right, how does one write a modern superhero story that encapsulates crime fighting instead of the tropes above?

People with superpowers fighting people without them isn’t very interesting.

Because today’s decent crime-writer’s are working for TV writing for procedurals like L&O, CSI, Cold Case, et al. I’m guessing golden and silver age writers with a knack for crime fiction didn’t have as many lucrative avenues.

The Batman titles particulary suffer. Paul Dini’s run on Detective a few years ago was the first time I remember reading a good detective story in Detective in LONG time.

Basically, if you can write a compelling crime story, by all means, include superheroes. It would be refreshing.

Also, there’s burgeoning continuity and super crime. I imagine it’s incredibly difficult for all but the top tier comic writers to get a Batman story sold in which none of his classic rogues appear. I would love to see a run on Detective in which Bats pursues non-super, non-costumed criminals and killers. Just for a while. Joker, Two-Face, and the rest will always come back. You can’t keep those characters and storylines off the page, and that’s what I mean about burgeoning continuity.

In pop culture, “crime fighting” has become less of an obviously good thing to be doing since the 1950s. When police officers were thought of as universally good, a superhero could just be a more powerful police officer, doing police officer things, only better.

Nowadays police officers are just as likely to be corrupt, or amoral agents of a corrupt government, so a superhero has to be something else.

Well, in Batman’s case, it’s gadget-inflation. Using a hovertank to catch purse-snatchers is a tad unsatisfying.

I think a lot of it has to do with the success of the X-Men, which was kind of a superhero/horror fusion comic that didn’t bother with “fighting crime” for the most part. That spawned a lot of imitators.

So how would one go about writing believable (in the sense that it would make sense for ‘superheroes’ to be doing this sort-of thing) crime-fighting fiction? Bank robberies don’t really happen that much anymore. Hunting down murderers? Defeating gangs? What would make sense?

Super CSI / L&O SVU. Get all forensic and delve into wealthy/high profile murders, serial killers, spree shootings, rapes, and pedophilia. The exact sort of thing millions of people tune in for.

Fighting a major foreign criminal cartel? Lots of weapons, lots of “soldiers”, and being in another country limits what the superhero’s host country can do short of war. While the hero can burst in, smash up their operations, and his home government can say “sorry, we have no control over this guy and have no idea who is under that mask” regardless of if they do or not. They could even be passing him information on targets while denying they know a thing about him. Plausible deniability in action.

Another thought: “The Invisible Woman, Investigative Reporter”. Forget fighting aliens and guys in costumes; just imagine what she could do while lurking invisibly around the rich and powerful with a camera and recorder.

If you really want to see super heroes fighting real crime go read some golden age and early silver age comics. In his first handful of appearances Superman combated among other things drunk drivers, speeding, and cheating football coaches. The problem boiled down to what most of the other posters said, namely that these stories became repetitive and boring since the heroes outclassed the villains to such large degrees. A return to this form might work for certain heroes like Daredevil who are fairly low powered, but it’d be mind numbing for most others. Imagine Hulk taking down blackmailers or Wolverine tracking down murderers, they just wouldn’t stand a chance.

Low-level heroes - Batman and his crew, Green Arrow, etc - do fight real world type crimes. And are, honestly, better referred to as costumed vigilantes, rather than ‘superheroes’.

Once you’ve got a hero with significant powers…they shouldn’t be out there taking down gangbangers and drug peddlers. That’s the sort of thing that should be left for the police (unless the cops are corrupt, then it should be left to the costumed vigilantes).

When they deal with crime it should be crime that’s as detached from the real world as they are themselves. In short, superheroes should deal with supervillains. Something to justify someone who can bench press buildings being involved.

It really depends on the superheroes. Spider-Man still regularly does this (although often as a side line when pursuing a super villain) whereas the likes of the Fantastic Four never seemed to do it, they were always out in Space.

Frankly, how much super hero work has been crime fighting over the years?

“We think this guy killed his wife, but we can’t prove it.”
“He buried her nine paces north of the tallest elm in the woods.”
“Wow, nice work. Thanks for sparing those twelve seconds, Wonder Woman.”

Gimme a break. Police were MUCH more likely to be corrupt back in the 50s than they are now. Back then, there was next to no supervision, no dashcam video, no cell phone video, no 24 hour news cycle. Police literally got away with murder. Police are much less corrupt today.

I meant in public perception, not in actuality. IIRC the Hays code even forced comic stories to have “legitimate authority” be shown in a positive light, but even without the 1940s had a way of ignoring police power abuses that the 1960s didn’t.

I know that it was the public perception then, but I disagree that most or even a sizable minority of people in the US see the police as inherently corrupt now. Everyone knows there are bad cops and even some bad departments, but I think most people see the police as the good guys.
Now, that was different back in the late 60s-early 80s, but I think the pendulum swung back after 9-11.

I don’t know which books you have been reading, but you need to focus on the ‘street-level’ superheroes.

I don’t know DC very well, but in Marvel, but you need to read some of

  • Spiderman, although he has done less of the ‘crime’ fighting over the years
  • Daredevil
  • Punisher - he’s more a vigilante than superhero admittedly,
  • Cloak & Dagger - they haven’t had their own series in a long time though,
  • Moon Knight - he had a new series debut a few years back which looked promising,

As others have suggested if you’re looking at the heavy hitters of the universe, there’s not much fun or interest in reading about Iron Man or Thor taking out some non-super criminal. :smiley:

In all fairness, I’ve repeatedly seen writers kick off an otherwise talk-heavy Doctor Strange story by having our hero go about his business in a drug store or a bank or whatever until (a) crooks burst in with guns drawn, at which point (b) Doc draws impressed comments by showily messing with 'em until they surrender to sympathetic cops; it’s not that he’s out on patrol or anything, it’s just that he’s the archetypal right guy in the right place at the right time.

I did like the time the Grey Hulk ended up confronting this psyho corrupt sheriff. The sheriff had this iron bar he’d confiscated long ago from some punk and tended to threaten people with it. He’d tossed Banner in a cell, and at one point smacked Banner on the knuckles with his bar and turned away while ranting about how “I’m king here! Me and my iron bar!”

And of course crunch goes the cell, and the grey Hulk asks “Oh yeah? What do you do when you meet a guy with a bigger bar?”