You're a reasonably intelligent Kryptonian. Ethically, MUST you be a superhero?

After seeing the latest movie, my sister and I had a lively discussion about Superman’s right or duty to act as he does. I thought I’d solicit some thoughts from the Teeming Millions. I considered putting this in Great Debates–after all, the Mutant Registration thread was there–but I decided it was silly. I would like to have a discussion on the issue though.

First let me define the parameters of the argument. First, I’m assuming we’re talking about the real world, or some facsimile more reasonable than those in comic books. Second, in this scenario there is one and only one fantastic element: you, the reasonably intelligent Kryptonian. (No invading space aliens or sorcerers to worry about, only the same complement of terrorists and criminals afflicting the real world0. You’ve got all Superman’s post-crisis powers, and the sum total of the world’s kryptonite can be held in the palm of your hand. (Well, someone ELSE’S hand.) You also have the same signed note from God exempting you from following the laws of physics that allows Superman to catch 777s without crushing them. However, you’re no smarter than you are now, and you’ve no access to Kryptonian tech. Finally,when I write “superhero,” I mean “person using his or her superpowers on a regular basis for the betterment of the world,” not necessarily “person wearing underwear outside his pants.”

Under such circumstances, have you any ethical obligation to be use your power for the betterment of the world? Why or why not?

I say yes.

My reasoning is by analogy. Say I, as the ordinary mortal I am today, happened to be walking by my neighbor’s wading pool, when I observed a child drowning in six inches of water. There are no lifeguards or anyone else capable of helping the child nearby, but I am capable, with minimal or zero cost to myself, of rescuing the child. In such circumstances, I would call it immoral for me NOT to intervene; the social contract, in fact, seems to demand that I act. To a Kryptonian of course, the entire world is accessible as quickly as my neighbordhood is to me, and the vast majority of dangers are even less consequential that that shallow wading poool is to a mortal. Not acting whenever the need is apparent seems indefensible…at least to me.

Any thoughts, yea or nay?

Several pre-Crisis stories (some “imaginary”) show Kryptonians on Earth just minding their own business, usually pursuing scientific research.

Simple life-saving is obvious enough, but I think I’d spend my time with big scientific projects like constructing a space elevator and controlled fusion (thus improving life on Earth overall), rather than go on patrol.

I suppose my first big step would be to learn classical Arabic and appear hovering over the Kaaba. I’d claim to be Muhammad returned to Earth and make several pronouncements that, I feel, would help to undercut religious intolerance and terrorism. Basically “teach your women to read!”

So I’d be a “big picture” superhero.

Superpowered beings who live in a world like ours should not be superheroes. They are needed elsewhere, doing more productive things.

Superpowered beings who live on “planet superhero” and have to fight aliens, time travellers, sea monsters, random mutations, super-science gone amok, dream demons, luck gods, sentient animals overlords and behemoths probably have no choice to be superheroes or supervillains. They have no time for anything else.

Pa Kent says yes.

All this to sum up ‘With great power comes great responsibility’?

It depends. Does it come with medical/dental? Does it have 401K matching?

Seriously, though, superpowers or not I assume a reasonably intelligent Kryptonian would still need to pay the rent. Would there be an obligation to pursue a career in public service or science? Would the obligation to stop robberies, assassinations, and natural disasters extend to the hours the Kryptonian is “on the clock?”

I never thought that superheroes were all that super or heroic - in fact they seem, for the most part, to be narrow-minded and surprisingly parochial. To take a recent example off the top of my head, where was Superman during the 1994 civil war in Rwanda? Busy fishing a kid out of some lake?

In the last ten years or so, comic book writers have written superheroes that weren’t afraid to get involved in world events or muddy their hands in geopolitics. The prime example would be the Authority, a team of violent lefty-types who warned warring nations to “Be good, or else,” killed a corrupt U.S. president and took over America, essentially becoming super-fascists.

Well, I guess I should have prefaced my remark with the warning that I am totally unfamiliar with the current state of Marvel / DC comic books (I followed Marvel characters when young, but not any more).

In a related vein, folks wishing to explore this train of thought with less “extreme” superheroes might want to look at the Squadron Supreme TPB, where a thinly-veiled pastiche of DC’s Justice League take it upon themselves to try to remake their war-torn world into a utopia.

I thought of this while watching Superman Returns. Someone asks Superman why he didn’t _____, and he cheerily replies, “Gotta pay the rent first, you know!” And some zillionaire offers to make donations to some fund that Clark Kent (or Superman) could get to without compromising his secret identity, so that Clark can pay the bills and Superman can go to work full-time.

Of course, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire and can work whenever he needs to, but generally is active only after dark…

Not to mention that superman can pay the bills for a lifetime with a few minutes of compressing-coal-into-diamonds action.

I think this is the conclusion in Watchmen, when Doctor Manhattan leaves Earth permanently. Its problems are too small for him to wrestle with.

Assuming that would work; I recall a funny scene in the short lived comic Star Brand where the hero tried that. It squirted out from between his fingers and he ended up covered in black goop. :smiley:

I say yes, he is morally obligated, but try telling that to Zod.

Sure, for many reasons.

One, things would be much easier for you if people like you. Affection would grease the skids to whatever else you plan on doing.

Second, what would you gain by not helping people? It’s not like putting out a fire or stopping a high-speed chase would do anything more than take a few minutes out of your day.

Thirdly, you can become a hero and trademark your own symbol, thereby solving the money issue.

Lastly, helping people will stop you from getting bored, which would be REAL bad for a Kryptonian.

I’m just genuinely a nice guy. I’d help people as often as I could, unless I was lazy that day.

Morally speaking, he does have a certain obligation, but think about it: he can hear every problem, all over Metropolis (and maybe earth)- every scream, every glass breaking, every mugging. Really, if Superman is a truly moral individual (who believes that he has a duty to help those he can) he ought never to work or even sleep except for the bare minimum he needs to replenish- he should just be a blur of motion over Metropolis, constantly using super-vision and hearing to detect and right even the smallest of problems. Metropolis should have a 0% crime rate, a 0% rate of death due to accidents and drastically lowered rates of death from heart attacks etc. (Superman can get you to hospital in time).

Of course, you then get a whole lot of other problems arising from this kind of behaviour:
-People will stop wearing seatbelts or lifejackets. Well, maybe not all, but most probably would. There would be a “why bother? Superman will save me” attitude.
-For that matter, people might deliberately take risks just to see Superman. Jump off of tall buildings, that sort of thing.
-Everyone on earth would want to move to Metropolis, the perfect city!

Nice one.

I’d have to say yes, unless you were somewhat sociopathic. If its so easy to do, why wouldn’t you do it?

I’ve always thought that Superman would have had to become a superhero just to preserve his sanity. He’s a smart guy and he knows that there are people out there who need help; specifically there are people out there who need his help (plus he of course has the super senses to know for a fact that there’s someone he could be helping.) Could you just stand by knowing that you could easily be saving someone’s life right now and just let them die? I doubt I could.

That’s the inevitable conclusion of the surprisingly thoughtful Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, isn’t it?