If superheroes can be super-strong, why don’t people want them to be super-noble?

If superheroes can be super-strong, why don’t people want them to be super-noble?

When the great debate came between DC and Marvel in the Silver Age (roughly 1956 to 1970), I knew which side I was on.

I preferred DC.

That didn’t mean I didn’t read some Marvel comics, I did. However, the divide seemed pretty clear.

The DC heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman…) weren’t like most people you knew. They didn’t behave like them. They didn’t even live in the same cities. Superman didn’t live in New York, he lived in Metropolis. Batman lived in Gotham City, not…right, New York. ūüėČ Those are two fictionalized versions of the same city. Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Doom Patrol live in Midway City, not Chicago.

We didn’t hear about their dating problems, they generally don’t need the money they earned, and they don’t get parking tickets or acne.

Over at Marvel, though, they lived in the real world. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) lived in straight up New York. He had the same problems as you. The same went for the rest of the Marvel characters (for the most part).

The Marvel “true believers” (fans) liked that their characters were realistic.

I liked that mine weren’t.

So, some of you are probably thinking that the Marvel characters weren’t realistic at all: magic users, mutants…being bitten by a radioactive spider likely would just hurt for a bit and then the spider would die. You wouldn’t suddenly have some mythical spider-sense.

The way Marvel characters¬†reacted to these fantastic circumstances, though, seemed more “normal”. They got mad, they got frustrated, they were full of doubts, they acted out…they got it wrong a lot, just like your typical human.

Superman always tried to be good.

In the past decade or so, those “super-noble” heroes have pretty much disappeared from the screen.

All of our heroes seem to be, to a lesser or greater degree, “anti-heroes”. That appears to be what the vast majority of people want. DC has gotten especially dark…for me, DC and Marvel have swapped tones.

I get how it’s easier to relate to characters that are more like you.


People don’t mind that characters have super-strength or super-speed. It’s fun to imagine having those powers.

I don’t see a big difference between that and having fun imagining being super-noble. My fictional heroes (especially Doc Savage, Mr. Spock, and Kwai Chang Caine ((the last from Kung Fu))) all have very strong moral codes. They have elements of their personalities, ways that they behave, that I would like to emulate. Not everything about them, of course, but certain things.

I genuinely believe that I am a better person because I’ve striven to be more like Doc Savage.

I guess that’s why I liked Adam West’s Batman, but wasn’t a big fan of the comic book Batman. Comic book Batman was often driven by what felt like vengeance to me. “Bad people” deserved to be punished, personally, in a way different from the law.

I also wasn’t a big fan of Christian Bale’s Batman. I said I wouldn’t want a ten-year old kid to see The Dark Knight because I didn’t want them to be frightened of¬†Batman¬†for the rest of their lives.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m fine with the existence of torture, muddled morality, heroes. I’m a fan of Elric (who I think would make an excellent streaming TV series), and all of my heroes doubt themselves (they just don’t doubt what is right and wrong).

I simply think there is still room in our cultural landscape for heroes who are exemplars of compassion and self-less motivation.

Have a different opinion? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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Bufo’s Alexa Skills

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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