“Attention students! We will be holding a “Hulk Alert” drill later this week….

I was watching the news of Saddam Hussein’s arrest this morning, and after the more typical thoughts, the inevitable geeky one came to me…

Comics such as The Watchmen and Astro City take seriously the implications of superheroes for everyday life. That is, they explore a world fundamentally changed by the presence of metahumans. To a lesser degree, more mainstream titles such as Marvels, Kingdom Come, JLA: Welcome to the Work Week, and even the “Clubhouse of Solitude” story in the Bizarro Comics anthology (Wait… We’ve never reviewed that here?) do the same– though those titles left me wondering how the DC and Marvel universes could even remotely resemble ours, given the degree of fantastic activity and sophisticated technology. Even the existence of Superman mean a world with several fewer disasters and an answer to questions regarding extra-terrestrial life. Peter Parker’s spidey-webbingTM would have numerous workaday applications. And what are the implications for fashion, when the trend-setters prefer spandex in primary colours?

In short, how would (insert current/historical event of choice) be entirely changed by the mere presence of familiar superheroes and supervillains?

9 replies on ““Attention students! We will be holding a “Hulk Alert” drill later this week….”

  1. wayfaring_familiar says:

    A Political Superman vs Apolitical Superman
    I was just thinking about this the other day. Suppose Superman (and only Superman) existed in the Real World, but instead of being the goody-two-shoes he’s portrayed as in the films (I never read the books), suppose he had the moral, political, and religious beliefs befitting someone raised on a farm (in Kansas?).

    And further, suppose he had a political agenda — say, he was a Libertarian. Would he crusade against John Ashcroft? Campaign Finance Reform laws? Gun control? Campaign for free speech? Become a spokesman for the ACLU? Suppose he takes a stand on an issue in opposition of the government. Suppose he takes a good, long look at the war on drugs and decides that it’s a waste of money and lives, and that rehabilitation and legalization are the best answers. Does he petition congress? Launch a media campaign? Fly around lecturing drug dealers and the DEA? Physically free people from jail who he believes don’t belong there?

    Or let’s say he was an anti-war type. Would he fly around the world stopping wars? Even “good” wars (insert your definition of ‘good war’ here)? Say he was against the war in Iraq. Would he have been over there stopping it before it even started? And then, to make it all fair, he’d use his x-ray vision to find any WMDs, and thus trump our (original) reason for attacking Iraq?

    I mean, if he wanted to prevent wars, he could do a lot to insure that Saddam never attacked the US with WMDs — and thus reduce the usefulness of that argument for the reason to attack Iraq. Of course, he couldn’t be in two places at once, so he couldn’t prevent everything (although, if the films are to be taken as canon, he could go back in time…).

    Or let’s say he was raised a Christian, and became a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian as an adult. Would he speak out against abortion? Gay marriage? The removal of the Ten Commandments from an Alabama courthouse? Suppose Superman decides the Ten Commandments should be displayed in a courthouse in Alabama. Is his opinion on the matter enough to change the course of the debate, or does he show up at zero hour and join the civil disobedience to prevent the monument’s removal? (How do you move a 5300-pound granite monument if Superman doesn’t want you to?)

    The entry of Superman into a controversy on either side would often likely determine the outcome.

    I guess the point is, it seems like a Real World Superman would have to be subject to the same non-black-and-white world that we’re subject to. He wouldn’t be apolitical. Perhaps he’d keep his opinions to himself, and just “do good deeds.” But what if he didn’t? What if he “joined the debate” and acted on behalf of one side or the other? His could be the most sought-after political endorsement of any presidential campaign!

    I suppose I should add this disclaimer: I don’t want to imply anything about anyone’s religious/political/moral beliefs. I’m just trying to make hypothetical examples using controversial issues of the day. I’m not trying to provoke a political argument! I don’t really care which side he’d be on, I’m just curious about what kind of effect his participation would have….

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: A Political Superman vs Apolitical Superman

      It’s generally DC canon that Superman upholds the laws of nations, precisely to avoid his becoming a demagogue. Still, his mere existence would change so many things, as you have noted.

      And what about the Flash? Would every lawyer, in Johnny Cochrane fashion, raise the possibility that the client was framed by someone with access to the Speed Force?

    • quantaman says:

      Re: A Political Superman vs Apolitical Superman

      I was just thinking about this the other day. Suppose Superman (and only Superman) existed in the Real World, but instead of being the goody-two-shoes he’s portrayed as in the films (I never read the books), suppose he had the moral, political, and religious beliefs befitting someone raised on a farm (in Kansas?).

      And further, suppose he had a political agenda — say, he was a Libertarian. Would he crusade against John Ashcroft? Campaign Finance Reform laws? Gun control? Campaign for free speech? Become a spokesman for the ACLU? Suppose he takes a stand on an issue in opposition of the government. Suppose he takes a good, long look at the war on drugs and decides that it’s a waste of money and lives, and that rehabilitation and legalization are the best answers. Does he petition congress? Launch a media campaign? Fly around lecturing drug dealers and the DEA? Physically free people from jail who he believes don’t belong there?

      Or let’s say he was an anti-war type. Would he fly around the world stopping wars? Even “good” wars (insert your definition of ‘good war’ here)? Say he was against the war in Iraq. Would he have been over there stopping it before it even started? And then, to make it all fair, he’d use his x-ray vision to find any WMDs, and thus trump our (original) reason for attacking Iraq?

      I mean, if he wanted to prevent wars, he could do a lot to insure that Saddam never attacked the US with WMDs — and thus reduce the usefulness of that argument for the reason to attack Iraq. Of course, he couldn’t be in two places at once, so he couldn’t prevent everything (although, if the films are to be taken as canon, he could go back in time…).

      Or let’s say he was raised a Christian, and became a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian as an adult. Would he speak out against abortion? Gay marriage? The removal of the Ten Commandments from an Alabama courthouse? Suppose Superman decides the Ten Commandments should be displayed in a courthouse in Alabama. Is his opinion on the matter enough to change the course of the debate, or does he show up at zero hour and join the civil disobedience to prevent the monument’s removal? (How do you move a 5300-pound granite monument if Superman doesn’t want you to?)

      The entry of Superman into a controversy on either side would often likely determine the outcome.

      I guess the point is, it seems like a Real World Superman would have to be subject to the same non-black-and-white world that we’re subject to. He wouldn’t be apolitical. Perhaps he’d keep his opinions to himself, and just “do good deeds.” But what if he didn’t? What if he “joined the debate” and acted on behalf of one side or the other? His could be the most sought-after political endorsement of any presidential campaign!

      I suppose I should add this disclaimer: I don’t want to imply anything about anyone’s religious/political/moral beliefs. I’m just trying to make hypothetical examples using controversial issues of the day. I’m not trying to provoke a political argument! I don’t really care which side he’d be on, I’m just curious about what kind of effect his participation would have….

      The moment that superman takes a point of view which isn’t approved by the media he’ll become heavilly villified by them and soome become resented by the public. As well politicians would not be happy with a political superman challenging their decisions and would do everything they could to shoot him down (metaphorically and maybe literally), he would likely be considered a criminal.

    • daniel_yokomiso says:

      Re: A Political Superman vs Apolitical Superman

      I was just thinking about this the other day. Suppose Superman (and only Superman) existed in the Real World, but instead of being the goody-two-shoes he’s portrayed as in the films (I never read the books), suppose he had the moral, political, and religious beliefs befitting someone raised on a farm (in Kansas?).

      And further, suppose he had a political agenda …

      I guess the point is, it seems like a Real World Superman would have to be subject to the same non-black-and-white world that we’re subject to. He wouldn’t be apolitical. Perhaps he’d keep his opinions to himself, and just “do good deeds.” But what if he didn’t? What if he “joined the debate” and acted on behalf of one side or the other? His could be the most sought-after political endorsement of any presidential campaign!

      There’s a portrait of this in the best, IMO, comic in this year, Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son. The story shows a Kal El raised in Stalin’s USSR, who thinks people in the world shouldn’t suffer, ever, so he tries to avoid every accident, crime and social problem (e.g. famine, diseases) to the point he becomes a “benevolent dictator”.

  2. y42 says:

    Balance
    Even the existence of Superman mean a world with several fewer
    disasters

    Well, if we have superheroes, that means we also have supervillains, so
    that brings back the disaster balance.

    For every train wreck superman prevents or lessens in severity, you get
    Lex Luthor wrecking another or Doomsday going beserk all over the
    country.

    And you forgot to mention Marvel’s “Marvels”, wich also adresses that
    question. The whole book is told from the perspective of one
    photographer who gives his thoughts about the emergence of the
    Marvels (metahumans, whatever) and their impact on his world.

    They have some very interresting thoughts about how humans feel less
    special with Marvels around. Inferiority complex and whatnot.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Balance

      And you forgot to mention Marvel’s “Marvels”, wich also adresses that question.

      Marvels is mentioned in my original post. While it does an excellent job of showing what a “real” world with superheroes might look like, I never bought the psychological reactions of most of the ordinary human characters. Also, because Marvels had to adhere to the original comics which inspired it, it could not examine the implications of the science which created the Torch and Captain America (what? No one else followed up on that research? Not to mention the social effects of the technology that Reed Richards and Tony Stark have developed. That suit Reed made in the 70s with 80% of Ben Grimm’s power… Bet that’d have a few real-life applications). We also never see the impact on theology of a world where Norse and Greco-Roman gods are known to exist (there was a story arc that touched lightly on this in the 80s Thor, I believe). My point is that we would have an entirely different world, and I think it would be interesting to explore that further. Such comics, however, would be in entirely alternate realities and– let’s face it– as a kid, it was kind of fun to imagine these stories happening in our familiar world.

  3. Lurch_Kimded says:

    Positive and Negative
    I was trying to think of a witty fake Newscast to put up as a post but instead realised that a lot of the anti-mutant hype stuff from X-Men – The Movie would be kind of accurate in many ways. As far as what impact this would have I think that the super-villain threat would probably shift everything dramatically to polar extremes where we would have great advancements and progress we would also be more at risk from those elements of human nature which most threaten to destroy us.

    The existence and proof of something beyond normal homo-sapiens, be that mutants, super heroes or aliens would cause humanity such a moral and social earthquake that it would radically re-orientate our entire way or thinking, working and reacting. Think how many would react knowing that if they got into trouble they nearly need but shout for help and their saviour would come flying to their aid. The nature of extreme sports and adrenaline junkies would become, well, more extreme and the risks they would take would increase to dangerous levels. Religious, political and social extremes would become increasingly polarised and become an even greater threat.

    Then again I am looking mainly at the darker side of this rather than the positive aspects such as scientific and medical advancements which could be possible and maybe a greater sense “one-ness” (I know its not a word) as a race of people. We may even become humans rathers Americans, British, Indians etc etc.

    Anyways thats may two cents.

  4. Brother_Chubba says:

    Nobody read The Dark Knight Returns….
    That covers what could happen if super heroes become too political. It’s really good and I don’t want to spoil it for folks.

    Dark Knight Returns….go read it!

  5. daniel_yokomiso says:

    Astro City: Local Heroes
    There’s a story where a crime (with eye-witnesses) is being judged and the defendant lawyer argues that you must dismiss the possibility of evil twins from another reality, shapechanging criminal impersonators, mind-control, ghost possession, clones, etc. in order to prove that the person witnessed commiting the crime is the real suspect.

    I always thought about the consequences of “mind powers” in the real world. How many accidents, heart-attacks, cassino games, would be influenced by telekinetics and how would people react to that? Also I believe that “Learn how to protect your thoughts in 24 hours” and “Psychic-screening for dummies” kinds of books would be sold out, due to fear from the intrusive telepaths.

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