5 Terrible Messages Hidden Inside Every Superhero Story
Every time a superhero loses their powers (or, if it's Batman, his belt full of expensive gadgets), we hear the same thing: It's not the powers/belts that make a hero, but the fact that they're all so gosh dang good and virtuous. These are the guys we're supposed to aspire to be, as evidenced by all the "jumping from a tree with a towel around the neck"-related injuries in little kids every year.
Too bad superheroes are actually terrible role models when you think about it. For starters, ever notice how ...
Black Superheroes Often Start Out As Criminals
Thanks to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Falcon is probably the most famous African-American superhero right now (not counting Oprah). In the movie, his origin is that he's some Air Force guy Cap meets while jogging who also happens to know how to operate a cool hi-tech wing-pack. Nice and simple! In the comics, though, his personal history is slightly more ... problematic, as the kids say.
"For this scene, I'm gonna need you to draw two black people."
"Afros and pimp suits. Gotcha."
Sam "Snap-But-Also-Mostly-The-Falcon" Wilson's parents were both murdered, which would be par for the course in one of these origin stories, except Sam didn't decide right then and there that he would do all he could to clean up the mean Harlem neighborhood he grew up in. Nope, he joined the mob. And then he renounced his criminal ways and became a superhero? Nope again! After he tried to rip off his bosses, a super-Nazi brainwashed him into being a good guy as a plot to trick Captain America, and then he just stayed that way.
Unfortunately, his fashion sense didn't improve a whole lot.
Falcon is hardly an anomaly. Storm of the X-Men? Met Professor X while stealing his wallet.
Professor X turned around so fast that he broke his spine.
Luke Cage, aka Power Man? Gang member turned Hero for Hire. Blade? Born to a prostitute mother who was murdered by a vampire during childbirth, raised in the brothel his mother worked for, and joined a gang because why not, everyone else was doing it. Maybe we'll have better luck with DC's heroes? Sure, there's Cyborg, who was born to a wealthy family, had a genius-level intellect since childhood, was a gifted athlete ... and still joined a street gang and started talking in jive, for some reason.
This is from before laws were passed to prevent white writers from writing "black dialogue."
And don't get us started on Latinos. But the point is, there have been plenty of white superheroes who started out supposedly penniless, but how many of them have "former gangster" as part of their secret origins? Daredevil always lived an absolutely miserable existence, but he stayed on the law's good side. Spider-Man was an orphan living with his financially troubled aunt and uncle, but he didn't decide to start mugging people; he went into wrestling. That's the worst occupation they could think of for a white character before he learns about power and responsibility. Also, his version of austerity looks like a fucking paradise:
They're so broke that Aunt May can only afford a slutty see-through dress.
To be fair, modern interpretations of these characters tend to gloss over or outright eliminate these dismal beginnings. But then again, these guys might have been better off staying as villains, since ...
Most Superheroes Are Shockingly Dishonest (Even Outside Of Secret Identities)
It makes sense that some level of deceit would be necessary in order to maintain a secret identity, but our heroes' spiderwebs of lies are complex and multifaceted, like dishonest macrame. Clark Kent, defender of Truth and at least two other things, didn't bother to tell Lois Lane he was also Superman until months after they were engaged. It's one thing to lie about being an alien supergod to a co-worker, but to the woman you're having sex with? There has to be a law against that sort of shit.
"You'll probably die giving birth to our mutant babies, but hey, no astigmatism!"
Then you have Daredevil, who, according to the recent Netflix series, goes around pretending to be Mr. Magoo while with his closest friends, when he's more like Mr. Miyagi. It's explicitly mentioned that he even uses his enhanced senses to hook up with women, none of whom know that he probably shoots the ooze that created the Ninja Turtles out of his dick. Compare that with the main villain of the show, the Kingpin, who is so open and honest that he actively tries to ensure that his girlfriend knows exactly what kind of world she's sexing herself into.
She's surprisingly cool with the fact that he can't get it up unless he's recently beaten up someone wearing a costume.
But even after their alter egos have been revealed, most heroes still try to keep up some kind of charade, regardless of how close they may be to the recently illuminated acquaintance. Like Spider-Man keeping his girlfriend in the dark as to his real whereabouts to keep her from worrying, or Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen just ... being the worst, in general. Queen has sold his friends and family so much bullshit over the years that they all started buying it wholesale. Ollie is in so deep, he alienates those closest to him in nearly every iteration of the character. We'd recommend therapy, but given who the most prominent psychiatrist in the DC Universe is, that would probably make things worse.
Well, at least something good could come out of it.
Meanwhile, villains like Dr. Doom and Ra's Al Ghul take their particular brand of evil to extremes, but each have their own strong codes of ethics, and are often more consistent and honest than the heroes punching them. Heck, even the Joker himself has been known to fully fess up to his delinquent antics when the chips are down. Loki is literally the God of Lies, yet even he reveals his entire plan to the very people who are trying to thwart it ... only to have everything go his way in the end, because honesty really is the best policy.
In fact, we're starting to think villains have the right idea more often than not ...
Villains Tend To Be More Cooperative Than Heroes
Quick: How many minutes of air time have been delegated to watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles duke it out with each other in any of their titular films? We don't know either, but it was a lot. Now think hard: How often do we see the Foot Clan squabbling amongst themselves? Not very, and we don't mean only the version where they're all flimsy robots. The same goes for every large group of villains -- occasionally there's a disruptive ass, but for the most part, they are well-oiled machines powered by discipline and friendship.
"Look out for your partner, keep your suits clean, and remember: Above all, have fun."
Those guys certainly look like model students compared to the Avengers, who spent nearly three-and-a-half minutes beating the shit out of each other the first time they were assembled -- like 10 percent of the second movie was Iron Man vs. Hulk. Throughout comic book history, Tony Stark simply can't stop himself from trying to pummel other heroes into bloody pulps (and he was sober during most of those). Superman and Batman, supposedly the world's finest super-duo, keep kicking the shit out of each other, too. They're making a whole movie about that, in case you haven't heard.
Occasionally they unite against a worthy enemy, though.
Heroes, by and large, do not play nice. Villains, on the other hand, tend to get along much more easily. Movie villains tend to come in pairs and manage to achieve impressive things together, despite their very different personalities. Two-Face and the Riddler argue with each other less than Batman and Robin, and national heroes Sandman and Venom band together to rid the world of Emo Spidey. Hell, even Better Two-Face went from wanting to kill the fuck out of Better Joker to putting aside their differences and hating Lozenge Batman instead.
This phenomenon is the same in the comic book pages: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are best friends for life. Joker and Penguin have been pals for years, and their teamwork almost brought about the fall of the Bat before he manipulated the fuck out of them and turned them against each other, because heroism.
Joker is also about five times better at mourning people than Batman.
And that's how most supervillain team-ups end: The hero has to trick the bad guys into fighting each other to defeat them. We can only conclude that if it wasn't for the spandex bunch, the whole world would live in harmony.
Villains Are Monogamous, Heroes Screw Around
For the most part, even the most virtuous of heroes don't know how to keep it in their tights. We're not saying Peter Parker doesn't fall desperately in love with each and every one of his girlfriends ... but holy hell there have been a damn lot of them. Especially for a nerd.
"Again, I mean."
Superman has left a string of L.L.'s in his capey wake, a good percentage of the supporting cast in Arrow are Ollie Queen's love interests, and Daredevil has basically blind-dated the entirety of the Marvel Universe. Not only do superheroes have a soft spot for the finer specimens of the fairer sex, they have a serious weakness for bad girls, as evidenced by Batman and his on-and-off relationship with Catwoman. And Talia al Ghul. And Andrea Beaumont. And a couple others you've never heard of. But then, he sorta balanced that out by dating Wonder Woman and fooling around with Black Canary (Green Arrow's main squeeze). Not even Alfred's daughter was off-limits to his mighty batarang. Should Bruce Wayne ever hook up with Taylor Swift, their combined list of exes would dwarf the population of several countries.
It's a miracle he only has one bastard son running around.
On the flip side, villains tend to be one-woman types of guys, with many of their relationships spanning decades. We already mentioned the Kingpin's devotion to his beloved Vanessa, in contrast with Daredevil's shameless promiscuity. Mr. Freeze spent roughly 40 years trying to save his dying wife. Even if you count the ridiculous recent retconning as canon (we don't) and say Nora was never truly his wife (she was), that's still a super long time to spend devoted to one person. Especially one who can't laugh at his terrible ice-related puns.
Though they're about as sexually active as most marriages that have lasted that long.
We aren't saying villains treat their women better than heroes do; only that they tend to have fewer of them, and stick with them far longer. The Joker treats Harley Quinn like absolute shit, yet for decades, he's never been shown to have an interest in any other woman. Clearly, what he lacks in respect he amazingly makes up for in fidelity. The only time these two little love clowns ever fought over adultery was when Batman led Harley to believe her Puddin' was screwing around on her. Man, we're getting the impression that Batman isn't completely right in the head.
And perhaps this lack of meaningful long-term relationships is what leads to this next disturbing trend ...
Superheroes Love Blaming Rape Victims (Female And Male)
Unsettlingly enough, the old "She was asking for it" bullshit excuse is seen quite frequently in the superhero world. During one Avengers storyline, Mockingbird, Hawkeye's wife, is raped by a ghost cowboy. Don't worry, that's the least fucked-up detail. Instead of being there to support her, Hawkeye freaks out and breaks up with her because she "killed" him. The ghost.
No wonder Joss Whedon left before they got to this scene.
Women aren't the only victims to have their traumas thrown back in their faces. When Green Arrow is raped by a ninja (a living one this time), Black Canary simply ends up tacking that event to the number of women she believed him to have cheated on her with. Granted, this is probably more of a case of the writers not keeping their own plot straight (because who can at this point), but it still sends a horrible message.
He walked into that one, though.
And then there's our old friend Starfox, whose entire power was based around his ability to manipulate women into bed with him. Yes, he was arrested. And yes, he went on trial for his crimes. And for sure, his powers were taken away from him. But let's back up a hot second and focus on what went down at that trial. Starfox's victims were brought to the stand to testify against the interstellar jackass, but ended up making asses of themselves instead when all they could do was hit on him and talk about how worth it the rape was because Starfox's forced lovin' was just that good. The prosecution claims the women were under Starfox's power by virtue of being in the same room as him, which ... maybe? That could certainly have been the culprit behind multiple victims becoming nymphomaniacs, but the judge clearly doesn't take that as a serious option. Either way, it's still a yet another terrible message to be throwing around.
They liked the rape! Hilarious.
So what about the guilty verdict and the rescinding of Starfox's rapey abilities? That had nothing to do with the fact that he had assaulted a myriad of women. No, Starfox was punished because at some point he had manipulated his brother Thanos, which had caused his brother to go crazy and murdery. Starfox was punished by proxy for his brother's crimes, leaving a bushel full of sexual assault cases unanswered for.
Incidentally, Marvel is in early talks with Bill Cosby for a part. Wonder who?
Carolyn is a super role model on Twitter.