Super-heroes and the law (#SFWApro)

When I read the start of Impossible Takes a Little Longer to my writing group, one of my colleagues objected she’d never understood why/how super-heroes work with the police without being part of the police.

This is such a convention I don’t really think about it, but I’m inclined to say it’s because the typical hero tends more to the independent operator than the organization man. The hardboiled PI. The tough guy who bucks the chain of command because they’re wrong. Dirty Harry, whose superiors tend to be an inconvenience. The organization man who has to go rogue because the organization is corrupt. Though of course, there are lots of exceptions, such as Bond, John LeCarre’s George Smiley, Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn, and various super-heroes too.

As far as the novel goes, it’s explained later on that Nighthawk—whom I’ve now rechristened the Defender (another suggestion from the group)—works with the cops because she never had much luck finding crooks on her own. The advantages of working with her, I think are obvious (we’re talking someone roughly equivalent to Superman at his debut, and that’s damn tough) so I don’t think there’ll be that many people who object (hope not!). But it also got me thinking about the way super-heroes relate to the law. So borrowing from the D&D alignment system—

showcase73Chaotic. These are the guys who actively wanted by the police. This may be because of crimes they’ve committed (the Punisher), crimes the cops think they’ve committed (the Creeper on the Ditko cover to the left—all rights with current holder), or because they’re busting heads, breaking and entering and assaulting people without any official power to do it. As a cop once put it in Tony Isabella’s great Black Lightning series, the law protects everyone—even the crooks Black Lightning is taking on.

Lots of heroes—early Batman, Silver Age Spider-Man—have gone this route, because it builds tension. They have the crooks to fight, the cops to dodge, and they look even more heroic because they’re doing good work with zero reward.

This also includes heroes working against an actively evil government, such as the 1970s Red Guardian at Marvel.

Neutral. I think this has been the norm since the Silver age, despite exceptions such as Spidey or the Punisher. The neutrals are the ones who aren’t cops (or part of any other official body) and don’t take orders from the police, but they work with the police and vice-versa. For example, the Flash, Green Lantern (in relation to Earth police anyway), the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Atom, Green Arrow … the list goes on and on. I think my friend had a point that my taking it for granted everyone would see this as normal was a mistake on my part.

I should note that a number of heroes—Doc Savage, Batman, Superman—have some sort of honorary police commission. However this seems more a way to give them legal clout when they need it and ensure official cooperation than anything else—none of them take direct orders from the local chief of police, for instance.

Lawful. These are the guys who really do work for the cops. Or the feds. Or military intelligence. Or whoever. They’re relatively few and a lot of the time they’re lawful, but definitely not lawful good. DC’s Suicide Squad are crooks and killers, as are some incarnations of Marvel’s Thunderbolts. Or DC’s Force of July, willing to carry out any dirty job if it has government sanction. Or countless super-heroes working for the Russian government during the Cold War—The Rocket Reds, the People’s Heroes, the Titanium Man.

There are exceptions, such as Captain America, but I think they’re in the minority.talessuspense092

There are also special cases. Green Lantern is a neutral on Earth, but he answers to the Guardians of the Universe, so he’s really a lawful. The Spectre laughs at earthly concerns but he’s on a mission from God—literally.

I don’t know I got much insight from all that, but as a comics fan, it was fun to think about. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights to current holder.


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Filed under Comics, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Writing

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