Friday, December 03, 2010

Superheroes and the Law

I was reading some marvel digital comics and hit a few issues from the Civil War arc. That got me to thinking about what the relationship would be in the real world between superheroes and the government. I'll do a second post on how the topic evolved in the comics.

Civil War was meant partly as commentary on the Patriot Act and other policies of President George W. Bush. Because of this background, many of the plot elements were meant to show the government as being over-the-top. The conflict was over an act that required superheroes to register with and work for the government. The split between the heroes was between the conservatives on the side of the government and the liberals who opposed the act.

So, how would today's real world react to superheroes? This gets complicated because many heroes are not actually super. Some are costumes acrobats using archaic weapons (Captain America, Daredevil, Hawkeye). Batman would also be in this group but the DC universe has always been different from ours while the Marvel Universe is based on more closely on the real world.

Anyway... the next group consists of regular people using advanced technology (Iron Man, War Machine). The final group has the people with actual powers. These distinctions can get a little fuzzy. Daredevil has radar sense, Iron Man's armor has been part of him at times. There are also people who use technology or magic to gain powers. Giant Man originally used a gas and later a helmet to change size. Thor used to change back to a human if he lost hold of his hammer for more than a minute. I'm making the call that Daredevil could (and has) functioned with regular vision and that having real powers is more important than how they are obtained. That still leaves Iron Fist who has a real super power but seldom uses it but no classification is perfect. The fact that he can demolish a building with a single punch puts him in the people with powers class.

Now, I'm going to extrapolate from the real world and assume that conservatives would accept superheroes more readily than liberals. My reasoning is that most gun-control advocates are liberal and that the areas with the tightest gun controls are liberal strongholds. The same goes for militia groups and volunteer boarder-watchers. Conservatives support them and liberals hate them. Real vigilantism is very rare but the few examples break down the same way. Bernie Goetz, the subway shooter, comes to mind. He shot four men who were trying to rob him. Liberals believe that the four men were only asking for loose change and were shot unprovoked. Conservatives believe Goetz's version, that the four men threatened him and would have hurt him if he had not shot them.

So, my extrapolation makes me think that liberals would tend to see superheroes as a threat and might start examining the race of offenders caught for signs of racism. Conservatives would be more likely to take superheroes at face value. That would cover the costumed acrobats. With the exception of the Punisher (who would be on the Most Wanted list), the acrobats use bare hands and minimal weapons against criminals who often carry guns.

Things change when we get to the group that uses advanced technology. It is one thing to take out an armed robber with a stick. It is something quite different when you are wearing the equivalent of a tank. It is illegal to own a tank with a working cannon or a warplane with missiles. I doubt that the government would support someone wearing armor that could tear either of these to pieces. Again, I expect that more conservatives than liberals would support this class of hero but I suspect that the majority of the country would want some sort of official control over technology like this. There are strict prohibitions against using US military force against the citizenry. These restrictions would probably be extended to superheroes. They might be treated like firms such as Backwater Security (AKA Xe) which is allowed to carry weapons under contract to the government. Again, support for Blackwater is higher among conservatives than liberals.

This brings us to the people with real powers. Things get trickier when you have someone who cannot be disarmed. They might be forced to work for the government as in the Marvel Universe or they might be treated as contractors. There might be exceptions made for people with powers who do not use them as long as they do not use them. But how do you handle people who start fires because they are irritated or can wreck a city block in a fight over a girl? And this is just the Fantastic Four (in the Silver Surfer's second appearance the Thing started a fight over Alicia and a block of condemned buildings was leveled).

Liability insurance for these beings would be impossible. They would have to have federally-backed insurance like flood insurance.

Just being close to these heroes can be dangerous so they might be ordered to post their location and stay away from locations where people assemble, especially children. In short, we might end up treating superheroes like sex offenders.

Or we might go the route taken in the Incredibles and offer superheroes a deal - retire and receive amnesty or be outlawed. Regardless, I doubt that the real world would be as hero-friendly as the Marvel Universe.

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