Superheroes tend to aim at the preservation of the status quo, and secondarily at its improvement.
But in the real world, the preservation of the status quo is the core mission of tax dodging corporations, pollutant multinationals, and overpaid lobbyists. Change is aimed at by many, achieved by few, fought for by fewer.
We change our world, not special individuals demarcated by superhuman abilities and costumes. Us. Or we don’t.
So can comics escape being metaphors for our dreams of impact? Can they be compelling and escapist, but anchored to a continuity like our own? Would that work?
Its been tried, but inevitably anything too tangible gets backgrounded, palmed off to the supporting cast. Stark Resilient is left to Pepper while Tony fights stuff and goes galactic. Batman Inc is backpedalled and replaced with Bruce fighting for his son’s life, then to avenge his death. Reed Richards joins the council of Reeds and builds a nu-Earth for us to escape to, then drops the idea, and takes a family trip (to try to figure out why they’re all disintegrating). Every grounded, proactive effort beyond punching the baddie is eventually ditched.
There are two ways of reading this.
Superheroes are valiantly defending us from a worse status quo, acting as a necessarily reactive countermeasure to the disruptive.
Superheroes are victims of their own special status.
The former is pretty sound. It lacks romance or excitement, but its not negative, putting superheroes on a par with peacekeeping forces and emergency services.
But the latter… Isn’t it the false premise on which our culture’s inflated self-esteem is built? That if it weren’t for all the villains holding us down we’d be make everything better? That we’re special, but unable to exercise our special-dom fully because of pesky other people who’ll screw everything up if we aren’t there to sort it?
Are superheroes unwittingly complicit in our ever-worsening dooshbaggery?