If Superheroes Existed to Solve Problems
In [Superheroes don't exist to solve problems, they exist to punch bad guys], Vlad Savov lays out an interesting critique of the blockbuster superhero. He writes:
In the real world, we celebrate the disruptors, the innovators, the paradigm shifters, and the crazy inventors — the people who bring about change and make things better for everyone around them. But in the fantasy realms where every physical trait can be amplified and every intellectual capability multiplied, all that our superheroes seem capable of doing is punching bad guys in the mouth and protecting the status quo.
While the Marvel fan girl in me scrambles to discredit Savov's argument (the "bad guys" are a metaphor for larger issues, duh), my inner academic is in intrigued. What would superheroes look like if there were no bad guys?
A while back, I had the opportunity to ask a version of this question to a group of high school students at Cleveland High School. The [superheroes these students] designed used their powers to combat gun violence, poverty, homelessness, and even miscommunication. These superheroes were disruptors, innovators, paradigm shifters, and crazy inventors, and (don't you worry, Hollywood) their stories were still as entertaining as heck.
Comic books don't have all the answers. (They are, after all, a product of human beings.) But throughout their history, they have successfully elevated real social issues on a massive scale. In a 1940s radio series, Superman directly challenged the KKK. The X-Men franchise continues to make a compelling case for civil rights. The list goes on. In fact, the Cosmic Hero Award was in part inspired by this proud history of social activism.
So yes, I agree. It would be great to see a "higher class of hero to match the Joker's better class of criminal." But maybe to do that, we first need to find heroic inspiration (and disruptive, innovative solutions) in the real-world. Perhaps the next great comic book universe needs to be the Cosmic Hero universe.
(This universe already has its first two superheroes: Black Rosy and Cheer Major. Make that three, including honorary Cosmic Hero Star-Lord.)
But until then, I'll admit I am excited to watch Wonder Woman totally kick a bad guy's butt.