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Off My Mind: Should Heroes Look At The Bigger Picture?

Is their focus on super-villains too narrow?

What is a superhero's mission in life? It's to protect the innocent. Heroes dedicate their lives to try to make the world a safer place from the evils that lurk around. What is their primary goal in saving the world? Take care of the bad guys. Sounds like a good plan, right? How can the helpless "civilians" protect themselves against super-powered villains? The real question is, are the heroes doing enough? 
 
With all the power the heroes have at their fingertips, it seems there's so much more they could be doing. I'm not trying to make this sound like their work is unappreciated but rather than chase around lunatics dressed in flashy costumes, why don't they try using their powers to literally save the world.
 
Once in a while we'll see heroes dealing with world catastrophes. Amazing Spider-Man #477 (or issue #36, depending on which numbering system you go with) showed the heroes dealing with the aftermath of 9/11. It was a powerful issue. Why don't heroes try to deal with the tragic events that people suffer around the world? 
 == TEASER == 
How many nations have people that are starving? In 1985, the X-Men tried doing what they could to help with famine in Africa. What about when nations suffer from the destruction of earthquakes or other natural disasters? We hardly ever see the heroes doing anything to help in these times. Yet they can sit around large tables and have meetings.  
 
I know heroes helping people from world disasters may not make the most exciting comic book. You would just think that this is something that would be addressed more. Batman has a fortune at his disposal yet we rarely see him spend it on things other than his fancy gadgets. I know the Wayne Foundation gives generously to different charities but if Bruce spent more time actually planning against the tragedies, he could probably solve half the world's problems. Reed Richards could invent miracles with barely any thought or effort.
 
Is it time for the heroes to get off their high horses and get down to actually try helping the people? They just seem to be spending too much of their time playing cat and mouse with the same bad guys over and over.
46 Comments
Edited by johnny_spam

The problems of the real world are minuscule compared to their world it is a reality where the planet and cities are in danger every day. Giving the problems of the real world to the superhero world is okay for one shot stories but don't hold up really in the larger scale of the universe.  The superheroes are doing enough as it is dealing with the criminals that actually want these tragedies.   

Edited by Timm

the writers generally aren't good enough to make those villains greater threats than the extraordinary threats of our own society most of the time. i should add that wildstorm and top cow, though. have had no problem doing that (or should i say writing that) for years. the general idea is that the problem is bigger than they think. when the authority tried to step on the feet of corrupt governments the team got their teeth kicked in by the governments who were all-too ready to deal with a semi-domestic post-human threat.

Posted by joshmightbe

either storm or thor couldve easily stopped hurricane catrina with ease theres a laundry list of heros who couldve prevented 9/11 like superman, thor,wonder woman and many others of course it always seemed odd to me that 9/11 had such an impact on the heros, i know in the real world it was a tragic event that changed our nation but in the comics stuff like it happens all the time

Posted by War Killer

Didn't Reed do something like that in Earth X? (I could be mistaken, though...)

Online
Posted by AxlReznor

Ozymandias tried looking at the bigger picture. Didn't go so well. ;-)
Edited by FadeToBlackBolt

"Over the next 12 issues, Peter Parker will retire from his identity as Spider-Man in order to combat the continuing threat of (insert disease here). This arc will feature astounding art by David Finch detailing mitosis and a variety of different sized beakers."
 
No one cares about real world problems in their comics. Sure, a single page here and there (like All-Star Superman) show that superheroes can do more than tear down buildings, but from an entertainment perspective; it's boring. Books like X-Men have deliver anti-racism messages, whilst also showing Wolverine stab bad guys in the head with his claws.  Real world problem sugarcoated with awesomeness. This is fine, anything more is over the top and melodramatic.

Edited by Illuminarch

The idea that 9/11 would have been a world-altering event in the Marvel Universe is risible. At nearly the exact same time the towers came down IRL, Washington, D.C. was completely obliterated and most of the world destroyed or conquered by Kang. Frankly, it would make more sense to assume that many of these problems were simply resolved. There's no reason that weather manipulating characters who conjure storms instantaneously could not end drought and huge weather related disasters like floods and hurricanes. People would be paying them to do so, in fact. And techniques that would vastly improve the supply and purity of food and water and cures for many diseases could surely be invented by the same super-minds that can come up with a cure to an alien super virus in the same issue it is encountered. 
 
But your average comic writer is lazy, so they insist on the implausibility of a world that is pretty much the same as the one outside your window, but filled with godlike individuals and examples of technology far in advance of the norm.

Posted by sellarsji

If you look back, there are a number of heroes who focus on the people before other writers tagged them for super groups like the JLA and Avnegers. Interestingly, most of the "B-List" heroes are the ones fighting crime and preventing human suffering on the local, more tangible level. In Marvel, Luke Cage made it his priority to police Harlem, his hometown. Even when he joined the New Avengers, he made it their duty to go around small towns in the world and simply stand ready to help. Same thing with DC's Black Lightning. When Superman was busy dealing with the shiny side of Metropolis or simply out of town, Jefferson Pierce held it down in Suicide Slums, the Southside Chicago of Metropolis. Storm has been written as the goddess who brings rain and life to barren lands on the continent of Africa.The problem with addressing actuall global issues comes with possibly making light of the situation. As a result, most stories about actual disasters are reactionary. We see how Cap reacts to 9/11, but we don't see Cap preventing 9/11. We see Thor reacting to Katrina, not preventing (He was in Odinsleep any way).
Posted by johnny_spam
@Illuminarch: @Illuminarch said:
 But your average comic writer is lazy, so they insist in the implausibility of a world that is pretty much the same as the one outside your window, but filled with godlike individuals and examples of technology far in advance of the norm. "
 
The comic book world is not are world and should not have the same rules they are more fantasy than the same and that realism bit from Watchmen is played out in the superhero world if someone dies they can come back if someone is caught in a nuclear accident they gain superpowers instead of dying.  
 
I am reminded of the first JLA arc a new group of heroes from outer space come and seemingly make the world a better place and even turn a desert in Africa filled with life as it turned out they were preparing a invasion of Earth and extermination of it's population.
Posted by ericthebolton

We already have celebrities to help the world's downtrodden.. Who needs Batman when we have Sean Penn and Leo DiCaprio?

Posted by doordoor123

Theres been a recent issue with the Fantastic Four where Reed Richards from a different dimension makes a plan to solve hunger in the world.

Posted by darkxman123

heros are for getting bad guys goverments are for solving problems

Posted by Buckshot

 It can be done, but I feel like it treads a thin line. If heroes are fighting outlandish villains (or even realistic villains) then there's something for them to deal with and then be done with (until someone new shows up or they come back of course). If you have them handling major natural disasters and fixing large problems like social injustice, disease, etc, then there's no end to that. You fix the drought then you have to fix all the problems of the area (because you're there and you're a hero and you help people) and that can go wrong in two major ways that I can see. It can lead to heroes needing to take charge to maintain and oversee the work they've done (which downplays regular people, heroes shouldn't be doing everything). The other thing though is what I think the bigger problem would be, and it's something that gets talked about with Reed Richards from time to time. Heroes can fix a ton of problems and would make society a lot better if they were busy doing that, but that would change things on such a scale that it would change the world of comics and make it something that people would have a hard time connecting to. Back to Reed, he could solve most of the world's problems and set up things to prevent the random things that come up, but then all of Marvel would become a futuristic planet (that would be the logical conclusion of just one hero doing all he was capable of to better his world). No one wants to read that for more than a mini series. Not everyone could really be doing stuff on a world changing level, but some individuals could and most teams could (and I imagine team rosters would grow so heroes could join this global initiative). When heroes defend a status quo, then once things are normal again they can stop. If they fight villains when they show up, once they're defeated they can stop. If they're in the business of really using their powers to fix people's problems on as large a scale as they're capable, it would make sense for them to keep doing that until the world no longer looks like Earth, and I don't think publishers are going to do that with their main universes. There are other problems with it of course, this is just one I think of.

This idea (really fixing problems) has been used a lot in Wildstorm (The Authority and Wildcats 3.0 are two titles that have done a lot with this over longer periods) and it has been played out a lot of different ways depending on who writes it and what groups are involved and their particular methods. As I was writing the previous paragraph I was realizing that I could substitute an arc or a story in like every sentence to show what I'm talking about. 

Moderator
Posted by Craig Lovecraft

Crap. I was just going to make a topic about this.

Posted by Golden Cod

The reason most comics ignore real world issues is two-fold: 

1- It's challenging to making real-life issues interesting.   American comic books are ultimately about brawling and you can't solve world hunger by beating someone up.   It's possible to make world issues interesting, but then it'd be drama like The West Wing.   Apples and oranges.

2- Comic have to show heroes solving a problem.   Solving problems by brawling is relatively easy in comparison to solving word hunger and factional strife.   Attempts to solve the bigger picture would likely lead to a depressing assessment of how petty and self-destructive we are.   You can't solve that kind of stuff in comics without a deux ex machina of some sort and the superhero code of ethics declares that you can't force people to change against their will unless you're a supervillain.
 
The Authority did a pretty good job of showing what it'd be like if superheroes really did take over the world.   I wasn't able to follow up on the issues so I don't know how it turned out though.

Posted by RiceFox

Doesn't Iron Man help all the needy countries? Like when he buys "Okle Cola" to use the vending machines to pass out vaccines? And wasn't the mission of his Force Works team to help with natural disasters?

Posted by sora_thekey

Police Officers, Firefighters and the Military can't fight Dr. Doom or Magneto...
Superheroes can!

Moderator
Posted by goldenkey

sure they should look at the bigger picture, but its a comic book.  Nievity is what drives the story.
Posted by Soldier zero

In the Iron Man annual of 1993 there was a short story titled "While The Band Plays On", featuring War Machine and Hawkeye which voiced exactly these same concerns.

Posted by Aronmorales

Man, the gears aren't turning all of that fast in my head...
I really don't know why I'm posting when Viners before me have said things so much better, but as long as I have fingers...
 
Should I have to? Superman could save one guy's life several dozen times over, but does that change the man's heart? what if that man still enjoyed doing the wrong thing? In order to truly save the world, one would have to change those living on it, but no man possesses that ability, so as long as time goes on the heroes have to put up with the stupid things done by the people they save who may not know better.

Posted by spiderguylll

Magneto ALWAYS sees the Bigger picture....If only those acured X-Men would get out of his way

Posted by Jordanstine

Superman could save the whole world if he wanted to.   
 
Batman proved it when he inherited Superman's powers in Superman/Batman issue # 55-ish (but it's the story after the super hero babies arc), this one: 
 
    
But instead, Superman just wants to relax and take it easy enjoying the simple things like Lois Lane's constant nagging.
Posted by hrdwrkngXsoldier

There is an editorial concern and unwriten policy by the big two that I read about in some book about the history of comics.  Basically they don't want to put their characters out there out-shining the everyday heroes that are hard at work or risking their lives to conquer real world problems and threats.   They want to have a seperation between fiction and our Soldiers, police officers, firefighters, inventors, and doctors.  When they do write an issue that concerns comic characters in the real world scenerios it is usually done with purpose and sometimes for charity.  What fun would utopian societ be in comics anyway?    
Posted by Illuminarch
@johnny spam said:
The comic book world is not are world and should not have the same rules they are more fantasy than the same and that realism bit from Watchmen is played out in the superhero world if someone dies they can come back if someone is caught in a nuclear accident they gain superpowers instead of dying.   I am reminded of the first JLA arc a new group of heroes from outer space come and seemingly make the world a better place and even turn a desert in Africa filled with life as it turned out they were preparing a invasion of Earth and extermination of it's population. "
 
Comic book worlds are fantasy? Get outta here!
 
And yet, take away the superheroes, and the world looks exactly like ours, right down to the types of cars on the road, the names of politicians and celebrities, and the same gossip, social problems, and natural disasters. There's absolutely no reason to even have a 9/11 or a Hurricane Katrina take place in the Marvel Universe, for instance, and yet they do. There's no reason to make references to Tea Parties or the last big election or the latest celebrity gossip that will be irrelevant in a few months and completely indecipherable to a kid reading back issues a decade from now. And yet they do it, and that's my point. They do it because most writers, and most editors, aren't comfortable taking their fantastic characters and events to their fantastic conclusion by making the world noticeably different, aside from a spandex wearing crimefighter in the newspapers or some awkwardly named fake country jammed into the map.
 
It's a lot easier to write that way, but it also doesn't make any sense, and it points out the irrelevance of the super hero and super villain in (at least) the Big Two. If you can just ignore for  moment the metahumans and the gods and the aliens and the world is still basically the same, then there's nothing at all special about them.
 
I'm not saying, either, that these supermen should make a utopia, just that they should seem to have some effect proportionate with their power levels, for good, bad, or neutral.
Posted by Yumulu

Canon stories from the big two should"nt have anything to do with the real world & when it does it usually caused by bad writting.

Posted by greenenvy

This would be more realistic and well appreciated instead of villains and villains which could get tiring too. Why cant they have a story line for captain america fighting Al Qaeda because that would be awesome at some degree. Having fantasy tie in always with our reality is what I like the most so this article is good to bring up and besides super heroes should interfere with controversial messages, tragedies or crimes because that what are superheroes are created for especially if there coming more mature so than give them power to operate in our world there and there. They could of did a hurricane Katrina story for superman, batman tracking down a real life serial killer instead of the damn joker to spider man having updated  teen problems like suicide or school shootings. Oh one more thing is that maybe have the blank panther fight the rebels time to time so these are important stories in our world that is happening and all we get is pure fantasy still. come on marvel and DC wake up already. 

Posted by Roninidas

I think LIFE, is about having problems and overcoming them.  If heroes took on the role of the Ultimate Saviors then that would kind of put them at a God-Like Status taking away our personal responsibilities to ourselves and others.  We would come to complacent and rely to heavily on the Superheroes to solve our problems and would stop looking for cures and ways to better our enviroments and ourselves.  Heroes belong on the frontlines battling the masked evil-doers that seek to destroy or enslave the world.   
 
We as Humans have the sole responisibilty of taking care of our own selves and our Enviroment.  
 

Posted by chalkshark

I think it kind of kills the escapist aspect of reading comics if the characters are actually dealing with real world problems.  

Posted by Crom-Cruach

It's PIS put simply some heroes have so much power or genius they could solve some real world problems within hours . Like Storm, if she actually used her free time constructively she could stop the droughts causing wide spread famine across the globe in hours by rearranging the world's weather patterns
 
This site sums up this kind of PIS :
 http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReedRichardsIsUseless

Posted by Caligula

I think they are doing enough, because if they go too far it becomes a Police State/ Dictatorship.

Posted by Crom-Cruach
@Caligula said:
" I think they are doing enough, because if they go too far it becomes a Police State/ Dictatorship. "
No, they aren't. If they can figure out the cure for an instant kill galactic plague in hours, they should sit down and invent a cure for cancer and aids.
Posted by RaydelFugeo

I think heroes are looking at the big picture. They do everything can to save the day. I think they fight the big bad guys, so " I " don't have too. Cops fight the goons in the streets for me. I think heroes (both real and fake) honestly are looking at the big picture. Most heroes probably see fighting Villains the spark they need to to rid the world of those other things. For example: If Reed Richards knew that Doom was defeated, or better yet Doom just stopped being a bad guy, the two of them would make awesome Food-Maker Gadgets. Villains are  the major obstacle that prevents heroes from all this other stuff. Its the difference between helping a man bleeding everywhere, and the man with a horrible virus.

Posted by The Sadhu

I'm reminded of Superman... during World War 2. During that time Superman titles very rarely dealt with the war against Nazi's. The thing is... if you were write an issue where the hero swoops in and ends the war... thats great in the comic world. The problem is... the war is still going on in the real world. Thats why Superman never flew to Germany and knocked out Hitler.
 
That's why in my opinion Bruce Wayne never tackled such things as famine directly or why Tony Stark doesn't help out directly with the poverty situation in today's world. It looks great in the comics but sadly the issues are still there for us to face in the real world. Which is why they deal with issues that have nothing to do with the real world i.e. Blackest Night, Seige!
 
Also, returning to my point of Superman during World War 2... DC didn't think it was right to have issues where Superman deals with the war single handly as they felt it was a slap in the face to soldiers who were in the trenches everyday fighting for our freedom. I'm sure this example could be related to current issues of today. 
 
Anyway thats just my thoughts on this...
Posted by Theodore

haha. I have that X-Men issue.

Posted by jamdown

selfish selfish superheros
Posted by Buckshot
@RaydelFugeo said:
"Villains are  the major obstacle that prevents heroes from all this other stuff. "
Sounds like Lex Luthor's thought process. "If Superman were just out of the way I could really help the world."
Moderator
Posted by RaydelFugeo
@Buckshot: 
 
You do have a point.
Posted by DarkSyde79

Of course heroes aren’t doing enough. But no one wants to read a story about these characters doing such things… I guess. Think about in the House of M where Storm turn’d Africa into the world’s bread basket. Or Wolverine using his blood to cure people of diseases and whatnot. 

Posted by mebaz

Excellent post topic. In terms of current events, I think the best we can hope for regarding comic book character participation is for stories to be topical. For example, the earthquake in Haiti could be written in as possibly having been provoked by government scientists, etc. But I wouldn't want to read a straightforward approach to real world events, honestly (unless it's a non-superhero book).
 
I mean, we can't deny the partially escapist nature of the superhero genre. So, to simply echo what the reader sees and hears around them would be to risk destroying the illusion.
 
That having been said, some current events I'm hoping mainstream titles will incorporate in a fantastical  context: Gulf oil spill, North Korean attack, economic woes in Europe. The latter makes excellent fodder for a James Bond/SPECTRE type conspiracy story.

Posted by ThanosIsMad
@Illuminarch said:
" The idea that 9/11 would have been a world-altering event in the Marvel Universe is risible. At nearly the exact same time the towers came down IRL, Washington, D.C. was completely obliterated and most of the world destroyed or conquered by Kang. Frankly, it would make more sense to assume that many of these problems were simply resolved. There's no reason that weather manipulating characters who conjure storms instantaneously could not end drought and huge weather related disasters like floods and hurricanes. People would be paying them to do so, in fact. And techniques that would vastly improve the supply and purity of food and water and cures for many diseases could surely be invented by the same super-minds that can come up with a cure to an alien super virus in the same issue it is encountered.   But your average comic writer is lazy, so they insist on the implausibility of a world that is pretty much the same as the one outside your window, but filled with godlike individuals and examples of technology far in advance of the norm. "
If any of the other weather manipulating characters are like Storm, they can't make weather, merely control it.  For example, Storm could bring enough rain to the Sahara desert to turn it back into a rain forest.  The downside would be that she would impact the weather somewhere else.  She may make a region of Africa green while simultaneously turning Greenland into a desert.  It's a balance. 
 
 
 
Superheroes should deal with disasters more, but the disasters should be cemented into their themes.  Batman has done it already with No Man's Land.  A naturally occurring earthquake turned into an epic superhero story.  They could do more stories like that (especially now that several DC cities were destroyed recently).  Have a supervillain responsible for a disaster and have heroes focus on clean up and recovery while hunting the guy down. 
 
Wildstorm is doing it now with Worlds End.  As for regions with armed conflicts, they could tell stories about how characters may have ridiculous superpowers, but they can't solve every problem in the world.   
Posted by Meteorite

Yes the heroes should save the world's problems, but at the same time it makes for less interesting stories.

Posted by Shieldbearer

Reed Richards could definately solve the worlds problems, but if he did, there wouldn't be much to write about now would there? It would kind of be like the end of Watchmen.
Posted by Vance Astro

No...heroes shouldn't.Only some of them should.Thus causing conflict with heroes who don't look at the bigger picture.

Moderator
Posted by DEGRAAF

i agree. Just in the DC world. They could build shelters for the homeless and cultivate lands of famine. They could build structures with their bare hands that could with stand major earthquakes. Just by taking a couple of hand fulls of characters. 
 
BRAINS 
Bruce Wayne 
Kal-El 
Martian Manhunter 
Mr. Terrific 

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS / FARMERS
Superman 
Power girl 
Supergirl 
Superboy 
Wonder Woman 
Wonder girl 
Troa 
Flash 
Martian Manhunter 
 
just with those names listed above they could change the whole culture and environment of the middle east and/or Africa for the better. 

 


 

and that is just one man moving at a normal pace, just think if you had 9 people doing similar tasks at the near speed of light (at least above mach 1 speeds) They would have no problem saving the world efficiently and effectively. After they were done they could take a single day and lock up all the drug runners, human trafficers, mercinaries, and people running the blood diamonds around the world.
Posted by ghostfly70

Mark Grunwald already did this for the Squadron Supreme limited series, (which predates the watchmen btw) it didnt turn out so well. 
 
Another good theme to explore would be how the world would be so dang expensive if super powered characters were real. Insurance premiums would skyrocket. Airlines would lose customers left and right after people learn how many villans love attacking passenger planes to irk Superman. Cities would empty turning all our major cities into Detroit. People would create a new mental illness, or several, including, lets see...Post Super Trauma Disorder after being victimized by cosmic battles outside their office windows...something along the lines of Obsessive Compulsive Danger Seeking Disorder in hopes of being saved by a hero..or Perpetual Crisis Continuity Confusion Disorder as they try to understand the habitual retcons of their very existance.
Posted by NexusOfLight

Quite a few comics have addressed this issue, as stated in the posts above. The first one that comes to my mind is Justice. The people who brought up the question were the villains, but still, it got me thinking that super heroes really should be out there solving the worlds problems. Then I went on to think that they already are. Being a super hero is a job. They're meant to defend the world from alien invasions, super villains, crazy magic, and all the other stuff they do. If I were a super hero, I'd feel like that'd be enough for me. I'd be doing my part in making the world a better place, and someone else--say the common, everyday people--should be doing theirs. Then I saw an episode of Charmed this morning, and it just pretty much solidified my belief.