Superheroes have long been the fictional idols that men and women all around the world have looked to for inspiration. “Superhero stories present and explore many important and pressing concerns such as ethics, justice, crime, punishment and social responsibility.”(Sharp, 353). These superheroes are often thought of as cultural icons (Pearson, 142).
However, there is so much more to every superhero than we think. They are more than just masked figured in costumes and capes. In the movie The Dark Knight, Batman, a well-known superhero, describes the life of a superhero by saying “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be. […] You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me because it’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes, people deserve more.”
“For decades, young Americans have looked to the world of comic book superheroes for a sense of justice.”(Vollum, 96). “Even those who have never read a comic book […] understand that […] heroes are devoted to fighting crime, punishing the bad guys, and ultimately, establishing a sense of justice.” (Phillips, 305). Contrary to some beliefs however, the crimes are often times “complex transnational networks” instead of common street crimes (Phillips, 304). The response to the crime however, remains to be focused on vigilante methods where the restoration of the utopian society completely destroys the rule of common law (Phillips, 304).
The super hero movies and comic books “popularize vigilante heroes” (Ceza, 23). Comic books such as Batman, The Punisher, and Spider-Man depict the law enforcement system as inadequate and corrupted (Ceza, 23). They show “retribution and vengeance as legitimate responses to crime” (Ceza, 23). By making these heroes vigilantes they are sending a message that the system by which we work our governments and law enforcement is not good enough. There may even be a hint that with the way our systems are run, the punishment may not always fit the crime. This pattern of masked vigilantes has come to be what the people of this world look up to.
Any superhero any one of us could think of might be known as “a commodity, a cultural icon, and a source of popular appeal” (Pearson, 142). The number of people these heroes have influenced is most certainly not limited to their fictional places. Movies are one of the most influential media forms, so it isn’t hard to believe that superheroes such as Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and Captain America have influenced people that live all over the world (Ceza, 22).
Children and adults alike dress up as their favorite superhero for Halloween. This is because filmmakers use all sorts of techniques to create the illusion that the outside world is the same or similar to that of the world inside of the movie (Ceza, 22). The belief that the movie world and reality are the same however, could cause a very negative effect on the beliefs of children who idolize these superheroes.
Media influences public perception of social problems, such as the creation of moral panics and may influence criminal justice policies (Phillips, 306). “Crime films not only reflect current attitudes and tensions in society, but also ‘shape the ways we think about the issues”” (Ceza, 22). Superman and Batman both came out shortly after the Great Depression as a way to “escape from the memories and lingering effects of the Depression.”(Vollum, 97).
Superman was a representation of the hope and idealism of a post-Depression America (Vollum, 98). Batman seemed to be a much more realistic construction where his willingness to resort to forms of violence to accomplish his ends supported the idea that crime in America after the Depression was going to be more about “retributive street level forms of justice” than the use of actual law enforcement (Vollum, 98). The very existence of superheroes supplies a sort of interrogation of the law’s legitimacy (Sharp, 353).
Every instance where a masked vigilante takes “the law into their own hands represents a gradual erosion of the legitimacy of the law to effect justice” (Sharp, 354). “Superheroes narratives raise questions about what we think ‘justice’ actually is, and the relationship between justice and law.” (Sharp, 354). The cry for justice comes from the desire to see individuals held responsible for their actions (Sharp, 354). This desire for justice then spurs ordinary people to start acting out in the form of vigilante justice which is all influenced by the superheroes of comic books.
Superheroes are more often than not portrayed as masked vigilantes who are not just known for their powers or expensive gadgets, but more for their fearless pursuit of justice in the face of danger (Sharp, 353). For instance, although Batman is human, has human needs, and has no superpowers, he both inspires and intimidates the people of the real world (Dantzler, 4). He is everything that we as humans wish we could be. Even though we can all agree that Batman is not a real person, he is more than just a fictional character (Langley, 1).
He influences people to do good things, to be good people, and try to make society and government work the way it should. Superheroes like Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Flash, The Hulk, and even Thor promote defending the defenseless, helping those who can’t help themselves, and overcoming evil by the force of good (Sharp, 353).
Just because these superheroes wear masks doesn’t mean that they aren’t like us. Batman for instance, in the reality of the setting of Gotham City, is really Bruce Wayne, who only wants to make a difference in the city and the way that it is run. But just because Bruce became something special doesn’t mean that he didn’t grieve over the completely unexpected murder of his parents when he was just a young boy (Dohrenwend, 109). Just like us he is only a human being. But unlike us, he decided to take a stand against the evil that cost him his parents. Bruce made a promise to his younger self that he wasn’t going to let things just happen to him ever again (Beatty, 7).
He, unlike other super heroes, didn’t need a spider bite, a vat of toxic waste, a science experiment gone wrong, or to come from another planet to keep his promise to himself and his city (Beatty, 7). Bruce had the motivation, brains, and most importantly the money to become whatever he wanted (Beatty, 7). Bruce Wayne “learned everything there was to know about detection, forensics, ballistics, and criminal psychology” (Beatty, 7). Everything Batman had was from endless years of hard work and dedication (Beatty, 9).
However, superheroes weren’t always the people we know them as. For example, Bruce didn’t start out with the fancy advanced Batman costume that we all know (Beatty, 15). When he first started to fight crime he dressed up as a homeless person so he could catch the criminals in the act (Beatty, 15). Bruce got the idea for the actually Batman costume and persona when a bat crashed into his study after he had almost died from a gunshot wound the first night he went out (Beatty, 15). This showed that Batman was only a very well trained human being, there were still things that could hurt him. Let’s say Batman dropped from a 30 story building or got shot in the head, he would be just as hurt as we would.
However, due to his substantial amounts of money, Bruce Wayne (Batman) was able to get his hands on the finest technology there was (Beatty, 16). He used fireproof material, bulletproof material, and something that would camouflage well but at the same time be easy to move around in, because after a super hero can’t be a super hero if they can’t move around enough to take down the villains (Beatty, 17). However, other superheroes such as Superman, Spider-man, and The Hulk didn’t need a lot of money to be the superheroes that they were. However, they still had their weaknesses like love, Kryptonite, and self-hatred of what they had become.
These superheroes, though they have their flaws, have been an inspiration for years. The way they convey perspectives of societal crime and justice penetrate our consciousness and from there impact our response to the law (Sharp, 354). Some of these superheroes work as defenders of truth, justice and the American way, while others take it upon themselves to uphold justice and fight crime because they refuse to except what the law enforcement describes as just or unjust (Vollum, 101).
These superheroes stories can frame and put into context the human debate on punishment philosophy and justice (Sharp, 355). Either way these heroes are the characters that we have looked up to for decades. They have both taught and inspired us to be better people. And although they strongly promote the idea of vigilante justice, the thing that they promote overall is protecting the innocent from the injustices of this world. In the end, they are still the superheroes that have come to be role-models, inspirations, and icons to people all over the world who are looking for someone to look up to or be like.