Apr 06 2010

How Heroes Find Crime

Your superheroes will probably stop crimes at some point.  So how do they find it?  Here are a few options.


1. The most common option is just going on patrol. Most readers and editors will give you the benefit of the doubt that a modern city has so much crime going on that a hero can stumble upon armed robberies without too much trouble.  (Even though that’s probably not realistic–see #12 here for more details).


2. The hero may have access (authorized or otherwise) to what the police know. For example, maybe he has a police scanner, has hacked police radios, has a friend on the police force, or is otherwise contacted by the police on particular cases.


3. The hero might be contacted directly by a victim. For example, if a company has some reason to resolve a crime without getting the police involved, maybe it’ll contact a hero instead.  This would make sense particularly if the police in your story aren’t particularly competent or honest.  Or maybe the victim was somehow involved in some illegal activity (like a prostitute, an illegal immigrant, etc).


4. The hero may have access to what the criminals know. For example, maybe he has an informant, has bugged an important phone, interrogates a captured criminal, etc.  Any one of these could indicate where and when an impending crime will occur.


5. The hero might have supernatural senses. Maybe the hero hears so well that he can hear shots fired across town.  Maybe he has some sort of magical ward that gets tripped off whenever a major crime happens.


6. The hero might stalk known criminals. It probably won’t get you results every night, or maybe even every week, but over a matter of weeks it’s likely that a career criminal will do something interesting. (This would probably be more effective if the hero can follow the criminal inside buildings).


7. The hero might piece together information to predict where/when a crime is going to happen. For example, if he’s been following a known criminal and he observes the criminal parking a car outside of a bank for many hours, it’s a pretty good guess that the bank is being cased for a robbery.  It’s also a pretty good guess that the crime will happen around the same time of day–casing a bank at night would probably not help very much for a daytime robbery because there will probably be more security and traffic in the day.


8. The heroes (or friends/family) might be the target of a crime.  Assassination, kidnapping, blackmail and impersonation come to mind.


9. The hero hears about the crime on the news and investigates it after it has already happened. Alternately, if you really want the immediacy of solving a crime as it happens, maybe the hero hears about a breaking case as it happens.


10. A crime might randomly occur near the hero.  This is contrived, but it might be somewhat believable in some circumstances.  For example, Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) lives in Hell’s Kitchen, so presumably he’d see (well, hear or smell) more crime than average. Alternately, it’s believable that at least one police cruiser will race by Peter Parker over the course of an hour-long dinner with Mary Jane.


Thanks to Mike A. for suggesting this article!

14 responses so far

14 Responses to “How Heroes Find Crime”

  1. scribblaron 06 Apr 2010 at 6:58 pm

    B. Mac wrote: For example, Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) lives in Hell’s Kitchen, so presumably he’d see more crime than average.

    I’m guessing he wouldn’t, being blind and all.


  2. B. Macon 06 Apr 2010 at 8:17 pm


    At least in the movie, though, he does have that visual imaging radar stuff. 😉

  3. Beccaon 06 Apr 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Good article, I’m sure I can pilfer it for ideas soon.

  4. B. Macon 06 Apr 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks, Becca. That’s what it’s there for. 😉

  5. TheNewHeroon 07 Apr 2010 at 12:29 am

    What level of crime you talkin’ about here, B.Mac? Like a simple robbery or a armed robbery/assasination? Also, your heroes powers (a.k.a The Man Of Steel) might allow them to sense the crime. Perhaps a telepath who can read emotions senses a sudden rise of fear by the bank. Duh, it’s a crime 😉 Thanks a lot!

  6. B. Macon 07 Apr 2010 at 12:43 am

    Yeah, there are more ways to use powers. In addition to super-hearing, I think you could probably do something with emotions (as you noted), danger-sense, maybe super-smell (if you can smell the shots fired), maybe electronic senses would let you passively pick up alarms, some kinds of mind-reading, etc.

    When a hero is out on patrol or not actually looking for a particular case, I think it’d be most believable if he found common, low-end crimes like robberies and muggings and the like. If the crime is exotic and highly deliberative, like forgery and assassination, I think it’s harder to justify the hero randomly finding the crime just on good luck. It’d probably be contrived if the hero just happened to be standing next to the mayor as the assassin made his move*. However, if he’s tailing the mayor because he knows that the assassin is about to make a move, then it makes sense that he’s nearby.

    *Also, if the assassin sees the hero there but tries to kill the mayor anyway, he’d be a dumbass.

  7. Herojockon 17 Jun 2010 at 4:47 am

    My hero has an object that he lets loose and fly around the city while his at University. It can’t record images or audio, but it’s psionically linked to his brain and visors. Later in the story I’m hoping to lightly bring up the theme of liberty v security, where he struggles with the idea of using it to record images and audio to better catch the criminals. Its set in London and here our CCTV network is the most extensive. Your likely to be recorded and followed by 300 cameras a day. On top of this when you using your Oyster card (a micro-chip card) to travel on public transport. The authorities can map your entire route via the bus, train, tram and even shops!

    ‘Your hero is always watching’ 🙂

  8. Wingson 17 Jul 2011 at 9:01 am

    Well, I know that the majority of my superheroes are government-sanctioned, and usually notified for powered threats (There’s even a Superhuman Liaisons office or something along those lines dedicated to locating, training and mobilizing them). There’s even a plot point built around the devices used to track and contact heroes (they’re unbreakable, can’t be taken offline and can only be used by the one registered to them, meaning that a) the mercenary Darken, as an ex-hero, knows everything that the actual heroes are doing, giving him access to information from both heroes and villains, b) the main villain Shift, as an ex-hero, knows everything that the actual heroes are doing and therefore can kill them off and c) Eclipse, as an ex-hero, can be notified during The Finale to pull off a Big Damn Hero moment. It’s complicated). So if there’s a situation that requires specific superheroes to overcome (calling the psychics if there’s an invulnerable villain on the run, mobilizing flying heroes in case of a flooding, etc.) the telepath and technopath in charge of the system can notify them instantly; in case of a major issue like a bunch of villains teaming up, they can contact everyone patched into the system to help.

    – Wings

  9. ACBon 11 Apr 2015 at 8:08 pm

    The final example (stumbling upon crimes) is actually one that appears in retrospect in a novel I’m currently writing (didn’t even know about this entry until afterward): my main character is at a gas station when a man robs the cashier, so he creates a makeshift disguise and follows him

  10. Ujjwal bhargavon 25 Mar 2019 at 4:14 am

    What about hero being a low police officer at day and vigilante at night who himself has taken case to capture the vigilante to avoid police 😕

  11. EmmMayon 25 Mar 2019 at 5:25 am

    I think having him take his own case is good for generating a great conflict. The only things I can think of to be cautious of are 1) it might be suspicious or inconvenient to those who need help to have both professions and 2) I know plenty of heroes have day jobs but as someone who has no experience with law enforcement it seems like doing both would be very draining on anyone. Neither of those are problems, and could probably be incorporated into a story for additional conflict, but just things to keep in mind. Otherwise, I actually really like the premise, and it does give him a direct way of finding crime.

    It does raise the question as to why he is a police officer AND a vigilante as well.

  12. Ujjwal bhargavon 25 Mar 2019 at 11:14 am

    He’s not a field inspector he’s something like a low grade officer who got the case of vigilante after so much pleading and he’s both because the city he lives in is very corrupt and the mayor himself is a drug lord
    And for police, whole department works under the mayor except a field officer who knows about protagonist’s vigilante identity and even acts as his sidekick
    He’s also a reason for which our hero gets more information and clues to hunt the criminal

  13. B. McKenzieon 25 Mar 2019 at 8:04 pm

    “What about hero being a low police officer at day and vigilante at night who himself has taken case to capture the vigilante to avoid police 😕”. I think it sounds promising. I’d be interested to see how the case unfolds, in particular as his superiors get flustered that there’s a high-profile case where the police officers assigned don’t seem able to arrest the suspect. This looks like a considerably better setup than most of the secret identity-centered stories I’ve encountered.*

    *Outside of this example, which I like a lot, I think secret identities are usually best left for young readers. (They tend to be pretty formulaic and it’s easier to see the formula if you’ve read a lot of examples).

    “It does raise the question as to why he is a police officer AND a vigilante as well.” The first thing that comes to mind would be that a case fell apart for some completely unfair reason (e.g. the case got killed because of corruption or because the suspect was politically connected or Too Big to Jail). Another possibility would be that the police/prosecutors are under so much threat/pressure from criminal groups (like in Juarez) that the police might be laying low because they’d be murdered otherwise. Going as a masked vigilante will make his day job safer.

  14. Ujjwal bhargavon 25 Mar 2019 at 8:58 pm

    What about the fact that the villain always gets over with his crimes because his henchmen clean the proof and the problem is somewhere big and known by everyone in police department but they’re bound so the vigilante has to do this

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