Sep 19 2011
1. Most superheroes commit crimes fairly frequently. In real life, some crimes that superheroes would probably be charged with include:
- assault and battery (preemptively attacking criminals in cases where an immediate threat to the public did not exist).
- reckless endangerment (using superpowers in a way that unintentionally injured bystanders–it’s implausible that most superheroes would be close to 100% accurate with superpowers, particularly if they’ve only recently developed them).
- child endangerment (using children as sidekicks).
- evidence tampering (altering/destroying evidence or convincing witnesses to protect the hero’s secret identity).
- plotting to make and/or possession of weapons of mass destruction (such as a space station with a death ray and probably adamantium claws).
2. A superhero’s ability to collect human intelligence would probably be somewhat limited. Solving cases more complex than a crime-in-open-view usually requires a lot of time tracking down leads, talking to people and evaluating evidence. In particular, superheroes would probably be at a major disadvantage in convincing reluctant witnesses to come forward because they can’t offer as many incentives for cooperation (like witness protection or legal cooperation in other matters) as the police can. Also, wearing brightly-colored spandex can make it harder to earn the trust of strangers facing life-or-death situations. (Fact!)
- What, if anything, makes your superheroes more effective at solving crimes than the police? Do they have anything going on besides just getting lucky with stumbling onto crimes in progress?
- If your criminals are geniuses, do they actually act like geniuses? (Hint: if they’re committing crimes in open view, probably not). Does it take any skill to find them?
3. It’s probably implausible that so few superheroes (permanently) die over time. So many superheroes survive close calls because supervillains that have previously been psychotic and/or brilliant suddenly get really nonviolent and dumb as soon as they defeat the hero. For example, Dr. Octopus once defeated Spider-Man (who had been ravaged by an illness), unmasked him, and then assumed that Peter Parker was impersonating Spider-Man because the real Spider-Man should have been tougher. (Why does Dr. Octopus suddenly get uneasy about killing a civilian? Doesn’t he wonder where Parker got the suit or why it fits perfectly? If he does let Parker go, why not check up later on the possibility that Parker is Spider-Man?)
- If your superheroes get defeated by a supervillain, why doesn’t he kill them? If he lets them go, is there a good reason?
- If your story has had many superheroes for decades, have any died or been severely injured in the line of duty? If not, why not? (If there’s no chance that the heroes can lose, will there be any suspense when they get into a fight?)
4. Most people are neither total idiots nor totally blind to incredibly strange things happening around them. For example, if a student in a local high school went from being a weakling to being an Olympic-grade athlete overnight and suddenly does a double backflip or sends someone sprawling 20+ feet with a punch, don’t you think someone watching would start to wonder?
- If your superhero’s superpowers are secret, what does he do to conceal them? (For example, in Parker’s case, it might have been more prudent to play down his athletic ability in public and then confront the aggressor later in private. Or at least stick to just one backflip and a leap that wouldn’t make most NBA players jealous).
- If people have learned enough to arouse their suspicions, how do they respond? I don’t think most people would naturally leap from “Peter’s suddenly incredibly athletic!” to “He’s probably developed superpowers.” That’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind, particularly if people in your story aren’t used to superpowers. Do characters in the story respond in a way that makes sense for them? (For example, if you saw your really scrawny, normally quiet friend get in a fight with someone much larger, taunt him confidently, and then win with moves out of the Matrix, you might plausibly wonder whether your friend was on drugs).
5. DNA evidence would make it pretty hard to keep up a secret identity for long. It’s hard to imagine that a superhero could get in a lot of fights without leaving at least a bit of blood or a piece of skintight clothing behind. The police (or perhaps a villain) could search the scene of the fight and recover this DNA evidence. DNA wouldn’t identify the hero right away (unless he was already in a DNA database, which is unlikely unless he has a criminal background or perhaps a security clearance), but it’d make it easier to winnow out possibilities. For example, you could get the subject’s race and gender from DNA and his height from any footage of him in action. With race, height, gender and a pretty good idea that he appears athletic based on how he looks in his suit, that’d give you a pretty good chance of winnowing down a suspect pool if you had some idea where to start. For example, if Batman responded unusually quickly to a crime at a WayneCorp event, it might help to take a DNA sample of everybody that fits Batman’s physical profile that was at the event. The police can bring in each suspect for questioning, ostensibly for help identifying the criminals, but really to get a DNA sample. For example, the police could offer each suspect a can of soda, wait for the suspect to finish the soda and throw away the can, and then extract DNA from the saliva on the lid. (If the police were unusually certain about a particular suspect, they could get a warrant forcing him to submit to a blood test).
- If your hero has a lot of well-equipped people looking for his identity, what does he do to throw them off? (For example, planting somebody else’s DNA evidence or having another superhero don his uniform for a day or two might create some false leads and at least delay the discovery). Alternately, a more scientifically-inclined superhero might surreptitiously sabotage the test.
- Does your character have a day job or regular school commitments? If so, he’s probably in the same place more or less every weekday morning, right? If so, a supervillain might be able to get a rough idea of where the hero worked by staging several really major incidents across town. How long does it take the superhero to arrive and which direction does he come from? Alternately, police could look at how long it took him to respond to past incidents.