Dec 13 2011
Here are some ideas–feel free to mix and match as you see fit.
1. The superhero’s job gives him a very good reason to take up and leave at crucial moments. For example, Clark Kent has a great reason to run towards disasters–he’s a journalist looking for the biggest story in town. Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) or another lawyer might have some good reasons to do so–some supervillains have deep pockets and any disaster scene is liable to have tons of victims that will need a great lawyer. Successfully suing a billionaire villain (or, umm, the police for failing to take reasonable precautions to keep him in jail) could be a huge payday.
2. The superhero secretly prepares some exciting projects for work that he can unveil whenever he needs to get his boss off his back. For example, it might be a problem that Clark Kent missed a deadline on mortgages in Metropolis, but his editor would probably look past that if Clark Kent pulled a Pulitzer-grade story out of his brief. “Sorry, chief, I was busy triple-checking the sourcing on this Luthor confession. We got him on tape!” A superhero might be able to sit on a huge breakthrough in his work for a long time–for example, a journalist might spend months checking a story because rushing to print with a libelous claim against an extremely wealthy businessman could be disastrous for the company.
2.1. The superhero is valuable enough at work that his bosses and coworkers look past his tendency to miss work and/or come in late and/or incur mysterious injuries/illnesses. For example, he might be in a white collar job where uncommon bravery is a major advantage but not many people have it. (I mean, really, how many journalists are there that would be excited to rush to the scene of a superpowered brawl in progress? How many lawyers would be excited to interview murder suspects in extremely shady parts of town?) His skills as a superhero might be really useful–for example, he probably has some degree of investigatory prowess, fast reflexes, familiarity with crime/criminals, toughness, an attention to detail, unusual confidence, determination and/or well-placed contacts in various industries and positions. For example, someone like Clark Kent is probably careful enough to make a good forensic accountant (although most taxmen would obviously not make very good superheroes).
3. The hero owns the company, works for himself and/or is in a position with very little oversight. Nobody knows what Hollywood producers or chiefs of staff do, anyway. How would anybody know if they were acting strangely? Additionally, #2.1 comes into play here–if someone is valuable enough at his work that their bosses will forgive minor foibles, he’s probably good enough that he doesn’t need to be managed very closely. Save that for the interns. (Note: this approach to management can hilariously backfire if the employee has questionable judgment–what’s the frequency, Kenneth?).
4. Somebody at the company is trying to help the superhero keep his strange activities from everybody else. Maybe the coworker knows that he’s a superhero (like Lucius Fox and Batman), or maybe he has some idea what’s going on but doesn’t know specifically that the character is a superhero. For example, a coworker might try covering for a partner who’s acting strangely after going through a traumatic incident*, even if he didn’t know about the superhero angle. Alternately, a coworker might know that something decidedly unnormal is going on, but not know the details. (For example, if you had a pretty good idea a coworker was secretly a mutant, you might keep your mouth shut to spare him and his family from tremendous embarrassment and/or to keep your workplace from getting firebombed).
*Such as the murder of the superhero’s wife, parents, kids, dog and/or yoga instructor that convinced him to become a superhero.
5. The character has some sort of long-term excuse that will cover a lot of scrutiny. For example, a lot of employers will cut an employee slack over something like a traumatic event, a disability or anything else that would generate sympathy. Firing a blind employee because he was late too often would be absolutely a last resort, particularly if he’s a lawyer that’s handled some civil rights cases. If the character is working at a police station and has fomented rumors that he’s secretly working for Internal Affairs or is a federal agent rumored to be working some sort of deep counterintelligence angle, it’d make sense if his coworkers gave him a lot of room.
6. The character doesn’t really have a great plan for covering his absences and doesn’t get along very well with his boss/coworkers. This can be very dramatic. Just keep in mind that bosses and coworkers have happiness levels between “100% happy” and “you’re fired.” Depending on the situation, a character might instead face intermediate punishments, such as…
- Getting demoted or assigned to a less desirable role/shift.
- Assigned to a less desirable partner or team. (In The Taxman Must Die, a mutant commando gets partnered with an IRS agent after threatening to eat a district attorney).
- Given fewer resources and assistance. For example, a renegade cop might find that it’s taking them weeks to get his cruiser fixed after he tried to play NASCAR.
- Social disapproval, including untoward looks, rude remarks, vandalized workspaces, keyed cars, workplace sabotage, etc.
7. The character amasses IOUs and/or blackmail material to make sure that people at work will cover for his absences. They may or may not know what’s going on. If I were a superhero in this situation, I might try to make it look like I was covering something else, like an affair, because 1) it’d explain why I was being so secretive and 2) most people don’t want to get embroiled in personal messes, but they might dig deeper if they suspected shadiness related to work. Thanks to game developer Gary Dahl for this idea.
8. The company knows that he’s a superhero but isn’t involved with his superheroics. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one before. It’d probably be an awkward employer-employee relationship–“I don’t want to fire you because you’re running off to save the planet, but could you do that during off-hours?” There could also be public pressure on the company depending on how popular the hero is and/or if he screws up really badly. It’d look really bad if Wal-Mart fired Captain Awesome (imagine the crazed headlines newspapers would come up–“WALMART IN LEAGUE WITH DR. SINISTER, SOURCES SAY*”). Alternately, if a less popular superhero misreads a situation and ends up doing something like pounding an undercover police officer, the public and police would probably pressure the company to fire him, even if the company had previously had a warm relationship with him.
*”Sources say” is the easiest way for journalists to present baseless speculation and wishcasting as “news” items. Whatever “sources say” or “analysts say” usually actually says more about the opinions and desires of the journalist writing the story than any facts on the ground.