Apr 26 2012
If you’d like to use the police as an antagonist but aren’t quite sure why they might oppose the superhero, here are some possibilities.
1. The superhero is investigating sensitive cases.
- The hero might be challenging cases that have already been “solved.” If the superhero can show that the police & district attorney have convicted/arrested the wrong person, it will make the police look bad, could open up them to lawsuits, and could jeopardize careers. Also, the police will probably be skeptical about whether the superhero knows more about the case than the police investigation was able to find. What if the superhero is wrong? If a superhero even looks into the case, that could create unwanted media attention for the police and prosecutors.
- Major politicians (e.g. the mayor) might pressure the police if the superhero is tackling politically sensitive cases (for example, if the suspect is a politician or major donor or if the case is highly publicized).
- The case is likely to implicate police officers or otherwise make the police look bad. For example, anything involving police brutality, corruption, police misconduct (e.g. why did the police drop the case against Lex Luthor? Did the mayor put them up to it?), etc.
2. The superhero refuses police commands (which will especially irritate police if the case ends badly). For example, if the superhero tried breaking into a hostage situation while the police were still trying to negotiate a surrender, that would make the police livid (particularly if any hostages then got injured or killed). If the superhero does something that causes the police to get heavy media and/or political criticism, the police might throw the superhero under the bus to protect themselves. “We had this case completely under control until Captain Doomsday showed up!” (The superhero would probably disagree with that claim–if it looked like the police had the situation under control, the superhero probably wouldn’t have charged in).
2.1. The superhero is too rough. If the hero has a history of gratuitously injuring criminals, getting bystanders/hostages injured, and causing serious property damage, the police might think they’d do a better job on their own.
3. The superhero (intentionally or accidentally) sabotaged a police investigation. For example, if a superhero breaks-and-enters into a supervillain’s home, that might compromise evidence that the police needed. Additionally, if the supervillain found out about the breaking-and-entering, the police might be upset because the villain will be more cautious moving forward. That will make the investigation more challenging.
4. The superheroes are federal agents. Federal agents and cops sometimes clash over issues of conflicting cases, media attention/budget, office politics, pride, career ambitions, jurisdictional battles, etc. Just one of many things that might go wrong would be the New York police arresting a critical SHIELD informant. Yeah, SHIELD can probably get him out of jail, but it would be challenging to do so without compromising the informant. (If John Doe has been arrested for a serious crime but gets quickly released, his associates might assume that he was released because he offered to help the police). If the informant thinks that his associates suspect him, he will probably be a lot more reluctant to help and/or may disappear altogether.
4.1. The superheroes are soldiers. In addition to the previous issues for cops vs. federal agents, there are also unique legal restrictions related to military involvement in civilian law enforcement (e.g. the Posse Comitatus Act in the United States).
5. The superhero’s motives are hard to understand and/or not purely heroic. If Superman kills a criminal, the police would probably be more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt because he has always been so careful and because his motives are demonstrably benign. In contrast, if the Punisher kills a criminal, the police will probably assume it was an assassination (even if it wasn’t). Superheroes with unclear intentions, such as Rorschach or superheroes new to the scene, might also attract additional police scrutiny.
6. The superhero is very secretive and/or paranoid. For example, does the superhero wear a mask? The police might be suspicious because usually the people that fear openness the most are up to no good–wearing a mask at least raises that possibility. The police might also get suspicious if the superhero refuses to share helpful information. (Superheroes might decide not to share information with the police to avoid jeopardizing the superheroes’ sources, keep a corrupt cop from tipping off the villain, and/or avoid giving the police more opportunity to do something which interferes with the superheroes’ investigation).
7. The superhero committed a crime against the police. Breaking and entering is one thing, but breaking and entering into a police lockup to steal and/or destroy evidence would probably make the police very surly.
8. The hero’s superpowers are hard to control and/or unsettling. For example, telepaths might be more alarming than a superstrong hero would be, especially to a police officer or agent with something to hide (e.g. any criminal past or any major governmental secrets). If your only power is to induce insanity or create category 5 hurricanes, don’t expect many invitations to police potlucks.
9. The superhero’s relationship with the villain and/or government is complicated. For example, the police might wonder about whether Xavier is really on their side, because Xavier is opposed to the mutant cure which most nonmutants feel is the most humane way to fight Magneto. (Also, I think most cops would regard Wolverine’s cop-stabbing as a pretty big deal).
10. The police are backing a rival superhero or group of superheroes (e.g. the Ultimen rather than the Justice League).
11. The police have false and/or misleading evidence implicating the superhero in a crime. Maybe the police have security footage of a superhero shooting at someone off-camera, but don’t have footage of the victim drawing a gun or otherwise provoking the shooting. Alternately, maybe the superhero has been framed and the evidence is fake or maliciously edited.
12. The superhero is dismissive of the police and/or carelessly antagonizes them. Granted, most superheroes ask the police to do unglorious work like crowd control at some point, but being an ass about it might make the police less likely to cooperate. Mishandling a situation could create dramatic obstacles for the character to overcome. (Just please don’t do a “You police officers are the real heroes” speech).
13. The police feel that the superhero is unnecessarily endangering children. It’d probably be somewhat easier for police to look the other way if it’s just adults putting themselves in harm’s way rather than, say, a 10 year old and a 12 year old. The police might interfere with the team, particularly if one of the kids gets seriously hurt.
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