Dec 16 2013
Email: “One of my protagonists is a detective looking for superheroes/vigilantes. What sort of traits might tip him off?
Here are some trends that come to mind for American superheroes.
- They’ve had a loved one(s) murdered by a stranger. That’s pretty rare in the United States. Only about 2,500 U.S. murders are committed by strangers per year. If we rule out intergang violence and drug deals gone bad (because most people in a Uncle Ben or Martha/Thomas Wayne situation are not gang members), we’re probably looking at about 500 murders per year that might be of interest to police looking for superhero origin stories, and probably less than 10-15 a year in any particular city.
- They’ve had a loved one(s) kidnapped by a stranger, sometimes repeatedly. (For example, are there any Metropolis supervillains that haven’t kidnapped Lois Lane at some point?) Normally, it’s EXTRAORDINARILY rare for someone to get kidnapped more than once by a stranger. I doubt it’s happened in U.S. history. It should certainly raise a lot of questions about why so many major-league criminals have an interest in kidnapping this particular journalist rather than any of the other major journalists in town.
- Most superheroes are 1) extremely physically fit but 2) do NOT work out regularly at a gym or at home. If the investigator has access to credit card records, he can look for purchases of gym membership and/or fitness equipment. Most superheroes won’t have any. (If Clark Kent started bench-pressing thousands of pounds at a gym, it would raise a lot of questions).
- Most superheroes don’t have any kids or pets. First, there’s the time factor. Being a superhero is a major time commitment. There could also be security issues if a kid sees anything interesting or complains about his parent(s) disappearing every night.
- Superheroes will give off lots of signs of combat experience but almost never have any military experience. (Even Captain America had only 1-2 years before getting iced). What sort of signs of combat experience might an investigator look for? Behaviorally, the person will probably pay a lot more attention to exit routes, habitually glance at anyone enters the room, and will avoid turning his back towards an entryway or window.
- Adult superheroes are almost always college-educated. In contrast, 70% of U.S. adults don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
- If you interview the coworkers/boss of a superhero, certain traits will probably crop up. They’re brilliant, but hard to work with. They have major absenteeism issues and frequently come into work tired or with (poorly explained) injuries, and they NEVER follow orders or a chain of command. Despite their many failings, superheroes’ coworkers will unanimously agree that they are exceptionally competent at their job. (Bruce Wayne is virtually the only exception here — most superheroes are too proud/lazy/careless to pull off a dummy act).
- In most cases, everyone that knows a superhero well will agree that he’s unusually courageous and altruistic, but has issues with punctuality and reliability. A lot of people that know him will attest that it’s hard to get him on the phone and/or that he sometimes disappears during work.
- Everyone that has observed this person in a life-or-death emergency will agree that he was unusually collected, even if he’s normally sort of bumbling (e.g. Clark Kent).
- They won’t own any guns, no matter how bad their neighborhood is.
- Superheroes are generally extremely sensitive about their medical records. Even the identity of their general practitioner will be a closely-guarded secret. The reason here is that the doctor is almost always an active collaborator that knows what’s going on. It would be very hard for a superhero to hide that something unusual is going on from his doctor because routine x-rays will show an extensive history of broken bones and the superpowers may cause their bloodwork or DNA to be highly unusual.
- We can rule out virtually everyone who has an unprestigious job. In-story, this might be explained because a vigilante that’s flashy enough to create a gaudy persona is probably an attention-seeker. Also, prestigious jobs tend to be more helpful for a superhero than an unprestigious job would be (in terms of resources, access, training/skills/education, etc).
- Superheroes tend to value money quite a bit less than the population as a whole. Most superheroes could be wealthy if they wanted to be, but most don’t care that much about it. Even billionaire superheroes tend not to be that personally involved in the day-to-day operations of their company.
- If a superhero suspect has a personal connection to a supervillain, follow up on that. People that know a superhero are far more likely to become a supervillain. In particular, the easiest way to become one of Spider-Man’s villains is to meet Peter Parker. (Green Goblin is his best friend’s father, Lizard employed him as a teaching assistant, Venom is a rival at work, Dr. Octopus once taught him at a science camp, Man-Wolf is J.J. Jameson’s son, etc).
- If the police suspect that your Clark Kent is Superman, CK may have trouble coming up with an alibi for times when Superman was fighting villains.
- Superheroes are generally romantically dysfunctional. There are a few superheroes that make a long-term relationship work (frequently because they date/marry other superheroes), but more often it’s a Bruce Wayne or Punisher situation where the character is a pathological loner or divorced by murder.
- We can safely eliminate anyone that’s poor, and I’d look especially closely at billionaires.
- Most superheroes are 15-40, particularly 20-35. In general, most superheroes have had unusual success in their chosen day-job at an early age.
- I’d take an especially close look at scientists, journalists, and corporate moguls.
- Generally very talkative/outgoing, but secretive.
- Some people close to the hero may suspect the person is having an affair or otherwise hiding something because he lies so often (and perhaps so implausibly) about so much (e.g. where he is, why he misses appointments, why he’s been injured, whatever).
- Most superheroes aren’t noticeably religious, even the ones that personally know gods. In contrast, most Americans attend religious services regularly.
- Most superheroes aren’t noticeably politically active. In contrast, most American adults are registered to vote with a particular political party.
- Nobody’s ever seen him sweat or show any signs of fear.
- Generally has lived in a particular very large city his/her entire life. In particular, most Americans don’t attend college in their hometown, but most superheroes do.
- Probably attended a very respectable university in a city (e.g. Empire State or Gotham University). In real life, the United States only has a few of them (U-Chicago, Columbia, maybe USC and Rice). There’s going to be so much strangeness surrounding these few elite urban universities that it’d be impossible to miss — e.g. Dr. Connors turning into a lizard monster.
- Even within the city, most superheroes do not move very often. (If there is a secret compartment in the house, moving would be very inconvenient). If a superhero does move, he does not use a moving company.
- Superheroes tend to be significantly more attractive than the population as a whole. In particular, most superheroines could pass as models.
“Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:
Almost every adult superhero will meet at least at least 4 of the following 6 characteristics:
- They’ve had a loved one murdered by a stranger.
- They will not give police any medical information (e.g. medical records or a saliva swab) because it might be incriminating.
- They’re exceptionally good at their day job but have trouble following orders.
- They’ve graduated from college (usually a prestigious one) and have a prestigious or glamorous career.
- They’re exceptionally physically fit, but not a member of a gym.
- There is evidence they’ve been in combat*, but they don’t have any military experience.