Superheroes for the real world

Another summer, another parade of superhero movie releases. Ho hum. Actually, I like superhero movies as much as the next geek, and I’ve gone on record loving this summer’s Wonder Woman. I freely admit that we need these larger-than-life stories to help us deal imaginatively with an overwhelmingly complex world. Nevertheless, the other night, I passed up the chance to go see the new Spiderman movie. I just wasn’t feelin’ it.

Why not? At present I am not losing any sleep over Penguin or Joker or Loki. I’m losing sleep over pressing problems right here in the ol’ real world. So: what if we had superheroes aimed a little more directly at day-to-day, same-size-as-life troubles?
For example . . .

A combination of Thing, Hulk and Thor. Lots of sheer bulk and that huge hammer gets road construction jobs done in a jiffy, sparing us a summer of delays and detours. Constructor can spread asphalt in minutes and then blow on it with his superbreath to harden and cool it instantly. Also, we’d save millions in tax dollars and avoid the need for fossil fuels to run the heavy machinery. No worries about resulting unemployment: we can keep human construction workers busy planting native trees and wildflowers along the new roads.

She’s the sister of DC Teen Titan Cyborg. It’s all very well that Cyborg can tap into computer networks, but so what? Teenagers can already do that. Cyborgia uses a Neural Resonator to drive teenagers away from computers, phones, ipads and all other screen devices. Seized with sudden headaches if they look at a screen, they have no choice but to play frisbee outside, walk the dog, read a book or (gasp!) engage with other humans face-to-face. While teens might find that superpower exasperating, they will surely appreciate Cyborgia’s other public service: instantly fixing all tech problems for tech-clumsy aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents.

Empathy Man
Sort of a cross between Cupid and the Chinese restaurant owner in the movie Freaky Friday. Empathy Man identifies people who need to walk in someone else’s moccasins for a few miles and he makes it happen by shooting them with his Switcheroo Arrows. You know the Wisconsin iron worker, Randy Bryce, who has proposed that he and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan switch places? Well, Empathy Man can make that happen. Imagine the other possibilities! What if build-the-wall enthusiasts spent some time as Latinx migrant workers? How about switching Jeff Sessions and Ta-Nehesi Coates? Or two people in your church who need to stop sniping and chill out? Endless fun! Empathy Man’s arrows only sustain the switch for 48 hours, but they do tend to cause terrible hangovers.

Reality Check
Wonder Woman has a Lasso of Truth, which forces a lassoed person to tell the truth when interrogated. This is useful as far as it goes. But these days, what we really need is a superhero who can restore in people’s minds a distinction between lies and objective facts. That’s why we need Reality Check. His superhero outfit: black and white with gray trim (of course) and a single word emblazoned across his chest: Nope. Whenever people believe something stupid, he zaps them with his Truth Taser and yells “Nope. That’s just wrong!” or “There are NOT two sides!” Or “That’s a logical fallacy!” With a Truth Laser zapped from his frontal lobe, he can make ridiculous falsehoods on Facebook and Twitter flash red and sprout little flames. When blathering talking heads mislead the public, he can use the laser to set their pants/skirts on fire. His villain nemeses: Fake News and Potus.

Well, this is just a start. Obviously there’s work to be done yet in developing the comic book series, movie scripts and tie-in merchandise. If you’re a graphic artist or costume designer, let’s talk. With any luck, this fall little kids will be dressing up as these heroes for Halloween and inspiring us all to try a little harder to save the world in our own neighbourhoods.


  • Debra Rienstra is a Professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a regular contributor to <a href="https://blog.perspectivesjournal.org/2017/07/15/superheroes-for-the-real-world-an-extended-universe/">“The Twelve” blog</a>, where a version of this article first appeared. She thanks Dawn Burnett and Ron Rienstra for contributing some great ideas.

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