Recently I was in a discussion with another Christian author about superhero movies sparked by a discussion of Glass(2019). He brought up the point that most superhero movies don’t seem to have a concept of superheroes in their culture before superheroes show up. By contrast, the real world features fictional superheroes but no real versions.
The Walking Dead does something similar with zombies; they’re called walkers because their is a complete and total absence of zombie lore in the TWD universe. This allows the characters to discover the rules of zombies afresh, but the unspoken caveat is that it really isn’t our world. It’s a slightly different one, identical except in the related facts that zombies have never existed before even as a fictional concept and, well, they do now.
When I wrote Johnny Came Home, I decided not to start afresh. I wanted realistic superheroes in the world we live in. Instead of ignoring comic book lore, I used it in discussions between the two principle protagonists, Johnny and Weasel, as they try to figure out why Johnny can do the extraordinary things he’s. I decided that comic book superheroes and the myths and legends of ages past were all based on humans with extraordinary abilities like Johnny’s.
The movie Kick-Ass (2012) took a slightly different tack. The movie is based on the comic book written by Mark Millar and penciled by John Romita Jr., and published by Marvel. The burning question that plagues the film’s protagonist is why haven’t folks ever emulated the comics? In short, why has no one ever decided to be a superhero?
I should warn you that the rest of this post contains spoilers for the movie. If that doesn’t bother you, read on.
Dave Lizewski narrates the opening of the film by saying:
“I always wondered why nobody did it before me. I mean, all those comic books. Movies. TV shows… You’d think that one eccentric loner would have made himself a costume.”
“Is everyday life really so exciting,
are schools and offices so thrilling, that I’m the only one who ever fantasized about this? C’mon. Be honest with yourself. At some point in our lives, we all wanted to be a superhero.”
Dave then proceeds to design and purchase a costume, even though he has no superpowers and even less idea of how to pull it off. An altercation with two local thugs and a driver who commits a hit-and-run after Kick-Ass gets his butt handed to him and is stabbed for good measure gives him the closest thing to superpowers he ever witnesses. His deadened nerve endings and the sheer amount of metal hardware in his body allow him to take a harder than average beating. I should mention that he’s a high schooler with absolutely no idea how to fight. The beatings come fast and plenty.
I should also mention that while Kick-Ass does discover other costumed crusaders in the form of Big Daddy, Hit Girl and the Red Mist, none of them have superhuman abilities. Rather, they have weapons and, in the case of Big Daddy and Hit Girl, have trained to be really good at killing people.
So what this movie really asks is, What would the world look like if people decided to be costumed vigilantes like Batman and Robin? The filmmakers decided that you have to be a pretty twisted, broken person to raise up a “young ward” to be a non-superpowered costumed vigilante. You get the feeling that Hit Girl is just trying to make her Big Daddy proud, but he’s made his little girl a cold-blooded killer. The body counts are telling.
Kick-Ass kills 4 people, all in the last act. His lack of fighting skills means nothing when he’s packing gatlin guns and a bazooka. Big Daddy kills 12 people, most of them during a warehouse massacre. But ax-crazy, gun-loving Hit Girl racks up 40 kills, including pushing the button to kill an informant in a car crusher. By contrast, the mafia led by the villainous Frank D’Amico, only tallies up 4 kills during this movie. So little Hit Girl kills over 2/3rds as many as her father and ten times as Kick-Ass or the mafia in this movie. And the action is bloody and hyperviolent.
Speaking of hyperviolence, Kick-Ass 2 is more violent and vile than the original. Frankly, I found it unwatchable. Frankly, the hyperviolence of the films is the think that makes them surreal.
This brings up another probable realworld consequence of costumed Batmanesque vigilantes: if you choose violent vigilantism, your enemy is likely to be organized crime. And they won’t play nice just because you think you’re the hero. The mob tries to publicly humiliate, torture and assassinate Kick-Ass to send a message to any other would be vigilantes. This public spectacle is one of the hardest scenes to watch and is pivotal for the characters in the film. In real life, I suspect they’d kill any would-be vigilante heroes a bit more covertly.
I also think the cops would be a bit more discouraging of real-life superheroes if they were hyperviolent like the protagonists of Kick-Ass. I can say this with confidence because, while the assumption of the film is that no one does this, real-life superheroes actually exist. That’s right. There are people who dress up in costumes and conduct neighborhood watch or even vigilantism. Real-life superheroes are prevalent in the US compared to other countries. Police rightfully worry that real-life superheroes put themselves in harm’s way and unnecessarily get in the way of police work sometimes. Since two wrongs don’t make a right, violent real-life superheroes wouldn’t be heroic in the slightest. Even in the comics, characters who resort to gory violence, guns and killing their foes – including such well-known characters as Wolverine, the Punisher, Blade, Deadpool and even Batman (especially in older depictionswhen he was breaking backs and snapping necks) – are considered antiheroes rather than heroes.
In the real world, they would be considered criminals, guilty of assault, aggravated assault and murder.
Fortunately, real-life superheroes aren’t nearly as extreme as the antiheroes of Kick-Ass. In most cases, they really amount to folks conducting neighborhood watch and benevolence while in costume. Real-life people in costumes inspired by fictional costumed superheroes.
I highly recommend the HBO documentary Superheroes (2011) if you want to see what that looks like without a Hollywood budget and a fixation on hyperviolence.