What makes a superhero different from the everyday human being? Is it just that they look different – tight suits made of spandex, capes, masks, cool gadgets in utility belts! OR is that they have powers and abilities far beyond the normal human experience? Perhaps instead it is because they seem to consistently pursue justice, defending the helpless and fight to overcome evil?
A superhero definitely seems to be defined by all these qualities – but more recently, modern day superheroes (think Batman in Dark Knight and those who make up the Avengers) seem to be further defined by their fearless devotion to justice which will sometimes even override their devotion to the law. Often we see in popular culture that the central concern for superheroes has been the inadequacy of the law to provide justice and the resultant need for an exceptional figure to remedy this. The superhero thus becomes the vigilante – defined by a desire to provide adequate retribution for criminal wrong-doing.
Acting where the law does not, and speaking in the name of the community the superhero separates the guilty from the innocent and punishes where it is due, resting on the ‘just dessert’ notion where individuals should be held responsible and accountable for their acts.
What do you think? Do you think we, as human beings, naturally desire justice in a retributive, ‘eye for an eye’ way? Do you think the law is inadequate to provide justice?
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For a full version of my argument see: C. E. Sharp, '‘Riddle me this…?’ Would the world need superheroes if the law could actually deliver ‘justice’?' (2012) 16 (1) Law Text Culture 353-378.