Spiderman: Hero or Menace?

j_jonah_jameson_yelling_spidermanSo, previously, I’ve introduced you to the very strange conversation that I had in Rome, and run off at the mouth about The Flash and the probability of an all good, all powerful being. There’s supposed to be a post in here about angels, but I’ve pushed it back to talk a little more about the deeds of ordinary human beings. Everyone reading this has wondered what kind of superhero they would be or daydreamed about fighting crime, maybe in a mask or, maybe not.

As a child, I idolized Batman. Heck, I still idolize Batman. What I have yet to do is take that last step into becoming a masked vigilante. Lancaster, Pennsylvania isn’t really in need of any, but apparently Seattle is. The Rain City Superhero Movement, a group of masked activists who fight crime in Seattle, Washington have taken it upon themselves to use their talents to make their city a safer place. According to their fearless leader Phoenix Jones, they are all possessed of a sense of justice, combat skill, and an awareness of the risks they assume in unsupervised crimefighting. To quote Phoenix:

“Everyone on my team either has a military background or a mixed martial arts background, and we’re well aware of what it costs to do what we do.”

rain_city_superhero_seattle_movementSo, what do these real life superheroes do? Well, they battle anarchists, stop strong-arm robberies, halt vandals and protect ordinary citizens, though they do occasionally end up in jail or exacerbate the original situation. All this besides running through the streets in the middle of the night, looking like the dude from Kick Ass.

reddragon_phoenix_jones_rain_cityCan we have real life superheroes? Should those who can, do? I’ll admit, this group of fairly average people fighting crime is fun to read about, but how much cooler would it be if we had a real-life Iron Man or Batman? This seems much more probable than someone learning to shoot laser beams out of their eyes. Where is our grand, wealthy, libertarian superhero whose powers consist of money, arrogance and knowhow? My suggestion is Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, a man with two Ivy League degrees and more than four billion dollars. Clearly, the man can afford a few martial arts lessons. It also helps that he is already Iron Man.

Real subtle, dude.

Real subtle, dude.

In any case, to some, donning a costume and pepper spraying bad guys into submission must be a strong expression of individual responsibility. It represents a decision that society is not safe enough, and the institutions we entrust with power to keep it safe either cannot or simply do not, do enough to make it safe. As such, you have to take matters into your own hands.

Put another way, however, it’s particularly irresponsible. What about the danger to others? Or oneself? Or loved ones? Many superheroes go to extraordinary lengths to protect those that they care about, although others may not:

iron_man_reveal_identity_fuck_youWhen you get down to, most superheroes in the history of comics have been vigilantes in the sense that their actions are extralegal. Some of them try to fight the battles that come to them, like Bruce Banner, but others, like Batman or the Punisher, have decided that they’re going suit up and take a bite out of crime, though they may differ on what that means.


Let’s try talking about this in terms of fictional superheroism, because that’s somehow easier. Spider-Man, especially early on, fell between actively trying to fight crime and just living his life dealing with the battles that came his way. Spider-Man is probably the best route by which to analyze this issue because crimefighting/saving the world is explicitly an issue of “great responsibility” for him. He has the same motivations that the Punisher has, or Batman, or that you might imagine some of the Rain City heroes do: he’s lost someone to crime that the authorities either couldn’t or didn’t stop. He feels further responsibility because he could have stopped it.

spiderman-myfault_uncle_ben_deathSo, he dedicates himself pretty totally to heroism, and in the process, catches as much flak as he ever gets credit. Why? Because he wears a mask. Because he acts above the rule of law, and because his heroic stunts detract from the heroism of more “everyday” heroes life firefighters, or policemen.

spiderman_publicity_phony_jamesonOr maybe it’s because J. Jonah Jameson is just jealous:

Anyway, as with Spider-Man, opinions are mixed about the Rain City heroes. Does their willingness and ability to go above and beyond give them the right to violate the rule of law, justifying their vigilantism? Or are they simply a dangerous group of “heroes” who lack organization and accountability and who will ultimately be more trouble than they’re worth? Surely there’s an overwhelming amount of philosophical discussion to be had and… you know what? Screw it. Just roll that clip from Boondock Saints: