It’s easy to believe that those with extraordinary ability would use their power to act on behalf of society’s greater good. It’s what we like to think we would do in the same situation. How many of us, though, would actually take on the great responsibility conferred by our great power? If you’ve ever seen Food Inc. but continue to eat meat, put your hand down. You aren’t even using your regular human skill set to the best of your world-saving potential. With that in mind, here’s how several superheroes would probably apply their superpowers in real life.
The Incredible Hulk
Dr. Bruce Banner absorbed radiation from a “gamma bomb” that he invented. (A quick note here: Radiation is the basis for a shocking amount of superhero origins. When superheroes were invented, did writers not know what radiation did? It’s like if every modern hero got their powers from ingesting trans fats.) Now, when Banner becomes upset, he turns into a giant monster version of himself and smashes everything in sight.
A realistic Hulk story would involve Dr. Banner suing his employer for medical costs and then living off of the workman’s comp, drinking at local bars, and goading cocky townies into fights. If his claim were denied, I see no fate for Dr. Banner other than straight up domestic terrorist. He’s a weird loner from an abusive family. Now he feels betrayed and abandoned by the government. After coping with the initial shock of becoming a monster, he’d most likely go on a national tour ripping golden domes off of statehouses then running away while pulsing techno played in the background. Forget that tinkling piano nonsense.
Technically, Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. He does, however, have unlimited time and financial resources at his disposal. When his parents died, Bruce Wayne became a fitness freak obsessed with appearing normal. He began to live by his own moral code of vigilante justice. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for a caped crusader keeping Gotham’s streets free of crime. At best he’d end up obsessed with pickup artist culture. He’d get a stupid hat and hang out in bars telling women things like: “That dress would look amazing if you lost like, eight pounds.” At worst, he’d be an amped up version of American Psycho. I call this character “Patrick Batman.” He’s a wealthy industrialist who fights crime but also murders prostitutes and listens to Huey Lewis.
Can we get this movie made? It could star Christian Bale, and it would be written by Warren Easton Ellis, who is a fictional person I invented.
Superman came to Earth as a baby after the destruction of Krypton, his home planet. Our solar system’s yellow sun conferred him with outlandish strength, x-ray vision, the ability to fly, and great hair. His down-to-Earth (pun unavoidable) Midwestern parents taught Clark Kent the importance of morality. Maybe young Clark does grow up and uses his powers to keep Metropolis safe. But first wouldn’t he make a zillion dollars as a professional football player, thereby securing financial stability for his beloved parents for the rest of their lives?
We’re supposed to believe that the strongest, fastest human on the planet lives in Iowa, and he grows up to be a journalist and not a quarterback. No coach noticed him running laps in gym class for hours without getting winded? He’d have made the team from Friday Night Lights look like the slobs from Little Giants. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose? How about: Alien quarterback, that’s it, always win?
Once he’d earned enough millions of dollars as a professional athlete, he could fake an ACL injury and transition into full-time superheroism.
(Note: In later versions of the Superman origin story, his adoptive parents kept him away from sports, thereby teaching him about fair play. I don’t buy it. Not in Big 12 Conference territory.)
We all know the story from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s identical retellings. Peter Parker, a high school student, was bitten by a radioactive spider and gained spider-like powers of strength and agility. Parker, unlike Clark Kent, was already a fully formed adolescent nerd at the time he acquired his powers, so I’ll accept that he didn’t immediately go out and become the greatest skateboarder who ever lived. Spiderman had a realistically ambivalent relationship to his new powers, and it made a lot of sense during his teenage years.
However, as an adult, Peter Parker maintained a successful crime-fighting career. He made the transition from child star to grownup star, which is a very difficult leap to execute, even for someone with spider-like agility. For every Neal Patrick Harris/ Doogie Howser, there are a dozen Dustin Diamonds/ Samuel “Screech” Powerses who have a harder time aging gracefully. In real life, Peter Parker would likely be using his youthful exploits to try to cash in on nostalgia, touring college campuses with his one man show, “I, Spiderman.”
Matt Murdock (Daredevil) was blinded by radiation and simultaneously developed superhuman aptitude with his other senses as compensation. He would have a reality show where he taught fat kids karate. He’d blow The Biggest Loser out of the water.