I just saw Kick-Ass. It’s like if Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie had a baby, and that baby made a comic book-inspired vigilante movie. Fucking operatic. And it’s already cracked the IMDB Top 250. BTW, it’s rated R and absolutely not a kid’s movie. That’s all I’m going to say about the movie, but it (or the comic book it was based on) raises an interesting question: Why aren’t there more (or any) superheroes? I am enough of a geek to try and answer that question seriously.
The main issue is motive. You need a pretty powerful motive to get you to risk your health to fight crime directly. And I think motives are rare. Yes, there are homicides every day, but consider the details – the cops are always pointing out that most victims knew their killer. It’s personal. You will be filled with anguish and rage if your sister gets killed by her ex-boyfriend, and you might take a bat or shotgun to the bastard, but you almost certainly won’t don a costume and start targeting other ex-boyfriends out there. Odds are you’ll just call the cops.
The kind of act that would motivate you to go superhero is something like random gang violence. Street crime. That’s pretty rare, all told. 9/11 inspired thousands to take action, but you can’t fight terrorism in a costume. You do it in a uniform as a Marine, or in a suit as a CIA or FBI agent. But most crime just inspires people to be racists.
The other issue is ability. In Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson writes:
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
Even as an overweight computer geek with a poor history of coordination, I was no different. Now I’m well past 25 with lots of extra weight, a bum knee, a bum shoulder, a back that can go out while sneezing or toweling off, etc. If I ever fight crime, it won’t be up close and personal. It will probably involve a computer.
Criminals know this. They target women and guys who look older or weaker. They don’t mug guys who are anywhere in the running for world’s baddest motherfucker. This is why, when I’m in a sketchy area, I walk tall, chest out, arms uncrossed, hands out of pockets (or one hand in a gun-sized pocket), and put on my serious game face that says, “Please. Try and fuck with me. See how that goes.” This is because I am thinking, “Please. Dear Lord up in Heaven. Don’t let anyone fuck with me.” And also, “He just had to pick a restaurant in the hood. I’m going to kick his fucking ass.”