Kick-Ass: Where Are The Superheroes? (spoiler-free)

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.”

2 thoughts on “Kick-Ass: Where Are The Superheroes? (spoiler-free)”

  1. You’ve probably already read about the firestorm surrounding Roger Ebert’s review of this movie. I’m not sure if I would agree with him or not, since this is not the type of movie I would go see. WatchMen had a lot of backstory even though it originated in a graphic novel. This movie seems a little thinner in that area.

    But as to your question, if you had superpowers that rendered you somewhat invulnerable and you were able to move about freely (eg: by flying, using BatMobile, teleporting) I believe that most folks would go the vigilante route and start fighting crime. I also believe that after about 5 years of this you would quit, because no matter how much you do, there is way to much crime for 1 superhero. Or even 5 superheroes (eg: The Justigue League of America).

    It like that Tolstoy story: a man gives all of his fortune to the poor in Leningrad only to see it make little difference. But I believe it made a difference in the way the donor *felt* . Same thing for your average superhero.

  2. Just read Ebert’s review. Reviews are personal and if the dark satire made him sad, I get it. The affect on kids is also complex. My first thought was that we can’t stop making adult films just because kids may see them. Parents need to regulate that. But this film was pretty clearly marketed as a PG-13 film; I was surprised when a buddy pointed out we should see a matinee because it’s rated R. So I can see many parents showing up with their kids and not realizing it’s R, or older siblings taking younger kids for the same reason. And those kids shouldn’t be exposed to this violence, as this is satire and the violence is realistic, not comical or cartoonish. For the same reason, you don’t let kids play rated M video games (although I suspect that happens way more often).

    As for having superpowers, that wasn’t really questioned in the film. It’s really asking why there aren’t more vigilantes, which is probably the question I was really answering.

    For a realistic view on the superheroes, I recommend Kurt Busiek’s Astro City comics ( It shows how if you had Superman’s powers, you’d have zero downtime (except for sleeping) because you’d be driven by a moral imperative to constantly save lives. BTW, Alex Ross’s art in those books is fantastic – he actually *paints* all the panels.

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