Superheroes: Why Are Some Praised And Others Hunted?


Some people cheer superheroes while the law hunts others as criminals. But both kinds of heroes have the same goals: a better world. So, what makes them different?

Superman, Flash, and Captain America are all viewed as great heroes who consistently save lives. Then there are those such as Batman, Green Arrow, or Daredevil who are often considered by law enforcement as threats as bad as the evildoers they battle. Why is this? The answer is rather simple and is found in two concepts: proactive and reactive.

Reactive Superheroes Vs. Proactive Superheroes

Reactive superheroes are the heroes who typically go into action after something bad has occurred. A reactive heroic feat, for instance, is when the Flash stops Captain Cold and Captain Boomerang from robbing a bank. In this case, Cold and Boomerang are already in the process of committing a crime. Oftentimes, these actions are done through necessity and in public, and almost always result in the hero saving lives.

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Alternatively, an example of a proactive hero is Batman patrolling the streets at night looking for crimes—ideally to prevent them—such as a rape or robbery. The Flash reacts to a crime in progress, but Batman prevents a crime from happening in the first place.

In both cases, the hero is doing something heroic, and yet the reactive heroes are often heralded while the proactive heroes are treated like villains. It’s difficult to point to any one reason for this. I think the reasons for a reactive hero being praised are self-explanatory, but the proactive reasons are more complex.

Why Proactive Superheroes Are Vilified (At Least At First)

For example, when superheroes such as Batman, Green Arrow, and Daredevil first become heroes, they often start by battling “street-level” crime. These are robberies, gang/mob activities, burglaries, and physical attacks which often occur at night.

They will use the night to their advantage, keeping to the shadows and using fear as a weapon. These actions are, at the very least, suspicious because these are the same tactics many ne’er-do-wells use. While these heroes do stop and prevent crimes, hiding and avoiding detection almost always makes the police suspicious of them.

Preventing crimes creates a headache for the police. It’s extremely hard to arrest and prosecute someone who, technically, has not committed a crime. Sure, Green Arrow may stop a criminal from committing a battery, but by threatening the old woman with the knife, the crook has committed the crime of assault.

We rarely, however, see the proactive hero leave any evidence of that particular crime, so the police may arrest the crook, but the crook will likely be let go due to a lack of evidence. This is strike two on the road to being a vigilante.

The third, final, and biggest strike comes from the fact that they’re taking the law into their own hands—which, of course, is the very definition of vigilantism. It’s not until the heroes begin working with the law that the vigilante label is removed, and the hero is finally able to be praised and called a “real” hero. At this point, the hero has successfully crossed the line from proactive to reactive and is no longer hunted.

The truth of the matter is that we know that vigilante superheroes are heroic heroes. And we also know that the would-be killer needs his behind kicked by Daredevil—because, in the end, all that matters is that the victim is saved.