No wonder every kid grows up wanting to be a superhero. The comic books make it sound awesome: your life is exciting, you’re important, you’re famous, and being a hero is part of the description of what you do on a regular basis! It’s like being a celebrity-astronaut-Seal who can lift a car over his head. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Well, maybe YOU wouldn’t once you realized that in practice, it would be about as much fun as being Mark Sanchez’s quarterback coach.
1) It Would Be Impossible to Hide Your Secret Identity.
Most comics only make a cursory attempt to explain how superheroes could hide their identity. Superman just wore glasses. Glasses on, Clark Kent. Glasses off, “Hello, Superman!” Batman wore a mask and disguised his voice, but he was obviously an incredibly wealthy, athletic man with access to advanced technology who lived near Gotham. If you asked the Bat Computer to tell you how many people fit that description, the only answer would be, “Bruce Wayne.” Peter Parker was a photographer who, completely coincidentally, was selling pictures of Spider Man to the Daily Bugle every week. Like no one could figure that out.
It doesn’t exactly take Stephen Hawking to crack the mystery of those secret identities, and the real world is much more sophisticated. You’d have every intelligence agency on the planet trying to figure out your identity, gossip mags offering to pay millions for evidence, statistics junkies mapping every place you’d ever been, tens of thousands of bloggers and journalists trying to figure out who you are, and tens of millions of Internet junkies on fan sites spending hours every day trying to piece together who you are when they’re not writing erotic fan fiction imagining you being seduced by the evil lizard queen of Mars. Eventually, someone would snap a cell-phone picture of you coming out of your lair, some long forgotten cousin would remember you picking up a jeep when you were five, or someone would figure out who you were from the DNA on a can of Coke you drank while you were visiting orphans. Then, you’d have super-villains showing up at your house, people kidnapping everyone you ever said “hello” to in public, and even worse….
2) You’d Be Buried Under an Avalanche of Lawsuits.
If you were a superhero, you’d have to get used to hearing this: “It’s not that we don’t appreciate the fact that you saved the city from the Dr. Murderfish’s army of mutant shark men with the brains of serial killers, but who’s going to pay for 83 million dollars in damage that was done in the process?” You might think, “Dr. Murderfish.” He’ll be in prison, so wrong answer. Then you’d guess, “The government,” but they’re already running a trillion dollar deficit so they’re not picking up your tab. Of course, you could always guess, “A grateful city full of people happy that I’d saved them from doom,” but only if you’ve never met any people before and have no idea what they’re like.
To the contrary, you would be the one being sued for all the damages AND the “mental distress” AND the work stoppages AND the environmental damage caused by mutant shark kidneys ending up in the water supply AND on and on it goes. The worst part would be when you were inevitably sued by people whose lives you saved. “Yes, your honor, he did save me from Dr. Hitler’s giant robot Nazi, but in the process, I hurt my back. I’m not going to be able to work for six months. How am I supposed to make a living?”
3) The Media Would Eat You Alive.
Sure, the press would treat you like a celebrity, but how great is that really? The only thing the media love better than building up a celebrity is watching them fall. Look how gleeful they are when a celeb gets high in public, says something stupid, or gets arrested — and none of those people are punching super villains through the wall of a children’s hospital or making life-and-death decisions that are easy to second guess.
Additionally, the media being the media, there’s tremendous pressure to say controversial and contrary things to get attention. So, if conservatives all love you because you’re “The Patriot Hero,” all the liberals will hate you. If you’re “Intellect Woman: The Woman Who Solves Crimes With the Power of Her Mind,” Mike Tyson will talk about doing you doggie style on ESPN radio and Larry Flynt will do a porno movie that features some bimbo dressed as you having sex with your archenemy, “Deathfistkill Man!” Then you’ll have the psychologists speculating about your mental health issues on Oprah, crazies speculating that you’re working with the bad guys, people blaming you for being too tough on violent space mutants that had unpleasant childhoods, and, of course, incessant calls for the government to get you under control. Speaking of which…
4) The Government Would Turn Your Life Into a Nightmare.
The first time some five year old got hurt in a battle between you and “Moocor the Dinsosaur-Cow from Space Wyoming,” there would be a dozen bills introduced in Congress to curtail your activities. The IRS would wonder if you’ve paid your taxes on your rocket cycle. The Environmental Protection Agency would demand that you submit to a 10-year study of the environmental impact of your laser eyes. Keep in mind that we’re talking about people who want to regulate the size of the sodas you’re allowed to drink. You think they’re just going to roll with it when you throw a city bus at a space Dinosaur-Cow that’s eating the Planet Hollywood sign?
Additionally, that’s just OUR government. Other governments around the world would REALLY freak out because they’d worry about what would happen if you decided to work for our government. There would be nations developing nuclear bombs and zombie smallpox to counter you. You’d have teams of North Korean assassins trying to track your location, KGB agents kidnapping your dog, and hot Persian women saying, “I am so grateful you have saved me, you handsome son of dogs and monkeys! Let me give you sex in this room in return, which I promise is not wired for sound and video so that I can blackmail you later.” The only thing worse than being punched in the face by nuclear goons with super strength would be being forced to deal with the government.
5) Eventually You’d Die Painfully.
There’s a certain sameness to every superhero story. The hero comes up against a bad guy who is both intent on killing him and capable of doing so. Then the hero, being the hero, defies the odds, defeats the criminal, and then helps imprison him until inevitably, a few months or years later, “Turbowolf: The Half Werewolf/Half Corvette Assassin” breaks free and takes another crack at it. Then you rinse and repeat until the villain becomes so famous Shia LaBeouf plays him in the movie version of your life.
The problem is that the world doesn’t work like this. Being a superhero is sort of like being a mixed martial arts fighter except with adamantium claws and utility belts — and guess what? Mixed martial arts fighters always eventually lose, but happily for them, their opponents don’t take their innards home in a jar as a symbol of their victory over good. At some point, if you’re a superhero, either you’re going to lose, one of the thousands of bullets fired at you will catch you in the forehead, the bad guy’s trap will work, or you’ll get your cape caught on a steel beam while you’re trying to get your kidnapped girlfriend out of a submarine that’s rigged to blow. Then, at least you’d be spared ever being called “Geritol Man” on The Daily Show, but you’d also never get to live long enough to enjoy watching yourself in a sanitized TV special that will tactfully refuse to mention all the crimes in progress you ignored because you had a roast in the oven.
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