You know the drill: a city without hope where the police and politicians are a wholly owned subsidiary of organized crime. It’s dirty, violent, economically depressed, and has been for decades.
Yet despite all the blood on the pavement and corresponding plummeting property values, good people remain.
Always ignored by this trope is why the entire thing is circling the drain. Maybe the corruption is organic and self-promulgating now, but how did it start? In a movie, perhaps it’s the League of Shadows causing a depression. In the real world, it’s usually the natural consequences of the electorates’ choices.
There may be good people trapped inside the hell of their own (or their parents’ and grandparents’) making, but the fact remains: it’s the public’s fault. This is what they voted for. Why should someone sacrifice his fortune, happiness, and possibly his life for such people?
Why would we think they wouldn’t make the same mistake again?
Maybe fighting for a failing city—state, country, whatever—resonated in the 80s and 90s. But today, when the people that would most benefit from a hero’ efforts are quite comfortable in their parasitism, the whole arrangement is curdled. You realize you’re no longer a hero but a sucker.
I think the more relevant setting for today’s superheroes would be in a city or community from succumbing to the ruin threatening to overtake it. In other words, a city whose people haven’t already chosen decline.
Why stop at merely protecting that which deserves to be saved? Why not fight those threatening it?
That’s a project worth a hero’s time and blood. And it would resonate with the reading public, many of whom are trying to improve their family’s lot despite our rulers’ best efforts.
With all this in mind, let’s kill the old trope that the people in that corrupt, crime-ridden hellhole are always worth fighting for.