What is a Superhero?

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

This week the group had to deal with the idea of what exactly it is that differentiates a superhero from a hero or vigilante. In this way Dick Tracy as was screened can be used as the example of the fine line between hero and superhero. This is due to a multitude of examples that can also be applied to the way our Agents of Atlas (AA) adaptation will work. The examples are that of iconography, hero status and the difference between cultural superhero and hero, the idea of ethics playing a role within their actions.
Firstly, there is the idea of ethics and morality. Both heroes and superheroes act on behalf of the morality of their society. Both Dick Tracy and Superman are agents of good within their society. The difference is how they accomplish their actions with ideals in mind. Superheroes act on behalf of their own volitions, out of a sense of desire to see a better world for no recompense. A character like Tracy or the multitude of other pulp heroes are generally paid for their acts by an interested party such as the government. AA are a mixture of the two. They worked for the government, but are now resigned to work outside of that same government to achieve the goals that their government and people would like to see achieved.
Next wee move towards the idea of what makes a superhero physically distinct from a normal hero. Superheroes have a special power(s), Superman is an incarnation of a literal god, Spiderman has strength and sense, even Batman has incalculable wealth to make himself super, that he amasses on his own. Tracy has to earn a living with no physical attributes to help him fight crime. Once more AA is in a grey area here. It is a mixture of powered beings and no powered beings. On top of that to fund their activities they do not work like superheroes, they work more like antiheroes, using ill-gotten gains from conquered villains to fund their acts of good.
Finally and most importantly we have the iconography. Every superhero has a symbol. Not just any symbol but one that is in their universes common knowledge of symbology, the S for Superman, Batman has the Batsignal, in the Marvel universe the personas of the heroes are public knowledge as are their outfits. A hero like Tracy on the other hand has no such common symbology, he is a normal person within the context of their universe. AA is just like that in the marvel universe, they are lesser knowns, run of the mill citizens (when one considers that not all mutants are heroes or superheroes in that universe). That is what puts them over the edge as being heroes as opposed to Superheroes.
For that reason we are looking into making AA not a traditional Superheroe movie, but something more akin to the Hellboy or the Punisher premises. Agents of good, but not superheroes in their own right.

  1. Joe says:

    What about Tracey’s yellow jacket and hat combo? I’d say those are pretty iconic!

    • While yes the coat is iconic of Tracy, it is not necessarily iconic in the same sense as a superhero’s costume. Tracy’s outfit is a simple trench coat and suit, that anyone can acquire from a store, and is not examined to have any significant meaning outside of Tracy being potentially eccentric. Compare that to a superhero outfit; the costume is given a uniqueness that is acknowledged by all. In fact in almost all superhero films, there are entire segments designed to explain where the outfit came from (Batman Begins, Spiderman, Kickass etc.) No such thing exists in Dick Tracy, it is just a colorful suit, probably bought from the store where movie pimps get their flashy outfits. Also all the other people have eccentric styled suits, meaning that Tracy’s suit is actually not unique but rather the norm for the universe in which he is situated.

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