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Blog For A Beer – Superheroes and Property Damage

Happy Fourth of July, Fantasy Readers! What a great day to blog and win some beer (or hot chocolate…). Every week we offer up a bloggy prompt and invite you to discuss and debate the topic. The comments will close at 11:59PM Pacific time Saturday and, if we have at least 10 participants, we’ll award $10 in beer money to the most interesting or entertaining contributor after that. Close out the weekend in style!

This week’s blog topic is by non-fiction editor K. Tempest Bradford:

Superheroes and Property Damage

This is the opening weekend for Hancock, a movie about “an angry homeless man with superhuman powers who causes massive property damage whenever he clumsily tries to save the day.” This got me thinking about one of my favorite superhero franchises: The Bruce Timm DC Animated Universe. Batman: the Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman: Beyond, Justice League, etc. I can’t get enough of these shows, but there’s one aspect about them that continually bugs me.

Over the past few days I’ve been watching the first and second season DVDs of Justice League Unlimited. In almost every episode there’s a major battle between superheroes and villains that results in major property damage. Not just, oh, we broke a wall, but, that building exploded when it crashed down into the other one. These battles rarely take place in out of the way locations–generally it’s a major urban center by all the tall buildings. Judging by how quickly Lois Lane gets to the heart of the fighting, I’d say many times Metropolis takes a major beating, even when it’s not stated.

After the city is destroyed - image copyright Warner Bros.

And yet no one comments on this. Sure, the heroes save the day and all, but they destroy the city in the process. What’s the point in saving us all from the dastardly deeds of the bad guy if there’s no home to go to? Insurance rates must be ridiculous. The mob bosses running construction must be billionaires, because just one episode later all the buildings are back in place and people return. Suckers.

I noticed that this tends to happen more often in shows where Superman is around. I don’t remember this level of destruction on Batman, and even Batman Beyond didn’t have Terry destroying high rises every other week. I suppose when you bring in a hero who can pick up a building and hurl it at someone, these things are bound to happen.

But still, so often? With hardly any comment?

There were a few times that the toll on non-hero people was mentioned. In the JLU first season episode “The Greatest Story Never Told”, minor hero Booster Gold gets assigned to crowd control while the other more important heroes fight the evil wizard. This results in a lot of disaster, buildings destroyed, etc, while Booster begrudgingly tells the scared and running populace to “keep moving along.” Why isn’t there an evacuation plan for this sort of thing? In the second season episode “Flashpoint”, the League’s super cannon fires on a town in New Mexico, destroying an underground base and most of the town’s buildings. Some of the League go down to do rescue and repair–something I don’t think we’ve ever seen on the show before–and someone asks why they bothered to help when they did the destroying in the first place. Thing is, Lex Luthor fired the weapon (which the people don’t know). So one of the only times we see people getting angry about the destruction is when the bad guy is responsible.

After the city is destroyed - image copyright Warner Bros.

It’s really interesting that the writers and other creative team are perfectly willing to show the wholesale destruction of property but don’t want to talk about the effects that has on the people. And they gloss over the extent of that destruction by not showing the cities in repair–just shining and glorious as they were before (right before they’re reduced to rubble again).

In the DC Animated Universe we rarely see people die. Sure, they get the shit beat out of them, or blasted by energy beams, or tossed off of things, or have their building destroyed, or whatever other thing that would result in death in our world, yet they do not die. I’m not talking about the heroes, I’m talking about the regular people. It feels a little disingenuous.

Which is why I’m cautiously optimistic about Hancock. I’m primed to see someone address these problems. Because I feel like that’s part of the superhero world, too: the tradeoff between safety from great evil and randomly having some dudes crash through your walls as they fight that battle.

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