Despite my best efforts, the line between hero and superhero remains quite fuzzy. I have always held that the most important factors (after whether the character heroically fights crime) are having a special ability, multiple identities, and fighting a never-ending fight against evil.
But there are some heroes who are just a mask and cape away from being full-blown superheroes. These are crime fighters with special abilities and a secret identity. The shows they feature in even fill out the cast with all the appropriate trimmings of the superhero genre. We see not only damsels and villains, but confidantes, mentors, and secondary heroes galore!
So while none of these characters is actually a superhero, they are the ones most easily mistaken for one.
6. John Reese, Person of Interest
For those unfamiliar with this action-packed thriller from the minds of Jonathan Nolan and JJ Abrams, the basic premise centers on two men, John Reese and Harold Finch, who have a machine that spits out the name of a potential murder victim or perpetrator each week. And each week the pair must do their best to prevent the murder.John, the more, let’s say, “hands on” of the two, is a former CIA agent who uses his spy skills to insert himself in the victim’s life, gain their trust, and shoot gangsters in the kneecaps. He is hunted by the police as a vigilante, typically described as “a man in a suit”. That, along with Finch’s seemingly unparalleled wealth and computer skills, makes John just one pointy cowl away from being Batman. Considering the show was created by one of the Nolan brothers, that’s hardly a surprise.
5. Nick Burkhart, Grimm
Grimm follows the life of Portland Detective Nick Burkhart, who has recently discovered the supernatural world of the half-human, half-monster Wesen, who seem to be connected to every murder that crosses Nick’s desk. While still a cop on the surface, Nick is also a Grimm, essentially a monster hunter, and often has to operate outside the bounds of the law.
In addition to being a kick-ass cop, Nick also has the ability to detect Wesen, seeing their true forms when they are agitated or upset. Nick also has to face many of the same problems as any friendly neighborhood superhero, hiding the fact that he’s a Grimm from his friends, family, and co-workers. Aside from a long flowing cloak for a uniform, the other thing that keeps Nick from being a true superhero is that ultimately, he is still doing his job as a cop, and so only just barely crosses into vigilante territory.
Mild mannered Chuck Bartowski worked as just another member of the Burbank Buy More’s Nerd Herd, until one day when he opened an email and became the world’s most powerful computer, the Intersect. Using the Intersect’s database of NSA and CIA baddies, Chuck and his team help rid the world of evil.
Sounds like a superhero show, doesn’t it?
While in reality, Chuck is more of a super spy, the identity issues really do come to a forefront time and again on the show. Chuck carries out his missions under the alias of Charles Carmichael and builds the identity the same way a superhero builds theirs. As the show goes on, both the Bartowski and Carmichael personas become masks, with the real Chuck existing somewhere in the middle.
3. Korra, The Legend of Korra
While her predecessor, Avatar Aang, was much more of a typical wandering fantasy hero, Korra plays much more like a superhero show. It probably helps that the show all takes place in one city and that Korra takes it upon herself to become the city’s protector.
As the Avatar, it is Korra’s duty to use her bending powers to maintain peace and balance in her world. Unlike Aang, Korra isn’t above taking down street criminals and even goes on nightly patrols to keep the peace. Aside from the fact that her actions are more or less sanctioned and everyone knows who she is, she does come off as a bit of a superhero.
2. Merlin, Merlin
The BBC’s take on what happened all those centuries ago in Camelot, Merlin focuses mainly on the friendship between a young Merlin and Prince Arthur, living in a Camelot where magic is illegal. However, Merlin uses his powers in secret, always acting on the side of good.
My first thought upon seeing this show was “this is Smallville: Camelot!” The similarities are uncanny, right down to the actors who play Merlin and Arthur looking surprisingly similar to Tom Welling and Justin Hartley. You have the poor, dark-haired farmboy with secret superpowers right next to the blonde gajillionaire with an impressive arsenal. Even the way Merlin hides his powers from the public is reminiscent of young Clark fumbling excuses for his super speed or x-ray vision.
And for crying out loud, Merlin is ALWAYS wearing blue and red!
Now, in the past I have always held that Buffy actually IS a superhero, fulfilling too many of the requirements to be ignored. However, I think she fits much better on this list.
Like the other characters on this list, Buffy doesn’t wear a costume and she doesn’t have a fancy name like “The Dustress” or “Stake-a-rella” to go with her shiny, ass-kicking boots. Because of this, she doesn’t have the same kind of identity crisis necessary for superheroes, despite her status as the Slayer (oh, wait, that is her fancy name).
Joking aside, Buffy’s secret is kind of the worst kept one in history, so she never really has to hide who she is. Hell, her entire high school class knew who she was. You’d never see Peter Parker getting an award for how many times he’s saved his high school. The mask isn’t just for identity protection, it also speaks to the thankless nature of the job.
Do you think any these characters, or similar ones, should be classified as superheroes? Is the costume really that important? Or is it enough to know that they will be there to protect us when we need it?