Not all superheroes have superpowers. I’ll say that again. Not all superheroes have superpowers, or at least, they don’t by the strictest definition of the word. I have stated earlier that the criteria for being a superhero is having a special ability, not having a super power. The ability can’t be something that everyone has, like the ability to pick you nose (unless of course you have exploding boogers). The point is, if you can, say, fight off 10 armed criminals without breaking a sweat or build yourself a suit of armor that shoots rockets, then yeah, that counts as an ability.
But, again, as I’ve said before, powers aren’t the sole requirement for superherodom. There are many characters in the world with super powers ranging from magical spells to light-up palms to exploding boogers. But unless you put on a costume and decide to fight crime as the Snotinator, those exploding boogers don’t make you a superhero.
So what about those people that do put on costumes and go out and fight crime with absolutely no special abilities? Are they superheroes too?
To be clear, I’m not talking about Batman or Iron Man or even Kick-Ass here. Batman is a master of several disciplines of martial arts, escapism, and detective work. While maybe anyone can put on the Iron Man armor, nobody but Tony Stark could actually build it. And Kick-Ass… well, we’ll get to him in a bit.
The characters I’m talking about are the stars of Super, Special, and Defendor: Frank Darbo/the Crimson Bolt, Les, and Arthur Poppington/Defendor, respecively. These are men who, despite a distinct lack of powers or even abilities, set out to fight crime in homemade outfits and whatever tools and weapons they can find. And, they are all certifiably insane.
In fact, the plot of all three films centers not only on each of the characters’ journeys as superheroes, but also on their journey through the hills and valleys of sanity. In each case, there is a distinct break from reality in which the character truly believes that he is a superhero (although only Les ever becomes deluded enough to believe that he has superpowers).
So the question, then, is whether it is possible to have a sane character with no powers decide to put on a costume and fight crime. The obvious answer seems to be no; it’s not hard to argue that even Batman and Iron Man aren’t quite right in the head. No one in their right mind would try to fight criminals armed with nothing but a cheap mask. Hell, even some some of the superheroes with powers seem a bit more on the crazy side. At what point did the blind Matt Murdock decide fighting crime was a brilliant idea? Does Oliver Queen really strike you as well-balanced on Arrow? And let’s not even get started on the Hulk’s issues.
Of course, this all leads us back to perhaps the most debatable case: Kick-Ass. Yes, Dave Lizewski is rather delusional, and while he approaches superheroing a bit more rationally than Frank and Arthur, it’s still a bit crazy for a skinny little teenager to think he can take on a pair of armed thugs. Yeah, he does kind of get superpowers with his reinforced bones and immunity to pain, but he’s still a far cry from Wolverine.
So if these guys aren’t superheroes, what are they? Here we turn once more to the wisdom of Dave Lipinski. Just before his very first attempt at crime fighting, Dave makes this rather insightful comment: “Like every serial killer already knew: eventually fantasizing just doesn’t do it for you anymore.” That’s right folks: these guys are serial killers.
Considering the body count racked up by the Crimson Bolt and Boltie, not to mention Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, it’s a bit hard to think of these guys as anything else. Leave the costumes behind and these characters are just a bonesaw and a roll of plastic wrap away from being Dexter!
It’s an unfortunate truth, but the truth nonetheless. Even Kick-Ass is guilty of a little murder. Putting on a mask damn sure doesn’t make it okay.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that what sets Batman and Iron Man apart from the Crimson Bolt, Les, and Defendor is that Bruce and Tony aren’t killers, and decidedly are not psychopaths. Sociopaths? Whichever. Superheroes shouldn’t kill, and they damn sure shouldn’t be even close to resembling serial killers. Even worse, we must also draw the conclusion that if you don’t have superpowers but still want to be a costumed vigilante, clearly something is wrong with you.
In the immortal word of Bruce Wayne: “A guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues.”