I’ve actually thought of this issue a lot since my teenage years, but I never knew there was a term for it until now. It may be nuanced, but the gist is:
Superhero Paradox– Superheroes try to make the world a better place, but the seem to make the world more dangerous.
Pretty sure everyone is thinking of Batman, but I’m going with Goku. Why? First, the quote can be connected to this in terms of a villain getting stronger in order to defeat a hero. Actually, War of Nytefall: Savagery revolves around this concept. The second reason I went with Goku is I remember him leaving Earth because he felt his high level of power was attracting the villains. He went away to prevent his friends, family, and world from getting leveled every time someone shows up to challenge him. This is a big part of the paradox.
How does this happen? Let’s look at the steps:
- Hero debuts and beats weakest enemies.
- Rises in strength to face stronger opponents.
- Defeats first the big villains.
- New villain arrives either to fill void or challenge.
- Hero gets strong enough to defeat them.
- New villain arrives specifically to take out hero.
- Hero gets even stronger to win.
- New villain arrives . . . You get the point.
It isn’t always so formulaic, but it revolves around the concept of heroes creating at least a few of their strongest villains. This happens a lot in comics with a hero making a mistake that forges a villain. Spider-Man returning with the alien suit that becomes Venom is one such example. He wanted to make the world a better place, thought the new suit would help, and inevitably unleashed a long line of alien symbiotes on the planet. Not very heroic if you think about it.
Another aspect of the Superhero Paradox is the damage that they cause such as in the namesake genre. Cities can be leveled and lives can by lost, which is partially caused by heroes getting into public battles. The destruction is rather inevitable considering the powers and weapons being used when violence erupts. Villains don’t care if they do this and heroes can’t always knock a target high into the air instead of through a building. We like to think they can, but that takes a lot of careful thinking and superheroes rarely find themselves in battle situations where they can take a breath. This results in them being nearly as much of a danger as their enemy. Sure, their presence reduces that damage and loss of life, but it doesn’t typically go down to zero.
The collateral damage can result in more villains popping up too. Now, you have the hero’s presence and actions making the world more dangerous again. Makes you wonder how people in comic book worlds manage to get up the morning. Why go into work when you have a 75% chance of getting killed in a superhuman battle? At least Dragonball typically keeps its fights in the wilderness or tournaments.
There are ways to counter act this issue. Have there be consequences for the damage or the hero puts a lot of effort into avoiding violence in cities. This way, they don’t make the world more dangerous by drawing innocent bystanders into the battle. Villains will still attack cities, but heroes can try to move them away or contain them to a very small region. There can be an initial focus on rescue and evacuation too.
Another way to handle the paradox is to give villains reasons to act that don’t relate to the hero. They can also have powers that will always challenge the hero, who doesn’t actually become stronger. If a hero has to win by wits instead of leveling up then they are less likely to attract bigger powerhouses who can cause more damage. The world will again be safer because the hero’s strength is fairly low key. This can still create a minor paradox because reputations grow with victories and there will inevitablly be someone who wants to challenge the hero. Bane went after Batman, Kraven went after Spider-Man, and several baddies went after James Bond because their legends grew big. It really paints a target on them.
So, what do you think of the Superhero Paradox?