Fairness and equality is overrated…especially if you live in Metropolis or Gotham City.
There’s a lot of focus in American society on the ideals of equality and fairness. After all, the American dream has always insisted that anyone from anywhere can come to this nation and make something of him or herself. We strive as a whole to reward those who work hard and punish those who don’t. Everyone has the potential to rise to the occasion and be as good as anyone else, at least in theory.
This is, of course, unless you’re a superhero.
While the video game industry works hard every day to ensure some sort of character balance, comic books seem to strive for the exact opposite. Comic book characters are well aware that there are different tiers of power among the superheroes, and they’re much better for it.
For an easy example, think back to the climactic battle scene towards the end of The Avengers (minor spoiler warning, though given it’s insane box office success, chances are you’ve already seen The Avengers at least three times). As they all assemble (see what I did there), Captain America lays out the battle plans. The Hulk is sent out to smash everything in sight, Iron Man is in charge of clearing the air, Thor goes to use his thunder to kill the Chitauri before they can get to Earth, and the rest…kind of get to hang out on the ground.
Now, I’m not saying that Hawkeye and Captain America serve no purpose in the combat scenes, but I am saying they serve a very different purpose. Hawkeye’s arrows are helpful on a small scale, but he’s far more helpful assisting Iron Man with tips to fend off the Chitauri chasing him. By acting more like a tactician than as a fighter, he is able to add much more to the group.
The same goes for Captain America. His battle experience back in World War II has led him to be a great leader. Even though he isn’t as formidable in battle as Hulk or Thor, his talents come from his ability to organize everyone into the battle formation that gives them the greatest chance of success. His communication, leadership, and ability to adapt to the situations presented before him with a calm demeanor make him far more invaluable than he would be purely as a soldier.
Meanwhile, in Gotham…
DC Comics does the same thing with equal success. Heroes like Batman can’t possibly compete in a purely physical battle with a superhero like Superman (no matter how much Frank Miller wants him to), but Batman doesn’t try to do that. Instead, he offers his detective skills and his ability to lurk in the shadows to gain intelligence the Justice League wouldn’t have otherwise. That he happens to be a master martial artist is almost irrelevant when compared to the other assets he brings to the table.
Being an unbalanced superhero can actually have a negative effect in the long run. I’ve never been much of a Superman fan myself because he always seems too perfect. He’s super fast, super strong, can fly, and is invulnerable to almost any type of damage. His overpowered battle techniques make it increasingly hard to believe that traditional enemies stand much of a chance against him, which means that writers tend to make villains equally too powerful to match up (Major exception: Lex Luthor, who uses his brilliance and charisma to undercut Superman’s efforts while rarely having to face him head on. Still, that the public hasn’t caught on to his, you know, being evil, makes him hard to take completely seriously).
Batman, on the other hand, is a character I love because of that very vulnerability that should undercut him. He’s a hero to which I can actually strive to be (with the exception of that whole “wealthy beyond my wildest dreams” thing) with his intelligence and problem solving abilities rewarding him in defeating Gotham’s finest baddies in a more interesting way. Writers have to develop characters like Batman in these areas and create villains that will serve as interesting foils because there aren’t superpowers to fall back on as a crutch. The inventiveness tends to make for better series.
Now, before I come off the wrong way, let me be clear that I am not saying that all characters that possess overwhelming amounts of strength are bad, or that they are even inferior to characters that tend to have a more standard power set. What I am saying is that characters who can’t rely on their combat alone have the ability to bring other aspects to the mix that add a level of complexity to their personality and force them to come up with different ways to solve their villain problems than simply attacking it head on.
So the next time you want to talk trash about the Green Arrow being nowhere near as powerful as a Green Lantern, just remember that the world of comics wouldn’t have it any other way.