Heroes Never Rust #19 by Sean Ironman
At the end of Black Summer, a mini-series by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp, Tom Noir, the main character, asks, “How far do we go in pursuit of justice?”
In an earlier post, I attempted to figure out what makes a superhero a superhero. One of the conclusions I came to, if I even came to any conclusions, was that a superhero being a punk creation needs to operate outside of the authority—a superhero needs to be a vigilante. At the end of Black Summer, Tom Noir states, “Vigilantes demand justice the people through illegal actions.” He goes on to say that vigilantes are no better than the bad guy.
The eight-issue mini-series begins with one of the superheroes, John Horus, deciding that the U.S. government is corrupt and he kills the president. There are some mentions of real world events, like September 11, and it’s not difficult to see this comic, published in 2007 and 2008, as Ellis’s thoughts on the Bush administration. Before a press conference, Horus, dressed in white with the Eye of Providence, representing the eye of God, on his back, comes forward and takes responsibility for his actions. “I understand many of you will be afraid, right now. Please: This isn’t a terrorist act. This isn’t a coup. This is simply one man ending the freedom of criminals dangerous to the American spirit.” He goes on to say, “If you have a God, pray for me tonight. For I have done a terrible thing that will stay with me all my years, just to save you.” Ellis immediately brings up the question of whether there is such a thing as going too far for a superhero. If they must protect humanity, where does that end?
In most superhero stories, the superhero sees a villain robbing a bank, destroying the city, or kidnapping someone. There is a clear villain. The superhero can just run up and punch the one causing trouble. It’s a simple conflict. But what about other problems? Poverty? World hunger? I guess it’s like being a parent. Where is the line between protecting people and allowing them to make their own choices?
In Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman rids the world of nuclear weapons. In Watchmen, Ozymandias attempts to trick the world into thinking they have a common enemy to stop the impending nuclear war. Since the ’80s, superhero comics have featured harsher superheroes. In the past decade it seems that superheroes have fought more against other superheroes than they have fought against the villains. Perhaps the reason we are seeing comics like this is because superheroes are inherently bad guys, like Black Summer argues. What’s the difference between them? Really, it’s the reasons they have for their actions. By getting rid of the president in Black Summer or Superman getting rid of nukes still takes away choice from the people. If Man is savage and it is in Man’s nature to destroy, then wouldn’t a superhero be fated to be the bad guy, to rule in a totalitarian society? We can’t really be trusted to take care of ourselves, right? Isn’t that why superheroes come about to begin with? They save us from that which we can’t save ourselves.
In Black Summer, the heroes, a team named the Seven Guns, aren’t so much superpowered as they have technological advancements that give them more power. Their bodies have an enhanced nervous system and a gun with more abilities. We’re close to having enhanced human beings now in our society. It’s just a matter of time before we have a Robocop or an Iron Man. Or a Captain America. Or a John Horus or Tom Noir.
It’s just a matter of time before superheroes, whether we call them superheroes or not, are around. We’ll need them. They’ll save us from ourselves. They’ll become like every other institution we have in our society and confine us. We’ll have our roles to fill and they’ll have theirs. To protect us, they’ll need to stop us.
Then, we’ll kill them for it. We’ll tear them down if we can for doing the job we created them for.
We’ll ask someone else to save us, or nominate someone. We’ll grant them powers to watch over us, to protect us from what we call evil but is just humanity, and then we’ll do it all again.
The history of the human race.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.