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Monday, February 27, 2017

Supervillains and Traditional Law Enforcement

Someone in the previous thread asked how local and federal government felt about superhumans.  This was such a good question, I thought the answer deserved being moved to its own post.

This is briefly answered in I Did Not Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence. I'll try to go into it with a little more detail, here.

Basically, the government is scared of superhumans and relieved to let them regulate each other. When one single person can have the power of a giant bomb, and there are thousands of these around the country, law enforcement becomes prickly. Conventional attempts to deal with them require you to either accept massive collateral damage, or go heavy on cruel and unusual punishment. When super powered communities fall into a relatively peaceful pattern, neither the government agencies nor the electorate want to interfere with that. An analogue is when organized crime takes root, and locations decide fighting them is more trouble than it's worth.

There are bad and unfair aspects to this. Superhumans are above the law in many ways. They're not going to get arrested for, say, reckless driving, or violating building codes. They don't have to face their bank accounts frozen for criminal acts, unless a superhero makes a point of dragging the villain in and revealing where the money went. The minor damage caused by breaking these laws, given the small number of people doing it, is considered a price easily worth paying to limit the gigantic damage that could be done if powers were used unrestrained and with malice aforethought. As long as heroes are willing to fight villains, and everybody is willing to keep damage to civilians to a minimum, the government is willing to limit themselves to doing the sweeping up afterwards. It is very convenient to let the hero take the blame when a villain is dragged off to jail.

Side note: It is extremely hard to keep supervillains locked up. People like Bull can walk through any wall you can build. Some mad scientists can create an escape tool out of a spoon and a mattress. If they don't break themselves out, they have friends who can do it easily. It's an unsolved problem.

No amount of superhumans the government can hire can come close to what's lurking in the 'civilian' population, and like conventional weapons, enough force to reliably stop someone like Lucyfar or Chimera (or Mech, who has broken a lot of laws in his vigilantism!) brings us back to neighborhoods destroyed and hundreds dead.

All of this is self-reinforcing. Government cracking down makes superhumans more violent, which forces the government to crack down harder. The government turning a blind eye makes it easier for self-regulating communities to maintain a peaceful tone. In LA in Penny's time, the hero and villain communities are actively friendly with each other, despite how seriously most of them take their roles.

This is far from a perfect system. For example, built into LA's friendliness is mob justice with execution as the penalty for breaking the rules. The superhuman community itself is weird, a separate culture from main society with a lot of social pressures. Both superhumans and the government cling to this system as a thousand times better than the alternatives.

(Added aside:  There is an entire separate hero/villain community devoted to less obvious bureaucratic, financial, and cyber crimes.  Beebee has dipped into it several times.  I am unlikely to ever do more than hint about its existence in any book, but it might interest you to know it's there.)


  1. A side benefit of a relatively peaceful superhuman community would be the governments ability to buy any random mad science gear that gets confiscated when a Mad Scientist is temporarily captured. Imagine how many random high power perpetual energy generators that must have been created so far.

    1. Absolutely. Renewable energy in Penny's world has gotten a big boost from 'What does it run on?' 'We have no idea, but look at it go!'

    2. Would that be "Renewable energy" or "Inexhaustible energy source"?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Well, at least we know the weird energy source that Penny created near the end of book one will be a very useful device for supplying clean energy, once her dad decides it is safe to use.

  3. Good stuff.
    While I was waiting for the next book I found another one that kinda has the same stuff. Forging Hephaestus.
    In that one the Heroes allow the Guild of Villains to quietly police the worst of the worst bad guys in exchange for not being hunted down.
    It's not as good or fun as the gang but I was blown away to see the same idea being used.
    I wonder if someone read THIS series and got some ideas.

  4. Looking forward to the next one!

  5. ^.^ What I'd like to seee is a superhero verse where like - heroes are considered an extension of the police force. Like - the police turn up to a crime, and then a hero arrives and is like "This is Hero jurisdiction, Can you hand over the case files - thankyou - Alright everyone this is what happened!"
    And just have the police treat the hero like a lieutenant or a captain.

    I have imagine a world where Police are considered "D List Heroes" and treated the same by the media - with C or B list heroes managing them or equipping them.
    And of course that leaves a place where the police still have a job and aren't overshadowed by the heroes. They can still be competent.

    1. Maybe. But most heroes are like brawlers more than anything. Can you imaging the Hulk investigating a case? Banner maybe but Hulk would be like - me no like brainy work! And trying to make a Science Genius like Banner stick to working cases instead of brainstorming in a lab? Don't think so.
      Only a few are like Batman and good at detectiveing. So super hero cops would be really really few and the really really overloaded. Don't sound like fun.

    2. There's a few not unlink that. Check out the webcomic Grrl Power, where all crime fighting superheroes are considered elite military police under the new branch called Archon. It's both good and hilarious.

    3. @Kirsty Shadowdancer:

      Then you might want to check out the Super Powereds series by Drew Hayes (and the spin-off, Corpies).