A theory is sometimes proposed that strips superheroic action of its moral, personal quality. The theory is that superheroes exist to reestablish order. Now, the theory would be true enough, if a theory is truer the more abstract it is, but this theory is, so to speak, much too abstract to be true.
Superheroes do respond to natural disasters, civic accidents, and various sorts of injustice, whether occurring or impending, and these usually do disrupt the civic order. Furthermore, the spectacle of the disruptions lends them to being construed as throwing the universe out of balance. But the theory, even in its most concrete form, is specifically that superheroes exist to rush into action and to restore the city to order and the universe to balance. Nothing is said about moral good or evil. Nothing is said about what personally motivates superheroes to take the action.
The theory seems to stem from the psychoanalytic school, and so the objections made against the school can be made against it: it misconceives personality, morality, and, perhaps most damnably in some people’s opinion, artistic creation.
The psychoanalytic roots of the theory are attested by typical two implications. First, that the fall into disorder necessitates a corresponding force to right it. Second, that righting a disordered universe necessitates an eventual force to tip the universe into disorder again. Order, disorder, necessity, and eventuality. A universe of unending vacillation between order and disorder without any real heroism or villainy. No morality, no personhood, and only seeming heroism and villainy.
Of course, a theorist from the psychoanalytic school may concede that a superhero is a person and his or her actions are moral, but no form of the theory that I have read makes any such concession. The theory necessitates that superheroes are not artistic creations–persons made by persons–who perform moral actions as persons in the face of dire evil. It necessitates that they are symbolic projections of the psyche (equally of the artist’s psyche and the reader) out of its primal urges towards order and disorder.
According to psychoanalysis, a superhero’s actions can be no more moral than the primal urges that lie in the depths of the human psyche and no more personal than any projection of the psyche onto the surface of reality, of which a superhero is one. Happily, all three misconceptions can be corrected just by taking heed of the tales of superheroes. The saddest part, then, may be that the theory is used to legitimate them.
Other forms of the theory find necessity elsewhere than in the human psyche. An industry-based form finds the necessity for endless vacillation in serial publication. A Marxist form finds the necessity for restoring civic order in capitalist politics. But I leave both of those forms aside.