A couple of years back I was reading a comics thread online in which someone posed a question: are even ordinary people in the MU and DCU superhuman by real-world standards?
What led one side of the debate to say “yes” was the Kingpin — canonically non-superhuman — being able to go toe-to-toe with Spider-Man. How is that possible given Spidey has ten times peak human srength? The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe rationalizes it — Spidey pulls his punches when hitting non-supers, he underestimates Fisk — but I don’t find it convincing (and as we all know, Marvel’s ignored the Handbook too often to treat it as authoritative).
There are multiple other examples of non-super people holding their own with metahumans. Man-Mountain Marko has gone toe-to-toe with Spider-Man, though he was retconned later to have undergone genetic engineering. Big Ben Donovan fought Luke Cage and knocked him down and he’s never been retconned into anything beyond being big and tough. I’d think just punching a man with steel hard skin would break Donovan’s strictly human hands, but no.Another point the “yes” side brought up was Karate Kid’s ability to smash through vault doors and girders without any powers. Sure, he’s trained in super-karate, but it’s not physically possible for a human to break steel, no matter what their training. I find this less convincing. I mean, it’s technically true, but DCU scientists routinely display impossible sciencing skills — why not karate masters too? But then again, even ordinary karate masters in the MU are capable of breaking steel, as the Mandarin demonstrates in his first clash with Iron Man. Both he and Iron Man accept that Mandy’s karate skills can smash through Shellhead’s armor, though Iron Man uses his armor’s built-in slide rule to avoid that. In an early issue of Avengers, Zemo shows he can chop through steel too, and asserts this is a common skill for black belts.
I fully realize nobody writing those stories meant to imply ordinary humans were metas. It’s common in comics for weaker fighters to demonstrate greater strength when the story requires it — Brian Cronin’s got a whole string of columns devoted to that. Stan Lee was far from the only person to treat martial arts as a super-power — karate in the 1960s had the same aura of mysterious power that ninjutsu would have in later decades. So we can ignore it all — but then again, maybe it makes sense. I have no firm opinion on this so I’m curious what y’all think.
The same reasoning might apply, sometimes, to times when law, government and the military don’t work like they do on our Earth. There’s a Bronze Age Huntress story in which the Gotham City DA announces a superhero ban in the city (he’s under the Thinker’s mind-control at the time). A District Attorney can’t make rules like that in our world: his job is to prosecute crimes, not pass new regulation. But on Earth-Two, where they’ve had years longer to deal with superheroes? Why not?
Of course, this kind of rationalization can only go so far. Some laws may be different in the DCU but it’s hard to believe the Twelfth Amendment, passed in 1804 to revamp presidential election rules, also gives superheroes the right to testify without revealing their identities (post-crisis Flash #135 claims it does). I can accept the Howling Commandos being allowed to ignore militar dress rules — Dum-Dum’s derby, Percy’s beret —but as Commander Benson has written, no way would submarine commander Simon Savage be assigned to a surface vessel, or lead a joint Marine/Navy strike force on land.
So where do we draw the boundary between “even ordinary stuff on Earth-616 and Earth-One isn’t like our world” and “that’s ridiculous!” Or is there a boundary to draw at all? Thoughts?
#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by John Romita, Billy Graham, Jim Shooter/Sheldon Moldoff, Don Heck and Dick Ayers.