When superheroes first came on the scene, they were just like us, only more so. Sure, they had a cool power or two but mostly they were real people with real problems. Maintaining secret identities, trying to get a date with that pretty newspaper reporter, saving the world – you know – hero stuff.
But as time went on, our superheroes became more super than hero. (I’m looking at you, Kal-El.) There has been a kind of superpower creep. As writers and producers seek to one-up and outshine the competition, they have made our fantasy champions less believable and therefore less human. As a case study, I invite you to compare the first and forth Die Hard movies. In the premier installment he’s a cop with a gun and a bad attitude. But by the last movie, he’s Batman without the cowl.
It is the limits that we place on our characters that ultimately makes us able to relate to them. If we give to much credit to the magic, we diminish the true heroes. When we give them too much power, we set up unrealistic expectations in ourselves (like Barbie and supermodels). We can concentrate too much on the method and miss the reasons behind their struggles.
Likewise, in order to maintain the conflict, the foils to our heroes must match their counterparts with ever increasing forms of monstrous behavior. (There’s kryptonite everywhere.) Eventually these characters and their nefarious schemes are so far removed from us that they are more like the gods of old doing battle with titanic forces beyond the realms of mortal beings. You don’t try to empathize with Godzilla; you just get out of the way. There is enough wrong in our world that we don’t need to invent new forms of evil just to make our stories better.
Also, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!”