There are certain aspects of the superhero troupe that are almost universal: heroic deeds, cool costumes, code names, and a tragic past. Their exploits have kept us entertained and amazed for decades, with new generations of writers giving us fresh takes on old characters and allowing new readers to jump on board.
While superheroes are currently at the very peak of their popularity, let’s not ignore the incredible jerk moves these guys on a regular basis. Like the rest of us, they’re only human (most of them, anyway), and are prone to being douchebags every now and then.
In many ways, it’s the fallible nature of our heroes that make them relatable. If they were perfect, we wouldn’t identify with them as closely. But a lot of heroes can pull some serious dick moves, abusing their powers and positions to such a degree that they narrowly avoid becoming the bad guy themselves. Sometimes those dick moves are just simple bad manners. It really wouldn’t hurt Batman to say “Hey guys, I’m heading out for a burrito” instead of disappearing while another character is mid-sentence. For a guy raised by billionaires and a stuffy butler, his manners are appalling. But dipping out without a goodbye is far from the worst thing our heroes in tights have pulled.
Here are 15 Jerk Moves That Superheroes Pull All The Time.
Professor Xavier is kind of a jerk. Not only does he train kids to fight his battles for him, but he regularly abuses his powers for personal gain. Far from being a saint, he borders on being the bad guy of the X-Men universe. More so than Magneto at times.
Back in the early days of the X-Men, he would frequently erase whole towns' memories after they'd witnessed mutant activities. On the face of it, you could argue that he was protecting the new species and attempting to minimise panic. But if you think about it, he violated their minds and memories without permission. That’s totally ignoring their free will, and is therefore a massive violation of their basic human rights. He even wiped Magneto’s mind once and left him in a comatose state for months. And let’s also not forget the team of X-Men he sent to Krakoa. They died, and Xavier wiped all memories of their existence from Moira McTaggart and Scott Summers. He claimed it was to spare them, but was more likely to avoid charges of willful endangerment of a minor and, y’know, getting them all killed.
It’s not just Xavier either. Both Iron Man and Spider-Man have used planetary-wide mind manipulation to erase the world’s memories of their secret identities. And let’s face it, mind controlling a whole planet to think what you want them to think… it’s kind of a supervillain thing to do really.
It should be fairly obvious that hitting people is wrong. It’s pretty much day one at school along with “don’t pee in the plant in the corner”. But plenty of superhumans just throw on a costume and beat the hell out of anyone they come across that happens to be a bad guy. Sure, some superheroes are licensed and registered by the state, but most are actually just vigilantes who are committing some serious crimes.
Batman, for instance, is an expert in almost all forms of martial art and has a variety of non-lethal gadgets at his disposal. When he gives you a beat down, he doesn’t just tickle you into submission, he breaks bones! It’s a miracle that in a society as litigious as ours that superhumans aren’t being sued for damages more often. Even serious criminals in real-life have sued the state due to excessive use of force by police.
This was actually a major plot point in The Incredibles, where the super community went into hiding after a series of lawsuits.
Being a racist is one of the most awful things you can be. For the most part, the heroes of modern comics are really cool and don’t throw around language and attitudes that are best left in the past. Marvel Comics, in particular, have been making a massive effort over the last several years to promote equality of race, religion, and gender. One of their most popular characters of recent years is the new Miss Marvel, a young Muslim woman. This kind of all-inclusiveness is a very good thing, and a tremendous step forward in our society's pop culture.
But racial stereotypes do still linger from time to time, and in the not-too-distant past, the language and attitudes of some of our favorite heroes would be shocking and unacceptable to a modern reader. Green Lantern called his sidekick Pie-Face, due to him being of Eskimo decent and Hal stating that the only thing he knew about Eskimos was Eskimo pie. Let’s just gloss over the culture of a whole people and forget that Eskimo is a derogatory term anyhow, Hal.
The Ultimate Captain America was fiercely racist, though this was actually intentional, as the writers wanted to show that he was a man from the ‘40s who had the attitudes of his era (even the ones we would like to forget ever existed). But still, his casually calling all French people cowards is one heck of a jerk thing to say when he would have fought beside members of the French resistance in World War 2. Those guys were certainly not cowards.
People cheat. It happens, and while it’s not a great thing to be on the receiving end of, it happens in real life a lot. Therefore, if it happens in real-life, it should probably be reflected in a medium that prides itself on not shying away from tough issues.
But there are a ton of examples of really stand up guys and girls in comic books who cheat and brush it off. In reality, when you cheat on a partner, it takes years to get over the betrayal, if ever. In comic books, it is often forgotten about pretty quickly.
Cyclops is often written as a boy scout (and has been depicted as such on the big screen), but this guy thinks nothing of cheating. When he was married to Madelyn Prior, he left her and began to romantically court Jean. When he was with Jean, he flirted with Psylocke and may or may not have engaged in some telepathic hanky-panky during a mission to Russia. When he finally married Jean, he seemed like he’d put all that behind him… until he began to have telepathic sex with The White Queen. It’s not just that jerk Cyclops either, it’s become increasingly common for superheroes to cheat on their partners for shock value.
While training the next generation of heroes may seem to be a necessary thing to do, putting kids into the firing line endangers their lives, as Jason Todd found when he replaced Dick Grayson as the second Robin. While Batman lamented the loss for many years (until Jason’s resurrection of course) he still trained Tim Drake to be the third Boy Wonder, despite being acutely aware of the potentially fatal risks involved.
It’s not just Batman who puts minors into extremely dangerous situations. In the X-Men’s first outing, they were pitted against Magneto, one of the most dangerous and powerful men in the Marvel Universe. It’s not like Professor Xavier was unaware of Magneto’s power either, as the two men had known each other for many years at that point.
Teen sidekicks have been a common trend for decades with Robin, Aqualad, Speedy, Bucky, and many more having faced their share of tragedies due to their association with their older mentors.
It’s become something of an inevitability that in a team-based comic book, someone eventually goes bad. Maybe they were a mole all along, maybe the power went to their heads, or maybe they just decided being a supervillain was more fun. Either way, betraying your friends and teammates makes you a Grade-A jerk.
This is not to say that all superheroes do this, as some are as loyal as a cocker spaniel. But even long-time heroes go bad. When the Scarlet Witch went bad, it took the combined forces of The Avengers, X-Men, and anyone else who happened to be around to bring down the so-called House of M reality that she created. Professor Xavier even went bad and became Onslaught, “killing” the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and several others in the process.
Some betrayals are more about betraying the principles of the team. When the first Marvel Civil War erupted, both sides felt the other had betrayed them. Iron Man felt Captain America had betrayed the laws of the country when he went rogue, and Cap, in turn, felt Iron Man was betraying the team by hunting down those in breach of the new superhuman regulations.
Forgiveness can be a wonderful thing. When someone repents, it can be a great thing to move on with your life. But there are limits to what can be forgiven.
While many members of the Avengers still consider Hank Pym to be a jerk for creating Ultron and beating his wife Janet, they still accept him as a teammate. At one time, he was absolved of his crimes, as he had seemingly been manipulated mentally and was, therefore, innocent. However, in a retcon, it was re-established that Hank’s actions were his own, and he did, in fact, beat his own wife. While Hank has shown remorse for these actions, he’s never properly paid for them. The hundreds of thousands of deaths he is responsible for as the creator of Ultron should see him spend his life in prison, but the Avengers merely shrug it off with an “He’s sorry, let’s give him a pass” and move on. If they were truly dedicated to justice, they’d make sure he was held accountable.
In the Avengers comics alone, Quicksilver, Vision, Scarlett Witch, and Namor have all committed serious crimes and have betrayed the team. Letting them back onto the team just invites trouble, making the rest of the team kind of jerkish too.
Sometimes cops will work with criminals to bring down a worse criminal. Often, the D.A. will offer some kind of deal for a lesser charge, and there’s even immunity options that are occasionally brought to the table.
But Batman doesn’t do deals with criminals. He beats them up, often working his way up the ladder until he finds the crime boss running the show. Then beats him or her up too. Except, he has been known to turn a blind eye to Catwoman’s crimes from time to time. He knows she’s a criminal, and an unrepentant one at that, but he spares her the kind of justice he would dish out to The Joker or Two-Face. Maybe if The Joker looked as good as Catwoman does, he’d get an occasional pass too, rights Bats?
It’s not just Batman; the usually stand-up-guy Spider-Man has turned a blind eye to the Black Cat’s exploits from time to time. There’s also the long history of letting villains join hero teams as an act of repentance rather than send them to jail for their crimes. If cops let criminals have a badge and a gun just because they say they’re sorry, we’d be overrun with criminals in uniform.
When superbeings go head to head, the city they’re in gets leveled more often than not. In the case of Sokovia in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the entire capital city was raised several thousand feet into the air and then detonated. Imagine putting that on an insurance form! The thing is, given the involvement of Thor, the insurance companies may invoke a clause of Force Majeure, in which they are not liable for “An act of God”. In this instance, it may well be up to the state to help the homeless refugees to piece together their shattered lives.
It was mentioned in Captain America: Civil War that after the Avengers defeated Ultron, they went home. It’s unlikely that they didn’t stay around to help with the clean-up a bit, but they probably didn’t do much to help the nation financially, unless Tony Stark has insurance for murder-bots gone wrong.
And don't even get us started on Man of Steel.
Whole cities are destroyed on numerous occasions in the comics, and while the heroes do help in the aftermath, they usually get to go home to their fancy mansions or towers while the poor guy whose house just got stomped by The Hulk spends the next few years trying to rebuild his shattered life.
In today’s world, practicing safe sex is considered a pretty smart thing to do, but there are a lot of unplanned pregnancies in comic books. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Tygra and the Skrull posing as Hank Pym, Jamie Madrox and Siryn to name a few. Even Batman discovered he had a son he didn’t know about, although to be fair, that one was on Talia Al Ghul, so we’ll give him a pass. He probably carries a condom in his utility belt anyway, since he always thinks 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
An even bigger issue than unplanned pregnancies, as they can lead to great things in the right circumstances (Jessica Jones and Luke Cage became a happy family along with baby Danielle) is the issue of sexually transmitted diseases. While AIDS was touched upon in the comics of the ‘90s, it hasn’t been addressed since. With several superheroes hooking up and seemingly not being careful about it, it sets a bad example for readers.
We’ve touched upon endangering kids and teen sidekicks, but even adults can be put into terrible situations by trusting their friends to have their best interests at heart. Ben Grimm is probably the most obvious example of this. When Reed Richards built the ship that took the people that would become The Fantastic Four into space, he didn’t have adequate shielding on board, and the crew was mutated by cosmic radiation. While Reed, Sue, and Johnny all gained super powers with little cost, poor Ben Grimm was transformed into a grotesque “Thing”. And even though the two have remained friends and teammates, Ben has shown on occasion that he does resent Reed on some level.
It’s not just Reed Richards who is responsible for this level of jerk behaviour either. Hank Pym famously created Ultron, who has endangered every living Avenger since. Batman leads both the Bat Family and The Outsiders into highly dangerous situations and creates a deadly living environment for his pals, which has cost Jason Todd, Stephanie Brown, and Barbara Gordon most of all.
While some superheroes are great parents -- Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are pretty amazing, especially given the insane circumstances they've found themselves in over the years -- it’s pretty common for many to put their kids after their superhero antics.
Cyclops, king of jerks, is a lousy father. He left the X-Men after the supposed death of his beloved Jean and fathered a child with his wife Madelyn. After a short time of domestic bliss, he heard that Jean was still alive and abandoned his wife and son to join Jean. His mentor Xavier is just as bad, as he had no involvement with his son Legion for years, despite the boy desperately needing his father's support. Much of Legion's suffering as an adult could have been eased if Xavier had given him some more of his time.
Batman, upon learning he had a son, trained him to be the next Robin. While young Damien was highly skilled, having trained with the League of Assassins, it was hugely irresponsible to let him become a hero at such a young age. A good and responsible parent may have taken the opportunity to actually pass on the role of Batman and give Damien the one thing Bruce himself never had: a normal childhood and a loving father that was there for him. He also smacked Dick Grayson around a few times and even once returned him to an orphanage. The Dark Knight isn't winning any Father of the Year trophies anytime soon.
While hero fighting hero is really popular again right now (two of 2016’s biggest movies feature these showdowns at the center of their plot), it’s something that has happened for decades. The obligatory hero fights hero before teaming up to fight the villain is a staple of the genre. But while heroes fighting each other is cool for us, the audience, it allows the villains to grow far, far stronger. Anything a hero does that actually helps a villain is a jerk thing to do. After the first Marvel Civil War, the heroes were scattered and it set the stage for Norman Osborn to rise to power in the so-called “Dark Reign”. While the status quo was eventually re-established, many people suffered as a result.
While neither of Marvel’s comic-book Civil War events have been masterminded by a villain, both have helped villains gain an advantage over their heroic adversaries. Conversely, Batman v Superman’s fight was almost entirely engineered by the string-pulling Lex Luthor. It makes you wonder why a hero would ever throw a punch at another hero without first checking to see if he’s being played.
While we have addressed teammates putting each other in danger, there’s also the long-standing trope of heroes actually creating the disaster they face. Admittedly, it’s almost always done inadvertently, but still, when you meddle with something as powerful as artificial intelligence or the infinity stones, the chances are that things will spiral out of control really quickly.
It often forms part of the hero’s journey to create the threat, and then defeat it at great personal cost. Sometimes it’s as literal as 1989’s Batman, where Batman himself directly causes Jack Napier to fall into a vat of chemicals which causes him to become The Joker.
There is also the long-standing theory that the mere existence of superheroes is responsible for the existence of the villains to begin with. In Captain America: Civil War, the Vision theorizes that the strength of The Avengers invites challenge, and that is why there have been so many world-threatening events since their formation.
Back in the day, heroes didn’t generally kill. But in dire circumstances, they would be forced to in order to serve the greater good. But as anti-heroes have become more popular, killing has become more popular once more. While a righteous kill can be a necessary thing, there’s rarely a legitimate excuse for murder.
But several heroes have gone rogue and committed (or attempted to commit) pre-meditated murder. Wolverine, on learning Magneto had become ruler of Genosha, ran danger room scenarios to plan an act of murder. Red Hulk, on his own initiative, infiltrated the X-Men’s former island home to assassinate the Phoenix-Five. Even recently, Hawkeye shot Bruce Banner with a special gamma-inhibitor arrow to kill him. This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing -- it was a well-planned murder.
While many of the things we have talked about here are simple jerk moves, murder is easily one of the very worst things a person can do. In a world where heroes commit murder, who is the hero and who is the villain?
What common superhero action would you like to have seen on our list? Let us know in the comments.