It’s common for people to be inspired by superheroes, to be drawn to what they represent. Larger than life characters like Superman and Thor represents hope. They wield god-like powers and use it to benefit mankind. But they aren’t human or prone to the imperfections of mortality. Human superheroes like Batman fail on a frequent basis. They have personal lives that are fraught with tragedy. They fuck up and have to live with the consequences of their actions. The same can be said for many ‘street-level’ superheroes, and they are the most interesting to me. But what is the appeal of a street-level superhero and why do we tend to gravitate to them?
A street-level superhero can be defined as a character who doesn’t have any powers or their powers are low level. Daredevil can be considered street-level because his abilities have some basis in reality.
Some of the most interesting stories are told through the eyes of a street-level superhero. Jessica Jones is a great example because her life was shown in great detail during Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias series. Jones walked away from the Avengers because she felt so small compared to the likes of Captain America and Thor. Her self-doubt was crippling and she turned to alcohol to numb herself. She was flawed and she made mistakes. But at the end of it all, Jones was able to reconnect with what it meant to be a hero and found a meaningful relationship with Luke Cage.
I think the appeal of these characters go back to them being so relatable. What’s more interesting? A character who can’t be beaten? Or a character who is faced with human problems supplanted into an extraordinary setting? Overcoming adversity is something that anyone can relate to. It builds empathy for a superhero and we can see our own struggles reflected in theirs.
I’d say Batman is the most famous example of a street-level hero. But he’s unique in the sense that he regularly gone up against world-ending stakes. He’s battled gods, been sent back in time and fought in different realities. His mortality is constantly tested against threats that heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman would have less trouble dealing with.
I’ve included a list of lesser known street-level superheroes that are worth looking into:
• Iron Fist
• Colleen Wing
• Misty Knight
• Moon Knight
• Silver Sable
• White Tiger
• Lady Blackhawk
• Renee Montoya
• Richard Dragon
• Speedy/Mia Dearden
Street-level superheroes are the people we should aspire to be like because they’re a lot closer to who we are.