In our modern world, one of the most misused words regarding super-heroes is “relatable.” “Relatable” super-heroes are often confused with plausibility or realism and heroes often claimed to be relatable sometimes don’t live up to that mantle when examined more closely. For the purposes of this column, “relatable” is a trait that most readers would have (i.e. struggling with finances, bad luck, ect). Much of this will be subjective, but I’ve tried to be as fair as possible, as I’m aware that every character can be relatable to someone).
Even BEFORE Bruce Wayne became Batman he wasn’t relatable–how many of us are the children of deceased Old Money billionaires and good at everything, whether it be science, detective work, or martial arts? When written poorly, Batman becomes a Mary Sue, doing things and winning against opponents that no human–no matter how well-trained–could. As one of Batman’s most recent and influential writers, Grant Morrison, has said: Superman is actually more realistic than Batman, because at least Superman has his alien physiology as the reason why he can do all the unbelievable things he does.
None of this takes away from the fact that Batman is a great character (in my mind, he’s the second best super-hero of all time), he just isn’t like you or me, and that’s a good thing.
If you’re reading this article, then you’re likely not insane or a murderer, both traits of the vigilante known as Rorschach. Despite having no powers, Rorschach possessing amazing physical capabilities and a sharp, but deeply troubled, mind. While Alan Moore wanted to explore how someone like Batman–a crime-fighter driven by vengeance–would be like in the real-world, he came up with Rorschach. But while Rorschach’s physical capabilities and loneliness might be relatable, the rest of the character isn’t (and thank God for that). Rorschach is a bigot (being openly racist, sexist, and homophobic), reactionary political ideologue, conspiracy theorist, and worships strength and power in the service of controlling society. Rorschach is a good example of a character who we like to read about, but who we would hate in real-life. He’s not one of the “relatable” super-heroes because the people reading about him don’t have his alien and fundamentally warped perception of reality–he’s almost as different from us as Dr. Manhattan.
Tony has almost all of the same issues Batman has: born to a wealthy family, genius intellect, good at most everything he does, attractive, etc. That being said, he is a bit more relatable than Batman, being an alcoholic, a womanizer, and having questionable solutions to problems (see Civil War), and a huge ego. Then there is the original gimmick that made him relatable: the Iron Man suit that kept him alive. And yet, despite all his flaws, he still doesn’t go through the stuff a street-level hero or regular Joe would. Tony doesn’t worry much about his job, his love life, or whether people like him or not–he does whatever he thinks is the best solution to a problem, regardless of whether anyone agrees or not. His non-super-villain problems and flaws are the flaws and problems of a rock-star or famous actor, rather than someone who faces a daily struggle.
Seemingly unkillable due to his mutant healing factor and an amazing fighter, Wolverine already stands apart from us. And again, he’s a BETTER character because he isn’t like us. Wolverine has lived far longer than any of us, he’s been involved with conspiracies and international conflicts, been to alien worlds and different dimensions, seen things that would make the bravest of us flee in terror, and yet he keeps going on, overcoming and surviving everything put in his way. Unlike us, he’s the best at what he does (bub).
Similar to Rorschach, The Punisher has no powers and has a black and white view of the world; unlike Rorschach, I don’t see The Punisher as insane, nor is he a hypocrite like Rorschach. Instead, I’d argue that The Punisher is a sane man in an insane world, and copes with that insanity the best way he knows how: by gunning down criminals and taking his rage out on them. While The Punisher is called relatable less than some others on the list, the fact that he’s just a “normal” human with weapons makes some erroneously consider him like other people–he isn’t. He’s essentially a much more competent and less deluded survivalist type, only one more concerned with crime than politics or global warfare. I’d compare him to those people who had their own bunkers during the Cold War and were fully prepared to shoot anyone who tried to get in.