I think there’s no question that the most fruitful explorations of the superhero genre on-screen in recent years have come when movies explore what it would actually be like to live in a society with superheroes in it, from the regulatory regime of The Incredibles:
To the marketer-meets-superman schtick of Hancock:
To the history-altering impact of the Watchmen to the world-building and self-organization that’s happening in the Marvel Universe through the storyline kicked off by Iron Man:
So I think FX’s new show, Powers, is extremely promising. Rather than focusing on people with superpowers, the show will focus on the homicide detectives who deal with crimes inflected by the involvement of people with superpowers. It’s a smart, logical choice that builds out the worlds in which superheroes operate. We’ve always gotten sneak peeks of these people, whether they’re clothing superheroes like Edna Mole, or relocating them, like the Parrs’ handler in The Incredibles. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Joss Whedon was adding S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Maria Hill to The Avengers, not just because she’s a great, tough female character, but because she fills in the apparatus that would make it possible for superheroes to do their thing.
And the superhero bureaucracy is a great way to build a bridge between the audience and the heroes themselves. Most of us have acknowledged that we’re never going to get transformed by a spider bite or a sudden revelation of divine ancestry. But we can imagine what we might do if we met someone who was, or loved them, or worked with them. How cool would it be to do our jobs in a world where something extraordinary could happen? It’s a step closer to wish fulfillment.