True Superheroes Should be Replaceable

The final cuts from Marvel’s Infinity War reveal devastating losses. Thanos has gained control of all six Infinity stones and enacts his horrific plan to randomly disintegrate half of the world’s population. This random number includes superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy and more. Despite the anticipation of most of the fans that Marvel will surely reverse some, if not all, of these deaths (due to previously released movie titles), the audience is left wondering what is next. With most of the superhero family gone, there aren’t many heroes left to whom the world can turn to for help. This leads us to ask–why did the Avengers leave the world so dependent on them?

Tony Stark grieves the death of SpiderMan.

Obviously, most superheroes are super in every way, like Thor or Captain America who seem downright indestructible. But others, like Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hulk, are just human beings with exceptional talents. We assume that like every other mortal they could die of natural causes leaving not much behind except a world that has become used to their abilities to save the day. Wouldn’t true heroes be thinking ahead, planning on how to both replicate themselves or find others with giftings to train?

Preparing for the Future

The idea of preparing for the future can be seen to some extent in the Marvel universe. Both Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and Shield take an intentional approach to finding new recruits and training them. However, in the case of the X-Men their focus is more on the protection of their gifted students, rather than training them to be protectors of the world. The school is eventually destroyed, and the students go into hiding. Shield fares no better. Their issues revolve around political bureaucracy and corruption which eventually leads to its downfall and the conflict between Captain America and Ironman (Captain America: Civil War). People are left not knowing whom they can trust and without clear leadership. The fact that both of these organizations ultimately fail at their goals leads the viewers to wonder how important it was to the overall Marvel theme in the first place. In both of these situations, people became dependent on something bigger than themselves, making them weaker as a result.

Making the World Better

Also important to consider is how the gifts they do have are used to better the world. Black Panther explores this theme by making it a main focus of the conflict. Wakanda is an ideal civilization with advanced technology set in the heart of Africa. Though they have the means to cure diseases and develop fascinating tech, they keep their gifts hidden from the world. The conflict emerges when an unknown Wakandan (child of exiled royalty) returns with a vision to use Wakandan technology to help oppressed African-Americans through violent means. He is thwarted, however, and dies by his own hand after taking one last look at the city. Nevertheless, his aim is at least partially accomplished–he gets Wakanda to become involved in the struggles of the world, namely of those of African descent. The final scene of Black Panther shows T’Challa deciding to use what they have learned to help those in need instead of selfishly keeping it to themselves.

Though his particular view was limited to a particular race, his idea of using the technology and giftings of the superheroes is an idea that could be developed more in the Marvel Universe. With the combined abilities and knowledge of the all the superheroes, amazing things could be accomplished. Would it be ridiculous for the superheroes to use their abilities to end world hunger or design sustainable living environments for those who live in poverty? This principle applied to all of the superheroes makes their exploits, while beneficial in protecting the fate of all humankind, fall short of an ideal to which superheroes should aspire. Though they work hard to protect Earth, they often leave a trail of destruction, rather than hope.

The beautiful Wakanda with technology that could help people all over the world.

It could be argued that we can’t assume that more could be going on behind the scenes than the producers reveal. There are hints in the movies of Ironman’s green technology and some evidence of training of new superheroes. However, the fact that each movie focuses on the present danger and not a future reality reveals a flaw in the superhero genre. It is a flaw we do well to consider. We can also be caught up in the crises of the moment instead of working ahead, creating a future that is better for us having been in it. Superheroes often seem like they are deciding things in the spur of the moment, rather than developing a plan that would truly enrich the world. Though Ironman is probably the closest to this, his contributions still seem limited in scope. They are also quite dependent on him and his genius in order to be utilized.

Incredibly Weakened

Screenslaver believes superheroes make people weak.

In fact, in the recently released Incredibles 2, this claim of the dependence on superheroes fuels the villain’s plans. Screenslaver (the villain) is disgusted with the superheroes because she blames her parents’ over-reliance on them as the cause of their death. They had direct lines to two different superheroes in their home. One night, there is a break-in and the father goes straight to these phones to get help. Unfortunately, due to the now illegal status of the superheroes, neither is available, and the father is shot and killed and the mother dies a few months later from grief. Screenslaver, in antithesis to her brother who blames the law, blames their parents for not going to the safe room or defending themselves. She claims that depending on superheroes makes people weak and unable to take care of themselves. She equates this with the general desire to make life as easy as possible through technology instead of doing the hard work of living.

Good Leaders are Replaceable

True superheroes, of the mortal or immortal kind, should make themselves replaceable. Any true leader knows that making others dependent on them creates a situation that is not feasible for leader or follower. Instead, good leadership focuses on investing in those with whom he or she works, helping others reach their potential. The goal is that the grander vision, which is bigger than any one person, can be accomplished should anything happen to the leader. This is humble leadership. This is also very difficult. It is much easier to micromanage and to be in control, but this is stifling and unproductive. This is a view that does not think of what is most important but is concerned only with what is urgent. This seems to be a theme of our Marvel superheroes and a warning to those in leadership in our real lives.

Imagine how the battle with Thanos could have gone if the population of the world had been prepared. Imagine also this tiny planet, armed and equipped with not just a handful of superheroes, but with the belief that they could collectively defend themselves. The true gift of the superheroes would be more than just their individual talents but in their ability to inspire and prepare an entire people to become super themselves instead of dependent on others to save the day. Now that would be a story!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
I'm an historical England enthusiast who would gladly step back into that past, but only for a day and only as a rich person. My specialities are literature and film.

Want to write about Film or other art forms?

Create writer account


  1. Stanford

    Maybe half the population of the Marvel universe was transported to the DC universe and we’ll start to see some decent films from them.

    • tclaytor

      Lol! The DC/Marvel rivalry!

    • Now you are asking for the impossible . Even in an infinite universe with infinite realities , Mr Doctor could search them all for days and not find one reality where DC films (post Nolan of course ) were any good

      Justice leagues biggest crime wasn’t that it was bad , just that it was so instantly forgettable

  2. Name: Alpha

    I love the topic of this article. Shame superheroes are not making themselves replaceable indeed.

  3. There were kids crying in the cinema at the end when I watched it and a general air of stunned silence.

    I feel the ending of Infinity War will be a key cultural moment to nostalgise about for these kids in the future.

    • tclaytor

      I agree! I actually even wrote about it in another article! Lol! I compared it to Empire Strikes Back when I was a kid.

    • When I left the cinema after watching it all I could think of was that this is how it must have felt to watch Empire Strikes Back for the first time

    • Cameron

      Sorry but no. Our popular culture is so fragmented now the next “where were you” is more likely to be an Instagram post.

  4. Just watched The Infinity War tonight it was absolutely AWESOME. Oh it was so shocking and I am still wondering if those who faded away (not accepted they have died) are in another reality.


    • tclaytor

      I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how they resolve it! Since they have movies lined up for several of the characters, there have to be some reversals.

    • Alphonse Bragg

      I think those that survived will be the ones killed off in the next film i.e. the original avengers. Thor might survive otherwise there are no Asgardians left. They will be martyrs so that those turned to dust will return.

  5. Lexzie

    Very interesting article. And I appreciate the Incredibles 2 tie-in. That was a movie that surprised me since I was in the minority of not really liking the original Incredibles all too much, but thoroughly enjoyed Incredibles 2.

    I agree with your overall theme presented in the article, especially since I’m in the camp that after this MCU phase there will be a shift in how their superheroes are portrayed.

    • tclaytor

      Thanks! I had already written the article and then went and saw Incredibles 2 with my kids. I couldn’t believe how well it connected with what I wrote. I really enjoyed that movie!

  6. “all of the Guardians of the Galaxy”
    No, Rocket Raccoon survived: all the others died, though. This is an important fact.
    I also don’t think it would be a good idea to make everyone super powered, because then there wouldn’t be any such thing as a “superhero,” since such would be “normal.” Furthermore, human technology would be largely incapable of competing directly against the hyper-advanced alien weaponry and superpowers, not to mention outright magi-technology.

    • tclaytor

      Thanks for catching that error!

      I wasn’t really arguing for everyone to become super-powered but that the superheroes would become more proactive instead of reactive.

  7. Maribel

    Marvel’s have ben a top notch franchise, I’ve never watched Fast & Furrious, even fantasy has to conect to reality and weightless cars which never crash and brun, or kill or maim is just irresponsible, while Star Wars is for the chronically infantile.

  8. I really like The Infinity Wars. It deserved its success. Just an enjoyable romp that romped along.

    My only warning to the people running the Marvel Universe film franchise is don’t think this film automatically guarantees you infinity profits if you just stick to one formula.

    This franchise has worked for me until now because they mixed and matched: very interesting origin movies (Black Panther, Iron Man, Ant Man, and Spiderman: homecoming) mixed with bigger ensemble pieces like the Avengers and X-Men.

    If they keep mining the interesting stories in the Marvel Universe (Silver Surfer, the Galactacus storylines, Submariner, and Cloak and Dagger) this franchise has a future.

    It does worry me when I hear of movie being planned a decade from now but as long as keep spicing it up with the equivalent of different, interesting individuals from that universe ( Black panther, Captain Marvel) I am in.

    • I loved Black Panther so much, but I gotta say Cap America: The First Avenger might be my favourite origin story ever put to film

  9. I really wish I could love the MCU franchise… I really enjoyed Iron Man, Spiderman Homecoming, Ant Man and Deadpool – they surprised on one level or another.

    But the other Iron Man films, the Incredible Hulk, every Avengers film, the Thor films and Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy… haven’t yet seen Black Panther… I just feel like they’re so paint-by-numbers.

    I’ll go see Infinity War, hopefully it’ll give me a new perspective on the MCU films I don’t care for.

  10. Any good story arc has to have an ending. Just how it works. The temptatiom to milk a franchise past its used by date generally leads to a loss of interest before a finale and works like that are ultimately not memorable. Hopefully they end a few of these arcs before they become too hollow.

    Having said that these films are just a bit of fun so i guess its not too important.

    Although, i thought Thanos was a great villain. With more screen time to develop depth in character he could have been elevated to a Nolan level villain. Josh Brolin is the best actor to be involved in the entire series in my opinion.

    • Spoken like a true non comicbook reader.
      These films are not ‘just a bit of fun’.

      They are cinematic adaptations of the genius works of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jim Starlin etc. Superhero’s are the modern worlds myths and legend makers, and Marvel Studios have revolutionised blockbuster entertainment in a way no other studio is able to replicate despite their best efforts and in turn birthed a rabid and loyal fan base.

      Nolan’s First two Batman films were great crime thrillers but left a lot to be desired as an adaptation of the comics. Brolin’s Thanos is much more faithful to the source material than Ledger’s Joker, and all the better for it.

  11. I’m expecting some form of storyline where people like Stark and Rodgers have to sacrifice themselves to bring back the lost 50%.

    Cap seems like the most likely to be the heroic sacrifice and there is a small part of me that wants Tony and Pepper to be able to settle down properly

    • There’s actually a rumour that’s been floating around for a while that RDJ wont let them kill off Iron Man. Not completely sure how that works as he’s a large part of what made the universe work but he’s still an actor in a movie and not the head of Disney or anything but anyway he probably still has value for reduced cameos as more of a background character for a while to come and maybe down the track we can even get one last big showing for him when it’s time to completely kill off the character.

      Cap you’re right in that he’s most likely to be a heroic sacrifice, to stop Thanos/undo the snap, as it seems to be the only way someone like Captain America would ever exit anyway, it’s what a soldier like him does. I do like that you didn’t even mention Thor as an option, because what with him essentially being the last of his people (though Loki never stays gone for long) and having been through so much, they’ve actually still got plenty of material for the character, good enough for at least one more solo film even.

  12. Omalley

    The remaining Avengers need that infinity stone that controls time to get back the characters that disappeared?

    But as Stark said in the first film , ‘we may not win but we sure as hell will avenge‘

  13. Superheroes are the new global religion and watching their films is an act of faith that cannot be matched in our profane, ultra-secular developed societies.

  14. Your comments on Iron Man not doing enough for the world are very interesting. Tony Stark is, canonically, a futurist. He’s all about trying to predict the future so he can prepare for it. In business, it’s so he can offer a potential solution to a future problem or need and thus make profit from his ability to predict. As a superhero, it’s about anticipating the next big threat and preparing, in his case, suits of armor ready to protect him and the people he loves. This leads to PTSD in Iron Man 3, creating something he can’t control in Age of Ultron, a desire to restrict other superheroes in Civil War, and a general obsession by the time of Infinity War with taking on the big threat… himself!
    This brings me to your point. Iron Man was very future-oriented, but a little too egotistical to think about passing the torch or even swallowing his pride for the sake of teamwork.
    Of course, in the end, stories like these wouldn’t be nearly as effective or, to be blunt, profitable for movie studios if the main characters were quick to step down. They’re built with great heroic traits as well as personal flaws to work out over the course of their story arcs, and they need to remain in the spotlight for the sake of those story arcs.

    • tclaytor

      You definitely hit on the one very big weakness to my article–a hero who steps down doesn’t fit in the narrative arc very well. I can’t help though but think of the Lego Movie (don’t judge I have kids! Lol!) where this ended up being an important theme. The idea was that even the ordinary person can accomplish extraordinary things and, working together, we can accomplish more than individually.

  15. When Thanos clicked his fingers and had his vision of Gamora as a child, I assumed he was dead. I assumed he’d forgotten the part where the stones wipe people out randomly, “both the weak and the strong”.

    I thought that would have had a nice logic to it as an ending; that his grand scheme swallowed him along with the rest of the 50% of the universe. It seemed neater somehow.

  16. Teofila

    Thought the Avengers movies were dull as dish water. Many other better written movies – Marvel ones – have been released. Thought deadpool was hilarious and the Civil war movie was brilliant. Avengers just struck me as forced unlike others in the series.

  17. It was good to see the hugely underrated Carrie Coon from The Leftovers as Proxima whatever-it-is. Made slightly spookier by the ending, where 50% of the universe’s population disappear, mirroring the plotline of The Leftovers. The post credits sting, with suddenly driverless cars and pilotless helicopters careening into buildings and crashing over pavements, immediately put me in mind of The Leftovers and its flashback scenes. Maybe intentional, I don’t know, but there were more interesting influences in this film than just the last Avengers.

  18. Superheroes are superhuman but they are not portrayed as super intelligent in almost all cases of their existence in movies as they are flawed just like ordinary folk at times and rue the possibility of their own demise even.
    As long as they are not super villains there is still hope for Earth and its inhabitants. Thanos may have annihilated most of the superheroes but the 6 crystals may yet hold mysterious powers of reincarnating the dead and so the story goes on with the protagonists winning the day with renewed vigour and new intelligence to outwit their nemesis to be educated to unlearn his destructive power to join the superheroes as one of them. Just a thought.

  19. Munjeera

    I agree with Dr Siva

  20. So many great points! While it was difficult as a long time fan to see those characters meet their end in Infinity War, I agree with the notion that there needs to be more emphasis on the replaceability of superheroes.

  21. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    An interesting discussion. I’m not completely sure I agree with the full premise, but that is the wonderful thing about discourses – engaging in a discussion. I think inherent within the definition of hero or leader is the characteristics that identify extraordinary in an ordinary world. I think interesting stories will evolve from the Marvel split, but in many ways what they need to highlight is the different between being superpowered and being a superhero, which is always an interesting dichotomy reflected in the struggles in the comics. Any way a great brain juices discussion, thanks.

  22. Tiarameke

    I hope thanos wins. I was talking to my mates and we all agree his plan is sound and fair

  23. As much as I love the Marvel movies, this article does make me think about how flawed these heroes are and how they can do so much more. Reminds me of how Bruce Wayne trains and mentors a replacement in the Batman Beyond animated series and I wonder what your thoughts are on that.

  24. tclaytor

    I think that’s a great idea! When we really think about, as much as we love them, they are a bit egotistical and not as great leaders as we’d think.

  25. It’s true that these superheroes can train other people to be like them, however they will always be the original superhero.

  26. The real problem with all that is…”When everyone’s super, no one will be.” And when nobody’s super, it’s hard to make profit from superhero movies. Soooooo…good idea in theory, but I think for now we all have to be reliant on these guys. Besides, when Tony tried to utilize his genius and create a “Peace in our time” for the world, he created Ultron…

  27. This a great conversation piece, I think! Not just from the stand point of superhero status, but of all people. Mankind as a whole. However, unlike superheros and ‘verses they inhabit – true is much stranger than fiction.

    Let’s say we took superheros and allowed them the function of trying to help humanity as a whole on the front that they, single handedly, could help make a better world – in steps the Government. Which, if we take any evidence of our petulant child and his stance on the wall, currently, would have nothing but red tape for superheros to mess around with.

    That’s what the Sokovia Accords (Registration Acts, in the comics) was more or less. Government involvement to aid, adhere, and regulated gift/advanced peoples. It started out as a way to help people thru proper channels, but later in its life (just like the suicide squad in DC) was used for nefarious deeds either with the help of those legally bound or against their will.

    I like and love the idea of advancing the story of bettering the world beyond a superhero and enpowering a people.

    I think it’s a story that NEEDS to be told, but in the current climate of MARVEL blockbusters….. I don’t see happening.

Leave a Reply