Ask The Trope Fairy: The Advantage Villains Will Always Have Over Superheroes
Ask the Trope Fairy is an advice column for characters navigating science fiction and fantasy realms. In this dimension, advice is published on alternate Fridays.
Dear Trope Fairy,
Recently, I fought a super villain. Well, he wasn’t really all that super, but he had me and everybody else convinced. It sounds so dumb now. He said he was a dimensional traveller whose world had been destroyed, but it turns out the monsters he was fighting were just clever projections and tech. He ended up using the same technology to trick me into giving him even more powerful tech — enough to allow him to fake a monster destroying London — are you following the news in this dimension? Because that could really save us some time, and I would really love to discuss the ramifications of the different dimensions you mention sometime after all of this is over.
I defeated him, and I thought he was dead and gone. I was relieved that I won and determined not to be fooled again and the girl I like even told me she liked me too and helped me in the battle. And then the news played a message from the super villain, still pretending to be a hero, that made it sound like I was the one who had orchestrated the attack. And the city turned on Spiderman fast.
And that would have been bad enough, but he also told them my real identity. So now there are angry people after me and government agencies and…well, the tech Iron Man left me is pretty intense and his head of security is dating my aunt, so I was able to get away from danger and into hiding with almost everyone important to me but…what now? I just live my life in hiding? Don’t hero anymore? Don’t finish high school or go to college or see the girl I finally convinced to date me again or…?
I’ve been thinking about how to solve the problem, but the accident that gave me powers is a one off. There are people with more power who might help undo what the super villain did but…I’m not sure what to do. I didn’t want to be a super spy swooping in and out to save the day, never having a normal life. I don’t want to live at Avenger’s headquarters or in hiding. I don’t want to be a secret weapon fighting big battles. I wanted to be the Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman, helping out in big crises sometimes but also just cleaning up my city and living a normal life at least some of the time.
Can I ever get that back?
Public Enemy #1
Let’s not pretend when your picture is everywhere.
Quite a mess it sounds like — I can’t claim I figured out even half of that from just the public debate and interdimensional dispatches. Was there a way to convincingly deny Spiderman’s apparent villainy, your secret identity, or both in the moment? Probably?
But either way that moment is gone. And I cannot encourage your veiled suggestion of using the magic in your dimension to mind control those around you or mess with time. Do not mess with time.
And messing with the general population’s feelings and knowledge with magic would make you just as bad as the supervillain you defeated. Or nearly, anyway.
Your deeper dilemma is a common one for those in your trade, however high or low their profile. One of the main downsides of being a superhero rather than a villain or a crusader for either “side” of a conflict is being stuck in Reaction Mode. The superhero model is one that responds to others’ plans. It makes sense! You’re saving people all the time, on down days you try to claw out a life and still save a couple little old ladies. And even then you’re in the spotlight.
The villains, on the other hand, can plan for months or years in obscurity, perfecting a series of back-up plans and contingencies and dying revenges. And they can study you, with your public profile so high. Whether they figure out your secret identity or not, they can learn to predict you at least in battle mode.
Whereas you fly in, try to figure out what is destroying the city and then stop it all in one day, figuring out the why and how only on the fly (or swing). You do it well, kid. I promise you do. I’m a big fan.
But as bad as your current situation is, it comes with one advantage you’ve never really had before: time.
Time in seclusion with no one to fight or rescue or endanger you or your loved ones.
Time to sit and think and research not on a deadline, which often requires you to make a best guess and hope you’re right rather than double and triple confirm.
Time to set up a plan more foolproof than can be achieved in a plane ride.
Time to figure out a plan with as many contingencies as your cleverest enemies can devise.
Time to work out a plan that gets back everything you need.
Time to figure out exactly who you want to be, as Spiderman and as Peter Parker, and make a plan to get it with lots of failsafes, backups plans, and alternate options.
It’s an advantage superheroes rarely get, and you came by it in a very costly fashion. But you have time to plan, to take weeks or months (though I recommend not taking years) to plan a return that restores everything important. Even your privacy as Peter, if you’re clever.
And, frankly, a priority should be crafting a return that discredits the image technology your supervillain used and a plan that strongly discourages any other villains who want to mess with the populace’s minds collectively in this way again. So take your time. Think.
I realize it can feel like the world is moving too fast. I know each second can feel like a year in times like yours. But take the time and think and plan and make a lot of contingencies so that you aren’t caught flat-footed again. And then come back to us.
Transcribed and annotated by Katy Mulvaney with permission from the League of Fairy Surrogates and the Interdimensional Meta — Fantasy Council. The Trope Fairy can be reached by feeding your letter to a cow as white as milk along with a rose as red as blood, grass as green as corn, and water as pure as gold. I realize there is some misinformation out there regarding this recipe, but these are the only acceptable potion ingredients to ensure that your letter reaches us.