BY MATT TUCK
It’s Labor Day, but crime never rests. Instead of saluting the working-class superheroes, let’s acknowledge the villains just looking for a piece of the American dream.
THE WORKING CLASS SUPERHERO
Everyone loves a down-to-Earth, working-class hero story. They’re the underdogs, struggling under the weight of society. They are the Rocky Balboas of the world; the guy on the street who’s just like the rest of us, fighting the good fight while dealing with day-to-day problems. We love them because they are relatable, and their uphill battles make them easy to cheer for. We love them when they win, and sometimes we love them even more when they lose because they never lose their pride. The working-class heroes never forget who they are or where they came from, and we admire them for it.
Comics have been using the formula for years, and they are some of the most successful characters in the business. There’s no better example than Spider-Man, the consummate high school or college student, depending on who’s writing, struggling to balance a normal life with the exhausting duties of being a superhero. Raised by his aunt in Queens, New York, he is one of us. He doesn’t have the luxury of being a billionaire; he has to pay rent (which he will pay once the landlord fixes that damned door), hold down a job, and even do laundry. After 59 years since he debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15, it’s that same core formula that draws readers to him today.
By no means is he the only one. Captain America falls under that working-class hero title (he’s just a kid from Brooklyn), as well as the Fantastic Four’s Thing. For that matter, Wolverine and the Punisher can be counted among the working class; they came from nothing, they speak in plain language, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
While it’s easy to sing the praises of the blue-collar superheroes, what about the blue-collar villains? Not the overpowered, world-conquering and universe-destroying godlike beings, but the street-level villains looking for the good life. They aren’t trying to commit mass murder or topple governments or rule the galaxy. Without them, who are the working-class superheroes in the first place?
FIRST APPEARANCE: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50
How could I not start the list with Wilson Fisk?
When it comes to street-level crime, the Kingpin is the archetype. Sure, he is filthy rich and the center of a criminal empire, but he started from the ground up and built it with his bare hands (covered in blood, much of the time). Embodying every fictional mob boss you have ever seen from The Godfather to The Sopranos, Fisk isn’t looking to dominate the world under his iron fist; he’s looking to expand his underground grasp by any means necessary.
THE WRECKING CREW
FIRST APPEARANCES (AS A TEAM): DEFENDERS #17 (CAMEO) & DEFENDERS #18 (FULL)
To paraphrase the Allman Brothers Band, they’re just trying to make a living and doing the best they can.
It doesn’t get any more blue collar than the Wrecking Crew. The lovable losers and punching bags of the Marvel Universe, the trio started life as smash-and-grab robbers serving prison time when Wrecker’s crowbar was enchanted with Asgardian magic. He shared that power with his cohorts, and the construction crew criminals put their stamp on Marvel. When you carry magic weapons like crowbars, how can you not be blue collar criminals?
FIRST APPEARANCE: THE NEW TEEN TITANS #2
At first glance, you may not think Slade Wilson would be a working-class villain. He’s an assassin with millions of dollars worth of equipment at his disposal. Yet, he began as an ordinary person who trained and worked his way through the military before being a super-soldier experiment of his own. He came from nothing to establish himself as the premiere hired gun and the most deadly hand-to-hand combatant in all of DC Comics. In many ways, he is the antithesis to Batman. While they possess many of the same skills, Slade earned his way to riches where Bruce Wayne inherited his fortune.
FIRST APPEARANCE: LEGENDS #1
DC’s mistress of government deception, Amanda Waller fits the bill as a blue collar villain. The most interesting feature about Amanda Waller is that she doesn’t see herself as a villain at all. From her vantage point, she is protecting the entire country, oftentimes from itself, and that includes the heroes she generally finds herself pitted against. She’s not aiming to put herself in the presidency or become some military dictator; Waller is serving her country, and she doesn’t let those pesky morals or value for human life stand in her way. It’s not about money, though it very often is about power. In the end, Amanda Waller views herself as the ultimate patriot.
FIRST APPEARANCE: THE HOOD #1
When it comes to street-level villainy, the Hood is the perfect rags-to-riches story. As the story goes, Parker Robbins was a boy when he saw Electro take on Daredevil. Instead of being inspired by DD’s heroics, Parker was more impressed with Electro and decided then he wanted to be the bad guy.
As a teenager, Parker dropped out of high school to care for his sick mother, resorting to a life of crime to keep the lights on and the hospital bills paid. One day during a burglary, he came upon a demon in a red cloak and boots. Parker killed the demon and took his things, soon discovering that the items were magical. It elevated his illegal shenanigans to new heights, propelling him to crime boss status.
WHO DID I MISS?
Of course there are many more characters that fit the criteria. Who did I miss? Post a comment and nominate your own working-class supervillain. Let’s have some fun.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.