Small towns sometimes need superheroes just as much as the big cities do, so why is there such a lack of capes in the flyover states?
No superhero looks good in a cowboy hat. Maybe that’s why no caped crusader has bothered to settle down in rural America. There’s just as many problems in Middle America as there is in Gotham, Metropolis and New York. So why are there no superheroes that never left the farm?
Flyover country gets a bad rap. Largely ignored in much of the comic book medium, unless to point out how seedy it is, the heartland has almost no representation on the glossy pages of comics. Sure, Clark Kent grew up in Smallville and spent his formative years honing his Superman abilities among the wheat fields. But he sure didn’t stick around. Even though aliens, supervillains and other potentially planet-threatening entities seem to always target New York or D.C., that doesn’t mean that small-town America doesn’t need super-powered help now and again.
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Crime, corrupt local cops, domestic violence, child abuse, the opioid crisis and underfunded mental health all have deep and rotten roots across small towns in the real world. So is it that much of a stretch that superheroes wouldn’t sometimes stop by to lend a hand? Well yes, apparently. While there have been spare storylines that take place in the Midwest or other rural regions, there is no Iowa Man or Nebraska Nightwing. And why not?
It’s hard to justify ongoing storylines in Middle America where, let’s face it, not a lot happens. Sure there are problems everywhere and everybody deserves help. But superheroes deal with world-ending and universe-shattering threats. They don’t really have time to deal with the little guys. Even crime fighters that work a beat when there’s no impending threat would be wasting super-powered muscles on waiting for crime in small communities. That’s not to say that problems facing rural America should go unnoticed. Everything that starts on a national level trickles down to local levels and can often hurt smaller communities more. But there aren’t big enough stakes in rural America to justify a superhero presence. Lex Luthor isn’t trying to obliterate Kansas because he hates Superman. Norman Osborn doesn’t fly his Goblin Glider across the plains to torch a barn in Wyoming to get back at Spider-Man for a quip about his outfit. And Ra’s al Ghul isn’t about to set up a League of Shadows insurgency in Montana.
Plus superheroes are way outside their element in rural America. Spider-Man can’t swing his way around on corn stalks along the prairie. Iron Man would run out of juice for his repulsors by the time he flew across North Dakota to get to a threat at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. There are serious obstacles in the way of top-tier superheroes when it comes to covering the massive Midwest area. And secret identities would be even harder to keep hidden in a small town. Every neighbor knows each other’s business and there are few secrets among a small populace. Batman’s super tech and Batcave would be discovered quickly if it were situated in the forested panhandle of Idaho. You can’t hide a Batmobile in a potato field. Snooping locals could probably bust any secret identity in a matter of weeks since gossip is basically a form of currency in small towns.
But still, how come no low-level hero with mediocre powers hangs out in Wisconsin? Where is Captain Middle America? Several heroes started out small. Wolverine grew up in northern Alberta, Canada, and spent his tragic backstory days in the Yukon and even stayed with the Blackfeet Indian tribe for a short stint. But that’s all these rural stories amass to, a short stint. Superman is about the only exception with his Smallville miniseries in the 1980s and 1990s, though even those runs are brief compared to his Metropolis adventures. Small towns tend to lend themselves to small stories. Another reason superheroes choose metropolitan life is because the comic publishers are based in urban cities and show their big-city bias. Small towns get the short stick in comics and while comics could definitely benefit from broadening stories to the suburbs, there is a limit to the number of plot lines writers could exploit in tiny towns.
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