Nobody is coming to save us from the coronavirus or the deaths the incompetent Trump administration has caused. Ultraviolet light, bleach, and hydroxychloroquine are not cures. Even when there is a vaccine, distributing it will take months, if not years. In the meantime, the Republican misinformation machine has insured that a dedicated minority of Americans will resist all attempts to take basic precautions to protect the health and safety of our society. We are doomed by our leadership and ignorance to face more cases and more deaths from this disease than any other country on Earth.
I don’t know about you, but I can only stare into the abyss of our reality for so long until my mind retreats into fantasy. Nobody is coming to save us, but what if somebody could? Who could get us out of this mess that’s largely of our own making, and how? When I was a kid, I used to hide in comic books and sci-fi novels to avoid realities I couldn’t face head-on, like my parents’ crumbling marriage. That’s probably why I’m saving season two of The Umbrella Academy for the Republican National Convention week.
The upshot of my form of “self-care” is that I’ve come up with a list of superheroes who could actually help us fight the coronavirus and set our country back on the right track. Dr. Anthony Fauci can’t stop Trump from lying, but what if Fauci were bitten by a radioactive spider? Would that help? These are the questions I ask when Trump is allowed to talk on television without a fact-checker.
I’ve limited my list to six characters from the Marvel and D.C. comics universes, because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are just silly. And because I am progressive, Batman and Iron Man do not make my list. We do not need a militarized overreaction to our problems. We do not need more punching. Besides, we already know how Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark would react to our current crisis, because Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates already exist in real life. They don’t help. Instead, they use their wealth and technical wizardry to monopolize their industries and squeeze ever higher profit margins out of their workers. Sorry, wealthy ninjas. This is my fantasy, and the “due process is for wimps” crowd is not invited.
Here are the superheroes I’ve been turning to in my hours of dread.
Superhero #6: Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Donald Trump says we’re fighting an “invisible” virus, but that is wrong. It’s not invisible; it’s just very, very small. Ant-Man can make himself very small. Ant-Man is one of the only superheroes who can engage Covid-19 in hand-to-hand combat.
Unfortunately, each infected person contains millions of SARS-Cov-2 viruses, and Ant-Man is only one guy. Even if he had some way of fighting them all at the same time, he could only save one person at a time. He’s a case-by-case solution to a systemic problem: Deploying him is like arresting a bad police officer but doing nothing about the corrupt police force.
Again, punching isn’t really the answer here. But, if we could hire Ant-Man to just protect Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a little while longer, it’d be worth it.
Superhero #5: Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Don’t you wish you could put a mask on everybody you see walking around without one? Well, Spider-Man can do that! Spider-Man could swing through Central Park slinging a mask onto every uncovered face he sees with his web-shooters. Not only would his face-webs protect others from the virus; they would also keep people from spouting QAnon conspiracy theories and infecting the public discourse with their ignorance. What could be more useful right now than a hero who can block ignorance by shooting personal protective equipment from his wrists?
Still, even Spider-Man couldn’t solve all our problems. Like Ant-Man, the trouble with Spider-Man is the limited reach of his powers. Spidey could handle Queens in a night and still be back at home for remote learning in the morning, but saving all five boroughs might be a stretch. He couldn’t help us with the entire state of Florida. And trying to mask all of MAGA for any length of time is impossible. We’re dealing with people who would be willing to shoot the web-mask off of their own mouths in the name of “free speech.”
Superhero #4: Jennifer Susan Walters/She-Hulk
Jennifer Walters’s cousin Bruce Banner is a brilliant (if irascible) scientist. If you stuck Banner in a lab, and didn’t make him angry, he might come up with the vaccine for Covid-19. But then what? What is Banner going to do to make sure the vaccine is distributed fairly to people regardless of ability to pay? How is he going to shepherd his vaccine through the important FDA approval process (which would be necessary, because nobody should take anything produced by Banner without first testing it for side effects)?
This job calls for a lawyer, and Walters was an ace attorney before she needed a blood transfusion from her cousin Banner, resulting in her smashy powers. When we do finally get a vaccine, we will need superhero lawyers fighting for the rights of people to access the vaccine, because we know that the vaccine makers will have phalanxes of lawyers trying to squeeze every cent of profit out of what will be called “proprietary” life-saving therapeutics. We know Mitch McConnell will try to erect liability shields for drug manufacturers, while a rushed, mass-produced vaccine could carry deleterious effects that don’t show up for years.
Unlike her cousin, when Walters “hulks up,” she retains her intelligence and emotional control. That’s a nice hedge against a 5-4 Supreme Court decision against one of her clients. Even if Kodak, the camera company turned pharma giant, wins in court, she can still take out a factory producing substandard vaccine, if needed.
Superhero #3: Steven Rogers/Captain America
The most patriotic thing you can do right now is wear a mask. But most of our shared national symbols were co-opted decades ago by Republicans. Those symbols are now used to inspire fear, xenophobia, and a myopic individualism that lacks empathy and is resistant to facts.
But Steve Rogers is not afraid. Steve Rogers, an average kid from Brooklyn who took a super-soldier serum to become Captain America, fights for freedom, not white nationalism. Rogers battles fascists; he doesn’t bow to them because they happen to be in positions of authority. The Trump administration is the antithesis of everything Rogers ever fought for.
As a soldier, Rogers’s superpowers are useless against the coronavirus. And frankly, the fewer jingoistic appeals to America’s war-like exceptionalism, the better. But as a symbol, Captain America is what we need to combat the MAGA hat. Captain America convinced Americans to buy war bonds and save their bacon grease. Surely, he could convince at least a few Trump holdouts to wear a mask to Costco.
Tucker Carlson and the rest of the hosts at Hydra News would inevitably call Cap “ANTIFA”—but Rogers would simply respond, “What’s wrong with being anti-fascist? I thought that was the point.” The Department of Homeland Security’s Chad Wolf would send a goon squad to apprehend Rogers, but it wouldn’t go well for the DHS, and somehow we’d all end up in a Civil War story line. But Rogers would never stop trying to save us from ourselves. He’d never cede bald eagles and apple pie to these people.
Superheroes #2: Shuri/Aja-Adanna
By this point in the pandemic, Wakanda would surely have the cure for Covid-19. Wakandan scientists probably started working on this hours after the World Health Organization’s China outpost was informed of a mysterious atypical pneumonia on December 31, and then locked down a cure by the end of the rainy season. I doubt there is a lung disease that Heart-Shaped Herb tea and vibranium vitamins can’t fix.
But we wouldn’t need to beg for Wakanda’s cure. While T’Challa, Wakanda’s leader, would be in deep contemplation—reading philosophy and consulting the ancestors about whether to share his country’s resources and knowledge—Shuri, his polymath genius sister, would just pop up on Instagram and tell us what to do, even without a life-saving vibranium infusion.
Shuri is, after all, a scientist and engineer before she is a superhero. From the perspective of a scientist, the next steps to save America, while we wait for our own miracle drug, are obvious. We need testing that can be administered easily and produce quick results. We need testing to tell us who has been sick. All of this could be done, right now and without resorting to magic herbs, if we committed the lab resources to it.
We need contact tracing—I’m sure Shuri could build some kind of app to do that. We need to identify people with pre-existing conditions and provide them with enhanced care, which again is not a question of knowledge but mere will and resources. We need a way to bubble essential workers, while making sure that everybody else has the equipment to work or learn from home as seamlessly as possible. One can imagine Shuri saying in disgust: “You don’t give your children laptops? Do you neglect to feed them as well?”
Every other wealthy country has figured this out. Being a superhero leader in this moment doesn’t require mutant powers, after all; it requires the ability to apply the resources your country already has to fix the problem.
You could put Shuri in a forest with a sharp rock and a rope and she’d roll out of it on a chariot. Her superpower is ingenuity. We could use some.
Superhero #1: Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
When I was a kid, I never thought Wonder Woman’s power set was all that impressive. She was strong, but not as strong as Superman. Fast, but not as fast as the Flash. And while Batman had something in his belt for literally every situation on Earth, all Wonder Woman had was a rinky-dink lasso.
I had to grow up and meet more Republicans before I realized the singular, amazing utility of the Lasso of Truth.
Wonder Woman could eliminate the coronavirus and most of this country’s other problems in a day. She would just have to wait for a Donald Trump press conference, break Trump’s precious teleprompter, lasso the president, and let Yamiche Alcindor and April Ryan start asking questions. The truth is the cure our sick country needs.
Just imagine: One press conference during which Donald Trump is forced to tell the truth about the virus and everything else his administration has done; one prime-time Fox News show during which the host has to tell the truth to their audience; one speech from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp about whether it’s really safe to reopen schools; one decision from John Roberts explaining the real reason he refuses to extend absentee ballot deadlines.
The thing that is killing us, more than any novel virus, is the lies. Our leaders lie to us with impunity. State-run media lies to us for ratings. Employers lie to us to protect their profits, while judges lie to us to further their ideological agendas. If everybody had to tell the truth, if we were all operating from the same shared set of facts, we could lick the coronavirus (and climate change and, probably, global poverty too).
There couldn’t be a more useful superpower in times of crisis than forcing people to tell the truth. Yet nothing could be more fantastical. We’ll sooner see a person who can leap tall buildings and shoot laser beams out of his eyes than we’ll see a person who can force people to be honest. The consistent victory of truth over deceit is the most childish thing about comic book stories.
So it’s back to the abyss of reality. There is no single person with superpowers who, alone, can fix the carnage brought on us by the Trump administration. There is no “MacGuffin” to drop into our story and magically resolve the plot.
No league of justice warriors is coming to save us, and nobody will avenge those who have fallen to this virus. All we mere mortals can do is wear our masks, vote our conscience, and rage against the dying of the light.