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With great power comes great destruction...

"I grew up in Westchester, and have never traveled anywhere else without this stupid domino mask on my face! Am I the only one who's scared that people are looking to me for answers because I can lift a car over my head? This is crazy!"
Alison Green, Strong Female Protagonist

"Capepunk" refers to the subgenre of superhero fiction which deals with superheroism in a "realistic" manner. This sort of storytelling often comes with the greater freedom to allow creators to deconstruct traditional superhero tropes. To be Capepunk, your story can't just be about superheroes. It has to be about why they put on the cape and whether or not putting it on is worthwhile.

Capepunk stories tend to be either Deconstructive or Reconstructive (or both) in nature, analyzing what makes these characters tick as well as how they relate to the setting as a whole. Much effort will be put into justifying why people have a variety of powers, are allowed by law enforcement to run willy-nilly, or don't change the world overnight. By and large, these kinds of works tend to be very satirical in nature, showing why superheroic tropes either won't work in a real life setting or require many Acceptable Breaks from Reality in order to be justified as existing. While many Capepunk stories are cynical, there are just as many stories which cast heroes as standing against the mundanity of the world and leading humanity into the light (or at least trying to). Rarely, they fall to the positive extreme, showcasing why the law is useless or why a superhero is absolutely necessary in the setting. No mundane forces are going to stop a Planet Eater, for example.

One common feature in these stories is that superpowers are terrifying to normal people. People with the powers of Mind Control, being able to fly, or heat vision are dangers to normal Muggles with even those who protect them being so far removed from normal life they often are enemies. Other times, regular Humans Are the Real Monsters with the people trying to use their abilities to help others being deliberately targeted by those who hate and envy them.

Stories in this genre are just as likely (if not more) to star original characters as opposed to being part of established superhero franchises. This is for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the writers of popular "mainstream" superhero characters don't want to let them be used in such a way, especially if it means they will be portrayed in a negative light. Another reason is that Capepunk stories are often written by independent comic writers without access to the most popular characters in the genre, leaving them no choice but to use Expies. They also may not even be comic books at all, but completely original novels and films. Alternately the Long Runner "mainstream" franchises may rely on Status Quo Is God or Joker Immunity, and need to use these characters for more stories in the future.

A subtrope of Genre Deconstruction; Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction is a very similar concept, applied to the Japanese Magical Girl genre. See also Superhero Horror, which are superhero stories with elements of the horror genre and often overlap with Capepunk.

Common tropes to be found in Capepunk stories are:

Examples subpage:

Other examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • AKIRA combines this with cyberpunk motifs as we see Tetsuo as a trope-codifier for With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. It destroys all of his relationships, innumerable innocent bystanders, and eventually makes him believe A God Am I. One of the messages is human morality is incompatible with being superhuman.
  • Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou takes a cast of "superhumans" based on popular fictional characters from The '60s... and drops them into the complex socio-political climate of the actual 60s, where they frequently interact with real-world events. A recurring theme in the series is whether a Superhero can truly exist.
  • Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is Magical Girl Warrior-punk. Magical girls make contracts with spirits to defend the Earth from invaders... so the military takes over and treats them like special forces, and less than half survive to see the end of the war. And after it's over, the Shell-Shocked Veteran magical girls have to try to reintegrate into ordinary life, terrorist groups start trafficking in magical powers, and the world governments start frantically trying to develop human-usable countermeasures.
  • My Hero Academia takes place in a world where 80% of the global population has superpowers and explores the way society has been reorganized by the universal presence of superpowers, which are called "Quirks". People suffer discrimination for having the "wrong" Quirks or being in the rare segment of the population that has no Quirks at all. Quirk usage is heavily restricted in all parts of society, with the usage of Quirks in public outright banned and only allowed in certain professions, but under heavy restrictions and requiring large amounts of certification, licensing, and training. A good example are Superheroes, who are referred to In-Universe as Pro Heroes. Heroes in this setting are a government-regulated occupation that consists of both emergency services and criminal policing. The key difference is that regular police and emergency workers are not allowed to use their Quirks, while heroes are allowed to after going through extensive training at designated Hero Schools and gaining official licenses. The extreme restriction of powers has led to the emergence of extremist groups seeking to legalize the free natural use of Quirks such as the Meta Liberation Army. It's shown that the initial appearance of Quirks threw the world into such chaos that it reversed societal and scientific progress, with some even going so far as to say that if superpowers never emerged, humanity would be taking interstellar vacations by now. The show is less gritty than the usual Capepunk fare and leans more towards Reconstruction than Deconstruction, often finding ways to integrate traditional superhero themes and tropes into a more realistic setting.
  • The mecha anime equivalent of this was Neon Genesis Evangelion, which told the story of a fourteen-year-old Chosen One who agrees to save the world in a giant robot, not out of righteousness or charity, but to impress his abusive father. When it doesn't work at all, Shinji becomes severely torn about whether the world is still worth saving if it's never made him happy, and the main conflict shifts from whether he's able to save all mankind to whether he's willing. In the end, he's not.
  • Tiger & Bunny takes place in a setting where superheroes are commercial commodities that work both as professional crime fighters and corporate mascots, their outfits adorned with brand logos not unlike NASCAR race cars. The pressure to succeed, particularly in a popular reality TV show based around their heroic exploits, leads some to enter into the superhero business for largely self-serving reasons. At the same time, however, the show is a Reconstruction of superheroes more than a Deconstruction, as the heroes are presented as overall good-natured and well-meaning people.

    Fan Fiction 

    Film — Animation 
  • The Incredibles touches on this, as once-active superheroes were forced to retire due to lawsuits over damages caused by their fights. It also takes a look at the thought that would have to go into superhero costumes to ensure they're effective. ("No capes!") The movie as a whole deals with what it means to be "special", both in terms of superpowers and in the mundane sense.
  • Megamind takes many superhero cliches and the Superman mythos and turns them on their head. Metroman is a Smug Super who turns out to be a Broken Ace who is miserable because he sees saving the day as a job instead of a calling or something that makes him happy, Megamind is an incompetent villain who is less fighting Metroman and more playing a game and can't think of what to do when Metroman fakes his death, having a crisis. The greatest example would have to be Hal Stewart A.K.A Tighten/Titan who shows what happens when a random unremarkable person gets superpowers, especially one who was secretly jealous of Metroman's "Relationship" with Roxanne. He becomes an even worse villain than Megamind could ever hope to be (but not a super one).
  • The Prodigies, a 2011 French-British computer-animated science fiction film features group of five super-powered teens who after being being violently assaulted starting plotting their revenge against the world, and a sixth superpowered teen must gather and stop them.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Batman (2022) takes a page out of The Dark Knight Trilogy, presenting the titular character in a more grounded way. It manages to be even grittier than the aforementioned trilogy, taking a lot of influence from Film Noir. A younger, less experienced Batman's crusade against crime is well-intentioned, but he clearly has a lot of psychological/emotional issues around crime-fighting and his parents' deaths, to the point that it completely consumes him. His fixation on dishing out violent revenge is implied to be a way for him to vent out his own rage and grief, and even people he helps are terrified of him. The main villain, Riddler, is presented more as a disturbed serial killer and domestic terrorist, lashing out at the corrupt system that hurt him. Gotham City is corrupt to the core, with Batman discovering that even his father was involved in some dodgy stuff that may have contributed to the Wayne murders. Batman comes to realize his crime-fighting methods may be doing more harm than good, as he actually inspired the Riddler and his followers to commit violent acts, although it also ends with him deciding to try and become not just a figure of terror for criminals but a source of hope for Gotham.
  • Brightburn is a retelling of the Superman origin story, except with its Superman Substitute Brandon Breyer brought up being told he's destined to do "great things" but left vague about what they are (or possibly filtering the concept through thought processes that are more alien than they seem at first glance). The result is a superhero Slasher Movie as Brandon starts to see himself as a god, complete with a costume that resembles a parody of Superman's as designed by a backwoods Serial Killer. The Stinger also reveals the existence of Corrupted Character Copies of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Flash, as well as a heroic version of Lex Luthor who vows to fight them (and, in an unused ending, the film's pissed-off version of Lana Lang also becoming an Arch-Enemy of Brandon after what he put her through).
  • Chronicle asks what would happen if a group of ordinary teenage boys got superpowers. They initially use their newfound powers of telekinesis and flight for an assortment of silly (and horny) hijinks until they accidentally get someone killed, at which point Andrew, the troubled one of the group, goes Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and becomes the superpowered equivalent of a mass shooter.
  • Daredevil (2003) deconstructs a lot of elements found in comic book adaptions. Due to his vigilante lifestyle, Matt is in extreme pain from fighting, nurses multiple broken bones and nasty scars on his body, munches down painkillers regularly, and is frequently absent from work. His super senses mean that he needs a sensory deprivation tank to sleep, his refusal to handle guilty or dishonest clients means that his law firm is constantly struggling, and he is dealing with a wreck of a personal life. Which is to say nothing of the fact that the poor guy is so miserable and downbeaten by life he can barely muster the energy to keep going.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy grounds Batman into someone who might conceivably exist in the real world, spending large amounts of time justifying how Batman relates to both Bruce Wayne's psychology and Gotham City as a whole.
  • Zack Snyder seemed to be very fond of this trope in his DC Extended Universe films. Man of Steel shows just how terrifying the sheer power of a Kryptonian can be with the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod bringing about destruction upon Metropolis. Its followup, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, shows that humanity is divided over Superman's general existence between the traumatizing experience of the Kryptonian invasion and the revelation of aliens existing, and Superman's attempt to inspire other heroes is initially less than successful as we find most of them living in isolation or deeply troubled. The trope was toned down in Zack Snyder's Justice League in favor of more emphasis on the sci-fi/fantasy elements.
  • The Flying Man deconstructs multiple elements of superhero fiction, showing just how horrifying a Superman-esque Vigilante Man would be, particularly if he had no aversion to killing and no respect for the law. The result is an inscrutable Humanoid Abomination whose brutal executions of criminals terrify the public, who are helpless to do anything about it.
  • Freaks (2018) is a Canadian sci-fi/horror film following a superpowered girl hiding from a future society that hunts and kills anyone suspected of having superpowers. Superpowers are widely viewed as nothing but a threat to the system and the general public. The government runs oppressive and pervasive security state complete with secret death camps and very unethical experimental labs. Even members of the public who seem opposed to the extermination policy still view superpowers with fear and disgust.
  • Hancock is about a super-powered individual (calling him "hero" would be a stretch) who's a total jerk because no one can force him to face any consequences. A big portion of the movie involves reforming him into more of a classic superhero, even to the point of him voluntarily serving jail time. He also meets up with another super in hiding who explains more about their background, including how there used to be more of their kind but most of them chose mortality over superpowers.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe also puts some work into making superheroes work in a "real-world" context:
    • The Iron Man Films use real-life science to justify many of the figure's traditional gadgets. Likewise, the films serve as deconstructions of many The War on Terror tropes as well as the kind of attention such a figure would garner. Iron Man 3 also portrays Tony Stark dealing with PTSD from the literally world-changing events of The Avengers (2012).
    • The Captain America Films start off idealistic but start deconstructing what it means to be a superhero in Winter Soldier, showing that Steve has no life outside of being Captain America. He has few friends, the love of his life Peggy Carter is now in her 90s and close to death, he has basically no hobbies beyond physical exercise, and he is a Super-Soldier who defines himself by the battles he's fighting. He is sad, and lonely, and even the people that he calls friends are actually work colleagues he doesn't trust fully (though this changes as the franchise progresses). No wonder, then, that at the end of Avengers: Endgame, he walks away from it all in order to have a normal life with a younger Peggy Carter, one of the only people he ever truly loved, in an Alternate Timeline.
    • Most superhuman origins can be traced back to some kind of Super-Soldier project that was deliberately attempting to create a better kind of defender (in the case of the heroes) or enforcer (when the bad guys were making one).
    • As more supervillains crop up, the Superhero Paradox becomes more prevalent. Captain America: Civil War (a rough adaptation of the comic of the same name) tackles it head-on, as the heroes' conflicts have caused inevitable bystander fatalities, which leads to calls for government regulation and the heroes themselves are divided on whether this is a good idea or not (and subsequent stories make clear that, mostly because bureaucrats are bureaucrats, it wasn't).
    • Although it shows up more in the TV spinoffs than the films themselves, some people have begun to respond to the emergence of superhumans with Fantastic Racism.
  • Mystery Men follows the eponymous team, composed of D-List heroes who suffer from What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?, while the more successful hero Captain Amazing is a corporate sponsored Smug Super and ends up doing so well of a job that Joker Immunity does not exist, so he intentionally releases one of the few supervillains that remain. This leads to a series of events that leads to Captain Amazing's death and the Mystery Men taking over as the premiere heroes of Champion City.
  • Sky High (2005) takes superheroes, and puts them in a problematic Fantastic Caste System based on their powers. If you have an unique power that isn't seen as useful, you'll get labeled a Sidekick that is fully expected to just hand things to the heroes. Meanwhile, the heroes with more impressive powers have been shown to be looking down on the sidekicks, and even bullying them. Needless to say, none of the sidekicks actually enjoy this, including Sue/Gwen, the Big Bad of the film; since her technopathy wasn't seen as useful in The '70s (compared to today's times), she got labeled as a Sidekick, and became a vengeful supervillain due to her mistreatment. However, it becomes a Decon-Recon Switch at the end of the film, as the sidekicks manage to save the day, and prove their seemingly-unimpressive superpowers can be quite useful.
  • Super is yet another answer to the question, "What would a superhero be like in real life?" The answer is "someone along the lines of Travis Bickle", as the film shows what kind of troubled mind it takes to start attacking criminals while wearing a silly costume. It also shows how finding crime to fight would probably amount to just waiting around sketchy areas, bored out of your mind.
  • Unbreakable is a superhero film by way of a Psychological Thriller, showing a very dark view of a 'real-world superhero'. Mr. Glass in particular provides a lot of commentary on the genre's tropes, being the owner of a comic book art gallery obsessed with his comics.

  • All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault coaches its battle in the Darkness (beings from a universe closer to where Your Mind Makes It Real who make deals with the rich and powerful for eternal life in the forms of vampires, werewolves, demons, and ghosts) versus the Light (which comes from about the middle of the spectrum between hard and soft reality, and thus much coach what abilities it gives under a lampshade of pseudoscience, and runs on Rule of Drama). It then promptly shows a Light-aligned super villain and a number of sympathetic Dark characters, muddying the waters immensely.
  • The Blackjack series is about a supervillain who deals with the ups and downs of being a former supervillain in a setting where Easily Forgiven is not the case. Furthermore, how lethal the powers of superheroes might actually be when used against other people. It also reflects how Gray-and-Gray Morality is how the world really is but not how the public perceives it.
  • Jim Bernheimer's Confessions of a D-List Supervillain follows the adventures of the titular third-stringer, Mechani-Cal, who becomes a hero through sheer necessity. It shows its heroes to have feet made of clay while its villains run the gamut from downright horrible people to "just" irresponsible or misguided.
  • Peter Clines's Ex-Heroes is about how the world has been overrun by zombies but a small band of superheroes protects Los Angeles' survivors in a place called the Mount. Much attention is given to how the superheroes are selfless people, but this can be alienating to normal humans.
  • Phillip Wylie's Gladiator could count as an Ur-Example — centered on a man who was experimented on by his father before he was born and given Super-Strength and Nigh-Invulnerability as a result, he struggles to hide his powers and find ways of trying to use them for a good purpose. And he dies by what is implied to be a ticked-off God when he is maddened into misanthropy.
  • Hench: Applies the Standard Office Setting to supervillain organizations and follows a "hench" whose specialty is data analysis that gains notoriety when she blogs about the Collateral Damage that superheroes cause. The world's greatest superhero is a Well Intended Extremist, the setting's Mutant Draft Board that's responsible for churning out superheroes is corrupt to the roots and one of their darkest secrets is they along with the before-mentioned superhero are responsible for Leviathan, the most feared supervillain on the planet.
  • Hero is about Thom Creed, the son of a retired Badass Normal superhero who hates superpowered individuals. Unfortunately, Thom has Healing Hands. His father is also an extreme homophobe, which is a problem becausse Thom is also gay. In addition to Thom's problems, the book also deals with the consequences of certain superpowers, such as one character who gets powers from radiation only to also be diagnosed with cancer from said radiation.
  • The Infected tells the story of a fat gamer cursed with the power to replace people who are in deadly danger. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a world where superheroes are outlawed, they're all agents in a federal bureau. And Congress is still debating the merits of concentration camps to "deal with the Infected problem" since it's worked out so well abroad.
  • The New Humans veers this way. Supers are distrusted for their highhanded actions, and extensive research is being done into powers.
  • Brian Clevinger's Nuklear Age doesn't appear to be this at first. It later becomes a novel showing how so much of the wackiness and craziness around its protagonist is the result of his status as a god.
  • Omega Superhero by Darius Brasher has an idealistic young man named Theodore Conley become a superhero only to find out the resident Justice League Expy is a Smug Super group hiding deep corruption. It's played even more straight in its sister-series, Superhero Detective, where the protagonist is a PI who deals with superhuman dirty laundry.
  • The Pantheon Saga by C.C. Ekeke is a series that depicts superheroes as entitled celebrities that are constantly caught between trying to maintain their squeaky-clean images and dealing with their foibles as human beings. Unlike, say, The Boys, the heroes are mostly good people, but when they break down then they break down hard. It also emphasizes the incredible temptations of power.
  • The Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain series are Lighter and Softer examples of this trope. Both novels attempt to show how supervillains and superheroes are able to handle their feuds and rivalries. Both prefer to follow rules for each other's protection than going all out. Those supervillains who cross the line are killed by the superheroes' deniable executioner, keeping things reasonably civil. There is a prequel story, I Did NOT Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence!, which shows how this system came about in the first place.
  • The Reckoners Trilogy goes the route of Decon-Recon Switch. With Great Power Comes Great Insanity is in play, and every Epic we see is Always Chaotic Evil. The more powerful ones have carved out their own fiefdoms, such as Newcago or Babylon Restored (Chicago and New York, respectively). However, the Reckoners are genuinely heroic and lead by an Epic who refuses to use his powers and ultimately David is able to provoke a Heel–Face Turn on another by helping her overcome her fear, and thus undoing her brainwashing.
  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer features capes as the de facto government after the "Age of Anarchy", the old government having been wiped away by the Anarchists. Notably, the remaining Anarchists, including the book's protagonist, see the Renegade government as holding back society from truly recovering, because their presence has driven regular humans into apathy.
  • Thom Brannan's Sad Wings of Destiny is a Watchmen-like Deconstructor Fleet which tears down just about everything even remotely related to superheroes.
  • John Ridley's Soledad O'Roarke books Those Who Walk in Darkness and What Fire Cannot Burn have an atypical Crapsack World take on superheroes. Specifically, they postulate humanity will turn on them with Fantastic Racism and ruthless brutality the first time they fail big.
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman gets into the heads of an Evil Genius and the people who oppose him. Much attention is made of how superheroism and villainy is the result or cause of intense alienation from normal humanity.
  • Stephen King wrote two novels, Carrie and Firestarter, that could both be interpreted as superhero deconstructions in hindsight. Notably, Max Landis, writer of the aforementioned film Chronicle, brought this point up whenever Chronicle was described as a superhero movie (a description that he disagreed with), arguing that these two books could just as easily be considered superhero stories by the same token.
  • Super Powereds by Drew Hayes deals with a world with three categories of people: Muggles, Supers, and Powereds. The first two are self-explanatory. Powereds are people with superpowers, except, unlike Supers, they're unable to control them. They tend to be treated as second-class citizens and seen as potential threats by both normal humans and Supers. While this is justified in some cases, it still leaves Powereds feeling bitter. Another reason why Supers look down on Powereds is that they're all aware that only an accident of birth kept them from becoming Powereds instead of Supers (3/4 of people with superpowers are Powereds). The novels are focused on a group of Powereds, who volunteer to be guinea pigs for an experimental procedure to turn them into Supers. Each of the teens have their own reason for undergoing the procedure and entering the Hero Certification Program at Lander University. Later on, they find out that one potential future, foreseen by a clairvoyant, has all Powereds becoming Supers, resulting in a three-way global war between the three categories. Additionally, former Powereds are, on average, more powerful than those, who were born Supers. The spin-off Corpies shows a different side of this world with PEERS, who aren't certified Heroes, but who use their powers to help with disaster recovery.
  • The Supervillainy Saga is a book series starring a somewhat offbeat fellow, Gary Karkofsky, who finds a magic cloak and decides to become a supervillain. The book Deconstructs the '90s Anti-Hero and The Dark Age of Comic Books by having Gary disgusted by heroes who kill and overly psychopathic villains. It also serves as a Decon-Recon Switch because Gary, himself, is a well-written '90s Anti-Hero. The book, notably, treats Lighter and Softer superheroes significantly more sympathetically than most examples of the Capepunk genre.
  • Third Class Superhero is a short story by Charles Yu that deals with a superhero wannabe who don't have enough power level to be classified as a real hero and eventually decides to become a supervillain instead.
  • The Velveteen vs. series by Seanan Maguire portrays traditional superheroes as self-absorbed marketing-driven corporate creatures with the concept of kid sidekicks treated as just a variation on Child Soldiers. Velveteen, herself, wants nothing more to do with heroism but ends up having to be one just to survive.
  • Villains' Code by Drew Hayes: The series is a Deconstruction of all the various assumptions that would need to go in to have a proper superhero world as well as how much easier it would be if most supervillains and superheroes stayed out of each other's ways. In a way, superheroes and supervillains are more like hostile nations with a cold war going on rather than cops and robbers. It also questions how much one side being on the law versus the other being against it is Good Versus Evil.
  • On the other end of the idealism scale is Marion Harmon's Reconstruction series Wearing the Cape which sets out to make superheroes as realistic as possible yet still awesome. Sadly, the inclusion of supervillains still makes the world terrifying for normal people and makes muggles envious.
  • Whateley Universe: Most of the stories set outside of Whateley Academy itself are in this vein, with big dollops of Post Cyber Punk, Myth Punk, and Fantastic Noir for flavor. A big chunk of those set on campus are, too, for that matter, but it can get much, much darker elsewhere. Once you step off school grounds, you enter a world of Gray-and-Gray Morality driven by Corrupt Corporate Executives, Ancient Conspiracies, Nazi deadenders, and unspeakable otherworldly entities. A large number of Nominal Heroes are really Smug Super Jerk Jocks at best, and Knights Templar or Villains With Good Publicity at worst, and even many of the genuinely heroic ones will readily throw Thou Shalt Not Kill out the window when faced with an even worse alternative. The more overt villains can range from Punch Clock Villains and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains; to Byronic Heroes and Well Intentioned Extremists; to Blood Knights, Super Supremacists, and the Ax-Crazy; to Infernalists and worse, but even they often pale in comparison to the more institutionalized evils. Oh, and the international quasi-governmental agency meant to keep a lid on dangerous mutants, the Mutant Commission Office, is thoroughly corrupt, heavily infiltrated, and mostly staffed by Fantastic Racists who can't wait to set up the death camps. While it is not an unrelentingly grim world, it is dangerous enough of one that the Whateley school administration has to maintain a policy of armed neutralitynote , including an explicit, written agreement by backers of both the heroic and villainous persuasions to collectively Pay Evil unto Evil whenever that neutrality is violated in certain ways.
  • The Wild Cards shared universe series very often made its superheroes out to be anything but, and the supervillains were just as often simply people Blessed with Suck by their wild card lashing out against a world that treats them like freaks. The authors also played quite a bit with the question of where one draws the line between Blessed with Suck and Cursed with Awesome: for instance, Hiram Worchester, an Acrofatic Gravity Master who's chair-breaking obesity may be related to his powers.
  • Who Can Save Us Now? is a superhero-themed anthology written by various authors that deals with several aspects of this trope.
  • Worm digs deep into the idea of what drives people to be superheroes and supervillains. Central to the story is the internal conflict of the protagonist, Taylor, who desperately wants to do the right thing and become a hero, but who keeps ending up in circumstances that force her to act like a villain, first while trying to infiltrate a team of villains and later by more and more extreme and desperate situations that culminate in her becoming the undisputed queen of her city's superpowered underworld.
    • The deconstruction continues when it is revealed that powers are intelligent and deliberately choose hosts who will go out and get involved in fights and conflicts with other super-powered people. Moreover, they subtly nudge people into doing so, and can actively cause problems for those who refuse to do so, with tragic results.
    • The sequel Ward, takes a look at what happens in a cape society after the most powerful being in the world decides to destroy it all. The human race has just barely survived, and the reset button has been pressed on society. What does a world look like that's shaped from the beginning by superpowered people who are all severely traumatized?
  • Warren Hately's Zephyr stories follow the eponymous superhero and his struggles to reconcile his superhero lifestyle with his life as a civilian. Death, divorce, drugs, and infidelity seem to be incredibly common among the heroes. It's lampshaded near the end when discussing a fallen colleague and commenting that it's not like the comics.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alphas works hard to ground the powers, the characters and the setting. The existence of superhuman Alphas is a closely guarded secret, their powers aren't flashy, and cause as many problems for the heroes as they solve.
  • The Boys (2019), the TV adaptation of Garth Ennis' comic book, takes a lot of its superhero deconstruction and adds some more modern satire of the Marvel Cinematic Universe media machine, which was an embryo at the time the comic was written but had grown into a pop culture touchstone since.
  • The 4400, where a few thousand superhumans are suddenly and mysteriously dumped on the world, people who had vanished across fifty years of time.
  • The Gifted (2017) has mutants living on the run and hunted constantly due to Fantastic Racism. Being a mutant isn't officially illegal but any crime they commit will get them locked away for decades and bigots aren't afraid to antagonize them into doing so. Also, it's gotten worse to the point people are planning a Final Solution. Much attention is given to how families handle the situation as well as the logistics of surviving on the run.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Disney's broadcast network, ABC, began Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by looking at the Capepunk exploits of the Badass Normals tasked with dealing with all the threats that the Big Good heroes (for whatever reason) don't. It has moved on into a fairly realistic take on how normals — even Badass ones — might react emotionally when they suddenly acquire metahuman powers.
    • Daredevil (2015) has our hero juggling superheroism with his professional and personal lives in a fairly realistic manner.
    • Jessica Jones (2015) has our main character as a private investigator rather than a costumed superhero. She struggles with family problems, trauma and addiction on top of the physical threats from villains.
  • The Umbrella Academy (2019) features protagonists who are both former child superheroes and Child Soldiers, and the trauma they experienced as children is perhaps the biggest driving force of the plot of both seasons thus far. At the start of the series, most of them are adults trying to live normal lives, far away from their childhood experiences, and only Luther remains with their father. Meanwhile, the rest of them are extremely messed up, with Diego having a hero complex, Allison swearing off her powers after years of misusing them, Klaus dealing with addiction, Five determined to prevent the apocalypse, Ben dead, and Vanya struggling to cope with being the "ordinary" member of the family.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues is a roleplay that focuses on a group of children in an ordinary world who are suddenly endowed with superpowers, and follows their various trials and tribulations as they struggle to understand their powers while also dealing with regular teenage issues. They also must deal with the increasing anti-power sentiment shown by the public, as flashes to a Bad Future have shown that people with superpowers eventually become detained and exterminated by the government.
  • The My Superhero Sagas didn't start out as this, but grew into it as time went on. Things always kept getting worse, the heroes' attempts to do good either failed completely or backfired, and the majority of the cast grew increasingly cynical as time went on. By the time the original series was discontinued, the villains had claimed most of the major victories and held all the advantages. One wonders why the PCs bothered, really.
  • Pinnacle Academy takes place at a multiversal superhero university. It takes a long, hard look not only at the effects superpowers have on society, but also how the biases and bigotry of society play into it, and how the various worlds are affected by interdimensional travel becoming a reality.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Base Raiders takes place after the world's major superheroes and villains spontaneously disappeared, leaving their stuff behind. Now, former sidekicks publish tell-all books to pay for their PTSD treatments, mutagens and super gadgets are hot items on the black market, the dark web is full of DIY superpower formulas, and civil rights for aliens and mutants are hot-button political issues.
  • Mutant City Blues is essentially Heroes meets CSI, with a growing population of people with superpowers world-wide meaning that super-powered crimes are on the rise and, after discovering that Magic A Is Magic A (including facts such as Power at a Price, Elemental Baggage and so on) and thorough scientific analysis followed, forensic science has evolved to help solve them.
  • The game Trinity Universe (White Wolf) was built with the idea of superpowers existing in a "realistic" world that is full of Fantastic Racism Cape Busters and Smug Super characters. It even had a period of Pulp adventure before everything completely went to hell, highlighting growing cynicism about heroes.

    Video Games 
  • Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty begins as a spy movie centered around Solomon Reed, but ends as a cape punk centered around Songbird. It depicts the pressure, paranoia, and trauma surrounding a super-powered agent, and how it drives them to villainous acts in a desperate attempt to leave that life behind. In Reed's route, Beware the Superman takes effect as Songbird loses herself to Power Incontinence and the Demonic Possession fueling her powers, stripping the powers from the player character and forcing them to run and hide from a being that can rip them apart on sight. In Songbird's route, we see the depths that governments will stoop to for maintaining control of Supers and the violent resilience that said Supers will unleash to maintain their freedom and principles. In the new Tower ending, the player character has to live with being DePowered and the long-term effects of losing the spotlight, showing what happens when a Super lives past their prime.
  • The inFAMOUS series deals with the prejudices and responsibilities which come from getting superpowers in real life. Most people react to the condition by going a little bit nuts while others try to hide their abilities. Cole attempts to help as many people as possible but has an extra-motivation for doing so since everyone blames him for the destruction of Empire City. inFAMOUS: Second Son continues this trend as we watch Delsin become a superhero primarily because he hates the establishment but also to drum up support against the DUP. As long as the public thinks he's doing good, it's harder for the DUP to label him a bio-terrorist.
  • Injustice deals with Superman going rogue after the death of Lois Lane at the hands of the Joker (along with all of Metropolis). Superman proceeds to go insane as a result of these actions but the scary part is the majority of the world is willing to go along with his madness... at least, at first. Injustice 2, continues on this storyline by having Batman and the others trying to fix the world after Superman's regime, with complications along the way.
  • [PROTOTYPE] follows a character equipped with all the powers of a superhero (something between The Incredible Hulk and a shoggoth) who's stuck in a city under lockdown by the military. It shows a cynical view of good versus evil being a poor fit for a Blue-and-Orange Morality being that is an Outside-Context Problem for humanity.

    Web Comics 
  • Shades of this in Grrl Power where many a superhero trope is deconstructed or lampshaded as the realities of superhuman law enforcement are laid down.
  • One-Punch Man: Outside of being a superhero, Saitama also deals with the day-to-day struggles that normal people go through such as trying to make it to the grocery store in time before the big sale expires. He also doesn't do it for the standard reasons that we usually see in superhero works. He usually thinks of it as a hobby. We also get to see how nightmarish it actually is for a normal person in a world where a city can be completely destroyed when a hero really cuts loose with their powers and monster attacks are a daily occurrence.
  • Ray Fox toys around with this genre in that instead of Ray being recognized as a hero, he's instead recognized as a vigilante for property destruction and has to work with the law rather than fight crime on his own terms.
  • To Prevent World Peace deconstructs the idea of an international army of pure-hearted magical girls by painting them as unwittingly corruptible, easily duped, and ludicrously incompetent. While magical girls are generally a breath of fresh air against the Wizard Mafia and other supervillains, they are constantly misled into making horrible mistakes, usually by their own parents, and it only gets worse as their powers are exploited on an international scale to polarize the magical community through prejudice into the supervillain extremes - if they don't blow up an entire lunar colony by accident. The title comes from the Anti-Villain protagonist's goal to prevent a Won the War, Lost the Peace situation that ends with Beware the Superman, all while hunted down by her former comrades for not being on their side.
  • The Specialists is this set in WWII with accompanying grittiness, racism, sexism, etc.
  • Strong Female Protagonist focuses on a young woman with super-strength and invulnerability who's frustrated with her powers' inability to do anything substantive to make the world a better place. The overarching plot also involves the realization that a shadowy conspiracy has killed off all the people who developed powers that could have genuinely been world-changing (e.g., ability to provide unlimited green energy, or to communicate with viruses). It also tackles issues like the amount of collateral damage, including civilian deaths, caused by superheroes and the fact that since the superheroes were all teenagers when they started out, they're all basically Child Soldiers and all the baggage that's come with that.

    Web Original 

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


Quantum Break

While not exactly advertised as a superhero game, writer and creator Sam Lake does note that Jack's control of time essentially makes him a modern-day superhero and thinks of this game as being an origins story for him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / Capepunk

Media sources: