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Superhero Prevalence Stages

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When it comes to settings that contain superheroes (or superpowered individuals by any other name), each setting or work can be ranked according to how common and well-known superpowers and superpowered beings are in it. For ease of categorization, we can divide this spectrum into three categories: Early, Middle, and Late stage. This refers not to the date of publication— an Early setting could be published very recently or a Late setting very long ago— but to the setting's progression from "relatively down-to-Earth with a few Acceptable Breaks from Reality" to "wacky crazy crossover land where anything goes."

These three stages roughly correspond to the first three of The Ages of Superhero Comics:

This correlation shows itself clearest in newly created superhero universes of each era. The Charlton Universe (1960) and the Lee-Kirby-Ditko Marvel Universe (1961) both began in the Early Stage and progressed to the Middle Stage within a year or so of publishing. Similarly, the Image Universe (1992) began as a Middle Stage universe and rapidly progressed to Late Stage. (The only reason Image took any time at all to progress from Middle to Late was the necessary time to introduce a sufficiently large number of characters.)

Early Stage:

  • Early settings tend to contain as few as one or no powered superheroes. In a work centered on a superhero team, there may be five or six. Technological superpowers and gadgets will tend toward hard science fiction.
  • Due to the relative lack of other superheroes beside the main character(s), there will be few to no crossovers. Those that do occur will typically concern two superheroes meeting for the first time; they are likely to be antagonistic toward each other at first.
  • Antagonists are likely to be garden-variety crooks and mobsters as opposed to supervillains and will generally lack superpowers, with the possible exception of one main archnemesis. Any villains with powers are likely to derive them from the same source as the hero(es). (Magical heroes will have magical villains; alien heroes, alien villains; etc.) Because of this, antagonists are usually Villainous Underdogs who are certainly dangerous, but no match for the heroes.
  • The existence of the superhero(es) and other superpowered individuals is likely to be unknown to Muggles, or at most an urban legend. If there are a number of superpowered individuals, there is likely to be a masquerade to conceal their existence.
  • The superhero is unlikely to work directly with/for the authorities. If aware of their existence, the authorities are likely to either deny it or call for his arrest as a vigilante. Any cooperation that does exist is likely to take the form of one or two "inside men" who cooperate with the superhero on a strictly informal basis. If the government is the source of the hero's or villain's powers, it's because a shadowy Government Conspiracy started a Super-Soldier project.

Middle Stage:

  • Middle settings may include more than one major superhero, most with superpowers and each with a rogue's gallery of villains both powered and unpowered. Technological superpowers and gadgets will begin to trend toward soft science fiction.
  • In settings with more than one hero, crossovers and team-ups will be relatively common and relations between superheroes generally friendly, with several small, organized superhero teams forming. Villains will still be largely disorganized, with only the occasional team-up.
  • The existence of superheroes and supervillains is likely to be public knowledge. In the best case, some of them may be considered celebrities; in the worst case, it may take the form of Fantastic Racism.
  • Supervillains pose a threat to the heroes, but never enough to actually kill, maim or otherwise harm them on a permanent basis. Any victories achieved may lead to the creation of a new hero, or the formation of a team of heroes. Heroes usually won't entertain the idea of defeat or failure, and thus remain uncompromising in their morals.
  • More superheroes are likely to work directly with or for the authorities on a regular or formal basis. Some nations may "sponsor" one or more superheroes or hero teams, openly providing them with a headquarters, police cooperation and possibly even the source of their powers (if technological).

Late Stage:

  • Late settings tend to include dozens if not hundreds of superpowered individuals. They may be considered a minority group (likely if they are mutants or aliens) or even form one or more small nations. Technological powers and gadgets will represent varying degrees of science fiction.
  • There is likely to be one large, very organized superhero governing body with a shared headquarters. It may have the authority to sanction or reprimand individual heroes, divide regional territories as the responsibility of individual heroes or smaller teams, dispatch heroes where they are needed in times of crisis, etc. This organization may be considered a military (pardon the pun) superpower and have diplomatic relations with governments or the United Nations as though it were a nation itself.
  • More densely populated areas will becoming saturated with superhero-supervillain activity, whether it's due to their economic viability, political activity or some kind of Applied Phlebotinum intrinsically tied to the area that creates Differently Powered Individuals.
  • Supervillain team-ups will be common; they may organize into one or more large teams as a counter to the heroic governing body.
  • Supervillains may start to achieve real and tangible victories against heroes. For the first time, heroes may be forced to entertain the notion of death or failure, and thus make questionable decisions to avoid a worst-case scenario.
  • The authorities are likely to have formal legislation in place to govern the activities of superpowered individuals. Most positively, this may take the form of guidelines for what they may and may not do within the law to protect them from charges of vigilantism; in the worst case, it may be a Super Registration Act. If the government is directly involved in the creation of superheroes, they are likely to have moved on to mass-producing Super Soldiers by now.
  • This stage might end in a Twilight of the Supers where the majority of the world's superpowered individuals are killed or depowered, allowing the setting to start again afresh.

Any setting that persists for any length of time will find itself naturally sliding toward the Later end of the spectrum as more characters and plot elements are added. Almost nothing short of a Cosmic Retcon can shift a setting the other way. On the other hand, individual works set in an established setting may very well display earlier stages, if the author chooses not to borrow too many superhuman elements from the overall setting for that particular work. Case in point: Batman Beyond, while set in the Late Stage DC Animated Universe, falls squarely into the Middle Stage itself.

See also Standard Super-Hero Setting.

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Early Stage:

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Most "Year One" books and origin stories fall in this category.
  • Early Golden Age comics, prior to 1940 when the Justice Society of America first appeared, belong here, as do most later ones. Characters like Superman and Wonder Woman were assumed to be the only superheroes in their respective continuities. Only later that they were combined into publisher-specific, overarching universes encompassing many different heroes. Superman first met Batman in 1945, not on comics but in the radio serial The Adventures of Superman.
  • Spider-Man: Spidey's early storylines can roughly fall under the Early Stage (his solo title "The Amazing Spider-Man" (1963-1970)), with Marvel Team-Up (1972-1985) making a good watershed moment, since the latter had Spider-Man team up with other Marvel heroes monthly, instead of sporadically. To wit:
    • Spider-Man begins his career just after the appearance of the Fantastic Four, which appear in his first issue. The FF's Human Torch becomes something of a recurring presence in the Spider-books and develops a friendly rivalry with Peter.
    • Major team-ups are usually reserved for the annuals, such as with Doctor Strange (in #2) and the Avengers (in #3, also their first meeting), but some heroes do appear from time to time to help/battle Spider-Man, like Daredevil, Ka-Zar, Quicksilver and Iceman.
    • Some of his major enemies at this time are mobsters like the Enforcers, the Crime Master and the Kingpin (who out of the three had lasting impact and relevance to the larger Marvel Universe). Another criminal is the Sandman, a small time crook that gains sand powers in a freak accident.
    • Being derived from a radioactive accident that gave him powers, most of Spider-Man's Rogues Gallery from this period involve people acquiring their powers similarly (like the Lizard and the Scorpion), using technological gadgets to commit crimes (like the Vulture, the Tinkerer, the Shocker, Mysterio and the Green Goblin), or are scientists/technological savants themselves (like Spider-Man is), e.g, Dr. Octopus, Green Goblin and Spencer Smythe (the latter the creator of the robotic Spider-Slayers).
    • Another major event is that six of Spidey's villains team up in the first annual issue to form the "Sinister Six".
    • Being a newcomer, public perception is molded by J. Jonah Jameson's vicious editorial campaign against Spider-Man, and police's distrust, despite Spidey's efforts to apprehend criminals.
  • The early X-Men comics (1963-1966) can arguably fit in this stage:
    • The original team had 5 team members and their mentor, and expanded to 6 (Mimic or Morph) and 7 (Havok and Polaris) later in the run;
    • Most of their adversaries were recurring: either Magneto alone or his original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, or individual mutants like Vanisher, Blob, Unus, Banshee, Mesmero and the Living Monolith (instead of the mutant motherload the franchise would later become). Non-mutant enemies included the magic-powered Juggernaut and the technological Sentinels. Apart from those characters that will become recurring and/or an important part of the X-mythos, aliens and alien invasions were also one-shot enemies, as usual for the period.
    • There were indeed crossovers between other Marvel heroes (Avengers, Spider-Man and Namor), but they were few and far between.
  • Watchmen never got past this stage with superheroes being seen as a fad and being made illegal after a few years. Supervillains were just regular criminals who wore costumes while it was trendy before going back to normal. Thanks to the one superpowers hero, Doctor Manhattan and retired genius, Ozymandias, the setting has enough technological advancements to become an Alternate History.
  • Mark Millar's Millarworld setting is a case where a Cosmic Retcon in the backstory turned a Late Stage into an Early Stage:
    • Wanted says the world used to be a Standard Superhero Setting but the majority of the villains united into a group called the Fraternity and built a machine that altered reality into a world where superheroes were just fiction and the heroes were depowered and turned into actors who played them in movies and TV shows and the Fraternity secretly rules the world above all governments.
    • Comics like Kick-Ass, Huck and Superior play the Early Stage straight with newer superheroes starting out, inspired by comics and not being aware of each other.
    • Most worlds in the multiverse are still in the Late Stage with the reason for the Fraternity's Extra-Strength Masquerade is that they fear extradimensional superheroes will try to save an Earth that's openly run by supervillains.
    • Jupiter's Legacy and Supercrooks are set in a Later Stage where superheroes are celebrities and most of them are second generation who don't bother with secret identities. Word of God says they're set in an Alternate Universe where the Fraternity never took over. The Jupiter's Circle prequel is set in a Middle Stage where a first generation Justice League style group has been active for a while.
    • The Magic Order is about a Wainscot Society of wizards that secretly live all over the world, inspired by Harry Potter and the Order's main job is to protect humanity from knowing about the Eldritch Abominations that threaten reality.
    • The Secret Service and King Of Spies are spy stories inspired by James Bond where yet another Extra-Strength Masquerade keeps villain threats from reaching the newspapers.
    • Finally the Big Game crossover series has the Fraternity deciding to get rid of these new superheroes to stop the world from becoming a Later Stage again.

    Fan Works 
  • Last Child of Krypton: At the beginning of the crossover, there's a single superhuman (Superman) and his existence is unknown to the public. Later on, some more characters become heroes and several supervillains pop up (and then it turned out that there was a more standard version of the DC Universe before, but Second Impact and SEELE causing The Purge in secret so there would be nobody capable of stopping "the Scenario"). In the rewrite, though, there are a grand total of two superheroes (Superman and Supergirl) and a single supervillain who is an alien menace.
  • Superman of 2499: The Great Confrontation: Played with. After five centuries, there're no super-heroes operating other than the heirs of Superman and Batman. Muto and the descendants of the Joker are the only super-villains around. Then Katherine reclaims her ancestor's Supergirl mantle. And a new Green Lantern is appointed. And an Amazon travels to the Manís World...
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: The setting falls between the Early and the Middle Stages: there're few super-heroes and they operate exclusively in one city. There're no super-hero teams, and the two only named heroes -Supergirl and Wonder Girl- have only teamed-up once or twice. However, they're going from beating thugs and crooks to fight alien gods and mythological creatures.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman Begins falls here. No superpowers, relatively grounded tech, mob bosses rather than supervillains, etc. Fitting, since it was loosely based on Batman: Year One.
  • The Batman (2022) falls here. It is set in a grounded universe with no superpowers. Batman's tech is very realistic and low-key (instead of the glider-cape of previous continuities, he has a wing-suit used by real-life mountaineers). Batman spends most of his time fighting street criminals and Mob bosses, and investigating corruption. Even the film's main antagonist, the Riddler, is less the classic colorful "super-villain" and more a politically motivated serial-killer and terrorist who radicalizes his online supporters. The cops, for the most part, don't trust Batman and barely tolerate his presence, with Jim Gordon being the sole exception. The ending of the film however hints at this setting starting to move towards the Middle Stage with Batman becoming a more public figure and being viewed as a hero by the city, and the reveal that the Joker is around and might make his presence felt in Gotham someday soon.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe began in the Early Stage with the first five movies (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger) and progressed to the Middle Stage with The Avengers.
    • In Iron Man the hero fights terrorists and his only superpowered enemy has a knockoff of his power suit.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger falls here: Captain America is the only Super-Soldier, created to fight a threat with a science-fiction bent to their methods, without any superhumans to oppose him, except the Red Skull, an archnemesis whose origin involves Cap's super-soldier serum.
    • A late case is Captain Marvel, set in the nineties, between Cap's disappearance and Tony Stark becoming Iron Man. At most there is the MacGuffin from Cap's movie being used by an alien scientist disguised as human to run advanced space tech.
  • Star Wars:
    • In the original trilogy (1977-1983), there are a grand total of five active Force users (The Hero, his two mentors, and his two Sith archnemeses), of whom no more than three appear prominently in any given movie. This is justified by the movies being set in the aftermath of The Purge that nearly destroyed the Jedi Order and the Sith operating on the Rule of Two where there are only two Sith at any given time.
    • The Force Awakens, the first installment in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, follows suit by having the only prominent Force user be Kylo Ren, given Luke Skywalker's disappearance prior to the film's events. That is until The Reveal that Rey is also Force sensitive and Luke Skywalker's cameo at the very end of the film. That still leaves only three active Force users (counting Supreme Leader Snoke), which is actually one less than the original trilogy.

  • In the My Brother is a Superhero series, Zack/"Star Guy" is the world's first superhero. The concept certainly existed, however, as both Marvel and DC Comics exist in this universe and Luke reads them religiously.

    Live Action TV 
  • Power Rangers in the "Zordon era" (its first six seasons). It has some elements of the Middle Stage already, but it's mainly just the one team and the public is in the dark about the details.
  • Alphas falls here, no-one wears costumes and the very existence of superhumans is kept secret by the government. The only thing that differs it from most Early settings is supervillians (albeit non-costumed ones) are numerous, and highly organized. Of course given that at the end of Season One, Rosen reveals the existence of Alphas, it may become Middle stage soon.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel start out as early stage horror/superheroes, with only one Slayer and only one ensouled vampire. Over the course of each series "champions" become more numerous, and in the continuing comics they pretty clearly reach stage 2. The Buffyverse shifted into the Middle Stage in the BtVS finale, where a spell was cast activating the powers of all potential Slayers everywhere, with the post-series comics dealing with the repercussions of this.
  • The first season of Arrow firmly falls into the Early Stage. Oliver isn't considered a hero, but is a vigilante (known simply as 'the Hood'). He is wanted by the police. Most of the villains he takes on are mobsters and corrupt businessmen and officials. Even the occasional 'super-villain' is fairly grounded - Deadshot is a contract killer, Merlyn is essentially a domestic terrorist, Firefly is an arsonist etc.
    • Its sibling series, The Flash (2014), starts off somewhere in between the Early and Middle stages. Barry Allen is the only known superpowered hero (though Firestorm makes his debut in the middle of the first season), but the Mass Empowering Event that granted him his speed also gave rise to a large number of metahuman criminals, and there is technology that falls on the softer side of Moh's scale, like Captain Cold's Freeze Ray.
  • No Ordinary Family Was there for most of its single-season run; the Powell family were for the most part the sole heroic superpowered characters, with the few others being uninvolved in heroics, or working for the Big Bad either directly or indirectly, and all superpowers had a common source. The general public was also unaware of the existence of supers. The last few episodes seemed to show some progression towards the Middle Stage.
  • Kamen Rider started off like this. In the Showa era there were at most two heroes operating at the same time, and the villains were secret societies that tried to conquer the world from the shadows. The only Muggles aware of this were typically the Riders' civilian allies, though it does stretch suspension of disbelief at times (nobody seems to report on Japan's best and brightest getting kidnapped). The Heisei era also started off like this, with a few minor tweaks and justifications, but moved towards the Middle Stage around Kamen Rider 555.
  • Gotham, much like Batman Begins above, naturally falls here by way of the premise. In the first season, the primary antagonists are non-powered mob bosses and the odd serial killer or other criminals, with villains like Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler only beginning to form the bases of what will be their future identities, and are seen as outliers. It starts edging into Middle in the later seasons, as villains like Freeze, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and Madhatter begin cropping up and become recognized criminals; and, of course, there's Bruce Wayne coping with the loss of his parents...

  • The period from the start of the Heroic Age to the epoch of the Argonauts in the Classical Mythology was mostly centered on individual heroes (like Cadmus, Perseus, and Bellerophon) battling their respective monsters, with the implication being that other heroes are not part of their worlds.
    • Hercules in a way starts towards the end of this stage and ushers in the middle stage. Most of his early adventures are solo stories and the character is usually older than the members of the middle generation (Theseus trying to emulate him when he starts his adventure, the Argonauts wanting him to be their leader because he already had a long established history as a hero and going to war with Nestors father when Nestor was still a very young man). He lived long enough to fall into the middle generation.

    Western Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • While El Goonish Shive has had aliens, magic and anime-style martial arts since the beginning, the series officially entered this category when Elliot adopted the superhero identity of "Cheerleadra". While Elliot is far from the world's only super-powered being, since he/she is the world's only known superhero, as far as most people are concerned, the world is an Early Stage superhero world.

Middle Stage:

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, we have superpowered team vs. team action, but there is still a considerably Muggle presence (as in, there are some who are still relevant to the plot).
  • The first Pretty Cure All Stars movie was a Bat Family Crossover featuring characters from the six seasons screening up to that point (a total of 14 heroines), and a new movie was made every year, incorporating the team from that season (and Sixth Rangers from the previous season who had not been introduced when the last movie was released). By the time of the fifth movie (coinciding with the tenth season, Doki Doki! PreCure), there are 32 Precures, and at one point in Doki Doki Precure, one of the villains comments that at this rate it won't be long before there are a hundred.
  • In Kotoura-san, this is the main goal of Yuriko Mifune's ESP club even though she doesn't have Psychic Powers herself. However, her mother did (Super-Senses to be exact), and was Driven to Suicide for being called a fake. Yuriko also suffered by proxy, hence her motivation.
  • Dragon Ball is an odd duck, roughly Middle stage crossed with World of Weirdness. Strange creatures and martial-arts-based superpowers aren't exactly common, but they're not unknown to the general public either, and there's no real Masquerade to keep them from finding out. There's not much organization more formal than a few loosely-affiliated martial arts schools. In the Z era, the characters travel to space where they find that the galaxy at large tends more toward a Late era setting, but Earth stays more or less Middle thanks to an implied Weirdness Censor that has all but a handful of characters perpetually acting like they somehow forgot about the last time the Earth was invaded by aliens. A low-key Masquerade is introduced, not to keep Earth in the dark about superpowers per se, but to tone them down enough that the non-powered Mr. Satan can take credit for defeating Cell and leave the populace believing he's strong enough to save the planet from any superpowered threat. Some of the non-canon movies feel more Late, such as Bojack Unbound, in which Earth apparently has friendly enough relations with other planets to be able to invite a bunch of aliens over for a martial arts tournament.

    Comic Books 
  • Creator Image Comics's Youngblood, debuting in 1992, begins as the Middle Stage: the titular Youngblood is a government sanctioned group, with an A-team and a B-team. Their first issue's flipside story involves the B-team going to the Middle East to oust a Saddam Hussein stand-in. The A-team's story in the next issues deal with typical action-y superhero stuff, as well as PR/merchandising issues, and White House interference.
  • Marvel Comics: The mutant corner of the Marvel Universe flirted with this stage for a time:
    • In the 1980s, authors Chris Claremont and John Byrne introduced Alpha Flight, a team of Canadian superheroes (including Canadian mutants) that works for the mysterious Department H, a branch of the Canadian government. In their on panel debut (Uncanny X-Men #120-121), the then Canadian Prime Minister orders them to go after the X-Men and reinstate Wolverine as their agent.
    • After the failure and dismantling of Freedom Force in the 1991 crossover The Killing Stroke, government mutant liaison (human) Valerie Cooper suggests they form a second government-sanctioned mutant team, X-Factor, this time with heroic mutants. The original lineup consisted of former X-Men Havok (Cyclops's brother) and Polaris (Magneto's daughter), Quicksilver (Magneto's son and former Avenger), and X-franchise C-Listers Wolfsbane, Strong Guy and Multiple Man.
  • The Ultraverse: The line begins in the early- to mid-1990s, in "modern times". By this time, superpowered people named Ultras start to appear in the United States. Some of the more well-known Ultras work with private companies (like Hardcase for a Los Angeles film studio and Prototype for a technology company). In time, as more begin to appear in the public eye, an Ultra named Contrary finds students for a secret private school she operates, and an impromptu interview with Hardcase on television gives Prime (the strongest of them) the idea to have Ultras deal with their own kind - which leads to the creation of the Ultraforce.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Nolan's The Dark Knight falls here: The sci-fi is starting to go a lot more soft, the existence of the Batman is an established fact of Gotham life, his cooperation with the police has gotten a lot more regular now that Gordon is promoted and once they bring Harvey Dent in, and the Joker is a bona fide supervillain (albeit sans superpowers).
  • Mystery Men seems a pretty quintessential example. Soft sci-fi is showcased throughout the film, the plot focuses on a team of heroes going through some rather disorganized recruiting, the existence of superheroes is widely known (though disorganized unlike later stage works), and one "celebrity" superhero takes on a number of sponsors (although all of the sponsors in question are corporate ones).
  • Thor lands here, for while he and all his foes are Asgardians, there are agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on hand who know about superheroes.
  • The Avengers falls at the upper edge of the middle stage. Superheroes are starting to become a fact of life, although villains are rare enough that the only team up thus far is between Loki and his mysterious benefactor, neither of whom are from Earth. The relatively small number of superheroes means that, for now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still middle stage, but it looks like future films are slowly going to transition into late stage.
  • The Star Wars prequel trilogy, set immediately before The Purge, features a large presence of the Jedi Order, and a substantial number of active Sith Lords. As a result, it is much more high-powered than the original trilogy (the lightsaber battles are flashier and the Force powers are more destructive).

    Live Action TV 
  • Power Rangers, post-"Zordon era":
    • The Rangers are a known quantity now, and with the format changing to have new teams every year there's room for occasional team-ups. As for relationships with the government, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy (season 7) hints that the local authorities are Secret Secret Keepers and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue (season 8) sees the military field their own Ranger team. Private businessmen, independent scientists, secret martial arts orders and city officials have since replicated this, and multi-season team-ups tend to occur around franchise anniversaries.
    • What keeps it out of Late stage is Superman Stays Out of Gotham: it's only in these specials that multiple teams operate, and the lower budget after the Saban era means we're no longer guaranteed that a given team will meet even their immediate predecessor or successor. In any given series, a maximum of three episodes is about something other than the single team that's seen as the world's only hope responding to monsters created by one central villain who turned up in the season premiere. The Mythology Gag is common, but if this was The DCU or the Marvel Universe, no Time Travel episode would be complete without someone from Power Rangers Time Force making sure they don't screw up history, alien threats would mean crossing paths with the predecessors of the cast of Power Rangers S.P.D., whose Earth branch should already be getting up and running by now, etc. but we're not there. There are Mythology Gags that would make nice Worldbuilding if the obvious similarities to things in other seasons were pointed out onscreen... but they're not.note 
  • Arrow starts to move into the 'Middle Stage' with the second season; with the introduction of super-powers (albeit, reasonably grounded ones); the emergence of other costumes figures; and Oliver now re-branding his alter ego as the 'Arrow', working alongside Quentin Lance (who now serves essentially as his The Commissioner Gordon) while increasingly being perceived as a 'hero' rather than a 'vigilante'. By the third season, the show is firmly in the Middle Stage.
  • Starting around 2003's Kamen Rider 555, the Kamen Rider franchise hit this stage. Rather than evil human organizations, the villains tend to be monsters (of either the ancient or alien varieties) who generally don't care about operating in secret, and certain events are public knowledge because of how big they werenote . In some series (like Blade, Fourze, and Wizard) the Kamen Riders are regarded as an urban legend, but in others (Double, Drive, and Ex-Aid) their existence is well-known and they're officially authorized agents of the police and/or government.

  • The peak of the Heroic Age in Classical Mythology coincided with the adventures of the Argonauts (Jason, Heracles, Theseus, etc.), who were all acquainted with each other and regularly teamed up against common foes (or each other).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Freedom City and possibly the flagship settings of most Superhero Tabletop Games are set in a mid-to-late scenario.
  • Mutant City Blues is set in a pretty realistic mid-to-late scenario: superpowers are common enough that forensic investigation of a crime scene includes canvassing for known effects to determine if someone with powers had something to do with it and police procedure includes laws dealing with such things as having been possessed and forced to commit a crime, but overall empowered people are still a minority and powers are not really that Earth-shattering (Power at a Price being the rule of the day). In-Universe, people actually wanting to be "superheroes" or "super villains" are equally looked upon as being deranged.

    Video Games 
  • The Freedom Force games start with early as Energy X creates heroes and villains, but quickly reaches middle period as more and more heroes join the Freedom Force.

    Western Animation 
  • The Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series fall pretty squarely here. The existence of the heroes is well known, they fight powered villains, work directly with the police, team up frequently but are not yet part of an organized team, and the sci-fi is pretty soft.
  • Batman Beyond brings the DCAU setting back to the Middle after Justice League Unlimited took it far to the Later extreme. (Chronologically that is. Justice League is set earlier, but Batman Beyond was created first.) The League does show up again in a limited capacity in the third season, but it seems nowhere near as large or organized as it was in Unlimited. While this is itself unexplained, the episode gives an explanation for why Beyond remains in the Middle Stage: Terry never goes beyond part-time, and takes responsibility for protecting Gotham City rather than going national, just like Batman : The Animated Series. The Doylist explanation may simply be that Beyond was created before Justice League, let alone Unlimited, and that the third season interactions were a way to establish common continuity with the then-new JL show.

Late Stage:

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS and beyond, every named character who matters is a superpowered mage, cyborg, clone, mutant, etc. In a variation, this isn't the result of more super-people popping up in the world. Rather, it is because the series moves away from Earth and into other worlds where magic is commonplace.
  • Tiger & Bunny is well into the Late Stage. NEXT have been around for forty-five years and are generally regarded as a normal occurrence. A reasonable Super Registration Act (for superheroes, not NEXT) is in full operation, and superhero is an actual career that people get salaries and can go to specialized colleges for. Watching supherheroes arrest criminals and save lives is a national pastime, complete with a hybrid news-RealityTelevision show covering their exploits. While most superheroes are technically competing against each other, joint operations are common for larger threats, facilities are shared, and many of the superheroes are actually friends.
  • In Pretty Cure's eleventh season, HappinessCharge Pretty Cure!, there are Precures operating worldwide. However, since each Pretty Cure series is basically an Alternate Continuity outside of Crossovers, it snaps back to an Early/Middle Stage in the next season, Go! Princess Pretty Cure.
  • By the time the protagonists are born in From the New World, all humans have "power." They live alongside sapient humanoid mole rats, who don't have any superpowers. This technically isn't a case of Everyone Is a Super because the mole rats are actually deformed humans, not Uplifted Animals as is claimed for most of the series. Only a very small percentage of humans had powers when they first started to appear, and it wasn't long before they slaughtered the vast majority of those who lacked powers.
  • In the backstory of My Hero Academia, babies suddenly began being born with superpowers, and the resulting societal chaos led to the rise of heroes and villains. By the time the series begins 80% of humanity has some kind of superpower (called "Quirks" in-series). While not everyone is an actual superhero, the ones who are get subsidized by the government and work together to fight villains and rescue victims. The title refers to a Superhero School for would-be heroes, and at least 6 such schools exist in Japan alone.
  • Gamma is set in a future where every major city on Earth has a handful of superheroes dedicated to protecting it from monsters and supervillains, while getting logistical and medical support from the muggle-run Earth Defense Force. Flashbacks also show the Early Stage right after the setting's Mass Super-Empowering Event, although it is not the straightest example, as the first superheroes emerged after the planet was almost overrun by super-monsters and supervillains.
  • One-Punch Man has heroes (most of which fall under the Badass Normal or Science Hero camp, though there are a few with legitimate superpowers) working for the Hero Association, who divides them into alphanumerical classes and ranks depending on how big of a threat they're perceived to be able to take on, and C-class heroes are expected to meet a crime-fighting quota to keep their registration. The ranking system inadvertantly creates a cutthroat atmosphere for lower-ranked heroes trying to rise in the ranks, with some less-scrupulous heroes willing to throw their fellow heroes under the bus if it makes them look good, and the highest-ranked A-class hero setting himself up as a gatekeeper preventing anyone from getting into S-class that he feels isn't worthy. While heroes technically don't have to apply with the Hero Association, they do if they want recognition and payment for their efforts, as the Association encourages civilians to think of vigilante heroes as nothing more than costumed weirdos.

    Comic Books 
  • The main DC and Marvel universes currently fall in this category, and traditionally have for most of their history. The occasional Crisis event or other large-scale retcon or reboot might temporarily push them farther up the scale, but this seldom lasts longer than a year or two before they're right back at the extreme Later end of the spectrum.
    • Marvel Comics's 2006 crossover Civil War and its direct sequel series Avengers: The Initiative delved into the need for a government-regulated body of superheroes, with the latter focusing on the recruitment and training of rookie superheroes. The event also led to the creation of the 50-State Initiative: an official superhero team for every state of the USA.
    • With the 2011 DC relaunch, several titles focused on a hard year one (as opposed to in the previous universe where there had been a "Year One" for the current age of superheroes but there had been superheroes in prior eras). The rest focused on year five which seems to be middle stage: lots of secret organizations alongside several heroes acting publicly but only beginning to meet each other and organize.
  • Empowered starts right off as Late. Suprahumans are ubiquitous and derive their powers from a wide variety of sources, and a single organization regulates them all.
  • PS238 is Late, superheroes and villains have been around for several decades now and the principal setting is a grade school for their kids. It turns out that the stages are cyclical in this universe, in the late stage the powers that be take someone and let them decide whether people should still have powers, in previous cycles they all chose "no", Tyler on the other hand decided that he had no right to make the decision for everyone else on earth. Nodwick took place during the medieval Heroic Age.
  • Astro City started off Late, and has occasionally shown hints of Middle in some flashbacks. But even then, it seems to have a fairly wild, anything goes kind of setting.
  • The Boys, where the "Supes" have been around for over a decade, are employed by corporations and even star in movies about themselves. And of course, the backlash has started.
  • Spider-Man: roughly since the 2000s, Spidey's corner of the Marvel Universe has become a universe unto itself:
    • Many Spider-Men operate/have operated in the main Marvel Universe (so-called "Spider-Person"): Peter Parker in New York, Kaine (Parker's clone) in the West Coast, Miles Morales (a refugee from an Alternate Universe) in Brooklyn, Spider-Girl (Anya Corazón) in New York. Other creations of the period are Silk (Korean Cindy Moon) and Spider-Boy (Bailey Briggs). The enormous quantity of Spider-People culminated in the Spider-Verse crossover cycle.
    • Even the first two Spider-Women, who were at first separate characters, began to be increasingly attached to Spider-Man:
      • The second Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter) abandoned the mantle and took on the role of Madame Web, a mystical mentor to the Spider-People.
      • The third Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin, originated in a 1998-1999 Spider-Man storyline, and worked with him for a time before retiring and dying years later.
    • Spider-Man's Rogues Gallery has become enormous, the many villains eventually join forces with each other in a repeat of the infamous Sinister Six. In one specific storyline, Sinister War, there have been at least three groups operating like it: the "Savage Six", the "Sinister Syndicate", and Dr. Octopus's "Sinister Six".
  • Top 10 is set in a city where literally every person is a Differently Powered Individual.
  • X-Men:
    • A case could be made for Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men:
      • During its first year (2001-2002), Xavier assumes publicly he is a mutant, and the Xavier Institute welcomes a whole generation of teenage mutants.
      • During its second year (2002-2003), Xavier founds the X-Corporation, basically a global NGO operated by mutants and for mutants, bringing under the same umbrella the main X-Men team of the period (Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine and Jean Grey), former New Mutants/X-Force/Generation X members (e.g., Syrin, Monet, Cannonball), a few former enemies (Feral and Thornn) and independent mutants (like Japanese Sunfire and Russian Darkstar).
      • The "mutants as minority" metaphor is more pronounced: mutants live in their own New York neighbourhood, referred to as "District X" or "Mutant Town".
    • Starting in 2019, the X-Men franchise officially becomes this with the Krakoan Age mega arc:
      • Xavier, Magneto and Moira assemble the many mutant factions (X-Men and adjacent teams, Hellfire Club, Morlocks, Acolytes, etc.) on the mutant island of Krakoa to form a single nation. Some X-Men even act as members of the ruling government body, the Quiet Council.
      • On the human side of things, a data page shows that human members of several antagonistic groups of the Marvel Universe (e.g., SHIELD, A.I.M, HAMMER and HYDRA) joined forces to found ORCHIS, an organization dedicated to ensure mankind's survival against the mutant threat. They are also the main antagonists throughout the "Krakoan Saga".

    Films — Animated 
  • The first scene of The Incredibles takes place in the Middle period, but the setting quickly shifts to Late after the superhero ban is put into effect.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Avengers may have still qualified as a middle stage work, but it looks like future Marvel Cinematic Universe works will make the transition into late stage. The series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deals with the resurgence in appearances of technologies used to make superheroes and follow the way SHIELD and the world copes with this. Captain America: Civil War firmly sets the series in this, with the governments of the world finally moving (and failing) to take control of the Avengers. By the finale of Avengers: Endgame, there's a veritable army of superheroes and their allies assembled to oppose the forces of Thanos.

  • !HERO by Perry Moore, about a teen who ends up as a trainee with the League of superheroes. There are multiple other trainees, and his father is also a superhero.
  • Star Wars Legends (formerly "Star Wars Expanded Universe") was, in general, even more high-powered than any of the movies, with hundreds, if not thousands of Jedi and Sith battling each other across millenia of galactic history. Even installments that were, similarly to the original trilogy, set after major Jedi purges (like Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords) featured more Force users at once than there were named ones in all six movies combined.
  • Worm. There are dozens of heroes and villains ("capes", collectively) in Brockton Bay alone; the world has thousands. The Protectorate is far from the only superhero team, but it is dominant in North America and has clout even with foreign groups. Its parent organization, the PRT, has existed long enough to create a nomenclature for power types and guidelines for dealing with a variety of types of powers; these have existed long enough to become more or less standard, at least among capes and their fans. Word of God states that Cauldron is the only reason parahumans became this organized, rather than operating solo or in small, unconnected groups.
  • The Super Powereds setting is firmly in this stage. There are hundreds of government-licensed Heroes. About 1 in a 1000 people have superpowers, although only 3/4 of those are full-fledged Supers with the ability to control them. The rest are called Powereds and suffer from Power Incontinence. According to the backstory, the government has stepped in early on during the discovery of the existence of Supers and Powereds, not long after World War II and laid the ground rules for Heroes operating within the US. Since the focus of the main series is on students, they obviously don't have to deal with any supervillains. The worst they face are superpowered domestic terrorists/supremacists. Even in Corpies, which features Corporate Sponsored Superheroes, most of what the protagonist does is clean-up and rescue work. One big fight isn't against a supervillain but against a superpowered gang. While the book does end up having a supervillain after all, he turns out to have died some time ago. All the actions were undertaken by the AI he had built in his name.
  • In Villains' Code, there are plenty of "capes" (superheroes) and villains thanks to a number of Mass Super Empowering Events over the years. The government's rule is diminished, as the "capes" themselves have largely taken over the role of the city government and police. In fact, the villains have their own organization that polices itself in order to avoid a large-scale war with the "capes". Some on both sides are nostalgic for the "good old days" (i.e. the Middle stage), when larger-than-life "capes" and villains fought openly with no rules or regulations, no concern for PR.

    Live Action TV 
  • Six years in, the Arrowverse is edging into the Late Stage. Team Arrow and Team Flash, originally just support teams built around a single hero, are now full-fledged superhero teams with multiple powered/costumed members, often working with fellow superhero team the Legends and several other unaffiliated heroes. Multiple different supervillain teamups have occurred. Magic, advanced technology, aliens, demons, and freak-accident induced superpowers all exist alongside each other. Special prison wings have been built to contain supervillains, an organization called the Time Bureau works with the UN to police time travelers, and there are apparently enough superpowered folk around for a black marketeer to build a business around kidnapping and selling them. A brief time travel excursion to the 2040s sees the setting go full late stage, with the government outlawing superpowers and rounding up dozens of "metahumans" to be imprisoned and experimented on.

  • The Trojan War period of Classical Mythology features so many semi-divine heroes that the line between them and regular Badass Normal warriors blurs (e.g. Achilles met his match in a decidedly non-divine Hector), and many of them serve the authority figures like Agamemnon side by side.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Aberrant immediately jumped into this stage after the awakening of novas, who immediately began reshaping the world. Project Utopia rose to bring them under some measure of control, and the nations of the world each had their own legislative response to the emergence.
  • In the Savage Worlds setting, Necessary Evil, in which each of the players create a four color supervillain that team up to defeat the aliens that have taken over the world, superpowers and their affects are almost commonplace. While ordinary people do exist, almost everything will be influenced by the growing number of superpowered individuals. The main governing body in the world has a practical means to negate superpowers, no matter their origins, and it is not uncommon to encounter machines, buildings, or technologies given to the world by superpowered people. A major refugee race is the Atlanteans, of all things. In the original setting history up until the early 20th century was fairly common, although superheroes and villains did supposedly exist even in the earliest points in history.
  • Champions, in its current incarnation, is clearly at the late stage, with its large numbers of heroic and villainous superteams, plenty of organisations, governmental or otherwise, dealing with superhuman matters, and aliens, magic, monsters and super-science mostly in plain sight for a few decades at least.
  • Palladium's Heroes Unlimited initially had a very sketchily-described setting that could have been thought of as Early-to-Middle in its first edition due to relative dearth of published materials, but after the revised edition rolled in, several more supplements were released which pushed the setting squarely in the Late stage, with the Century Station (a "city of the future" fallen on hard times after its main benefactor/employer was revealed as an alien criminal and dragged off-planet to face justice) and Gramercy Island (The Alcatraz / Extranormal Prison built near Century Station) setting having dozens of heroes, villains, teams and organizations active in a single large metropolitan area, and plenty of hints at a much bigger world beyond which is likely common knowledge (or nearly so) to the average inhabitant. Later books only cemented this.
  • Base Raiders takes place after this stage, which culminated in the event known as "Ragnarok" where all the Earth's superheroes and villains disappeared at once. Now there's a thriving black market in super-empowering artifacts looted from the hidden bases of the vanished supers, which is where the PCs come in.

    Video Games 
  • City of Heroes/Villains. Player heroes start out with a contact in the Federal Bureau for Superpowered Affairs, villains join the organization that rules a small island nation, and Praetorian metahumans are conscripted into a special division of their universe's police department. Enemies run the full spectrum from normal humans to gods, often within the same group.
  • Dragon Ball Online moves the Dragon Ball setting from the Middle to something of a Late. 300 years of Goku and Vegeta's descendants interbreeding with Earthlings means practically every human has at least some Saiyan DNA, and on top of that the Namekians have migrated to Earth while Majin Buu spawned an entire race of beings like himself. After Goku's death Gohan wrote a book that introduced the general public to the basics of Ki control, and an upsurge of interest in martial arts led to characters like Krillin and Tenshinhan opening new dojos to pass on their techniques, meaning super-powered martial arts are now commonplace.

    Web Original 
  • The Whateley Universe starts off in the Late Stage, with kids manifesting their mutant powers and going off to a Superhero School of roughly 600 teenagers with dozens of powered teachers and staff. The backstory of Charlie Lodgeman is set starting in the late 1800s, and the universe was already Middle Stage at that point. He and five others form the superhero team the Mystic Six.
  • Magellan starts off in Late Stage, with a girl motivated to become a superhero because she was saved years earlier by one of many well-known supers.

    Western Animation 
  • The DCAU's Justice League and Justice League Unlimited fit here, particularly the latter. Dozens of superheroes and villains operate in large, organized teams, working with (and occasionally against) the government on a large scale.
  • Young Justice features a large Justice League (with sixteen members at the start of the series), a well-organized Legion of Doom and a history of superpowers going back to at least World War II. The legal issues are also addressed, with Batman noting that the Justice League has U.N. approval to operate in most (but not all) countries.