With the big screen adaptation of Marvel's Civil War miniseries event from 2007 set to hit theaters next May, I think it is important to revisit a key aspect of that storyline, the catalyst of the war, that I think a lot of people missed or just didn't understand. The Superhero Registration Act, which would require all superheroes (not all superhumans, just those engaged in superhero activities) to register, receive government training, and become federal law enforcement employees, with full pay and benefits. This sounds like a pretty sweet deal, and to most people I think it seems like it could be a good idea. While the heroes would have to register under their real names, those names would be kept secure and would be known only to those high in the SHIELD ranks, they would be trained and we could know that they are always operating in the best interest of the public, they would get paid for their time and their sacrifices, just like any other law enforcement officer. But there is a severe problem that this arrangement would present: superheroes can't do what they do if they work for the government.
Back in 1966, Batman was always going on about how he was a duly deputized officer of the law. His Batmobile had a red flashing light and a siren on it. Batman was a cop, albeit in a probably honorary capacity. While this may have given Batman some sense of legitimacy, taking the vigilante moniker off of him, if this was actual reality, it would have severely hindered Batman's ability to perform his "duties."
Imagine this scenario: Batman has just busted a group of thugs receiving a shipment of illegal guns into Gotham Harbor. Batman, in typical Batman style, beats them up, ties them up, and scares the crap out of them until they tell him the name of their boss -- The Penguin! Batman races to Penguin's home, and finds his pudgy nemesis to be gone. He sticks his flashlight in his mouth and begins to rummage through Penguin's papers until he finds evidence of Penguin brokering the gun deal, and evidence of the gangs he is contracted to sell the guns to. GCPD arrest Penguin and he goes to trial. Guess what? Batman obtained that evidence illegally and it was thrown out. Batman had no warrant. Also, the confession of the thugs is ruled as inadmissible, you see, Batman didn't read those goons their rights before he interrogated them. They were afforded no opportunity to a lawyer. And, with that, Batman's entire night was wasted and not a single conviction is to be had. You see, as a duly deputized officer of the law, Batman is subject to the United States Constitution!
The Constitution exists to protect the citizens from government overreach. As a vigilante, Batman, and other superheroes, aren't hindered by the system. In fact, superheroes like Batman exist because of the faults inherent in the system. Our system is designed to benefit the accused. We give the accused the benefit of the doubt, and that is the only way the system can work. Without those protections, a lot more innocent people would be in jail than some claim already are. It is better for 10 criminals to go free than for one man to be wrongly convicted, and I think most people would agree with that. However, criminals do use the system to their favor, and they hide behind it. Superheroes act outside the law for that reason. They are what balances the system and tilt the scales back in the favor of justice. Batman can go into the Penguin's residence, collect the evidence he needs, and pass it on to Commissioner Gordon who can then freely use it. Sure, the defense attorney is going to argue to have it thrown out, but a judge is free to admit it. If Gordon had gone illegally into the home and taken it, the judge doesn't have that choice. Superheroes introduce a grey area into the law, where it previously wouldn't have existed.
Would these tactics fly in real life? Probably not, but we aren't talking about real life, we're talking about fantasy. And in fantasy, we want the good guys to win. We want to see the bad guys punished. We want to see things that can't happen in real life happen. That's why we watch the movies or read the comics or the novels, that's why we crave the fantasy worlds that contain these types of characters and I think, ultimately, that's why Marvel didn't really follow through with the Superhero Registration Act. As a story idea, pitting superheroes against each other, it was a great plot point, but it wouldn't make for good superhero comics. It would make for real life, and real life is boring. That's why we read comics.