Improbables / The Improbables
This is an attempt to create a low-key, half-believable fictional setting with not-quite-superheroes. Not that superheroes are in any way plausible, but past a certain age one finds the traditional crazy mix of magic, impossible tech, aliens, other dimensions and simply unexplained powers even harder to swallow than the basic premise. So this aims to be a superhero setting that requires reasonable suspension of disbelief while still being fun.
Our story starts with a bit of alternate history...
It's the year 1987, and Gorbachev's Perestroika succeeds against all odds. Quickly adopted by all the Eastern Bloc countries, it leads to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the reversal of the imminent economic collapse of the Communist countries. Borders are opened, and the economy becomes at least partly capitalist. As a direct consequence, the 1989 Revolution never happens, and the transition is more or less smooth.
Ten years later, the Eastern Bloc countries are an odd mix of old and new, of communism and capitalism. Western technology is slow to take on. E.g. the preferred method for connecting to the Internet is still by dialing into a Unix mainframe from a PC running DOS. Mobile phones are rich men's toys and cable TV owners are the neighbors' envy. On the other hand, there is a thriving DIY culture, for everything from home improvements, through electronics to transportation.
Also, local research&development is encouraged at all levels. Rapid progress is being registered in many fields of science and engineering, in both institutional and amateur settings. When people use the results of this progress to single-handedly save lives, they become...
Realistically speaking, the only practical difference between a superhero digging out earthquake victims with his bare hands and a search&rescue team doing the same with a crane is the spectacular. But that's exactly what the public at large wants to see. So it's the public perception that makes a superhero. The majority of them don't even have a nickname, let alone a mask (and those that do wear masks are sought out by the Secret Police, whereas those with public identities are hailed as socialist heroes). Besides, many of the means "supers" use to enhance their natural abilities are relatively well-understood and entirely duplicable with various amounts of work; but not everyone has the mental make-up required to use them. Especially since not all threats are natural disasters: some actually have human faces... and guns.
See also: Known heroes.
See: Common powers