Jan 05 2008

Common Problems with Powersuited Superheroes

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Are you writing a novel or comic book about a powersuited hero, like Iron Man or Steel? Powersuit stories often suffer from the following problems, many of which are easy-to-fix.

1)  It’s harder to write in a plausible secret identify for a power-suited hero… but that might make the story more interesting. If he wears most of his powersuit under regular clothes, like Tony Stark, it’s hard to believe no one would notice whenever she hugged him.  From the author’s perspective, that’s an opportunity.  A difficult situation allows you to show how your character protects his secret identity with his finesse and quick wits.  How does your hero deal with some of the tricky situations that come up?

Here are a few that I thought of…

  • Anyone that touches him might feel something metal.
  • The hero sets off a metal detector.
  • A bystander notices that the character is very heavy.  The character’s footsteps may be noticeably louder and he will probably sink in snow or mud.  If his suit is very heavy, he may break a chair or cause elevators to malfunction.

2)  Powersuits usually make the character look lifeless and unrelatable. That’s obviously a problem for comic books, but even a novelist might want to put his character on his cover.  The good news is that making the character look less artificial is pretty easy.

  • Round the edges on his suit.
  • Make the suit nonmetallic (or look nonmetallic).
  • Give him normal-looking gloves (like cotton).  That will make his gestures look more natural.
  • Reallooking boots are also helpful.
  • Hulking armor usually doesn’t look aesthetic.  I recommend going slim, but not form-fitting.  For example, I really liked Samus’ suit.

3)  Readers may feel that the character is too dependent on his suit. One way you can encourage your readers to think of him as heroic is by giving him skills independent of his suit.  For example, he might be savvy, persuasive, or tricky with his hands.  However, scientific and mechanical expertise are kind of cliche and expected.  Personal or physical skills will probably feel fresher.

4)  The character is often overpowered. If supervillains are the only rivals powerful enough to have a real fight with your hero, writing fight scenes will be difficult.  If your hero is too powerful, fights with mere mortals won’t interest an audience.  One way to keep a powersuited hero weak enough is by making his suit not completely bulletproof.  That worked very well in Weapon, a sci-fi novel about an android.

5)  You will probably have to explain the logistics of how he got his armor and keeps it running. But explaining the hero’s logistical support (like Steel’s helpers) is often boring and distracts from the story (Steel).  One way you can make the logistics interesting is by introducing conflict.  For example…

  • His mechanic sidekick wants to work on something safer for his family.
  • The hero works for an organization he disagrees with (perhaps the US Army, the Justice League, a mob cartel, or a SWAT team).  He may have different goals and ideas about how and when the suit should be used.  He may be trying to get away from the organization.  He may have been drafted against his will.  Does the organization need him specifically to operate the suit, or can they train a replacement?
  • The hero and his sidekick are ideologically conflicted.  For example, Lucius Fox’s libertarian impulses led him to part ways with Batman in The Dark Knight.

39 responses so far

39 Responses to “Common Problems with Powersuited Superheroes”

  1. Power Manon 05 Apr 2009 at 10:46 am

    Good article. However, the character’s name was Lucius Fox, not Lucius Clay.

  2. B. Macon 05 Apr 2009 at 10:51 am

    Ah, good call. Thanks.

    In case anyone is interested, Lucius Clay was a US general best known for his role in the Berlin Airlift. He was on Time’s cover three times.

  3. Anonymouson 22 Jun 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Lucius Fox was going to part ways with Batman, but Fox said that he wouldn’t work for Wayne Industries as long as the machine existed, then Batman said to type in his name when they were finished. When he typed “Lucius Fox,” the computer shorted and essentially blew up. Therefore, Fox still works for Wayne.

  4. Bretton 22 Jun 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Good call, anonymous.

  5. Eren Ramzion 22 Jun 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Yeah a lot of people seemed to misinterpret Lucius as parting ways with Batman at the end of THE DARK KNIGHT even though it was quite clear he didn’t. I’m kind of surprised. Not that I’m criticising you, B Mac – if you’ve only watched a film once or two – sometimes you can misinterpret and misunderstand things. It took me at least six viewings to understand and keep up with the confusing story of Mission Impossible 1 – though when I look back it’s not that confusing or complicated of a plot but at the time it was.

    Anyways, great article by the way as always, B Mac. Powersuited heroes can have their disadvantages as characters and heroes.

  6. JZon 22 Jul 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Huh. My main character in the online serial I’m writing uses a power suit and I think that I violated a few of these. Personally I’m of the opinion that it works anyway (but feel free to disagree).

    1. My main character can’t wear the armor in day to day life so he doesn’t. If he wants to get into action immediately, he either has to skip it or wear what’s referred to as the “stealth suit” which is little more than bulletproof and can be worn under clothes.

    2. Looks don’t apply because my serial’s all done in text — though it’s something to keep in mind if I add art to the website.

    3. I don’t know if readers feel he’s too dependent on the suit. He does have technical skills but also has trained in the martial arts fairly heavily. Hopefully, that’s enough to make him feel fresh and not cliched. More importantly, the personality and origin of the character work. I’d say that that’s what really makes the difference.

    4. I have to ask myself if he’s too powerful. I don’t feel that way, largely because as things are set up, he has to run back to the lab to get his suit (and it takes a few minutes or so to put on). If he doesn’t, he’s got the stealth suit, which is vulnerable to armor piercing bullets at the least.

    5. I haven’t bothered to make suit maintenance interesting because I think readers only care about that sort of thing if it impacts the plot or if it’s totally implausible i.e. a person without money can’t afford to keep one of those things running.

    Anyway it’s all stuff that’s worth thinking about. One of these days I’ll have to comment on the telepathy article… I’ve unknowingly violated some of those suggestions as well.

  7. ShardReaperon 22 Jul 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I got confused with Lucius’s decision at the end of TDK, too. One other problem with powersuited heroes is that if they face the same villain who falls into the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” method the hero will pretty much find a way to adapt to the villain’s moves (for example, taking any technology used and studying it), therefore making the villain an idiot. It might be possible to avoid that if the villain has his equipment explode after it leaves his person or does what it’s supposed to do.

  8. NicKennyon 05 Oct 2010 at 3:10 pm

    How can I create a powersuited superhero but keep him visually distinct from the likes of Iron Man, Iron Monger and War Machine from the Iron Man movie series?

  9. B. Macon 05 Oct 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Hmm. I think that’s an interesting question.

    –The first thing that comes to mind is changing the color scheme. For example, you could make it less arbitrary, so that the color matches up more with limbs or some other discernible logic. (For example, maybe you’d use the accent color for visors, which have boundaries that correspond to something understandable; I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason to the boundaries of the yellow region on Ironman’s helmet).

    –Change the design of the helmet. For example, the helmets for the three examples you mentioned are designed to look like heads rather than helmets. I think that gives the suit a robotic look. For one thing, IM’s and WM’s helmets are very gaunt and the cheeks curve inwards. Here’s a picture of a Spitfire helmet that I’d like to use as a reference for an Air Force-themed powersuit hero.

    Two things that stand out about this helmet: the size of the space for the eyes is substantially larger (because it uses a visor rather than eye-slits). Second, the shape is more round than oval, whereas Ironman’s head is so thin relative to its height that I don’t think it looks human.

    –Across the board, you can make the edges softer and/or rounder.

    –Add accessories. For example, Ironman’s jets are in his boots, but you could build the jets onto the back for a bit of ornamentation.

    –Powersuits are usually depicted as pretty bulky. (For example, check out War Machine’s shoulders in the comics). I think it’d be unusual to see one that was slimmer.

    –A really random personal touch (if the character is highly unorthodox) might be something like wearing an article of clothing OVER the powersuit, like a vest or unbuttoned t-shirt or a cloak or something.

    –Maybe it looks LESS human than Ironman. I think the Battlemech series has a lot of interesting visual designs.

  10. NicKennyon 21 Oct 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks B.Mac. Will use some of those.

  11. Castilleon 07 Aug 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I woke up the other morning with what i think was one of the more original ideas I have come up with so far. It involves a hero with a powersuit, only this suit is outfitted with solar panels, which will allow him to absorb the natural energy of the sun/ high energy strobe lights. He would then use some process, (haven’t quite figured that part out yet) turn this energy into a highly concentrated beam of radiation (from the light).

    However, I’m having trouble on the design for the suit. I’m telling myself that solar panels have a tendency to turn out bulky and clumsy. However, I’m seeking a more ‘streamlined’ version. Actually, the design I had going in my head was of a suit that was not much more bulky than an average jacket.

    The problem in my head is…would slimming it down impede the functionality of this suit?

  12. JMelloulon 08 Aug 2011 at 4:43 am

    Only if you want it to. I’m personally not a fan of the “batman utility belt” approach to pieces of tech (that is to say, that they have a device for every situation) and if you take a look at Iron Man, that suit is very slimmed down, from its original incarnation down to extremus, but still is very functional and provides Stark with a variety, but not overextended variety of options.

  13. B. Macon 08 Aug 2011 at 9:00 am

    “I’m personally not a fan of the ‘Batman utility belt’ approach to pieces of tech (that is, to say, that they have a device for every situation)…” Yeah, I’m much more impressed when heroes use devices in creative ways than when they have something hyper-specific lying around like shark-repellent. (I think that goes for superpowers, as well).



    “Actually, the design I had going in my head was of a suit that was not much more bulky than an average jacket. The problem in my head is…would slimming it down impede the functionality of this suit?” Does the slimmed-down armor cover his entire body? In a visual medium like a comic book, it’d probably help the readers sustain their disbelief if it did.

    However, I agree with Jeremy that the bulkiness probably isn’t an issue unless you want it to be. (Maybe he has two versions of the suit but the one that’s easier to conceal is not as combat-worthy). Unless the reader has 2+ suits to compare to each other, I doubt that readers will think “that looks too thin to be effective armor!”

    PS: If metal powersuits are too heavy, you could try looking at lighter alternative styles like, umm, maybe ballistic vests. If you cut off the ornamentation and pouches, they usually look pretty slim. (Most ballistic vests weigh 3-5 pounds).

  14. Tony Thomason 23 Aug 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Hey could you make the info available to download so i can read it and follow your advice/guidance in that aspect? Thank you and have a great day!

  15. Rexon 03 Nov 2011 at 8:24 pm

    What do you think of a hero who needs his powersuit to survive? My hero was born with some sort of genetic mutation that prevents his body from properly distributing and receiving nutrients, so his suit was developed to make up for this defecit. Does that seem workable?

  16. CCOlsonon 03 Nov 2011 at 9:53 pm

    The question then becomes, however, why is a medical device that is essentially a medicine delivery system provide military grade strength and protection?

  17. B. McKenzieon 04 Nov 2011 at 2:50 am

    If the person is supposed to be a combat medic, extra protection could be useful in a war zone. (Also, if you’re going to outfit a medic with a surgical suit worth many, many millions of dollars, you should definitely make sure the person inside is safe, right?) Maybe the suit is meant to allow medics to respond more quickly and ably to extremely dangerous situations. (For example, if friendly helicopters can’t medivac a wounded soldier because of enemy fire or extreme weather conditions, maybe a heavily armored medic might be able to help?)

    As for the strength, maybe the medical equipment is heavy. Including enhanced strength might allow the person to carry a more sophisticated set of equipment than someone could normally bring along.

  18. CCOlsonon 04 Nov 2011 at 9:11 am

    Oh, for a combat medic, yes, I’d totally make that suit up to the same protective standards as the combat gear given to the rest of the soldiers, just with medical tools instead of nifty weapons. The Japanese are already making medical exoskeletons for nurses and patients ( http://medgadget.com/2006/10/exoskeletons_rn.html ). Add some armor, a built in set of robotic surgical tools, and the ability to run really fast for several hours at a stretch and keep moving for at least a day without recharging, and you have a powersuit for a combat medic.

    My response to Rex, though, was directed at the idea of a medical device, in this case a suit designed to supplement a malfunctioning circulatory system, that somehow has the design specs of a military item rather than a medical item.

    Medical devices are built to satisfy some specific deficiency in the patient. Thus, an artificial heart replaces the original organic heart and pumps blood. It may also act as a blood pressure monitor or something else related to the health of the circulatory system, but pretty much anything it does is aimed at satisfying the original deficiency, that being a malfunctioning heart.

    So, why would a medical suit designed to satisfy a nutrient/circulatory deficiency ALSO possess strength and speed sufficient to make the wearer a marked danger to aggressive humans, protective armoring sufficient to keep the wearer safe from same aggressive humans and sufficient power to allow it to operate at peak capacity for a sufficient amount of time for acts of heroism?

    There is a show where the exosuit was essentially a medical device. M.A.N.T.I.S. In this case, the suit was designed to cure his paralysis (actually one of the proposed uses for the current generation of exosuits). The guy who made the suit was a genius inventor with a large company to provide resources for his suit, though.

    My personal, rational problem with exosuit heroes is that they are using technology to achieve an exceptional status. The whole wonder of technology is that it isn’t exceptional. Pretty much anyone can learn how to use a gun, pick one up, and kill something. Pretty much anyone can learn how to use a cell phone, pick one up, and call another person with a phone from almost anywhere on the planet. Pretty much anyone can learn how to drive a car, get in a car, and move around at 100 miles per hour.

    While it might only be possible for Tony Stark himself to invent the Iron Man suit, once he has invented it, the technology will work for anyone who can get the plans and build a copy. If the person who invents such a powerful technology then decides to keep it all to themselves and swan around fighting crime and stopping wars, they are inviting a far more sinister level of attention than just a Senate investigation hearing.

    If I was a major country who had suffered at the hands of Tony Stark, I would wait until he was out one day with one of his Iron Man iterations along on standby, then have a sniper blow his head off as he got out of his car along with his body guard. Move in with a merc crew, load the Iron Man suit into a helicopter, transfer it to another location where a crew of ten matching cars are waiting to run off in different directions, one of them with the actual Iron Man suit in the trunk. I would have that suit out of America and across the permeable Mexican border by nightfall, then over to China for reverse engineering and mass production.

    Thematically, a man who is born with or receives actual superpowers is a god to the rest of humankind because of what he is. His status is a thing of fate. On the other hand, a man who uses a technology to gain superpowers and then hoards that technology is an ordinary man who wants to make himself a god and a ruler over all other men.

  19. B. McKenzieon 04 Nov 2011 at 3:20 pm

    “While it might only be possible for Tony Stark himself to invent the Iron Man suit, once he has invented it, the technology will work for anyone who can get the plans and build a copy. If the person who invents such a powerful technology then decides to keep it all to themselves and swan around fighting crime and stopping wars, they are inviting a far more sinister level of attention than just a Senate investigation hearing.” Well, if the technology is truly destructive, keeping it to just yourself might not be totally unreasonable. I can appreciate Tony Stark’s libertarian instincts there.

    Another possibility is that the technology cannot be reproduced (e.g. if it hinges on an incredibly rare material or came from the future or was a gift from aliens). For example, in The Taxman Must Die, superserums have to be taken in daily doses and are quite hard to make. They take a Nobel-grade biochemist, years of study into an individual mutant animal’s blood and DNA, and a steady supply of that animal’s blood. Even if you have all of those things, you’ve spent tens of millions of dollars and can only make enough serum to maybe keep 1-2 humans super.



    By the way, I think carrying out a military-grade sniping would be pretty difficult (harder than typically portrayed in fiction). Unlike a random handgun shooting, you’re dealing with a type of gun that is considerably rarer and would hopefully attract more police attention. Criminals that are trained sharpshooters are also very rare and would probably also attract more police attention. The above scenarios hinges on a few things that could go wrong.

    1) The sniper could miss the first shot and be looking at a very angry, incredibly dangerous Iron-Man. If the sniper goes for a shot that’s too close, Stark might figure out something is wrong and have his helmet activate. If he goes for a shot that’s farther away, he might miss if there’s a sudden gust of wind. Either way, the sniper won’t have a chance for a second shot.

    2) The helicopter could be intercepted by police and/or an F-16. I’m guessing we’re in an urban area (because Tony Stark tends to operate out of cities and because this place needs to be routine enough for Stark that you could reliably know he was going to be there), and the military does have armed jets on standby in case of another suicide skyjacking. Personally, I would recommend doing this in a more rural area and then moving by car. I imagine it’s much harder to get an untraceable helicopter than an untraceable car. (E.g. You can steal a car and have no paper trail connecting it to you, but good luck coming up with a helicopter that way).

    3) Even if you do get away, Chinese scientists have basically no chance of doing anything with it. Stane’s best scientists couldn’t reproduce it and, umm, China’s scientists and engineers are not that good. (For example, China recently bought a Russian aircraft carrier for training purposes, which suggests to me that China was not confident in its ability to make its own yet).

    4) Executing an act of war in the United States is extremely risky. If the U.S. finds out what happened–which seems pretty likely to me, considering how many people are involved in this operation and that the helicopter will probably leave a trail–war seems pretty likely. In China’s case, it’d have to think about whether having an Iron-Man suit that it probably wouldn’t be able to do anything with was worth losing access to oil shipments because of a US naval embargo. (China imports about 52% of its oil, so losing access to that would be economically devastating). The U.S. also owes something like a trillion dollars to the Chinese government, and I assume that the U.S. would renege that debt–if the provocation is great enough, the U.S. might be able to do so without scaring other lenders and causing a global economic crisis).

    5) The suit probably has a GPS locator on it. I imagine disabling it while on the move would be pretty complicated, unless you had some inside help from someone that had worked on the suit before. However, I’m not sure that anybody besides Tony Stark has worked on the suit. Good luck getting him to help. Stark’s company will probably be coordinating with the military and police about where the suit is going within a few minutes of the assassination. It would be challenging to make it out of Mexico alive, let alone a harrowing 12+ hours through the Pacific.

    6) Does Tony Stark have a system on the Iron-Man suit that will automatically activate the helmet if a sniper round is detected? Israel’s Trophy system can detect and intercept incoming RPG rounds. It’s not a huge leap from that to detecting an incoming sniper round and activating the suit in the time it takes for the shot to reach Stark.

    7) There’s an off-hand chance that border guards figure out that something is amiss. The agents can deal with them, but probably not without giving away their current location to U.S. authorities.

    8)If everything else went right, it’d probably be pretty easy for the U.S. to figure out that they were dealing with a foreign government rather than a criminal group (because it would take an incredible level of coordination to pull off an assassination in the U.S. with a sniper, precise knowledge about where Tony Stark will be and when, 10+ cars, a helicopter and a military-grade hacker to thwart the security systems on the suit). China and Russia would be the main candidates (pretty much the only candidates, I’m guessing).

  20. Rexon 05 Nov 2011 at 1:25 am

    Yeah, he is a combat medic. The suit itself serves no other functions other than protecting him and distributing nutrients. However, he does carry weapons with him, usually an SMG a pistol, and a few grenades

  21. R.C.on 30 Jan 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I plan to write about a superhero that uses krav maga and muay thai. Now, the requirement for him to transform is to be shirtless. In his transformation, only “wicked” tattoos are added, and whatever pants or shorts he’s wearing becomes a karatedo gi.

    What are your thoughts on this? Take note that only tattoos serve, essentially, as his mask and costume.

  22. Royeon 18 Apr 2012 at 7:52 am

    Hey was wondering if this thread was still active, I need some advice regarding a powersuit hero plot I am trying to develop..

  23. B. McKenzieon 18 Apr 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Okay, Roye, ask away.

  24. Royeon 24 Apr 2012 at 9:04 am

    Thanks B. Mac, love your blog. Below is a plot for the powersuit hero I am developing, please let me know your thoughts”

    PROTO: Legend of Wale West (Working Title)

    Log Line: A young man returns back home after his father’s mysterious death. Left behind for him is a mysterious suit that grants super human abilities, a suit he now uses to restore a city’s hope and investigate his fathers death.

    Summary –

    The story is centered on a young man named Wale West who has returned home after the mysterious death of his father Dr. West. Dr. West is a well-respected, brilliant engineer and inventor who worked for a very secret organization named PryTeK – a global leader in technology and innovation. Wale is a brash, hot-tempered and impatient individual whose bravery, intelligence, and selflessness often makes up for his flaws. He resents and blames his father for the kidnapping of his younger brother Timi (who is still missing) when he was younger. According to Wale, his father was hardly ever home due to his numerous work assignments and failed to perform his fatherly duties at home. Wale has come home to a city he barely recognizes, a city full of crime, corruption and chaos, a city where he feels like an outcast. Left behind for him by his father is a mysterious Nanosuit. The suit, code named “Force” is one of three suits that make up the all-powerful “NOVA” suit, designed by his father during the mysterious “Project NOVA”. Dr. West had originally designed the suits as mobile machines for assisting medical patients, construction workers and rescue personnel. However, Project NOVA initiated by PryTeK CEO James Villin, merged and transformed them into a high-tech weapon of the future – a weapon to be sold to the highest bidder. Realizing that NOVA was very unstable and would eventually do more harm than good, Dr. West in an attempt to correct his mistakes split NOVA into three; Force, Flame and Fury with Force being the most powerful. The Force Suit’s built in AI (artificial Intelligence) summarizes its history to Wale, explaining to him that in a last attempt to safeguard his inventions, his father engineered them so only individuals bearing his DNA could operate the suit. Initially Wale does not embrace the suit or the idea that he could be a “hero”, he wants nothing to do with his father’s creation but slowly realizes he would need it to unravel the mystery behind his father’s death, PryTeK and Project NOVA. On his journey to seek closure, a hero is born. Can Wale subdue his personal feelings and struggles and become the savior of a troubled city? Who owns and operates the other two suits Flame and Fury? What mysterious secrets lie behind PryTeK and Project NOVA? Will Wale embrace his destiny? Only time will tell.

    Here is some back story on the 2 main villains:

    Uncle/Main antagonist/Villain – Former engineer at PryTeK. Wears a mask and cloak to cover the burns on his face and right arm after the failed Project NOVA experiment. Residue from the experiment fused with his body and caused severe injuries. These injuries have given him certain powers (Telekinesis, he can control objects with his right hand) but at a cost. His life is depleting. He has always been jealous of his brother Dr. West from birth. He may have been responsible for his mysterious death. He kidnapped his nephew Timi and brainwashed him, turning him against his family. Jide Desperately tried to impress his parents growing up, but always felt he fell short because of his brother, fueling his hatred for him. He wants to capture all three Nanosuits to combine them to recreate the NOVA suit. He believes merging the NOVA suit permanently with himself is his only chance for survival.

    Timi West/Blaze/Lost Brother/Anti-Hero – Wears the “flame” suit (super powers are: fire manipulation, super strength, endurance, agility) stolen by his unlce Jide, and is now his henchman.After being brainwashed by his uncle, he has great hatred towards his family for not rescuing him when he was kidnapped. Now he lives for vengeance only. Despite the bad he does, he has good in him.. He is incredibly loyal to his uncle, because they share a common pain, abandonment. Though he was kidnapped, spending 10 years with his uncle has made him attached. Timi constantly fights a war within himself, desperately trying to decide what side he is on. Despite his hatred towards his family he had an incredible bond with his mother before she passed away, and misses her constantly.

    Does this make sense? All your help is greatly appreciated

  25. B. McKenzieon 24 Apr 2012 at 10:30 am

    Some thoughts and suggestions, Roye:

    –I’m guessing this is intentional, but “Wale West” is very similar (perhaps too similar) to the name of a major superhero character.

    –“Wale has come home to a city he barely recognizes, a city full of crime, corruption and chaos, a city where he feels like an outcast…” What was he doing in the interim? Where (if anywhere) does he feel at home?

    –I feel “James Villin” might be a bit too obviously sinister. I’d recommend being a bit more subtle. (For example, one of my villains’ surnames is Mallow, an Anglicized version of “Malo,” i.e. Spanish for “evil” or “devil”).

    –“The Force Suit’s built-in AI summarizes its history to Wale…” It might be more interesting to have the character piece together this information himself (e.g. by sifting through his father’s research notes) than just having the AI feed it to him. If he comes up with the information, it’ll be more active and you’ll have more to work with than just Minor Character A talking to Major Character B.

    –Roughly how far through the book does Wale get the suit? (It might be more interesting if his investigation uncovers the suit rather than finding it right off the bat–maybe his father hid it to make sure that an intelligent heir would be able to find it). I think that the suit will be more special if he has to work to get it.

    –Speaking of investigations, I think the uncertainty surrounding the father’s death is a lot more interesting than knowing “Villain X killed him” right off the bat.

    –The conflict triangle between Wale, the father (whom Wale blames for the kidnapping of Timi), and Timi (who blames Wale and the father for not doing enough to rescue him) strikes me as promising. It also gives Timi a suitably harsh reason to learn how to fight–there’s nobody else that will help him, so this is the only way to survive.

    –Given that Timi is an anti-hero and presumably a pretty tough guy, I’d recommend giving him a more representative name. Maybe just Tim?

    –It sounds like you’ve got a good start on characterization here. It might be possible to make Wale a bit more unique. What are some things Wale West would do or say that 90% of other superheroes wouldn’t do/say in the same situation? Does he get a chance to make any unusual choices?

    –I’d recommend reworking the title to something more appealing to prospective readers (please see #2, #3 and #4 here)–maybe something emphasizing what’s unusual about Wale West or the problem(s) he faces? For example, I’m writing a story about an unpowered IRS accountant with a number of superpowered enemies, so I called it The Taxman Must Die.

    “Thanks, B. Mac, love your blog.” Thanks! Could you do me a favor and take 1-2 minutes to sign up on the email list for my superhero writing book, Don’t Forget the Death-Ray? I’d really appreciate that–it’ll help me get published.

  26. Royeon 24 Apr 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thanks so much for this feedback, means alot and I greatly appreciate it, to answer your questions:

    Some thoughts and suggestions, Roye:

    –I’m guessing this is intentional, but “Wale West” is very similar (perhaps too similar) to the name of a major superhero character.

    I totally over looked it, will see how I can adjust.

    –”Wale has come home to a city he barely recognizes, a city full of crime, corruption and chaos, a city where he feels like an outcast…” What was he doing in the interim? Where (if anywhere) does he feel at home?

    Wale was sent away from the city to college shortly after his brother was kidnapped. His father feared the same fate for him and didn’t want to be a failure twice.

    –I feel “James Villin” might be a bit too obviously sinister. I’d recommend being a bit more subtle. (For example, one of my villains’ surnames is Mallow, an Anglicized version of “Malo,” i.e. Spanish for “evil” or “devil”).

    Makes sense, I had the same feeling initially but thought it might pass

    –”The Force Suit’s built-in AI summarizes its history to Wale…” It might be more interesting to have the character piece together this information himself (e.g. by sifting through his father’s research notes) than just having the AI feed it to him. If he comes up with the information, it’ll be more active and you’ll have more to work with than just Minor Character A talking to Major Character B.

    Never thought about it this way, makes more sense and adds to the plot.

    –Roughly how far through the book does Wale get the suit? (It might be more interesting if his investigation uncovers the suit rather than finding it right off the bat–maybe his father hid it to make sure that an intelligent heir would be able to find it). I think that the suit will be more special if he has to work to get it.

    I was going to reveal the suit at the beginning, maybe I need to rethink that.

    –Speaking of investigations, I think the uncertainty surrounding the father’s death is a lot more interesting than knowing “Villain X killed him” right off the bat.

    Well said

    –The conflict triangle between Wale, the father (whom Wale blames for the kidnapping of Timi), and Timi (who blames Wale and the father for not doing enough to rescue him) strikes me as promising. It also gives Timi a suitably harsh reason to learn how to fight–there’s nobody else that will help him, so this is the only way to survive.

    EXACTLY what I was going for. Feels good that you got this from the summary

    –Given that Timi is an anti-hero and presumably a pretty tough guy, I’d recommend giving him a more representative name. Maybe just Tim?

    Because he was the younger brother I went with Timi.

    Thanks so much for taking time out of your bust schedule to read my summary. I have a couple of additional questions

    1. Want do you think about the main villain’s (the uncle) motivation? does it make sense? is it a good enough motivation to form an interesting character. I was trying to think of something more noble that people can relate to but not necessarily agree with.

    2. What do you think about the overall plot, I have other character bios and sub plots but I don’t want to spam this board 🙂

  27. B. McKenzieon 24 Apr 2012 at 1:09 pm

    B. MAC: “Given that Timi is an anti-hero and presumably a pretty tough guy, I’d recommend giving him a more representative name. Maybe just Tim?”
    ROYE: “Because he was the younger brother I went with Timi.”
    Maybe he starts out as Timi (or Timmy) but goes by a more mature name when he resurfaces (maybe Tim).

    “Does the main villain’s motivation make sense?” It could. For example, let’s say the father split up the NOVA unit into three individual suits because the full suit was designed for some more invasive process (e.g. permanently merging with the human body or replacing the human body or some other radical and disagreeable purpose). However, now that the uncle is dying, he wants to revisit that line of research because his body is failing. But the father’s dead, so the only way to get the project done in time is to gather up all three suits.

    “What do you think about the main villain’s motivation?” It’s serviceable. On the one hand, I don’t see anything here that makes me think the villain will detract from the story. Neither do I see anything about this villain which screams, “YOU WANT TO READ THIS STORY.” That might not be a problem–some great superhero stories have serviceable villains. For example, Iron Man’s Obediah Stane develops Tony Stark a bit by being his foil, but 95% of why you’d want to see Iron Man is Tony Stark rather than anything Stane does. If the main protagonist(s) is highly interesting, I don’t think the villain is as important. (As for your main protagonist, I don’t know yet—I see promising signs and nothing particularly worrisome, which is a great start. So far, I haven’t seen much in the way of “DROP THE CHALUPA AND START READING THIS”).

    “I was trying to think of something more noble that people can relate to but not necessarily agree with.” Hmm, one minor issue here. What are the stakes of the uncle accomplishing his goal? (If Wale and Timi gave their suits to their uncle, would anything undesirable result?) One possibility here is that the uncle’s goal starts out as a mostly clean mission of self-preservation but by the end the illness and/or his desperation have eaten away at his self-control and it’s clear that allowing him to have a life-preserver which could also be a weapon of mass destruction would be seriously unwise.

    –“What do you think about the overall plot?” The character triangle is tight and the plot strikes me as very coherent. The most common plotting issue I’m used to is that there are far too many characters, which usually causes the plot to lose coherence. I would CAUTIOUSLY suggest that it might help to have a side-character or two to help develop the main character and help keep the plot rolling until Wale gets fully embroiled in the Wale-Timi-Uncle triangle. The subplots you alluded to could help along those lines. Two possible side characters that come to mind would be a police officer investigating the father’s death and a journalist covering the death and/or the new superhero in town. Also, besides the uncle, is there anybody alive that interacts with both Wale and Timi? It might help to have a side-character that you could use to develop the hero and anti-hero if the main villain would not fit into a particular scene.

  28. Royeon 24 Apr 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Excellent advice B-Mac, its like you read my mind, I have a police commissioner character investigating PryTek the organization that created the suits. i’ll get back to the drawing board with all this advice, you are so AWESOME! cant wait for your book…. Thanks for the constant inspiration

  29. Nightwireon 24 Apr 2012 at 9:59 pm

    @Roye: Color me intrigued. I really like your concept. If you’d done any writings, I’d love to read it.

    ” I have other character bios and sub plots but I don’t want to spam this board”
    You do know that SN host review forums, right? 🙂

  30. ehrichon 28 Apr 2012 at 9:33 am

    how take is a suit that amp’s up current weak superpowers? like a power that would ortinatly take 2 mins to power up to use , with the suit it takes a fraction of a sec to power and use?

    also i know this isnt for this section but , can you start off your novel with a scen like an argument between 2 ppl , throwing one into the tank/vat of chemicles where he gets his powers, and as hes sinking the back story plays and like a ” life before his eyes ” moment?

  31. OrangeDJon 18 Jul 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Hey B-mac I’ve been looking but havent seen anything in the mentions of symbiotic suits and their powers, mentalities whether good, evil, or indifferent

  32. B. McKenzieon 19 Jul 2012 at 5:58 am

    “I’ve been looking but haven’t seen anything mentioned about symbiotic suits and their powers or mentalities, whether good, evil, or indifferent.” I’ll think more about this. What did you have in mind for your character?

  33. OrangeDJon 21 Jul 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Human with a blood mutation, his blood gains awareness and gives him his own powers. The blood has a sense of self preservation and does whatever it can to protect him, but through gaining awareness it also gains strange abilities, but since it’s his blood it also gives him a few tricks up his sleeve.

    However my question is, for symbiotic suits, What do you really think the relationship would be like between symbiote and host, and what would be an appropriate weakness for suits like these.

  34. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2012 at 5:58 pm

    “What do you really think the relationship would be like between symbiote and host.” A conflicting motivation and/or agenda would probably help, or at least some element of conflict between the two. Unless you can come up with some reason his sentient blood might plausibly have a distinct agenda, it might help to make the symbiote something external (e.g. an outside alien life-form or a nanotech exoskeleton which achieved sentience). I’d also recommend making the suit itself something of a character (e.g. a memorable personality and a mind of its own rather than just going along with whatever the main character wants to do).

    “What would be an appropriate weakness for suits like these.” As long as the suit isn’t incredibly powerful relative to the antagonists in the series, I don’t think you need a Kryptonite like a vulnerability to loud noises or cold temperatures or anything like that.

    Some possibilities for plot-development down the road:
    –The suit decides it picked the wrong person and leaves the protagonist. Then it’s probably up to the protagonist to either come up with a replacement (perhaps there was more than one) or convince the suit to return.
    –Maybe the suit gets stolen or seized.
    –The suit gets disabled, perhaps by electronic interference.
    –The suit refuses to help the character on a particular mission or sets conditions for its help. For example, check out Dark Knight’ Lucius Fox and Bitter Seeds’ demonic spirits for two very different approaches here.
    –Maybe the suit wants something but the main character says no. For example, if the suit was created in evil experiments by an evil company, it might make sense if the suit took the fight against the evil company more personally than the hero did. The hero might get rid of the suit because he’s worried about what it will try to do.
    –On an extremely counterintuitive note, I would sort of recommend watching Ted for an example of a story about two really unexpected friends facing, umm, really unexpected problems.

  35. Dragondevilon 16 Oct 2012 at 10:46 am

    Tony Stark wears his armor inside his shirt?!
    I thought he used a briefcase!
    It was kinda cool in the animation series.

  36. Watcher in the Wingson 28 Jan 2013 at 7:08 am

    One of my heroes has a mechanical right arm, his real one was lost in an accident. The arm can fire smoke bombs, caltrops (the spike things that stab your foot), and mini explosives. The arm is wired into his nervous system. I also gave the character martial arts, and in an attempt to make him less dependent on his arm I also gave him a form of martial arts that can be used with one arm. Is this okay? I don’t want him to be completely dependent on his mecha arm but I also don’t want it to become completely use less. Any tips? For more info on the character see my comment in the Superhero Creation Questionnaire article.

  37. Engineer-In-Trainingon 31 Dec 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you, B. Mac, for putting together this site and writing this article. Thank you to all of you who have commented – I greatly appreciate the critical thinking and fresh perspectives you all have offered.

    I would like to put in my own ideas regarding powered suits:

    Very light suits that are basically bullet proof fabric with (possibly) some extra gadgets: I believe characters with bullet proof vests or suits are vulnerable to more than just armor piercing rounds. Firstly, even if the suit stops the bullet, it still hurts… a lot. Feel free to search for descriptions of people who have experienced the usefulness of bullet proof vests. The impact can leave a bruise, break ribs, and knock you off your feet even if the shot fired is not an armor piercing round. Also, a full body covering suit of this material might not breathe like Egyptian cotton, so consider what happens in hot and muggy weather (i.e. New York in the summer) and when the hero is exerting him or herself for an extended period. A book I like (http://www.nealstephenson.com/snowcrash/) describes a character that wears a similar suit and has to deal with small arms fire.

    Powering the suit: When dealing with electricity, work is measured in watts, which equals voltage multiplied by current. If you want to do a lot of work (pick up a car, blast a hole in the roof, survive dinner at your in-laws), you need a lot of watts. Ramping up the voltage can compensate for low current or high resistance (such as might be the case with bad or damaged wiring), but this generates a lot of heat. Lightning is like that. You could reduce the resistance (increase the current), but this only works if you’ve got the voltage to flow through. Think of it like plumping – decreasing resistance and increasing current means you have wider and smoother pipes; increasing voltage means increasing water pressure. Of course, if you are working with some kind of “other” energy, these rules may not apply.

    Using the suit to get your superpower ready quicker: I like this concept. Some things to consider might be how the power and suit interact, other than the later enhancing the former? If you are shooting lasers from your eyes, does the suit use a lens to enhance them? Does it generate an energy field to block out possible resistance or act as an electric “lens”? Does your hero get powered up by the suit jolting him or her with electricity? Radiation? Performance enhancing vitamins? If your power involves the production of matter (like webbing, sharp spines, or delicious cupcakes), how does this interact with the suit? Does the suit require an opening? If the suit successfully provides your hero with instant energy, does the hero also need some material to replenish him or herself? (I always found it funny how a certain speedster required a lot of food to keep up his strength, but a certain web-slinger, who starred in three movies, shot out a lot of webbing from his body and never seemed anemic or dehydrated or anything.)

    Mechanical limbs: I definitely like the concept of bionic heroes. However, one thing that bugged me was how a body with normal human strength could support an arm with super human strength. Engineering school teaches about transfer of force from the point of application, through the support structure, to the foundation. Next time you see someone with a robotic arm punch a hole in concrete, think of a construction worker with a jack hammer. He has to get his whole body into it and it helps if he weighs 250+ pounds. This issue also arises when someone is wearing only part of a power suit. Built in weaponry is easily conceivable, but presents a problem if your hero has to go through a security check point.

  38. Blaze Kodakon 09 Jun 2016 at 7:28 pm

    My character used to be a mob enforcer in St. Louis; but tried to settle down and got a job working construction. The company he works for uses all-purpose powered mechanical suits; and when the mob comes knocking with new superpowered enforcers, he steals a company suit and grabs his old guns to take down the “River Gang” (antagonists)

  39. Andrewon 10 Jun 2016 at 1:43 am

    What about semi-powersuited heroes? Most of my characters don’t use powersuits, depending on martial arts mostly. But one of my heroines has a jetpack with a riot surpressing mini-rocket launcher, wrist mounted laser on one arm and a holographic computer on the other, both are attached to electronic gauntlets which help her in combat. She’s not completely covered in armor, would can be said about semi-powersuited heroes?

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