Jan 05 2008
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.
- Real–looking 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.