Jun 06 2010

Superhero types and how to distinguish yours (Part 2)

Published by at 10:29 am under Superhero Origin Stories,Superhero Stories

(Part 1 here).

Jekyll and Hydes

  • Most superheroes have two distinct identities, like Batman vs. Bruce Wayne or Ben Grimm the Thing pining vs. Ben Grimm the human. For a Jekyll and Hyde character, the identities are separated not only by a marked physical transformation but also a multiple personality disorder. Sometimes the character shifts between the two states (such as the original J&H and the Hulk, but it was permanent for Dr. Manhattan).
  • Compared to other archetypes, curiosity and/or naiveté usually play a prominent role in the origin story of a Jekyll/Hyde character. For example, Dr. Suresh injects himself with his superserum rather than conduct tests, Jon Ostermann/Dr. Manhattan and Bruce Banner/The Hulk were involved in highly dangerous experimental research, etc.
  • Generally, the character gains his powers unintentionally (either through an accident or as an unintended consequence of a scientific experiment). What if it were intentional? What kind of character would want to do that to himself, and under what (desperate?) circumstances?
  • What causes the character to have separate personalities in each form? The most cliche (read: usually least interesting) explanation is that the transformed form is monstrous and/or bestial, like Hyde or the Hulk. (One of the many problems that might arise out of that is that the dialogue of the transformed form will be pretty dumb). Fortunately, there are fresher alternatives. For example, Dr. Manhattan’s perspective changed considerably when he essentially ascended to godhood, causing him to lose most of his empathy and estrange himself from humanity. What are some other ways a character’s perspective and/or values might change?
  • In most cases, the character is a scientist researching something that man wasn’t supposed to know. So he’s generally responsible for the transformation. What if he’s not? (Maybe he’s an unwilling or unwitting test subject, or he’s a janitor that accidentally triggers the device after-hours). Maybe the process is purely magical/occult rather than scientific.

The Dark Side of the Moon: Authority figures gone bad

  • The moon is out there–you know it exists and have seen it, but it’s not exactly relatable. The “Dark Side of the Moon” character is usually a cop or soldier that loses or gives up his authority, generally because he is framed and/or violently betrayed. (It’s a job most readers are aware of but can’t relate to). He’s typically an antihero bent on revenge. Some notable examples include the Punisher (military), Kickass‘s Big Daddy (police) and Spawn (CIA).
  • In the above cases, the authority figures all come from a violent position in the government. Not all authority is violent or governmental, though. What if he’s… a priest? The leader of a research team? A corporate executive used as a fall guy? An inventor that gets ripped off?
  • What if his primary motivation is something besides revenge? Maybe he gives up on his original goals, or has a face heel turn, or was a double agent all along. If he was betrayed, instead of the betrayal coming more or less at random, maybe he was targeted because of something he did or was about to do.
  • In most cases, the character is notably violent.  (Hell, Big Daddy even turns his 11 year-old daughter into a ruthless killing machine).  What if his methods are unsavory without being violent?  For example, maybe he gets back at someone by becoming a rather sleazy journalist or businessman.  
  • Instead of being an antihero, maybe he’s actually the villain. See fallen district attorney Two-Face and government researcher Jacob Mallow.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Superhero types and how to distinguish yours (Part 2)”

  1. Mr. Briton 08 Jun 2010 at 1:35 pm

    You mentioned a priest turned antihero. Garth Ennis had a very graphic comic book series called ‘Preacher’ that looked at an antihero priest (the titular preacher) trying to discover why god had abandoned humanity. It’s well worth checking out if you aren’t too offended by very mature content. Published by Vertigo comics I believe.

  2. B. Macon 08 Jun 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Ah, good thinking, Mr. Brit. I hadn’t made the connection.

    For an example of a fallen researcher, there’s Existence 2.0 from the Shadowline imprint of Image. And a ripped-off inventor (or his son, at least) played very prominently in Ironman 2, although he doesn’t have any authority. Also, there’s the Tesla-Edison war in real life. (Tesla was a proponent of alternate current, Edison supported direct current, and the conflict got REALLY personal. At one point, Edison hooked up an animal to alternate current to “prove” that Tesla’s product was crazy and dangerous). So maybe the inventor loses his authority (such as his esteem in the scientific community) because his foes pulled off that sort of smear campaign. (PS: alternate current ended up winning, but Tesla didn’t get anywhere near the sort of popular acclaim during his lifetime that Edison did).

  3. H. Savinienon 11 Jun 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Astro City has a vampire priest who attempts to repent for his sins by using his new powers to protect an area of the city.

  4. Anonymouson 22 Jan 2013 at 1:59 pm

    I am writing a J&H character, and at first I was going to make him a beast. But then I read this article, and I wascwondering if anyone had any other ideas.

  5. Immieon 22 Jan 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Just a thought, but does there have to be a physical transformation? Someone looking exactly the same (except for a ‘wild glint’ in their eyes) may be far more confronting for everyone involved…

  6. Anonymouson 22 Jan 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I kind of wanted a physical transformation, but I will give your ideas some thought.

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