Dec 18 2011
1. The story’s inciting event is most often the murder of a loved one(s). For example, in Spider-Man, Peter’s uncle gets killed because he wasn’t brave enough to take action. One possible subversion is that the uncle got killed because Peter (or the uncle) did try to take action. Another popular inciting event is something which suddenly gives the characters superpowers–common examples include scientific accidents, alien landings, living in New York City, and miracle operations.
2. The superhero usually gets his superpowers before the villain does. Or, at least, we learn about the superhero getting his superpowers first. It’s pretty rare for a supervillain to start his reign of terror before the hero has superpowers.
2.1. The superhero and main villain frequently gets their superpowers either from the same source or similar sources. For example, Green Lantern and Sinestro both use power rings. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are both biochemically enhanced. Batman and the Joker are both fueled by insanity.
3. Many villains and heroes share some sort of personal connection outside of work. The easiest way to become one of Spider-Man’s villains is to meet Peter Parker. (Green Goblin is his best friend’s father, Lizard employed him as a teaching assistant, Venom is a rival at work, Dr. Octopus once taught him at a science camp, Man-Wolf is J.J. Jameson’s son, etc). This may be explainable if superpowers are mostly hereditary and/or highly visible in your story. For example, mutants are a pretty small group of mostly outcasts in X-Men, so it makes sense that mutants have a better chance of knowing each other and/or being related to each other than random humans would. Alternately, the hero might interact with a lot of people that are relatively likely to develop superpowers. For example, Peter Parker knows a lot of leading scientists and New York City scientists are more or less certain to develop superpowers.
4. Nuclear weapons cannot destroy anything, but hand-to-hand combatants are largely unstoppable. If there’s anything I’ve learned from fiction, it’s that a single ninja is the deadliest force in the galaxy. In contrast, nuclear weapons are hilariously unable to kill anything. Even in Watchmen, where nuclear weapons are the grim doom hanging over everybody’s heads, it’s a giant psychic squid that actually destroys a city. In Heroes, Peter’s healing power can be stopped by a bullet to the back of the head but not a point-blank nuclear detonation. Also in Heroes, a nuclear detonation happens within 10-20 miles of New York City and nobody even notices. In these stories, nuclear romance killed more people (one of Dr. Manhattan’s lovers) than nuclear weapons did.
5. Nobody stays dead (comic book deaths never last). Almost no superheroes die or lose their superpowers for an extended period in comic books. It will never happen to bestselling characters, unless a reboot is already planned. Novels don’t fall into this cliche as often. A novelist doesn’t need to do decades worth of stories for the same character, so it’s easier for a novelist to alter the status quo.
5.1. Primary superhero protagonists almost always survive and win, especially in comic books. In a superhero story, there is a 99%+ chance that the main characters accomplish their goal and survive. In contrast, in other action stories, it’s not unheard of that the heroes either fail to accomplish their goals or die accomplishing them.
5.2 Women are disproportionately likely to get, ahem, stuffed in a fridge or otherwise brutally slain. Publishers usually treat highly popular characters much more carefully and the characters that drive sales the most are (besides Buffy) almost exclusively male. However, being a male superhero doesn’t help you much if you aren’t very popular–just ask Jason Todd!
6. New York City (or an obvious stand-in like Gotham) is the default setting for most superhero stories. I think it’s because the U.S. comic book and novel publishing industries are centered there and that’s what their editors are most comfortable with. Also, they’d probably reason that it’s got a recognizable skyline, a large built-in audience, the brightest lights/biggest stage for a superhero, etc. This isn’t necessarily a wrong choice, but I would be concerned if you chose NYC just because it’s the generic setting and you couldn’t come up with anything else. New York itself isn’t a problem, but generic settings are. In contrast, Gotham is obviously based on New York City, but definitely has a mood/character to it.
6.1. 95%+ of the world’s superpowered activity will usually happen in and around a single city. Apparently, New York City has a global monopoly on cutting-edge science–either that, or scientists everywhere else have figured out how not to turn themselves into supervillains. PS: If your superhero activity is overwhelmingly centered in a particular city, I’d recommend having an in-story reason why. “That’s where the chemical spill/alien landing/origin story/whatever happened” is usually sufficient.
7. Most superheroes almost never interact with their parents, besides possibly a stirring death scene. This is true of many non-superhero stories as well. Hollywood kills off or skips over the parents of protagonists (especially adult protagonists) so consistently that I was shocked in grade school to learn that my 40-something teacher’s parents were still alive. Disney had distorted my perspective so much that I had assumed that parents usually died by the time their kids became adults.
8. It’s rare to have a team of 3+ characters without at least one superstrong/tank character. In battle this character will usually be more or less indistinguishable from every other tank ever written. If the character’s main fighting style is running at an enemy and trying to beat them senseless, I would recommend reevaluating whether readers will be able to handle several of this character’s fights without his style getting monotonous.
9. A hero’s superpowers will almost always come without any difficulties or inconveniences. The vast majority of the people that have any sort of remotely undesirable side-effects with their superpowers are supervillains. Some of the few heroic examples include Ben Grimm (physical issues), Slate (some unexpected side-effects, like being unable to take elevators anywhere), Beast (mainly social issues) and the Hulk (mental/personality issues). Characters dealing with difficult superpowers are disproportionately male.
10. Some superpowers skew to one gender. Psychic and magical superpowers are disproportionately female whereas superspeed and powersuits skew disproportionately male, for example. In terms of intelligence, the bell curve strikes with a vengeance: notably dumb characters, notably brilliant characters, and notably dumb-and-brilliant characters are all overwhelmingly male. Female characters are disproportionately sensible and/or wise but rarely brilliant.
11. Superheroes learn very quickly. How often have you seen Captain America or Spider-Man miss? How often do they botch complicated acrobatic maneuvers? Even in the first week on the job, they are implausibly well-polished. Personally, I think that the growth arc of someone developing the mental skills and growing into the role is more interesting than many authors do. Also… if a superhero gets superpowers and is immediately a competent superhero, that suggests that his opponents are either hopelessly incompetent and/or his superpowers are doing all of the work. It’s not as impressive as it could be.
12. After getting superpowers, most protagonists decide very quickly that they want to be a superhero. Especially if the character is not particularly brave and/or violent before getting superpowers, I would recommend putting more thought into it than that. You’ve probably taken a week or more picking out an apartment or a car, right? Isn’t becoming a superhero–possibly the most violent and dangerous job in your story’s universe besides maybe henchman or mayor–a bigger decision than Volvo vs. Toyota? If a character decides more or less instantly, I would recommend tying that into something about his personality and/or the plot. (Maybe the character is impulsive or maybe there’s a personal crisis like the death of Uncle Ben or maybe there’s a city-wide emergency).
13. Virtually everybody that has superpowers will become a superhero or villain. If Electro can’t figure out how to turn electrical superpowers into a multi-million dollar job offer from a utility company, he’s too dumb not to be in prison. Granted, regular jobs definitely won’t appeal to everybody. For example, companies may be scared away from guys that had violent criminal records or major integrity issues. Alternately, some characters might not want to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a million-dollar job. (If a company is paying you that much, it will probably expect a heavy workload, such as dealing with emergency calls every time a supervillain attacks a power plant or destroys tens of power lines in the middle of the night).
13.1. In some cases, there’s some sort of conscription. In these cases, the organizations are almost always callous and/or sinister secret agencies that bend over backwards to make their conscripts hate them. If I could offer some human resources advice to such agencies, I’d be very careful about unnecessarily antagonizing your workforce, especially superpowered combat specialists that don’t want to be there. Also, have you tried not hating your subordinates?
14. The youngest character will complain/whine the most. When I was younger, I assumed this was mainly because some adult writers just didn’t like kids. Since growing older, I’m dismayed to see that this comes up quite a lot for younger authors writing young characters. Red flag: If you list the three most important or interesting things about the character and his youth makes the list, I am 75% sure he’s unlikable and 95% sure he’s boring. There are at least 20 Scrappy Doos for every Ender Wiggin.
- RED FLAG OF WHININESS: When an overly whiny character is unhappy about something, his main plan of action is usually letting people know how unhappy he is. Instead, have him/her do something about it. For example, I’d much rather read about a drafted superhero trying to get himself fired or blackmail his boss into letting him go than someone who just complains about how much he hates being drafted.
15. If there’s a secret identity, side-characters will usually get uncharacteristically stupid whenever it’s necessary to keep the secret identity safe. Lois Lane may be an award-winning investigative journalist, but glasses and gel fool her every time. (Arguably, this may not be uncharacteristically stupid for Lois Lane, who once asked how many f’s there are in “catastrophic.” Still, I’d wonder about the rest of Clark’s coworkers).
16. Women protagonists are almost always hot. For example, geeks/dorks/scientists that actually look like geeks/dorks/scientists are almost always men, whereas the Invisible Woman will be played by Jessica Alba. Nonhumans that actually look like nonhumans skew heavily towards male. If there is a woman that looks like a nonhuman, she’ll probably have the ability to alter her appearance and is much more likely to use that power often (e.g. contrast Mystique with the Martian Manhunter). Also, compare Vixen (a supermodel that sometimes gets as strong or as fast as a particular animal) to Beast Boy (a green guy who turns into animals). She-Hulk looks like a supermodel that is green, whereas the Hulk is green and ugly. Please note that comic book guys tend to be a lot more attractive than actual guys as well. The difference here is that the few unattractive heroes grossly outnumber any unattractive heroines. As for villainesses, I think most are hot and several are ugly, but in-between is exceptionally rare.
16.1. Every comic book protagonist — even nerdy students and mild-mannered IRS agents — has beautiful women after him. In real life, if a supermodel was romantically interested in a government bureaucrat, she’s probably a spy. In The Taxman Must Die, two characters have a running bet on whether the beautiful women interested in the titular accountant are interested in murdering or just kidnapping him.
17. The protagonist is a nondescript teenager without any notable goals. Fortunately, this doesn’t show up in print as often as it does in submissions. Publishers are bored of them, too. PS: Nobody tries to write a nondescript protagonist. One reason it happens is that writers commit themselves to casts that are so large that they can’t spend enough time developing the characters–a red flag there is that you have more than 4 superheroes on your main team. Another potential issue is that writers sometimes write based on “what would I [the author] do in this situation?”, which tends to make characters blur together and act generically nice (which is usually forgettable and bland). Forget what you would do. Show us what your characters would do. Also, please make sure they have flaws and do some things that the audience isn’t meant to approve of.
18. Some superhero naming conventions recur for no readily obvious reason.
- [Adjective] Man/Woman/Boy/Girl. One possible alternative is just going with an adjective (like Incredible or Kick-Ass) or an unusual adjective and a noun (like Grim Trigger).
- [Color] [Noun] — if you go down this path, please make sure that the color actually adds something. For example, Black Lightning has an element of contrast, whereas Black Panther does not.
- [Animal] Man/Woman/Boy/Girl — one possible alternative here is an animal-themed noun or verb. I’d much prefer Talon or Rake to Eagle-Man.
18.1. In comic books, first names and last names are disproportionately likely to start with the same letter. Some relatively notable examples include Peter Parker, Lois Lane, Reed Richards, J.J. Jameson, Lex Luthor, Bruce Banner, Wally West, Scott Summers (Cyclops), Susan Storm (Invisible Woman), Otto Octavius, etc. I have a more comprehensive list here. This convention mostly faded out with characters introduced after the 1970s.
19. Most superheroes aren’t observably religious or politically inclined. There are a few outliers like Spider-Man (slightly more religious than usual) or Green Arrow (very political), but generally even superheroes that are on first-name bases with gods or presidents tend not to be very interested in either religion or politics. (The main reason here is that politics and religion tend to make marketers nervous, and stories which handle these issues prominently tend not to sell very well). In The Taxman Must Die, police profilers looking for superheroes treat religious non-attendance and political non-affiliation as potential flags of being a superhero (but not as strong as having a loved one murdered in New York City).
20. A scientist or any other super-smart character can perform more or less any mental feat. Physics, biology, medicine (any discipline and any species), chemistry, civil engineering, architecture, aeronautical engineering, bomb defusal, ballistics/crime scene analysis, electrical engineering, piloting, linguistics, cryptography, archaeology/history, computer hacking, expert research skills, mechanics/repair–super-scientists can do more or less anything, even if it’s not actually science. In First Class, it took real guts to get in a plane designed and piloted by a biologist. “Of course I can fly it. I built it!” That makes it more insane, not less. For a fun subversion, I recommend Justice League’s The Greatest Story Never Told. (“Maybe you should handle this [helping a woman through childbirth].” “Why me?” “You’re the beautiful doctor.” “A physicist!”)
20.1. Protagonist scientists get everything right, usually instantly. In superhero movies, pretty much the only scientist that makes mistakes is Hank McCoy (turning himself into Beast and his uneven efforts with Banshee’s superpowers in First Class). In retrospect, that makes it even crazier that the X-Men get in his flying deathtrap.
21. A super-scientist can perform miracles of science with a budget of $0 and/or a box of scraps in an Afghani cave. “Screw you, terrorists–I’ve got a degree in science!”
Villains, kill captured heroes immediately. The life you save from 6th degree burns may be your own.
21.1. Anybody with a scientific budget is probably an evil CEO. Despite having a budget, he will get trounced every day in every way by a single genius with a box of scraps.
22. The only mental miracle a brilliant scientist cannot perform with science is making substantial changes to the real world. For example, Reed Richards would rather make flying cars and other super-niche products than try to cure cancer. There are three schools of thought here: 1) curing cancer is pointless if the world’s going to get blown up by [INSIDIOUS FORCE X] and/or 2) he’s useless and/or 3) he hates cancer patients.
23. Even (allegedly) brilliant scientists regularly use themselves as test-subjects. I really hope that these guys are doing animal-tests or computer-simulated tests before testing highly experimental chemicals on themselves, but even computer simulations would probably leave something to be desired. How can you simulate a mutagen that has literally never been used on a human before and probably doesn’t have any close analogues? What results are those simulations based on? At the very least, does the scientist have any compelling reason to cut huge corners by testing on himself (or another human test subject) before he’s run preliminary animal or computer tests? At any point does the character take into consideration that he might be putting himself (or somebody else) at significant risk? Does he take any steps to minimize that risk? If not, he’s sort of an idiot, isn’t he? (Or very desperate, which is a lot more promising than idiocy).
24. Scientific experiments will never be replicable. For example, the Captain America research project couldn’t create any more super-serum after the lead researcher got assassinated. Didn’t he have notes or any lab assistants that weren’t working for the Nazis? (This could be explainable, depending on the story. If the scientist feared that Nazis/terrorists/supervillains were getting close to stealing his research, not taking notes and cutting assistants out of the loop might be a really good security decision). In The Taxman Must Die, a lead researcher takes a tip from Dilbert and creates a note-taking system so hopelessly convoluted that only a scientist with an interest in cryptography and five dead languages could possibly use it to replicate his results. In Dilbert, that ensured that a lazy engineer couldn’t be fired. In TTMD, it ensures that the employer will do whatever it takes to keep the lead researcher alive, which is apparently a major job consideration for super-scientists.
(Incidentally, modern teams of researchers do sometimes have trouble replicating past scientific feats–e.g. Greek fire or Damascus steel. So maybe it’s not utterly implausible that a scientist would be able to come up with something that was hard to replicate–but bear in mind that modern science generally hinges on the results being replicable).
25. Scientists perform highly dangerous experiments in densely populated areas. I’m guessing the Fantastic Four didn’t mention black holes or atomic anything when they were pitching the Baxter Building to the NYC zoning board. Likewise, Dr. Octavius’ research in Spider-Man 2 nearly blew up New York City even before he was a villain.
26. Scientists will suddenly develop amnesia whenever it’s convenient to the plot. For example, if the scientist accidentally shrinks the team in episode three and Godzilla attacks in episode six, it’d be really handy to build another shrink ray, wouldn’t it? Top Ten is a refreshing subversion here (although not with scientists).
LAW AND ORDER
27. No matter how catastrophic a superpowered brawl gets and how many buildings go down, civilian casualties will range from 0-1. Apparently, those police off-camera are doing some kickass crowd control work. (Note: this cliche/convention might be desirable for your story because killing off hundreds or thousands of civilians will probably affect the mood — I would speculate that the scope of destruction likely caused Man of Steel to fare more poorly with reviewers than it would have otherwise.
28. Most superheroes are non-lethal. Superhero stories are probably the only type of action story where the antagonist usually survives — in contrast, killing the antagonist is an audience expectation in Westerns, most sci-fi action, spy stories, military anything, and pretty much every other type of action story. Why are most superheroes nonlethal? 1) Most comic book franchises need to run on for decades, and killing off antagonists makes it harder to keep things going. 2) In the 1950s and 60s, back when comics were mainly for young readers, there was public hysteria over whether comics were seducing the innocent. The resulting Comics Code made it much harder to get stories published with lethal superheroes. Nowadays, there are a few notably lethal superheroes (e.g. the Punisher) with mostly niche audiences and a few major superheroes that occasionally use lethal weaponry (e.g. Captain America shooting Nazis or Iron Man torching terrorists in their movies), but the body counts are still significantly lower than what you’d see in pretty much any war movie or even a cop movie.
29. No matter how many people he’s killed, a supervillain will never get the death penalty. Generally, supervillains can only be killed in combat by the main hero(es) and even that is rarely permanent.
30. Supervillains can break out of prison at will. Nevertheless, expediting the death penalty will never be considered. (Superheroes can also break out of captivity as well–more on that later).
31. Superheroes must have really bad lawyers–if they get arrested, they’re going to jail, even if the charges make no sense whatsoever. If someone in a Spider-Man costume commits a crime, you’d think that the police would investigate whether it’s actually Spider-Man, particularly after Marvel’s NYPD have been fooled by shapeshifters, imposters and clones 10+ times before. In particular, it should look highly suspicious if a superhero appears to steal something. Most superheroes have incredible talents that they could be using to make millions of dollars, but have instead chosen to take a dangerous, unpaid job. That’s not exactly the prototypical profile for a thief. (I guess there’s some possibility that an extremely patient and brave criminal is moonlighting as a superhero to cover himself from suspicion, but most cover stories aren’t that dangerous or laborious). At the very least, you’d think that some prosecutor or at least a police officer somewhere would wonder if they’re walking into the mother of all public relations disasters by publicly charging Superman with treason based only on, say, LexCorp security footage.
32. Violence is the ideal solution to any crime. In real life, that would get many hostages killed. Police negotiators resolve most hostage situations without any bullets being fired and negotiators will frequently do things that most superheroes would never countenance. For example, police negotiators will sometimes make minor exchanges (like sending up cigarettes if the hostage-taker gives up a hostage or a spare firearm). Unless the criminal has a particularly violent history, police negotiators will probably let a “you’ve got 1 hour to do X or I’ll kill the hostages!” ultimatum pass silently because hostage-takers almost never deliver on such threats. If the superhero has gotten most of his information about hostage situations from Hollywood (“we never negotiate with terrorists!”), he has no business handling a hostage situation (unless the police ask, but even that’s relatively risky if he’s clueless). For more details on hostage situations for fiction writers, please see this article.
NONHUMAN CHARACTERS AND EXOTIC CULTURES
33. Most aliens/nonhuman protagonists are like humans, but better. If they act, think and speak 95%+ like humans, personally I’d lean towards insta-rejection because it suggests the author lacks creativity. If they look 95%+ like humans (or have angel wings or some other slight alteration), that’s just insult on top of injury. If they can’t be distinguished from humans in any way, I’d recommend either just making them human or fleshing them out more. Hopefully they’re better at humans at some things, worse at others, have different mindsets/perspectives/priorities, etc.
34. Many exotic civilizations are either disgustingly virtuous (like Switzerland) or one-dimensionally nefarious (like Sweden). I really like Invincible’s take here–a civilization that initially resembles a dewy-eyed fantasy evolves into a mostly nefarious empire with some redeeming qualities.
35. I’d like to see more interesting combinations of cultural traits. For example, dumb-and-violent crops up quite a lot. Three more interesting, less cliche combinations that immediately jump to mind are dumb-and-pacifistic, cultured-and-violent and intellectual-and-violent. If you take any cliche combination and swap out a trait for the opposite or anything unusual, the society will probably be more three-dimensional and interesting.
SUPERVILLAINS AND THE ETERNAL STUPIDITY THEREOF
36. No matter how smart a supervillain allegedly is, he will commit 95%+ of his crimes in a city that has superheroes. If he’s a Marvel supervillain, he’s probably doing 95% of his crimes in a New York City that has more superheroes than ATMs. You know where else you can find ATMs?
Houston: over 200 banks, 3300 ATMs, 0 superheroes. Just saying.
37. When a supervillain holds a hero captive, it doesn’t work any better than when the police try putting a villain in prison. You’d think that eventually a supervillain–particularly an allegedly intelligent one–will realize that holding a superpowered combatant as a hostage is very dangerous. One possible alternative is having your villain accomplish a particular objective by letting the hero escape. For example, if the villain has secretly injected the character with a virus that gradually takes away superpowers, 1) the hero isn’t a threat and 2) he’s more likely to infect the other heroes than anybody else the villain could get a hold of. Another alternative is killing the hero. If the villain is psychotic and doesn’t think of that, why not? (For example, in Justice League, Joker tried to kill a captive Batman, but Lex Luthor decided to keep him alive as a human shield/bargaining chip).
38. Virtually every supervillain has violated multiple rules on the Evil Overlord List at some point. Aspiring supervillains should memorize it, especially the part about killing the heroes whenever they get the chance, NOT killing their henchmen whenever they feel like it, and having a level of destruction between hand-to-hand combat and blow-up-the-world. When you’re writing a villain, rather than having the character violate the code just because he’s an idiot, I would recommend putting him in situations where violating the code is the best option available. For example, taking a superpowered hostage is usually very stupid (see above), but if the villain’s only chance of survival is taking a human shield, then leaving the superhero alive makes sense. I have more ideas on how to use the Evil Overlord List to create interesting villains here.
39. Supervillains make their own money, but superheroes inherit it. Some writers (mostly subconsciously) like setting up their characters as the modern equivalent of kings and knights (generally hereditary nobility). A lot of heroes are born with superpowers and/or incredible wealth, whereas supervillains rise to power through typically nefarious business practices. Very few supervillains were legitimate businessmen before getting superpowers. A supervillain’s powers are much more likely to come with drawbacks and disfigurements of some sort (e.g. Green Goblin going crazy) to help show that his powers are not legitimate.
39.1. Superheroes and villains are markedly more likely to be vastly wealthy than the population as a whole. Compared to the population as a whole, being a billionaire correlates significantly with putting on really weird clothes and getting your brawl on. Steve Jobs ain’t dead–he’s undercover.
39.2. Anybody that uses superpowers to gain wealth is almost certainly a villain. In the extremely few cases where a non-government superhero expects payment for his work (e.g. Luke Cage), that character is usually treated in-story as unsavory and/or greedy. In contrast, in a story about detectives or private investigators or soldiers, it’s completely standard for the protagonists to be paid for their work.
40. A supervillain’s power level affect’s the hero’s power level. If a writer is using a weak villain to challenge a much tougher hero, expect the hero to suddenly get slow and weak (Riddler Syndrome). Alternately, if Batman is facing one of Superman’s villains (e.g. Darkseid), expect supposedly-unpowered Batman to shrug off hits that would level small buildings.
41. Villains are far better at escaping than killing. A villain can take advantage of the protagonist’s heroic traits to get away. For example, if a villain randomly endangers a civilian bystander, most heroes will give up the chase to save the civilian. Even Batman, one of the most ruthless mainstream superheroes, will probably cut off a chase if the writer needs it. (“Batman would let the criminal get away because he’s so confident he can catch the criminal before anybody gets killed”).
41.1. When antagonists chase after the protagonists, they will almost never catch them. When heroes actually are caught, they are usually taken by surprise or defeated in combat without an escape attempt. It is very rare for writers to cover an unsuccessful escape attempt because, generally, actions that end with the heroes failing get less space than they would have if the heroes had succeeded. (Failure gets glossed over, which is usually unfortunate).
42. Supervillains want superpowers and are more likely to acquire them intentionally. In contrast, most superheroes gain them through an accident or by birth (e.g. aliens and mutants). Even in a case like Iron Man, where Tony Stark creates his own superpowers, he only does so out of dire necessity rather than just choice. Batman is a refreshing exception here.
42.1. A superhero may wish to get rid of his superpowers and/or be normal, but supervillains never do. For most supervillains, the goal is power. Most supervillains want to take over the world or be the city’s biggest crimelord, but don’t have a good idea of what they’d do if they actually succeeded. It’s more about being #1–having the most power–than it is about what they’d do with that power. In contrast, for superheroes, power is usually just a tool to accomplish some greater goal (like justice, revenge, badassery, being Superfly, a particular moral mission, etc).
43. No matter how impressive the advantages a supervillain has, the heroes will win, and easily. Virtually the best a villain can hope for is killing a girlfriend or a relatively minor member of a superhero team.
44. In superhero stories, most fictional U.S. cities have “City” and/or another English word in their name. I don’t recommend it unless you’re going for a very comic book feel — city names like “Coast City” or “Star City” are pretty much unheard of in the actual U.S. Only 4 of America’s 100 largest cities end in “City”* and only 7 use an English word besides a surname or geographic feature (New York City, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Jersey City, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Aurora). In actual U.S. cities, surnames and non-English terms (especially Native American terms for local geographic features) are far more common. Here’s a screenshot of a list of cities from a Batman story. You can tell at a glance which ones are fictional — just look for “City.” (YOUR GAME IS UP, MEXICO).
45. Most superhero stories are set in fairly everyday settings, almost always in an Earth city in the present or near-future. Even spacefaring superhero stories (e.g. Green Lantern) tend to involve characters that are from Earth and/or spend most of their time there. Also, I’d argue that the connection to Earth is the only obvious reason that Guardians of the Galaxy feels sort of like a superhero movie but Star Wars probably doesn’t, even though both have superpowers, characters with multiple identities, characters going from ordinary to extraordinary, laser-toting raccoons, crazy sci-fi danceoffs, etc.