Dec 18 2011

List of Superhero Cliches, Tropes, and Conventions

Published by at 9:06 pm under Writing Articles

PLOTTING

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.

  

SUPERPOWERS

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.

 

CHARACTERIZATION

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).

 

SCIENCE!

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!”  

Iron-Man Movie Flamethrower

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.

Bruce Wayne is the one percent.  He don't care.

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 Skyline

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.

Miscellaneous

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.

195 responses so far

195 Responses to “List of Superhero Cliches, Tropes, and Conventions”

  1. Homerun-chanon 18 Dec 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Thanks for the article. This is x1000 more helpful than any other site I’ve come across.

  2. Damzoon 19 Dec 2011 at 5:16 am

    Very interesting. I’m trying to stay away from a lot of these.

  3. MaryWitzlon 19 Dec 2011 at 10:05 am

    So true about the civilian casualties. All that hyper-violent property-destroying derring-do scares me to bits and yet I have to remind myself that when superheroes are fighting, nobody gets killed. Weird.

  4. Castilleon 19 Dec 2011 at 11:20 pm

    I’m writing a short story about a superhero whose main speciality is hand to hand combat.
    (think martial arts, boxing etc…)

    I made sure to include allusions to #3 and #9… mainly that he’s not as unstoppable as he thinks he is. (Mostly because he deludes himself into thinking that he’s the greatest fighter ever…but he’s not.) Also he gets beat up pretty badly, and I’m trying to incorporate him fighting even with his injuries.

    Only thing I’m concerned about is it being compared too much to Kick-Ass.

    Basically what I think any superhero fight should cover is the fatigue the hero has to take. Fighting takes its toll on anyone right? In a real hand to hand combat situation with one guy versus three… I would be very surprised if the guy was still standing after it.

    That’s basically what I’m trying to say…

    Also I’m thinking of spoofing #26 in my short story. (I haven’t thought of the ending yet) Maybe he goes through all this… only to find out he saved an off-duty cop who promptly cuffs him.

  5. anatomylasson 20 Dec 2011 at 3:24 pm

    “one-dimensionally virtuous (like Krypton)”
    Wasn’t Kryton a terribly xenophobic, closed minded society?

    Also, I think attractive (wo)men as lead characters isn’t so much a cliche as it is a genre convention. I just like drawing nice looking people.

    I once tried to write a villain as sticking to the Evil Overlord list perfectly. The villain became a mary sue and the story would have lasted five minutes. I think sometimes there’s a good reason for giving your villain traits like a huge ego or partial genre blindness.

  6. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2011 at 7:07 pm

    “Also, I think attractive (wo)men as lead characters isn’t so much a cliche as it is a genre convention. I just like drawing nice looking people.” The dividing line between a convention and a cliche can be blurry. Personally, I would define a convention as something that shows up in the large majority of stories within a genre and it does something important to make the story feel like other stories of that genre.

    I don’t think that attractive characters are that important. For example, if you opted to go with unattractive characters rather than attractive ones, would it feel like less of a superhero story? Probably not, I think. (For example, Nolan’s Batman movies casted actors who mostly looked pretty ordinary, rather than actors/actresses in the Halle Berry/Jessica Alba/George Clooney mold). In contrast, if you decided to take out the superpowers and the ability to do amazing things, it really WOULD feel less like of a superhero story. For that reason, I would say that superpowers (and the ability to do amazing things more generally) are a convention of superhero stories, but physical attractiveness isn’t.

    Of the ones above, I think some could plausibly be argued as conventions rather than cliches. Either way, I’d like to see them used creatively and maybe given some in-story explanation. For example…
    –Civilian casualties are extremely low, far lower than what we’d expect for superpowered brawls in densely populated areas. Maybe. If you took the average superhero story and added 100,000+ casualties, it’s possible that it wouldn’t feel like a superhero story because one of the conventions of superhero stories is that the superheroes win without many civilian deaths. If I had to name a prototypical superhero story, Watchmen does not come to mind (although it is a superhero story, it’s definitely not typical).
    –Maybe the lack of permanent hero deaths.
    –Maybe the willingness of super-scientists to test highly experimental science on themselves. There might even be a good reason for that–for example, if the situation is urgent enough, there might be no alternative. (E.g. “The aliens are attacking NOW–I hope this thing is ready”).


    I understand the dramatic reasons why most characters with superpowers will become villains or heroes. However, I don’t think it’s a convention. For one thing, I don’t think X-Men feels particularly different because it has more than a million superpowered noncombatants in the background, whereas most other stories don’t. Also, if you do go choose that EVERYBODY with superpowers becomes a villain or hero, I think that strains disbelief unless there’s some in-story explanation. (For example, if there’s only 2 superpowered people and one is a villain, it makes sense that the other might become a hero because he can’t pass the buck to anybody else. Alternately, perhaps many characters belong to a warrior culture like Sparta or Minnesota, so it sort of makes sense that many of them would be more eager than the average person to get their fight on).



    The versions of Krypton I’m familiar with have been uniformly virtuous, but my knowledge of the Superman universe is definitely far from comprehensive. Could you give me some versions to look into?

  7. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2011 at 7:22 pm

    As for the Evil Overlord list, I find that it’s helpful as a general guideline to keep the villains from making many idiotic mistakes. For example, an intelligent villain may be caught in a situation where taking a superhero hostage/prisoner is the best available option, rather than just killing the hero (for example, maybe a human shield is absolutely necessary). But he should be aware that there are a ton of things that could go wrong there and try to take appropriate steps to deal with those potential problems. For example, in The Taxman Must Die, a supervillain is annoyed to realize that kidnapping a battle-hardened mutant is the only way to procure a necessary scientific reagent (the mutant’s blood). This particular mutant has broken out of enemy captivity at least twice (that the supervillain knows about) and is rumored to have eaten Osama bin Laden’s spleen. The villain knows that this could go horribly wrong, so he keeps the following goals in mind:

    1. Stay alive. If necessary, detonate the bomb embedded in the prisoner or otherwise kill him.
    2. Keep his operation from getting busted. If the prisoner is escaping, detonate the bomb.
    3. Keep him as an involuntary blood donor as long as possible, but only as long as he can without compromising either of the first two goals. Just because the villain doesn’t see a way to work without the mutant blood right now doesn’t mean he won’t think of something later. There may be other opportunities later, so he won’t let himself get killed/arrested now.

  8. Homerun-chanon 20 Dec 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I personally think as conventions=doing it right and cliches=doing it wrong. But as I’ve stated before, many people know one as the other/think it’s the same.

    – Civilian casualties are something I’ve always wanted in many superhero stories, because of the toll it would begin to take on a hero. I think that needs to be explored more.

    – When someone dies, they need to stay dead. That’s one of the things I disliked about series like DBZ and Fairy Tail. “Oh, X isn’t really dead, they’ve been resurrected/protected from death!” After a while, one starts to wonder why do they even keep killing off the character instead of just having them live on. It seems like a waste of time. The only exception would have to be if there’s some sort of ‘logical’ explanation, such as resetting the frickin timeline because you’re trying to save your friend from death every single time.

    – I’m confused about #3, explain please?

  9. Indigoon 20 Dec 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks for writing this article, it was really helpful!

  10. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2011 at 7:59 pm

    “I’m confused about #3, explain please?” In superhero stories, nuclear weapons never kill anything and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story where they’ve actually killed a supervillain. Even in Watchmen, where nuclear weapons are the grim doom hanging over everybody’s heads, it’s a giant 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 it. In these stories, the death count on nuclear anything ranges from 0-1 (one of Dr. Manhattan’s lovers died of radiation) and 0-0 for nuclear weapons specifically.

    In general, armed forces are completely useless in superhero stories (unless Michael Bey is directing–I’m reevaluating the hypothesis that somebody at the Pentagon has great blackmail material on him). The police are only marginally less useless–at least they haul off the supervillains after the heroes have done the work.

  11. Homerun-chanon 20 Dec 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I’d like to live in a place where nuclear weapons have no effect on anyone. It’s like they’re roaches or rats.

  12. Comicbookguy117on 21 Dec 2011 at 5:07 am

    Hey guys, I know this probably isn’t the proper place for this question, but I wanted to pick a high-traffic area. So i’m developing a character that can turn into various beings (like Ben 10). Only this character turns into representations of the Egyptian Pantheon of Gods/Goddesses. I chose Egyptian because the Greek Gods/Goddesses have been seen way too often. Anyway this guy uses a mystical artifact to achieve his transformations. My question is what should I call this artifact? Any suggestions would be greatly apprieciated. Thanks guys.

  13. Marxon 21 Dec 2011 at 11:45 am

    How ’bout calling it the Shuet? That’s what they (ancient Egyptians) called your shadow. It was supposed to be part of your soul. Another idea could be the Ka, which was the “spark” of life, like an essence. And just so you know, I’m getting all this from Wikipedia, so… Oh, and what is the artifact itself? Just curious. I like your idea a lot. 😀

    I also have a question thats not really related to this. First, would this be a good two-sentence summary?

    “When a wry teenaged girl discovers her superpowers through a freak asthma attack, she must become the wisecracking side-kick to a gruff, once retired superhero in order to save her family from a suave supervillain who’s hell-bent on serving up his own demented version of justice.”

    And the main character’s power is super speed (like running close to 100 mph). Like is said, she has asthma, so she can’t use her powers too often otherwise she can’t breath.
    Is that a good enough weakness/limitation?

  14. Comicbookguy117on 21 Dec 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions, I like Ka. I might poke around some more, just to be sure.

    Anyway, I like the discription of your story. My only thing is, that while I can certainly appreciate wanting to limit your heroes and villains, giving asthma to a person with super-speed seems a tad too harsh. Unless it’s a comedic-type story. But in a serious story, I think it’d be too viceral to give such a young character a weakness that could EASILY kill them while they’re trying to save the world. That’s the villains job! This is just my opinion and I hope it helped in some way. Thanks again.

  15. Marxon 21 Dec 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Yeah, it’s a bit of a dark comedy. Also, her asthma isn’t the type were something like dust sends you to the hospital. It’s more like were running too fast for too long is bad (asthma vs excercise induced asthma). The speed isn’t just how fast she can run; it’s reflexes and body movement, too. So since she can punch really fast, according to physics, her punches are a lot harder than a normal person’s (F=ma). Wow, look at me, bringing real science into a superhero story. Doesn’t happen very often, does it?

    But thanks a ton for pointing out that, logically, asthma is more likely to kill her than the villain. I’d planned on the villain finding out about the asthma and then using it against her, but hadn’t realized that it might’ve actually killed her first. Thanks!

  16. B. McKenzieon 21 Dec 2011 at 7:51 pm

    “When a wry teenaged girl discovers her superpowers through a freak asthma attack, she must become the wisecracking side-kick to a gruff, once retired superhero in order to save her family from a suave supervillain who’s hell-bent on serving up his own demented version of justice.” I like it. The details there give me a pretty good feel for the story, the characters and what’s at stake for them.

  17. B. McKenzieon 03 Jan 2012 at 10:35 pm

    6.2. The stranger a story is, the more likely it is that there’s a New York City connection. “I bet you can’t work New York City into this story.” “The hell I can’t!” Cases in point:

    –A plumber rescues princesses of mythical kingdoms from turtle warriors and ninja starfish (or whatever the hell Shy Guys are).

    –The protagonists are Japanese-themed ninjas. Also, they’re cold-blooded turtles that don’t wear any clothes. (Brr–half of the year, NYC averages daily lows south of 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

    –The main antagonist is a giant reptile from the South Pacific.

    –A prophecy is fulfilled by rebuilding a British castle atop a skyscraper. The protagonists, despite having been alive for hundreds of years, mostly name themselves after New York City boroughs.

    –An ancient Japanese doomsday prophecy is coming to pass and enough characters are cold-blooded that they sort of have their own bar (Legendz–similar to Pokemon, but PG-13).

  18. Iv'son 16 Feb 2012 at 10:02 am

    this is awesome, its a good thing my oringinal origins epic, uses none of these with the few exceptions of how they get there powers

  19. TheTacosAreHereon 03 Apr 2012 at 12:07 am

    I am immensely curious as to whether or not my story is cliche. There are elements that are cliche, but i would hope that I am producing them in non-redundant ways.

    First off my story is mainly science fiction, but my character, particularly my main character have “super powers”. It takes place in the present/near future, with an alternate time line (no not an alternate universe). The main character is a mutant, otherwise known in the story as a G.A.H. (genetically advanced humanoid or more commonly known as Genetically Altered Humanoid). I will explain why there are two meanings in a second. Well under the classification of G.A.H. there are werewolves, vampires, aliens, androids, and mutants. Mutants generally have more mind/body powers, like sharp cartilage on the outside of the body or small psychic abilities like the heroine of my story.
    Danika, is a woman (20 something-ish) who is a mutant with the ability to cast illusions into a persons mind through eye contact. In this timeline G.A.H.’S are considered a nuisance to society being that most of the world, is controlled by a central power. Not one nation, but like an all ruling United Nations, started during the cold war, which was a conspiracy to raise two superpower nations without much hindrance from other nations. I have no name for the Nation yet.
    Well as you can probably tell the government is after G.A.H.’s, this is where i feel it gets cliche. Actually it is more the whole world against the G.A.H.’S, almost like Germany in WW2, where they were conned. The nation isn’t a totalitarian type government, there are banned subjects and history is distorted, hidden, or destroyed to better the cause of The Nation, but you have free speech. Non gah’s tend to have pretty liberal freedoms. Also there is very little poverty and war (what would be the sense in that, it would be like warring against yourself.) There are a few countries that reject The Nation, but they are generally few and far between.
    There is drugs, but I more included the use of Marijuana, because of its properties to the Gahs including dumbing down powers for mutants and helping the Vampires curb their taste for human blood by making them crave actual food.
    Vampirism is more a disease as well as with the werewolves.
    The reason the gahs are know by two ways, is because when they were first categorized the Scientific community recognized them as Advance (meaning having parts of advance human abilities healing, not aging, and “powers). However as they became more well known The Nation, thought this was a sting on the human race so they reclassified it as Altered Humanoid instead.
    Androids are merely robots with advance functions, they are human without emotions, but not so they don’t understand them. They know right from wrong and have morals due to a very high brain function. They aer very sophisticated and are not robots. That could be a whole post in itself.
    Aliens, are not technically human the ones that settled here are more human like than expected, so they are classified as Gahs as well. Some are here, because Earth is the only planet found to be able to support the growth and habitation of Marijuana and they are highly addicted to it.
    Why did i decide to use weed in my story?
    1) there are not many serious stoner graphic novels out there. ANd the main focus is not weed, it is there as a plot device or somethign similar.
    2) I really like the idea that Earth is the only planet that can support growing it.

    I have no idea how to end this, but this is really just a short synopsis I have a lot more to add, jsut don’t have everythign worked out yet. Sorry it is so long. I am just really cautious on doing the whole government against me like the xmen.

  20. B. McKenzieon 03 Apr 2012 at 12:57 am

    Some miscellaneous thoughts that come to mind:
    –So far, I don’t see the story here. What’s at stake? What are characters trying to accomplish? I think it’d be hard to gauge whether these elements are cliché without having some idea of how they are used. For example, I think Harry Potter’s magical system and supernatural species (some giants/dragons/centaurs) are cliché, but the characters and writing are lively enough that it’s pretty easy to look past that.

    –With acronyms 3+ letters long, I would recommend against using periods. GAH is easier on the eyes, especially whenever you have to use extra punctuation. (“Once a GAH, always a GAH.” Or “What are a GAH’s rights under the law?”)

    –When you’re pitching your story to publishers, I’d recommend coming up with a synonym for “superpowers” unless the superhero connotation is intentional.

    –This might be idiosyncratic, but I think it’d be easier to pick either the fantasy types of GAH (werewolves & vampires) or the sci-fi ones (aliens, androids and mutants) and get rid of the other. If I were your marketing guy (or the publisher’s assistant reading the submission), I think more genre consistency would make it easier to sell readers on the premise. Alternately, if you’re dead-set on the idea of having both, be ready to present a damn good reason that they both add enough that it’s worth having both. (However, I will note that your premise is already pretty involved).

    –It might help to use some point besides WWII as the turning point. For example, if we’re talking about global unification, one possibility that comes to mind is the end of the Cold War or the end of World War I.

    –“there are banned subjects and history is distorted, hidden, or destroyed to better the cause of The Nation, but you have free speech…” This sentence sounds self-contradictory to me. If people can be punished for pointing out that the party line is false, in what sense is speech actually free? (One somewhat softer alternative: maybe it’s not actually illegal to raise these questions, but the questions make most people extremely uncomfortable and may result in ostracism and/or a loss of funding).

    –Scientifically speaking, it sounds a bit unusual to me that a scientist would call another species “advanced.” Why would a scientist make a judgment call like that, especially at the expense of his/her own species? “Evolved” might be somewhat more scientifically neutral. As for the Nation… If this society looks down upon these other species/things, maybe it’d call them something more loaded like “deviants” or “aberrants.”

    –Because of the real-life connotations of marijuana, it might help to replace it with a fictional equivalent. (Like you noted, your story would probably be lumped in with stoner stories but isn’t actually about drug use–I’m not sure that would be to your advantage).

    –Based on the short synopsis above, the drug use doesn’t sound as promising as Dune or a well-executed stoner story like Harold and Kumar. The only thing I know about the drugs in your story is that some species react to them differently, but I don’t know anything about how they fit into the plot (or what the plot is).

  21. ekimmakon 03 Apr 2012 at 1:14 am

    Wait, what’s the point of this list? Is it a list of things you really shouldn’t do, or a list of things you will notice happens a lot in the superhero genre?

  22. B. McKenzieon 03 Apr 2012 at 2:54 am

    “is this a list of things you really shouldn’t do…” For the most part, no. It’ll give you some ways in which you might differentiate your story, though.

  23. TheTacosAreHereon 07 Apr 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Is there somewhere I can write a synopsis? I feel I left out a lot of key details about the characters. I also didn’t mean to post this much, my internet spazzed and posted way too much. I was really just asking about if the “government” after the protagonist is cliche. The main goal (I am revising the whole story at the moment) is getting away being free from the Nations genocide at first, but after they “escape” the goal will change. I was originally gonna have a war, but that sounded too much like the cliche I am trying to avoid. It isn’t perfect, but I really need a place to bounce ideas and criticism. I really like your idea of changing Marijuana to something else. Please keep in mind this is not the whole story, just a badly written late night synopsis.

  24. Nightwireon 08 Apr 2012 at 12:49 am

    @TheTacosAreHere: you can ask B.Mac to set a review forum up.

  25. B. McKenzieon 09 Apr 2012 at 4:16 am

    Hello, TheTacosAreHere. I’ve set up a forum for you here.

  26. YoungAuthoron 09 Apr 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Hey B.Mac, could i get a second review forum called YoungAuthor II?

    It’s for my second story, Pride of an Assassin (stand-in title)
    It follows the story of 17 year-old Adrian Fuente who is an orphan assassin. He is the one of the best in the universe. Adrian is a cockyand intelligent assassin but he blames the death of his family on himself. (killed by the antagonist, Mortem, another assasin) In the year 2237, Terra Dueno (where humans flocked to after ruining earth) is ruled by the autocratic Imperial empire. The democratic rebels are fighting to free the world. Possession of Terra Dueno is split about 60-40 in favor of the rebels. He meets Lucy Shakr ( more deeply described in the male authors writing female characters article) She is an 18-year old orphan. leader and general of the rebel forces. Resilient and stubborn, she hates Adrian at first, but grows to like him.

  27. YoungAuthoron 09 Apr 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Adrian is captured/ enticed to come along by the rebels after completing his latest mission and gets another that says he should kill Lucy. he hesistates and becomes attracted to her throughout the book. He also goes with them (to their battle at one of the port cities that the rebels want) b/c he finds out Mortem will be there.

  28. Crystalon 10 Apr 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Don’t know if this has been brought up… But the stupidity of superhero/villain costumes suprises me, and I’m usually that person who comes up with stupid stuff for her characters to do.

    I mean, c’mon. Which is less likely to get you caught?

    “A man wearing a metal suit and cape walked in here and just started wrecking havoc!”

    or…

    “Some random guy I’d never seen before waltzed right in and almost killed me!”

    I think that, for most supervillains and those few heroes who the government seems to hate (think Spiderman), changing from a costume to normal but durable clothing (think…a hoodie, maybe? Some kind of pants that won’t rip?) with a bulletproof vest or other protection inside seems to make more sense.

    Unless you want to get caught, that is. As in, you’re looking for a hero.

    …Am I making sense?

    “Oh, yes, ma’am. Tha’d be Doctor Doom. I think that I can catch ‘im at his hideout right now.”

  29. SilverDon 12 Apr 2012 at 9:37 am

    Speaking of superhero cliches, another one tends to be if the hero is chasing the villen for revenge, he/she will have the villen at there mercy and then walk away, so they dont become like said villen.

    Surely a hero can also kill villens and still be a hero, i know the punisher does but he’s considerd an anti hero is’nt he?

  30. T-hardyon 30 Apr 2012 at 11:15 am

    Nice example of getting powers from the same source (the Batman and Joker being fueled by insanity). I was wondering what word you would use for Batman and Joker (who have no superpowers) when I was halfway through the sentence and then I read “insanity.” LOL. Brilliant.

  31. Leegirlon 12 Jul 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I believe that when you have superpowers you would be called a SUPERhero or SUPERvillain. But if you don’t have powers then i think u would just be a hero or villain. So basically I’m saying that Batman is just a hero, and the Joker is just a villain.

  32. Blind Propheton 21 Jul 2012 at 12:10 pm

    For those worrying about cliche #2, I was playing “Batman: Arkham City” the other night, and I found a good way around that cliche.

    When Batman confronts Hugo Strange, Strange asks hims if he considers if everything might be his fault; “Your presence creates these animals”. So, a villain could use cliche #2 as a way of blaming the hero by saying that he inadvertently created those evil monsters.

  33. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2012 at 5:14 pm

    “When Batman confronts Hugo Strange, Strange asks hims if he considers if everything might be his fault; ‘Your presence creates these animals.’ So, a villain could use cliche #2 as a way of blaming the hero by saying that he inadvertently created those evil monsters.”

    I think this is a recurring charge against Batman–in particular, many DAs, cops and supervillains in Gotham believe Batman is responsible for creating the supervillains (and he has played some role in many of his villains’ origins). I think the most memorable example of this is in the Animated Series episode “Trial,” which I recommend wholeheartedly. One of the best animated episodes of any series.

  34. Aj of Earthon 21 Jul 2012 at 5:24 pm

    The 90’s Batman Animated Series is so classic. Superb.

  35. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2012 at 5:27 pm

    “I believe that when you have superpowers you would be called a SUPERhero or SUPERvillain. But if you don’t have powers, then I think you would just be a hero or villain. So basically I’m saying that Batman is just a hero, and the Joker is just a villain.” Although Batman supposedly does not have superpowers, I would argue that he probably is a superhero because he has incredible capabilities which go far beyond what any regular human would be able to do with just training. For example, at the end of Justice League Unlimited, he shrugs off hits from Darkseid, a character strong enough to level buildings.

  36. Blind Propheton 22 Jul 2012 at 4:43 pm

    After reading article, B.Mac, I have to tell you these worry me. You see, I’m working on a detective hero. What do you think would be some cliches for detective heroes?

  37. Sylaron 22 Jul 2012 at 5:24 pm

    “Batman Begins” has my favorite example of Cliche #25. While racing against time to get Rachel Dawes to the Batcave, Batman uses the Tumbler to take out several police and pancakes at least two. But later on, Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that “It’s a miracle no one was killed!!” Hilariously bizarre!!

  38. B. Macon 22 Jul 2012 at 6:48 pm

    “You see, I’m working on a detective hero. What do you think would be some cliches for detective heroes?” In a detective story (e.g. Sherlock Holmes), or a superhero-as-detective (e.g. Batman) story?

  39. Blind Propheton 22 Jul 2012 at 9:26 pm

    He’s kind of a combination of both, like Rorschach.

  40. Contra Gloveon 23 Jul 2012 at 7:16 am

    One prime example of Cliché #33: Sailor Moon.

    Queen Beryl has an entire planet to harvest energy from, yet she repeatedly attacks Tokyo, where Sailor Moon and her team could easily find them and stop them. Why doesn’t she try hitting other major cities, like Kolkata, London, Sydney, or good old New York simultaneously? Even if the Sailor Scouts could use Rei’s money to fly around the world, and Ami could take care of any language barriers, they still have responsibilities at home and they wouldn’t be able to stop everything in time.

    One could argue that they’re trying to lure the Sailor Scouts to kill them so they don’t need to worry, but after gathering energy from around the world, destroying them would be a piece of cake.

    P.S.: Sailor Earth is Tuxedo Mask, in case you were wondering.

  41. Contra Gloveon 23 Jul 2012 at 7:17 am

    Though it’d be so much cooler if he was Tuxedo Tommygun.

  42. Janon 23 Jul 2012 at 11:38 am

    I have a slightly comical problem. I have been out of the state I was born in exactly twice, and both times it has been to a theme park. And of course, I live in New York. I don’t really want to be cliche, but I don’t know what choice I have.

  43. comicbookguy117on 23 Jul 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Hey guys, I’ve got a SERIOUS problem with crafting decent stories for the various characters I have absolutely no trouble creating. Is there a discussion area for creating story arcs? And if there isn’t, can anyone help me? I can easily make cool characters but cannot do much of anything with them after that. I need help of some kind, I’m just not sure what.

  44. B. McKenzieon 23 Jul 2012 at 1:52 pm

    “I have been out of the state I was born in exactly twice, and both times it has been to a theme park. And of course, I live in New York. I don’t really want to be cliche, but I don’t know what choice I have.” A NYC setting isn’t a deal-breaker, but if you wanted to set it elsewhere, I’d recommend checking through your network on Facebook for friends from another part of the world–ask them what some of the most striking differences are. Maybe read some pieces about people adjusting to NYC and/or making the adjustment from NYC to elsewhere. Alternately, maybe a NYC protagonist in another city or a non-NYC protagonist in New York (e.g. mild-mannered Clark Kent in Metropolis). Speaking of which, fictional cities like Metropolis are an option.

  45. Blind Propheton 23 Jul 2012 at 2:41 pm

    B.Mac, what can you suggest for my detective hero in terms of cliches? I want to try to be as original as possible.

  46. B. McKenzieon 23 Jul 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I’m not sure, BP. I’d have to see how it’s executed.

  47. B. McKenzieon 23 Jul 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Comic Book Guy: “Hey guys, I’ve got a SERIOUS problem with crafting decent stories for the various characters I have absolutely no trouble creating. Is there a discussion area for creating story arcs? And if there isn’t, can anyone help me? I can easily make cool characters but cannot do much of anything with them after that. I need help of some kind, I’m just not sure what.”

    Take 3-4 characters. Figure out 1-2 things each they desperately want to accomplish and ideally 1 way in which their personality and/or goals conflict with the main traits and/or goals of each of the other major characters. From there, I think you can string together actions, consequences, escalations, retreats/regroupings and counteractions until you have a first draft ready. For the major characters, I’d also recommend thinking about 1-3 ways in which they might substantially change over the course of the book (particularly in a way besides merely becoming more practiced/skillful–if the character’s an inexperienced superhero, that’s pretty much a given). You don’t have to use all of those, of course, but they’ll give you some idea of which threads are worth exploring more and how you might explore them.

    For example, looking at X-Men: First Class… let’s start with Mystique, a shapeshifting mutant that’s resentful she has to hide, which sets up a bit of conflict with her best friend Xavier (a mutant that doesn’t). What are some ways we might be able to resolve this arc? Maybe she is able to cure her physical mutation and look normal. Introduce Hank and his desire to look normal. Or maybe she decides that she doesn’t want to look normal. Introduce Magneto’s mutant pride and backstory/apprehension of human motives. What are some conflicts we could have between some of these members? We can make Magneto and Xavier partners (as well as possibly friends), but also budding rivals conflicting over methods and goals. Then I think all that we need for the rest of the core of the story is a villain who presents interesting obstacles affecting these arcs. I probably would have handled this somewhat differently than the movie did, but the villain did an okay job of tying together Magneto’s backstory and his relationship with Xavier.

  48. jjon 23 Jul 2012 at 8:54 pm

    If your trying to be realistic its probably easier to establish a superhero in large city instead of a town because that way the chances of them getting caught decreases.plus its unlikely that a large amount of crime would happen one town. Even gotham has been established as a huge utopia and new york is well new york.

  49. comicbookguy117on 23 Jul 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks B.Mac. I’ll see what I can come up with.

  50. Carl Shinyamaon 23 Jul 2012 at 10:32 pm

    “Even gotham has been established as a huge utopia”

    Which comic book? I ask because more often than not, Gotham is more often the opposite of a utopia.

  51. B. McKenzieon 23 Jul 2012 at 11:59 pm

    “If you’re trying to be realistic, it’s probably easier to establish a superhero in large city instead of a town because that way the chances of them getting caught decreases.” I don’t know. I would imagine that New York City has more witnesses, security cameras, and superpowered antagonists than (say) Peoria or Grand Rapids.

    However, huge cities generally have more TARGETS for supervillains (e.g. banks/financial institutions, maybe science labs, major skyscrapers, civilians/hostages, perhaps VIPs, etc). If you were a superhero in Peoria or Grand Rapids, there probably wouldn’t be enough drawing in supervillains to keep you occupied. (Unless, perhaps, the superhero IS the reason that the villains are interested in this particular place, a la Smallville). So I can understand why the hero probably does most of his work in a city.

    I can almost understand why so many heroes live in cities rather than, say, suburbs–any sort of commute time might be dangerous in a crisis. However, why so many heroes grew up in cities (and/or like the city they live in) is a bit of a mystery. Gotham, for example. Out of all the places in the world, why does Batman choose to live there rather than any other city? There are at least five cities with superpowered problems. Bruce Wayne does have personal connections (e.g. he grew up there and his company is most influential there), but in almost all of the versions I’ve seen, it’s a crime-ridden cesspool of a city. Batman mentions sometimes that it has redeeming qualities, but it’s odd that a detective would pursue a theory with so little evidence. 🙂

  52. Smithsonon 28 Jul 2012 at 10:24 pm

    I was writing a story and was looking for some advice that would make it better. I’ll give you a brief summary of what happens:

    Wallace White is a marine scientist who is studying the Bermuda Triangle with his colleague, Russell. They are in Miami working for the Institute of Marine Research, also known as just the Institute. While they are diving, Russell finds the ‘Infinity Tank’ which is a famous failure of an oxygen tank. Designed in the nineties by a scientist, it was supposed to allow the user to breath forever. They bring it up to shore and Wallace fixes it. The Infinity Tank was supposed to take in water and then separate the oxygen from the hydrogen. It’s problem was that it would clog from all the small bits of sand, algae, etc. that it sucked in and the scientist died using it. Wallace fixes it by making three different chambers. One takes in the H2O and sends the oxygen to the mouthpiece. The other holds the hydrogen and takes the carbon dioxide the user breaths out to make a fuel. When this fuel is used, it burns away the debris thus clearing the filter. The tank can also use the fuel to be like a jet pack. There is then a third chamber which takes in salt from the sea water (when the user is in the sea) and it combines it with hydrogen to make sodium hydroxide which attracts the carbon dioxide so that the carbon dioxide and hydrogen can mix.
    Sorry for all the science stuff but I thought you should know how it works-

    Anyway, Wallace is out testing the new oxygen tank when he sees a robbery happen near the beach. He gets out and uses the tank/jetpack to chase down the robber. After stopping the robber, he gets a lot of media attention. He and Russell are split on what to do with the tank. he wants to give it to the Institute for safe keeping while Russell just wants to sell it. They argue, Russell claims he found it while Wallace claims that he fixed it. Wallace then takes it to the head of the Institute, Jordan, who wants to turn him into a superhero to give the Institute worldwide publicity and draw attention as well as donations. Wallace becomes Aqualung and resorts to fighting crime in Miami. At first he was doing what he thought was a good deed, but as he starts becoming a superhero, he becomes attracted to the fame and publicity as well as a girl who works at the Institute that he likes. He thinks that Aqualung will get her attention but it does just the opposite. The girl, Bridget, explains that her father was in the army and died when she was young and she doesn’t want to deal with having to worry about people like that ever again. Also, Russell is mad at him for taking the tank behind his back and then becomes jealous for the publicity he gets. Wallace has Jordan, the head of the Institute, and the city on his side, but Bridget and Russell aren’t with him anymore. He then realizes that Aqualung was not such a good idea once he almost dies so he tells Bridget that he’ll stop. She is happy for him and when he tells Russell, who is still angry at him, Russell tells him that he was planning on replacing him. He used Wallace’s blueprints to create basically a copy of Aqualung. Instead, he is red, not blue, and has spiked cuffs and a harpoon gun. Now, without the guilt of abandoning the city and letting Russell get some of the glory as well as Bridget agreeing to be with him, Wallace feels as if everything is fine. however, he signed a contract with Jordan so he is forced to pretend that Russell, now The Harpooner, is him. Everything seems fine until Russell tells the media that he intends to kill Wallace. Russell is still mad at him for all the fame and fortune he got for taking the tank he found and using it without telling him. He also wants to kill Jordan for making Wallace into the hero that he is/was. Other than that, Russell only uses the tank to stop crime and do good for the city. Wallace has to explain to Jordan that he in fact did quit and that Russell took over. This makes Jordan angry and he has to resort to becoming Aqualung again in order to save himself from Jordan. This angers Bridget, who he promised to that Aqualung was done. Now Russell, Bridget and Jordan are all mad at him. Bridget is also upset with him for his heavy drinking which arose due to the stress he went through being a superhero.
    Russell kills Jordan with a harpoon and attaches a letter to it for Wallace. When Wallace reads it, Russell explains that the fight is just between the two of them. With Jordan dead, Wallace is freed from his contract and just needs to stop The Harpooner to say goodbye to Aqualung for good. Aqualung and The Harpooner fight and Aqualung eventually kills The Harpooner. At the funeral for Russell, Wallace becomes overwhelmed with grief and Bridget finally comes over to him and embraces him.

  53. B. McKenzieon 29 Jul 2012 at 12:26 am

    –I think the process by which Wallace gets the tank is more interesting than having Wallace make it himself. In particular, I like the sense of danger created by the inventor’s demise.

    –When you’re explaining the Infinity Tank (either to a publisher or in the story itself), I would recommend cutting back most of the scientific explanation. Right now, the tank has about 150 words of explanation–I’d recommend cutting that down to 1-2 sentences. Maybe something like “The tank converts the hydrogen and oxygen in seawater into breathable air and a fuel-source for a jet-pack.” And then a sentence about the problem with the seaweed/blockage.

    –I’d recommend adding more personality to Wallace’s decision to stop the robber. Is this an unusual decision? (For example, if you’re showing impulsiveness and/or recklessness, it’d be effective that he’s using an experimental tank which has already killed one tester before actually making sure that the tank is actually safe). This could also be used to show that he has total confidence in his own work, etc.

    –I like the opening of the conflict between Wallace and Russell. I would also recommend having Russell get annoyed by the Institute’s PR-based approach to the Infinity Tank—he might reason that it’s a distraction from the Institute’s actual work, oceanic research. This will also help establish why Russell eventually kills Jordan.

    –“The head of the Institute, Jordan, wants to turn him into a superhero to give the Institute worldwide publicity and draw donations.” I find the ulterior motives refreshing, but this will probably feel more believable if Jordan has previously been established as some combination of desperate and/or eccentric. Preferably desperate on the order of “the institute might not be able to make payroll next week unless it gets more donations.” That said, is there some reason he decides to go down this path rather than, say, sell the IT to the military?

    –I really like that Bridget is turned off by his superheroics. It helps give her a personality.

    –I would recommend fleshing out Russell a bit. Right now his motivations and development arc feel a bit too stereotypically comic book to me: the scientist becomes so jealous of his coworker becoming a superhero that he…

    1. Builds his own suit. (I would recommend establishing early on that he’s adventurous and that he’s in a dangerous/adventurous line of oceanic research. That will help establish that he has some of the personality to pull this off).

    2. Replaces the hero. (I would recommend also establishing that he’s a hardcore glory-hound. If he’s willing to endanger himself for personal recognition, he probably should be).

    3. Wants to kill his coworker even after replacing him because he’s SO annoyed by Wallace’s fame. He’s achieved his goal (become a famous/adored superhero), right? Why is he willing to risk that by murdering his predecessor? One possibility: both superheroes are active*, but for some reason (ideally related to their personalities and/or choices), the media and public think of Wallace as the main hero and Russell as something like a sidekick or a lesser hero. Russell pressures Wallace to quit (thinking that will make him the #1 hero), but even after Aqualung/Wallace quits, the media and public are not thrilled by the Harpooner and there might even be a campaign to bring back Aqualung. Russell’s grand plan might be that if Aqualung dies, then the public will settle for what they can get.

    4. Tells the media he wants to kill Wallace. I would recommend cutting this or moving it into implication. (E.g. he says something which is vaguely alarming about Wallace, but not so incredibly alarming that the police would immediately get involved).

    5. He also wants to kill Jordan for making Wallace into a superhero. I’d recommend fleshing this out.

    *Secretly replacing one hero with the other strikes me as potentially an unnecessary complication. What do you gain from it? In contrast, there might be more potential for conflict if the public knows that the Harpooner and Aqualung are two different people (“this new guy isn’t as good as the last one, is he?”) That conflict might propel Russell to kill Wallace even after Wallace stops being a superhero. Alternately, if it’s not an unnecessary complication, please make the explanation more believable.

    “Russell kills Jordan with a harpoon and attaches a letter to it for Wallace.” I’m sometimes overly nitpicky, so please disregard this if you’d like, but a harpoon would leave so much blood that the letter would probably be impossible to read. I’d recommend having him harpoon a letter somewhere else at the crime scene (for example, maybe he uses one harpoon to kill Jordan and another to stick a letter to The Institute’s logo).

  54. Smithsonon 29 Jul 2012 at 3:57 pm

    First of all thanks for your advice. Second, in the beginning of the story, both Wallace and Russell are diving in the Bermuda Triangle and are told to come back up to the surface. They decline and want to keep exploring even though that are at (small) risk of running out of oxygen. Wallace also tests the new oxygen tank multiple times before using it to stop the robber.
    One idea I have is Russell tempts Wallace into becoming Aqualung again so eh can frame him as a copycat, thus justifying his motives for anting to stop him.
    A smaller story arc in the story is that Russell is mad at Wallace for using the tank he found to become a hero so he in turn steals Wallace’s blueprints and ideas to become a hero himself. Wallace is mad at Russell for that and he tries to sabotage Russell’s fame by not telling Jordan about him and claiming that Russell needs a harpoon to be useful. This is what fuels Russell’s anger towards him.
    Also, Jordan is a snobby, egomaniac who wants the Institute, which he is the head of, to become as famous as possible. So the idea of Aqualung is more for publicity rather than money.

  55. Smithsonon 06 Aug 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I thought of a new idea about the conflict between Wallace and Russell. Instead of the colleague becoming jealous as the sole reason and trying to uproot the original, what do you think of Russell trying to imitate Aqualung but then purposefully making his reputation worse. Then, over time, Wallace is forced into a hard spot because he has to choose between Aqualung’s reputation and Bridget. He eventually decided that he has to save Aqualung’s name from being forgotten regardless of what it makes Bridget think. When Bridget finds out, she becomes upset and disappears from him. Then the Institute is shut down once Russell and Jordan(the head) are both killed. They are both killed by harpoons, so Wallace tells people that The Harpooner killed both of them. This saves Russell’s name and The Harpooner would vanish. Then at Russell’s funeral, Bridget finally shows up and tells him that she forgives him. Wallace then tells her that after he killed Russell, he has no more need for Aqualung.
    Does this one sound better than the original idea? If not, what do you think could improve it? Thanks

  56. Red Rocketon 13 Aug 2012 at 11:37 am

    Originally, I had my story set in a suburban town with a bunch of normal houses and a nice downtown (this is like where I live, in case I ever decide to make a homemade movie out of my story). No skyscrapers or constant bustle of city traffic. The problem that presents itself here is that these suburban towns are usually void of a lot of crime that the hero would normally fight. Should I turn away from cliche #6 and try this approach, or go with the city and have the crime for the superhero? (Although, the main reason my guy becomes a superhero is because of one evil organization that presents itself, not a lot of crime. The setting doesn’t really affect the conflict, but it’s important to the mood of any story.)

  57. B. McKenzieon 13 Aug 2012 at 1:48 pm

    I would regard an urban setting as more of a convention than a trope/cliche for superhero stories. However, if you wanted to shake things up, a non-urban setting would be an option. E.g. Wolverine spends a significant amount of time in the wilderness and several series mix superheroes with space operas.

  58. Red Rocketon 13 Aug 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Okay, thanks.

  59. ChickenNoodleson 26 Aug 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Hey B.Mac, I have a question. Is it possible for cliches and non-cliches to coexist in one plot and result in a successful story. Also your website provides such great writing advice, but I’ve always wondered if any of your stories suffer from cliches an tropes.

    -ChickenNoodles

  60. M. Happenstanceon 26 Aug 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Well, I’m not Mac, but cliches are called cliches for a reason. They might not have been bad concepts initially, but at present they’re probably overdone and worn out. It really depends on execution and by extension the writer’s own skill – a great writer can take a cliche and make it feel like something entirely original.

    However, since great writers are few and far between, I wouldn’t try to work in cliches intentionally. For the most part, it’s too much risk with too little chance of payoff – basically a bad idea all around.

    On a similar note, I’d like to point out that non-cliches are just about as hard to come by as great authors. Just about everything’s been done before – the secret’s in doing it differently.

  61. B. McKenzieon 27 Aug 2012 at 2:10 am

    “I’ve always wondered if any of your stories suffer from cliches and tropes.” They absolutely do. In my own writing, I try to make time-worn concepts more fresh by remixing them and/or having characters face similar situations with totally different outcomes. For example…

    –(Spoiler) The main villain is a dystopian version of Peter Parker. He tries to stop a random crime and it gets a loved one killed. The resulting grief causes him to become a lot more cynical and less compassionate.


    –One of the two main characters (Agent Orange) is my take on Superman, a character that’s theoretically an alien but acts/thinks/speaks 99% like a human* with superpowers and has few-if-any flaws or personality traits. In contrast, there are major personality, cultural and point-of-view differences distinguishing Agent Orange from most Americans. In addition, like Superman, he experiences a relatively-rural-to-urban shift (in this case, Gainesville to New York City).
    *God, Superman is even better at LOOKING human than we are.

    –For a mix on the traditional supersoldier, I wanted to go with capabilities and a personality a bit more morally complex than, say, cinematic Captain America. I decided to work in some aspects from Sherlock Holmes’ adversary Professor Moriarty (e.g. moral/legal flexibility, unusual mental skills, and a loud/unrestrained personality)… while keeping the character a protagonist.

    –In most superhero stories, the main characters have the greatest powers/capabilities. For example, Batman outclasses the Gotham PD in pretty much every way. In contrast, the title character in The Taxman Must Die is an accountant without incredible capabilities. I think this works because…

    –…in most superhero stories, the villain is brazen enough to openly attack highly visible targets (e.g. banks) and give the heroes enough time to respond. I think this makes the villains feel mostly harmless and incompetent–I much prefer villains in the Ozymandias mold. Like Watchmen, The Taxman Must Die goes heavier on the investigation angle, because most of the competent villains would inflict hundreds or thousands of casualties before the heroes could respond (e.g. supervillains tactically closer to Osama bin Laden than Dr. Doom). If I handle this well, I hope that it will feel more like a superpowered mystery/comedy with some incredible action (e.g. apprehension scenes) than a superpowered beat ’em up. The investigation angle also gives the taxman a bigger role to play–if the story were ONLY about beating up villains rather than also finding and identifying them, he’d be all but useless.

  62. ChickenNoodleson 27 Aug 2012 at 6:30 am

    Wow thanks for the responses guys. I think that when someone uses cliches it challenges my creativity as a writer and more often than not results in stories and plots I didn’t know I was capable of writing.
    -ChickenNoodles

  63. Sachikoon 08 Sep 2012 at 10:28 am

    i loved reading these- there are some things i didn’t really think about! i’m making a superhero comic in the future so i love this site XD

  64. Castilleon 11 Sep 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I have a possible solution to trope #27. If a super-villain is sent to jail the first act of any respectable society would be (assuming they have the science for it) to deprive them of their superpowers. This would continue upon their release, or permanently if they got life or death. If they were arrested for a lesser crime. Say they could be on a sort of probation depending on behavior, with their power returned in progressively stronger amounts (beginning at the weakest point) and could be taken away at any time for bad behavior.

    You also mentioned escaping villains but one thing that has always troubled me is the ‘revolving door’ for bad guys, as seen in comics and other Superhero media. The solution I labeled above for villains sent to jail would help with the ‘revolving door’. The whole phenomenon makes me think that villain’s must have extremely good lawyers if say, The Joker is able to get out of prison two issues after the Batman captures him without an escape being depicted…

  65. B. McKenzieon 12 Sep 2012 at 3:19 pm

    “The whole phenomenon makes me think that villain’s must have extremely good lawyers if say, The Joker is able to get out of prison two issues after the Batman captures him without an escape being depicted…” I think you could have an escape happen off-camera. (Unless you had something unusual in mind for the escape, I’d actually prefer it to be off-camera… I’ve seen too many before).

    “Say they could be on a sort of probation depending on behavior, with their power returned in progressively stronger amounts (beginning at the weakest point) and could be taken away at any time for bad behavior.” If they had the ability to remove superpowers, what would their reasoning be for returning the superpowers to felons? (Real-life equivalent: federal law prohibits felons from possessing guns–it still happens anyway, but not legally). One possibility: the superpower removal process is complicated and/or dangerous and/or expensive and/or needs to be done repeatedly (perhaps once every 1-2 months), so the correctional system tries to save money by limiting it to parolees that have given some cause for alarm. Minimum-security prisoners might not go through the process (in case you need an explanation why some villains are not 100% brutal — being less brutal means less risk of losing their superpowers down the road).

    “The solution I labeled above for villains sent to jail would help with the ‘revolving door’.” Whenever someone refers to Lex Luthor’s lawyers, I just figure that they’re being facetious and assume that his “legal” strategy is mainly threatening and/or blackmailing jurors and judges. Professor Moriarty executed this with a hell of a lot of style in the Holmes episode “The Reichenbach Fall.”

  66. Nayanon 22 Oct 2012 at 10:08 pm

    @B. Mac.
    The superhero of my novel kills criminals at first (towards the end he reliazes that its not a good thing). What do you think of this? Do publishers/readers like such superhero?

  67. B. McKenzieon 23 Oct 2012 at 12:28 am

    “Do publishers/readers like such superheroes?” In general, I think PG-13 superheroes (e.g. Spider-Man) have broader appeal than rated-R superheroes (e.g. Punisher). However, I think it depends on execution. For example, Iron Man is a PG-13 movie, but Iron Man does kill a few terrorists (with guns and flamethrowers) and Captain America shoots several Nazis in his own PG-13 movie. Here are some reasons I think IM and Captain America get a pass but the Punisher does not:

    –The Punisher’s world view and personality strike me as warped by violence. He’s sort of a psycho. In contrast, Iron Man and Captain America are occasionally lethal, but violent in a socially acceptable way. They come across as very sane with regards to the application of violence, whereas the Punisher is pretty much Lord Death of Manslaughter Mountain.

    –I think the context casts IM and Captain America in a more likable light. Although Tony Stark’s methods were not perfectly clean, I think most viewers would give him the benefit of the doubt on the flamethrower because a guy escaping from terrorist captivity has a lot more to worry about than public relations. In contrast, a character that acts extremely lethally in ALL situations (rather than a few exceptional ones) will probably compromise his likability.

    –If you NEED the protagonist to kill someone, I’d recommend doing it through wounds sustained in combat rather than a post-combat execution. Most readers would regard it as completely okay if a superhero inflicts fatal wounds while trying to subdue a supervillain, whereas killing a villain that has already been subdued is generally more like manslaughter.



    I know this isn’t a superhero example, but I’d recommend checking out TV’s The Mentalist here. 95% of the time, the main character is a mostly legitimate investigator for a law enforcement agency. However, one of the recurring threads of the show is that he desperately wants to kill the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter. I’d like to contrast this with a more Punisher-style superhero who desperately wants to kill pretty much every criminal. I think the Mentalist comes across as more of a human and a much more likable character even though he has (unrepentantly) killed ~3 criminals over 6 seasons.

  68. Dr. Vo Spaderon 23 Oct 2012 at 8:59 am

    @B. McKenzie,
    …I’ve got to say, I just started reading this article to pass some time and had no choice but to read the whole thing! Simply great.

  69. B. McKenzieon 23 Oct 2012 at 9:48 am

    Thanks.

  70. Nayanon 23 Oct 2012 at 8:49 pm

    @B. Mac.
    There are some superheroes in comics who kills criminals (that too in pretty violent ways) and still popular. For example- ‘Hit Girl’. I know these are generally limited series superheroes. Why do such superheroes in limited series work?

    And how much violence is generally acceptable in comics/graphic novels?

  71. B. Macon 24 Oct 2012 at 4:37 am

    Batman gets away with quite a lot of violence (albeit the main character is not very lethal). Wolverine isn’t exactly gentle, either. I think comic writers have a lot of room to incorporate violence without it putting off a lot of prospective readers. However, after a certain point, I think the violence does turn away a lot of prospects. For example, I think Kick-Ass was pretty brilliant, but I don’t think it’s sold as well as its quality would merit. (There are other factors*, but violence is probably a substantial one).

    *E.g. A case of extremely unglamorous romantic dysfunction.

    I’m not sure if there’s a major distinction between limited and ongoing series here, but if there were, it might be that a hero who kills many of his villains would have more trouble keeping the story going for years.

  72. comicbookguy117on 04 Nov 2012 at 6:24 am

    Hey guys I’m still developing my own superhero universe and have a quick question. How can an author of superhero fiction have a governmental organization that monitors and polices significant events (supowered or otherwise) and NOT have it be too comparable to S.H.I.E.L.D. of Marvel comics fame?

  73. B. McKenzieon 04 Nov 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Some possibilities, Comic Book Guy:
    –Different mood/personality/distinguishing traits (e.g. contrast a law enforcement agency like SHIELD to the Gotham Police Department or a hyper-gritty unit like the Suicide Squad).
    –Different characters and roles (e.g. if the agency’s director is closer to Spider Jerusalem than Nick Fury, I guarantee that the agency won’t feel like SHIELD).
    –Different modus operandi (e.g. SHIELD is more military than law enforcement, so you could take this in a more police direction or perhaps in a more spy direction).
    –Different focus of case (e.g. BPRD paranormal adventures vs. SHIELD military/spy conflicts vs. Odd Squad weirdness vs. Suicide Squad’s plausibly deniable wetwork)
    –Different non-combat problems–what’s the most important thing that happens outside of combat? A warrant getting thrown out, perhaps because of police misconduct? Hellboy being Hellboy? An office romance, licit or otherwise? Post-traumatic stress disorder and/or Tony Stark’s alcoholism? Friction between two types of cops (e.g. mutants vs. non-mutants in The Company or by-the-books-cops vs. looser cops a la Dirty Harry)?
    –Different conflicts within the agency.

  74. Dr. Vo Spaderon 04 Nov 2012 at 12:49 pm

    A privatized feel may work for you too. Sort of like a multinational organization hiring the best agents/scientists/computer guys/military men to oversee the agency. Side effects may include happy-go-lucky types and rigid soldiers arguing over the best approaches and vying for the top position.

  75. comicbookguy117on 04 Nov 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks guys. I’ll look into what I can come up with.

  76. WilliamLCon 14 Dec 2012 at 2:04 am

    I found this quite informative and I shall attempt to incorporate it into my writing.

  77. LeeMoh22on 15 Dec 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks guys i have beentrying to write a good one but they all just sound stupid i will keep your tips in mind. btw i used to live in Huston so it would be a good to put a hero and villain there. Oh and thanx for the character tips those were what i really needed i knew who the character was but i just couldn’t quite incorperate it into a true superpower. i am not planning to use a normal superpower i am planning to use something called Darkness. an anti-matter energy that gets passed down to a certain indivdual once the other dies and if they can’t make it to the individual then the Darkness is lost. my villain is called Natas (backwards of Satan) a truely evil form of death.

  78. LeeMoh22on 15 Dec 2012 at 12:42 pm

    p.s if anyone steals my idea i will be pissed my hero’s name is DarkShadow

  79. YellowJujuon 15 Dec 2012 at 12:56 pm

    LeeMoh22, I don’t think you need to worry about your idea being stolen. It sounds like an evil Green Lantern sort of story.

  80. B. McKenzieon 15 Dec 2012 at 1:37 pm

    “If anyone steals my idea, I will be pissed.” Hmm. If you’re concerned about people taking your ideas, I’d recommend not posting them on public forums. Personally, I wouldn’t be concerned about someone taking (say) the idea of an accountant and a mutant alligator partnering up to save the world–I don’t think anyone could turn that into an office comedy like I could.

  81. YellowJujuon 15 Dec 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I think it’s kinda funny that in the same post you told us not to copy you, you gave us more information about the story you don’t want us to copy.

  82. E. Ostdiekon 02 Jan 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you for these, and your site in general. I’ve restarted an old superhero idea I had in the past, and this site has helped me out immensely. Thank you for the time you’ve put into this.

  83. Arcanityon 11 Jan 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Couldn’t help but laugh at the mention of Houston as a hero free zone as its a major point of the Scarlet Spider series were a criminal yells at him that there’s not supposed to be heros in Texas and everyone wants him to stay because there’s alot of criminals taking advantage of this.

  84. B. McKenzieon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Texas should be a cesspool for superpowered crime: it has no superheroes, and everyone’s a millionaire.

  85. acharaon 13 Jan 2013 at 4:33 pm

    What would you say to writing a story about a villainous henchman?

  86. B. McKenzieon 13 Jan 2013 at 4:40 pm

    If the character is interesting, Achara, I’d say it would be promising.

  87. acharaon 13 Jan 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Any tips on creating an interesting henchman character? So far I’m leaning towards a female college student, kind of like a twist on the “college student takes crappy job to pay rent and loans” archetype.

  88. B. McKenzieon 13 Jan 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Nothing you don’t already know. An interesting personality and probably an interesting relationship with her boss are critical. It might help to give her some explanation for why she can’t get a more normal job, preferably something tied to a character trait. For example, if she accidentally lit a McDonald’s on fire because she’s super-careless, then it’d make sense if she didn’t have all that many alternatives. Alternately, perhaps she’s very self-entitled and/or proud, but she doesn’t actually have the skills to get a high-status/high-pay job.

  89. Amber D.on 03 May 2013 at 12:07 am

    going back up to the first part of this spiderman wasn’t scared to take action in that seen, he didn’t take action because he was mad at the guy and he didn’t want to help him

    he repeated to the guy what theuy guy had said earlier , “i missed the part where that was my problem”

  90. Amber D.on 03 May 2013 at 12:14 am

    oops i made a typo, my computer keeps doing this weird thing where it will start typing randomly somewhere else in the middle of the text and sometimes it just stops typing

  91. NatashaTheSovieton 14 May 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Hi,
    I have some questions about something you didn’t include on here: rude, pushy, SHIELD-like organizations. I’d like superpowered-operatives in my story but I don’t want people to think ‘Well, that’s just SHIELD’—any ideas of how I can set my organization apart from the others? The only one I can think of is to make the leader/organization good somehow, but then my MC in the organization wouldn’t work. Please help!

  92. B. McKenzieon 14 May 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Some ways to make your team feel distinct, Natasha:

    –You can give the team a different mood/personality/distinguishing traits (e.g. contrast a law enforcement agency like SHIELD to the Gotham Police Department or a hyper-gritty unit like the Suicide Squad). If I could use my own work as an example, the characters belong to a police agency which is vaguely similar in scope to SHIELD, but much more eccentric and/or dangerous (e.g. a pilot call-signed Medivac because all of his trips end at a hospital, a job interview resulting in the applicant’s resume being eaten by his eventual partner, etc). Unlike SHIELD, where pretty much all of the characters fit in (e.g. well-trained operatives and superheroes), the main intra-team conflict in The Taxman Must Die is that the main character is an accountant who has been transferred from the IRS to this super-agency because he’s bait for a supervillain obsessed with killing him, not because he’s actually a good fit for the team at all. You can also see how we incorporated the contrast between the banal taxman and the personality of his new team (especially his nonhuman partner) into this draft cover:


    –Different characters and roles (e.g. if the agency’s director is closer to Spider Jerusalem than Nick Fury, I guarantee that the agency won’t feel like SHIELD).

    –Different modus operandi (e.g. SHIELD is more military than law enforcement, so you could take this in a more police direction or perhaps in a more spy direction).

    –Different focus of case (e.g. BPRD vs. SHIELD vs. Odd Squad vs. Suicide Squad)

    –Different non-combat problems–what’s the most important thing that happens outside of combat? A warrant getting thrown out, perhaps because of police misconduct? Hellboy being Hellboy? An office romance, licit or otherwise? Post-traumatic stress disorder and/or Tony Stark’s alcoholism?

    –Different conflicts within the agency. For example, friction between two types of agents (e.g. mutants vs. non-mutants in The Company or First Class’ CIA, distrust of Nick Fury and some ideological differences in SHIELD, by-the-books-cops vs. looser cops a la Dirty Harry, etc.

  93. Qwertyon 29 May 2013 at 11:14 pm

    I have a question. Is it a cliche to make a shy character have the power of invisibility? (If it makes any difference, the character is male.)

  94. B. McKenzieon 30 May 2013 at 5:39 am

    “Is it a cliche to make a shy character have the power of invisibility?” Yes.

  95. Jade D.on 31 May 2013 at 11:09 pm

    Is it too cliche to have the hero to be tracked down and “kidnapped” shortly after gaining such a superpower and forced to become a hero?
    P.S. to Qwerty- why not have a stuck-up, full of themselves kind of person have the power to turn invisible, or how someone who feels like they are the center of attention (if you need invisibility, why not add a twist?)

  96. Qwertyon 31 May 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Jade D.: That’s a good idea about the stuck-up person being able to turn invisible, but I don’t think it’ll work for the story I’m writing. The character that would be invisible is very shy and insecure, and the power of invisibility was given to him specifically to humiliate him (the only thing he can do to defend himself is hide). None of the characters (with superpowers) in my book have an “attitude” by any means, and this is very important to the plot… but thanks for the suggestion, I have a different book project I might use it in. 🙂

  97. Lilyon 24 Jul 2013 at 12:24 pm

    31. “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.”

    I agree with that mostly. However, Hellboy looks 95% like a human and also acts, thinks, and speaks probably more than 95% like a human. The only difference is his skin color, those tiny horns, and his very basic tail, but I’ve never seen or heard anyone make a big deal over it.
    I’m not sure if the Hulk would count since Bruce Banner is technically a human, but when he’s the Hulk he’s simply giant and green-skinned.

    Then again, Marvel has enough fans to where they can do things like that and nobody cares. A new novelist or comic book writer may not be able to get away with it.

    So, with that said… is it still not okay for someone to make a character like Hellboy who isn’t exactly human but looks, acts, thinks, and speaks 95% like one?

  98. B. McKenzieon 24 Jul 2013 at 4:15 pm

    “However, Hellboy looks 95% like a human and also acts, thinks, and speaks probably more than 95% like a human.” Ah, this is a good point, but I think Hellboy’s heritage is more interesting than a Superman-style situation:

    1) There is some drama/conflict from Hellboy’s attempts to suppress his demonic heritage. (E.g. in the comics, check out the motif of him grinding down his horns and the theme of destiny/birth vs. choice). Superman rarely, if ever, creates drama with any conflict between his dual identities because virtually ALL Kryptonians are essentially humans with superpowers. It’d be a more interesting choice for Superman if there were other Kryptonians that were substantially different in some combination of culture, mindset, personality, etc (e.g. see Dr. Manhattan — the character’s perspective is very, very far from human).

    2) Much more so than for Superman, Hellboy’s dual identity creates problems for him.

    2.1) Superman’s ability to fit in among humans is usually flawless. In contrast, there’s more potential drama from a character trying to fit in that has a lot more trouble doing so.

    2.2) Lex Luthor’s conflict against Superman would probably be more interesting if Superman had a harder time acting human. Someone truly alien with superpowers would naturally come across as more of a threat (or at least a question mark) than a mild-mannered Kansan.

    3) If an editor changed Hellboy into a superpowered human at the last moment, I think the story would fall apart — the human vs. demon identity issue is significant to the plot. In general, I think Superman could be rewritten as a superpowered human extremely easily, because he essentially already is.

    4) “Hellboy looks 95% like a human…” I think an example of looking 95% like a human would be like being a human with angel wings or being an attractive human with an alien skin color. I don’t think Hellboy is in angel wing territory — he looks terrifying enough that humans might believably cross the street to avoid him. And even if a non-human hypothetically did look like a human, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world IF his personality and/or origin led to interesting choices and conflicts anyway. For example, Mystique and Martian Manhunter can perfectly take on the appearance of a human, but have more interesting identity conflicts, different perspectives, and personalities than Superman does.

    4.1) I think it’d be very hard to make Hellboy look any less human without creating practicality issues. For example, if they had made him a quadriped, even something as routine as using a phone or getting in a car would require extra explanation.

  99. Siwyon 27 Jul 2013 at 1:47 am

    Good post. I have a short story that I submitted to glimmer train with a plus sized telepathic/telekinetic/mental energy projector heroine. Her beat is the west side of Houston. Hoping that it gets accepted/wins the contest I submitted to.

  100. ChickenNoodleson 28 Jul 2013 at 6:35 am

    Hey bmac. What would be a good and interesting reason a hero would collabarate with the police department and the chief of police of the city he lives in?

    Another problem. The premise of my story is the my hero is trying to save the city from superpowered crime lords and business men who are fighting for control but my problem is actual creating these villains with goals and powers different from each other and no making them seem one dimensional. Please help.

  101. jkh231on 19 Aug 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I’m trying to write a story that follows multiple up-and-coming superheroes and the SHIELD-like agency that’s trying to assemble them into some sort of paramilitary task force. I want to follow tropes and conventions for the sake of familiarity, but at the same time I also want to break them. And hopefully I won’t create any Mary Sue’s/Gary Stu’s along the way.

    The first character is a heroine whose powers of super strength developed during a night out when several men attempted to rape her and her friends. She spends a good deal of her story rejecting her newfound powers. When she gets recruited by one of the last remaining superhero veterans to join the team, she eventually learns to accept herself throughout her training.

    Each of the heroes will have a villain of their own. After her training, she is assigned to help the government track down a shadowy criminal entity that is systematically eliminating criminal competition. Whoever runs it is completely unknown to the world, but after investigating, the key to figuring out the truth lies in one of her childhood friends, who is now a top lieutenant for the villain. They learn that the organization is larger that it seems, with international connections, several front corporations, and spies everywhere.

    They capture her friend, but he gets away. A fierce chase ensues throughout a city, as many of his operatives attempt to stall her and the authorities, and she attempts to convince him to give in while also preventing the authorities from killing him as a terrorist. Eventually, she subdues him, and he agrees to go willingly.

    The second hero? Her childhood friend. His power? He can see where someone is and what they’re doing whenever he wants after having read their name or seeing their face. During his story, it’s revealed that he IS in fact the head of his “criminal” organization. Having been poor and always screwed over by life, he decides to use his power for money and personal gain, with good deeds as a side product of his actions. He starts off by finding missing children and people for a lucrative amounts of money, and then forms several private investigation companies. As his empire grows, he fails to find a little girl in time who was kidnapped and brutally murdered before he could do anything about it. So in retaliation, he and his private army of mercenaries clean house around town, sparking the interest of the superheroine’s superiors.

    After his incident with her, he gets away again with the help of his soldiers. Eventually, he comes into conflict with another shadowy and powerful company, the Helgate Foundation. They’re responsible for all kinds of illegal bio-research that isn’t limited to experimenting on and mutating humans into monsters in an attempt to replicate superpowers. So then guess who he has to go to in order to help him fight this evil group? His childhood friend the heroine.

    I sort of flipped the gender roles in order to make the characters challenge themselves. The girl personally would not want to run up to and beat bad guys up face to face, but she has to. The guy would love to smash things and do damage, but his powers force him to improvise and use his smarts to support those who can get the job done. There are other ideas for characters too, but they aren’t too well flushed out yet.

  102. Blackscaron 27 Aug 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Ah, sorry if I’m posting this in the wrong spot; I figured this section would suit my question best.

    Is it considered cliche for a character to name their own weapon due to some sort of attachment to it?
    For example, I have a boy who names his prized rifle ‘Kaiser’s Bolt’, as he’s a bit over-dramatic and assumes it will strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. (For the record, the only thing the name does is make people laugh at him.)

    -Blackscar

  103. B. McKenzieon 28 Aug 2013 at 10:08 pm

    “For example, I have a boy who names his prized rifle ‘Kaiser’s Bolt’, as he’s a bit over-dramatic and assumes it will strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. (For the record, the only thing the name does is make people laugh at him.)” I don’t think it will be a huge problem, but I don’t think it will be funny, either. (Having one character laugh at another character doing something patently ridiculous or dumb is rarely very funny… I’d recommend a more complicated set of interactions between the characters*).

    *E.g. something more wry or something more protracted. I’d recommend seeing “Being There” — think of how more interesting the interactions between the mysterious idiot and everybody else are than if they had told him “you’re just being an idiot.”

  104. Blackscaron 29 Aug 2013 at 4:05 pm

    @B. McKenzie

    Ah, all right! I wasn’t intending to play it for laughs, since I’m pretty sure someone saying the word ‘idiot’ isn’t exactly comedy gold; however, I will definitely keep that in mind for future reference! 🙂

    Also, another question – my main character Alice names her weapon – a set of modernized gauntlets that allow her to deliver fiery punches to her opponents – Dämonenjäger (which I think means ‘Demon Hunter’ in German; I’m not quite certain). Do you think readers would have a hard time pronouncing it? Should I do what J.K. Rowling did with Hermoine’s name and have Alice give a curious character an in-story tutorial on pronunciation, or would it not be worth the effort?

    -Blackscar

  105. Blackscaron 29 Aug 2013 at 4:09 pm

    @Blackscar

    **Hermione

    Wow. Just, wow.

    -Blackscar

  106. ChickenNoodleson 01 Sep 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Hey bmac. When you’ve got the time could you give me some advice regarding my July 28 comment?

  107. B. McKenzieon 01 Sep 2013 at 6:57 pm

    “What would be a good and interesting reason a hero would collaborate with the police department and the chief of police?”

    Some possibilities:
    –The character sees the police as a better long-term solution than he is. (E.g. Batman is working towards a world which doesn’t need Batman).

    –Unlike a Dr. Manhattan or a Thor, who don’t really have to work with (or fear) humans at all, a more limited/mortal character like Batman or Spider-Man might have real problems if the authorities completely turned against him. Cooperating with the police is one way to keep them (at least somewhat) in his corner.

    –A more limited/mortal character like Batman/Spider-Man might want the police’s help with some situations (e.g. crowd control, evacuating buildings, etc). Anything which a superhero could not do quickly.

    –The hero might be cooperative with the authorities for ideological and/or PR reasons. Given that most Kryptonians that have come to Earth have attempted to conquer the planet, it would look Really Bad if Superman started acting like he was the law and/or that he didn’t care what the human authorities thought.

    –Virtually EVERY superhero will need outside cooperation at some point or another, even if only for crowd control or evacuations. Superheroes that have been cooperative with the police would probably be able to get more support (and need to explain/persuade less) than an unknown superhero would. For example, if Batman told the Commissioner that he needed a villain to be released from prison but he couldn’t explain why, it’s not completely inconceivable that the commissioner would discreetly assist Batman. (This actually happens in The Dark Knight Returns). In contrast, if someone like the Punisher needed to meet with a villain, he’d have to take a very different approach (e.g. letting himself be arrested), because the police would not give him the time of day.

    “My hero is trying to save the city from superpowered crime lords and businessmen who are fighting for control but my problem is actually creating these villains with goals and powers different from each other.” I’d recommend checking out this article and then thinking about how villains with grossly different backgrounds and/or motivations might fight. For example, someone like Joker compared to a more straightforward mobster/empire-builder like Kingpin or Lex Luthor compared to a monster like Killer Croc compared to a cult leader compared to someone more interested in a particular criminal action than in building up a criminal empire (e.g. Mr. Freeze getting revenge for his wife and/or robbing enough to make sure that he has the resources to keep her alive).

  108. ChickenNoodleson 14 Sep 2013 at 7:59 pm

    @B.McKenzie Thank You. The advice is much appreciated.

  109. Kevin Holsingeron 30 Nov 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Good afternoon, Mr. McKenzie

    “11. Superheroes learn very quickly.” I’d argue that, on occasion, they learn IMPOSSIBLY quickly. The one that tends to irk me is “Superhero A’s abilities include: mastery of all martial arts”.

    Here’s a list of martial arts…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_martial_arts

    Unless you’re over 100 years old, you ain’t mastering all that.
    While I’m at it, the number of superheroes described as having “Olympic level” anything is unusually high. And if you’re training THAT HARD to master gymnastics or whatever, I have to wonder how much time you have to acquire all the other skills that superheroes sometimes have.

    “16. Women protagonists are almost always hot.”

    I’d be curious if someone knew how many female superheroes are/were (super)models compared to males. The Ben Stiller movie “Zoolander” is the only example of the latter I can think of, and the male model thing was played for laughs.

    As for possible additions to this list…

    1. Sometimes, there’s a discrepancy between the official and unofficial numbers of powers that characters have. “Non-powered” characters act in ways that show that, if we’re being completely honest, they actually have powers. Tony Stark can invent technology DECADES ahead of what our most brilliant minds can currently invent because he’s “smart”. Cassandra Cain can predict an opponent’s moves with metahuman accuracy, despite not being metahuman, because of “training”.
    Or, the character technically has powers, but not officially the ones demonstrated in the story. As much as I like the “Daredevil” movie (yeah, I said it), Daredevil doesn’t have Matrix-jumping (nor the durability to not shatter his bones upon landing from a Matrix-jump), last time I checked.

    2. Superheroes who have chiseled physiques sometimes don’t earn it. Hulk, for example, doesn’t have time to work out. So where did he get the six-pack? And in the first Raimi Spiderman movie, Peter Parker got that low-fat, moderate-muscle physique in what, a few hours?

    Enjoy your day.

  110. B. McKenzieon 30 Nov 2013 at 12:29 pm

    “The one that tends to irk me is ‘Superhero A’s abilities include: Mastery of all martial arts.'” I wouldn’t recommend ever telling readers that a character is a master of every one… That strikes me as goofy. But I don’t think an extraordinary breadth of training would be a problem, especially if it’s implicit. E.g. if Black Mask is watching tape of a Batman fight and is impressed by his karate, akido, and something that might be silat, that strikes me as totally workable.

    Likewise, I don’t think it’d be a huge problem if a scientist is really good at a variety of scientific fields. E.g. in the Taxman Must Die, the team’s doctor/scientist occasionally does extremely non-medical work like military-grade explosives, but this is regarded as suspicious/noteworthy by other team members. For example, after the doctor sets up a controlled explosion…
    SOLDIER: “I’m guessing you didn’t learn that at Yale.”
    DOCTOR: “New Haven.” [Yale’s town, New Haven, is one of the most violent places in the U.S.)

  111. Kevin Holsingeron 02 Dec 2013 at 4:38 am

    Good morning, Mr. McKenzie.

    Oh, it’s not the variety of scientists’ skills that I feel is the problem. It’s the steampunk aspect of inserting technology into an era that, on Earth, didn’t/doesn’t have such technology. In the world I’m creating, there’s a division between “genius” and “super-genius”. Geniuses are limited by what’s mentally possible in the real world at that same moment, and super-geniuses aren’t. So if Tony Stark can invent an Iron Man suit at the same time that Earth’s inventors CAN’T do that, I translate that to mean that his mind has been enhanced the same way that Superman’s body has. So in my world, Tony Stark would be a metahuman/mutant/whatever Marvel calls it.

    Admittedly, though, this makes Lex Luthor a problem, since his genius screams “metahuman” while it’s critical to his character that he’s not considered that.

    Enjoy your day.

  112. Glamtronon 02 Dec 2013 at 6:20 am

    About cities… I think i’m better off with fictional cities than actual ones.. Especially ones i’m not familiar with.. But i gotta question.. If i’m writing a novel or a comic, and i’m using fictional city, is it really necessary that the city’s location should exist in real life?… I mean.. Like, metropolis(DC) is new york city in real life.

  113. B. McKenzieon 02 Dec 2013 at 10:40 pm

    “Is it really necessary that the city’s location should exist in real life?” No.

    For example, Spider-Man lives in a completely fictional city where a retired lady can afford a small house within 9 miles of the Empire State Building (the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens). This New York City does not exist in real life, unless Aunt May got most of Doctor Octopus’ money in the divorce settlement.



    I would argue that Marvel’s New York City only really uses New York’s skyline and a few notable landmarks. For example, Spider-Man could easily be moved to Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, or maybe London. There’s little if anything in the average Marvel story that HAS to happen in New York City.* In contrast, if you were writing a political thriller set in Washington DC, moving it from DC would probably affect the plot. As far as New York goes, I doubt Seinfeld, The Great Gatsby, and perhaps Sex and the City would have worked elsewhere without significant modification. I believe these stories require an ambient level of strangeness and/or self-absorption and/or energeticness that would not come as naturally in most other places. (Also, they have characters working in Wall Street or the publishing industry, 2 sectors that are dominated by New York).

    *Main exception: something involving the United Nations.

  114. Glamtronon 04 Dec 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Thanks! @B.mac. From the article, i also agree with u on that about becoming superheroes after gaining super powers, without giving it much thought(which number was that)… And another thing.. I got a superspeed hero who gets his powers from an alien suit he found… I know its stupid but is it ok having him make mistakes in his speed at 1st?… Like… Having some little difficulties controlling his speed(at the initial stage) thus running into walls, less accuracy with the dodges, that kinda thing. And i’m thinking what object to use to contain the suit.. I mean.. A ring has been over used.

  115. Kevin Holsingeron 05 Dec 2013 at 4:24 am

    Good morning, Glamtron.

    “is it ok having him make mistakes in his speed at 1st?”

    Just make sure he doesn’t get hurt when he smashes into things that fast. The suit could cushion the impact.

    “And i’m thinking what object to use to contain the suit”

    Do you mean the suit collapses, like Flash’s suit being contained in his ring? If it gets small enough, it could always store itself within the speedster’s body. Unless, of course, you want to make it so that the speedster could be separated from the suit, like Green Lantern from his ring.

    Enjoy your day.

  116. ztron9000on 18 Dec 2013 at 10:12 am

    Wait, since when is Switzerland disgustingly virtuous? Aren’t the Swiss famous for being neutral?

    And since when is Sweden one-dimensionally nefarious? They haven’t done anything wrong! They haven’t attacked or conquered the US or it’s allies! Is this a sports thing, or a throwback to Viking days?

  117. B. McKenzieon 18 Dec 2013 at 11:13 pm

    “And since when is Sweden one-dimensionally nefarious?” At least 1972.

  118. Glamtronon 19 Dec 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Uhh.. I know this ain’t the right forum to bring this.. I got an idea for a little computer/hand-game, that enables the user to…. I don’t even knw.. I once had it that he changes to past superheroes that were not seen anymore.. Boh i don’t if thats… “Ok”… I really need help to back up this power or another brighter idea that could fill in 4 this. I just wanna use this story 4… “Training”. B4 i start workn on my other concepts.. Thanks

  119. Kevin Holsingeron 20 Dec 2013 at 4:22 am

    Good morning, Glamtron.

    Could you explain in more detail what you’re going for here? I’m not following.

    Enjoy your day.

  120. Glamtronon 20 Dec 2013 at 8:44 am

    Alright.. Its abt a teen(loves playing games). His dad’s late nd his mom married another man.. He stole this device from his uncle, who refused giving him. His initial plan was to return it after using it for a day. He was so close to the uncle and concluded he won’t mad at him.. Well, now.. 4 The main reason why i’m postin this.. The device wasn’t just a hand-game.. The user could turn to the characters in the “versus” game.. Though i scrapped this coz i couldn’t back this up.. Thats why i’m yellin 4 help!.. Ideas on how to back this up.. Or brighter ideas that could serve as alternative. Thanks

  121. Kevin Holsingeron 20 Dec 2013 at 10:37 am

    Good afternoon, Glamtron.

    Options:

    1: Imagine this story is set in the Matrix. Reality is actually a computer simulation, like your game. The game console might hack into reality itself, allowing it to be manipulated to the protagonist’s desire to be like the characters in the game. Your “Gameboy” is basically a high-tech genie’s lamp.
    2: Imagine that, deep in your unconscious, you know you have the potential for psychic abilities, but are afraid to manifest them. The game could have a virtual reality component which you use to, in a controlled manner, expose yourself to, and overcome, this fear. Once it’s overcome in virtual reality, it’s soon to be overcome in the real world.

    If neither of those work, we’ll talk again. Enjoy your day.

  122. Glamtronon 20 Dec 2013 at 2:11 pm

    @kevin. Thanks alot! Option 1 fits in more. I can go with that.. Though i could take more options-_^ Alright, (funny i’m the one with the idea and the one with more questions.. Dumb me!). He didn’t return the game after finding out what it was. The uncle hunts for the user(not having any idea who the user is). He wants his property back. Questions that come to mind: 1)why can’t the uncle create another one, Instead of the hunting.(need help with the answer) 2)since he’s close to his uncle, and believes he won’t be mad at him, why not return it? Answer: he was finding it hard to return such a stuff(he loves playing games), He wanted to use it to help his city.his dad,(an agent in a special force) was actually killed by criminals, and he never got it going with his step-dad. And, after seeing his uncle’s mood due to the loss of the device, he could understand why, and his initial predictions about how his uncle would react, went off

  123. Proxie#0on 20 Dec 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Glamtron,

    For the first question, as to why he needs that specific device back, there are several possible options you can choose from, and two that I would suggest:

    1.) The uncle does not have the required materials to create another device. Maybe he harveted a meteor for the semiconductors or “borrowed” some materials from a scientific institute/his job.

    2.) The uncle does not have the blueprints to make another device. Maybe it didnt work except for a random stroke of genius, and he cannot remember what it was he did to get it to work, and needs to get it back to figure out what it was.

    3.) The unlce does not believe that whoever is using the device is using it responsibly, or is possibly just a thrillseeker or criminal, and needs to get it back to right any possible wrongs.

    4.) The uncle believes that it was stolen by a(nother) corporation, and intends to steal his device and patent it himself. He would want to get it back so that he gets the credit for its creation.

    For your second quetion, I think I like how you have it set up, for the most part. The young protgonist feels as if his uncle would let him use it in the first place, at least after badgering him. But when he realizes, after having (possibly) caused a few problems joyriding with it himself, that he needs to, at the very least, make up for what he’s done with the device, and if he altruistic enough, attempt to “save the day/city/world.”

  124. Kevin Holsingeron 21 Dec 2013 at 10:00 am

    Afternoon again, Glamtron.

    Proxie#0 said a lot of what I would’ve. But let me add these things…

    1. Protagonist asks for video game. Uncle refuses. Game goes missing. Why doesn’t Uncle suspect Protagonist of taking the game?
    2. Is there a reason why Protagonist can’t say to Uncle, “We could use this to do some good in the world?” Does Uncle have some other purpose he wants to use the game console for?

    Enjoy yoru day.

  125. Glamtronon 21 Dec 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks @proxie#0 and Kevin. For help questions and ideas. For your 1st question @kevin.
    He was suspected a little but you know, we’re sometimes sentimental and hate suspecting people emotionally close to us. Aside that, he kept it in a safe room where kept some of his “toys”(not his office)the room was always locked with a code known by him alone. The protag visited him often and had sometimes looked closely trying to memorize the code. Though that afternoon(after his uncle suprisingly turned him down) he looked more closely when the room was being locked. The Uncle had a scheduled meeting with the others and when it was time, he left his nephew(protag) in his office doing something with his computer. During the meeting, protag sneeked out of office and tried the code he memorized, which worked. So according to the uncle, “he could not ‘ve known the code.
    For the 2nd, well using such a tool to save lives comes with so many risks. Risks seemingly too much for the young protag, and he knew all to well the uncle would never give in to such idea. And ’bout the uncle having a purpose, i thought of that too but i haven’t come up with any solid answer. I would use a help there. These are what i’ve got for both questions.. Ideas, feedbacks, would help. Thanks.

  126. Kevin Holsingeron 22 Dec 2013 at 5:50 am

    Morning again, Glamtron.

    As long as Uncle is driven by a sense to protect Protagonist from the dangers of a hero’s life, that’s fine for me. He doesn’t need a personal goal beyond protecting someone he cares about.

    Enjoy your day.

  127. Glamtronon 23 Dec 2013 at 12:51 am

    Alright and Thanks again..
    And one part i hadn’t given much attention.. A name 4 the Game. I’m totally open to suggestions here. I’ll be trying to come up with a name while i wait for a feedback. Thanks

  128. Kevin Holsingeron 23 Dec 2013 at 10:40 am

    Afternoon again, Glamtron.

    What’s the game’s selling point? Why are people in your world supposed to buy it rather than the other games out there? That’d help in coming up with a specific name, unless you want something intentionally generic.

    Enjoy your day.

  129. Glamtronon 24 Dec 2013 at 8:41 am

    Alright Thanks.. Glamtron’s Heroes and Villains are wishing superhero nation and all its citizens a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year in advance. Thanks everyone!

  130. Kevin Holsingeron 26 Dec 2013 at 2:35 am

    Same to you, Glamtron.

  131. Oliviaon 14 Jan 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Hi! I was just wondering about my story and regarding the part about how the hero doesn’t kill the villain because he doesn’t want to be like him, well, I was wondering if my story was clichéd:

    Tiny bit of backstory: The story focuses on the Rebels, whose main goal is to overthrow the extremely powerful Government of Altrovorsum (their fictional country), which has sparked a decades-long civil war. The Rebels are seen as dangerous villains and savages by the public, but consider themselves freedom fighters and believe they are doing the right thing. The main character is Thomas Brooks (who was born to a Government scout but captured at the age of six by the leader of the Rebels, Robert Price, who he looks up to and regards as his father and mentor). Thirty years ago, Price’s troops had been entirely slaughtered by the Government, which has caused him to become bitter and vengeful. He will kill their leader, the power-hungry President, with no mercy whatsoever.

    Skip to the final battle. Robert Price (Thomas’s father) is killed by the president of Altrovorsum, ironically with Price’s own gun due to a clever ploy. Thomas is devastated but sees Mr. President holding the gun and laughing, so he weakens him with a blow from his sword and obtains his father’s gun. Mr. President is at Thomas’s complete mercy, but Thomas decides not to kill him because he just wants the killing (and thus the war) to end. This decision is what partly causes Mr. President’s troops to turn against him in the end. He doesn’t get killed but he does get life in prison. Meanwhile, the former Rebels team up with the Government to start over again.

    The final scene is the scene where Thomas visits his father’s grave, and the inscription says “General Robert Price–beloved leader and hero.” This is to show that now that the war has ended, the Rebels have somewhat redeemed themselves.

    Is this too cliché? Or do you like it? Thanks! I’m done with the second draft, so…

  132. Kevin Holsingeron 15 Jan 2014 at 4:45 am

    Good morning, Olivia.

    “This decision is what partly causes Mr. President’s troops to turn against him in the end.”

    For what it’s worth, I prefer situations like this where, if the hero isn’t going to kill the villain, there’s a practical benefit to it. The abstract “because killing is always wrong” approach raises questions about what one thinks about cops or soldiers who kill as part of their jobs.

    Enjoy your day.

  133. B. McKenzieon 15 Jan 2014 at 7:52 am

    Just based on this description, I’m not understanding why a rebel declining to kill the President (partially) causes the President’s troops to turn against him and eventually imprison him for life. Perhaps the character could perform some other (and/or additional) act that leads to the President’s downfall. The first thing that comes to mind would be baiting the President into revealing and/or committing an act that most of his citizens would find reprehensible in such a way that his citizens and/or important characters will find out. For example, if you have any particularly honorable and/or hardass Altrovorsum war heroes in the story and the Rebel convinces him to conceal himself during the confrontation during the President, perhaps the war hero hearing the President’s dialogue leads to the President’s downfall. (However, if this is the approach you take, I’d be careful so that getting the confession out takes some social skill — for example, not the President randomly blurting out whatever misdeeds he’s done just because he thinks he’s alone, but revealing misdeeds if he thinks it is the best way to break the protagonist and/or crush the protagonist by convincing him that his adopted father will never have justice).



    As for the final scene, I’d recommend something a bit more distinctive than just a tombstone. Alternately, if you rely on an inscription, I’d recommend giving it more personal flavor (e.g. a quote from Price… perhaps something about combatants forgiving each other after the embers of war have cooled down and/or praying that all of his countrymen will find it in their hearts to forgive his men). Personally, I’d recommend against an overnight reconciliation where everyone suddenly respects the Rebels and loves General Price — that strikes me as sort of Hollywood — but it may be more believable and emotionally moving if we see a few signs of people willing to take the first steps there (e.g. a former opponent leaving flowers at Price’s gravestone or eulogizing Price — perhaps an Altrovorsian war widow or, more cliche, an Altrovorsian soldier).

  134. Marleneon 16 Jan 2014 at 5:35 am

    Hi, very usefull list!
    Just a little note on item 10. It is true that males in comics seems to be or exeptionally smart of really dumb, but that’s a stereotype that originates from real life.
    According to scientific research, males do seem to have an IQ below or above average more often than women. You have more chance to become a genius if you’re a man, but you also have more chance to get heritary diseases that come with a low IQ (like Down Syndrome) because of having one X-chromosone and having more chance to inherit a high or low IQ. (Look it up!)
    So yes, it is a cliché, but a very realistic cliché.

    Otherwise a very interesting list. It was refreshing seeing that most clichés don’t appear in my stories.

  135. B. McKenzieon 16 Jan 2014 at 9:00 am

    “It is true that males in comics seems to be or exeptionally smart of really dumb, but that’s a stereotype that originates from real life.” Yeah… the bell curve strikes with a vengeance. Men tend to have a higher deviation from the average IQ than women do.



    This trend does tend to show up in most fiction, not just superhero stories.

  136. Rebeccaon 21 Jan 2014 at 6:06 pm

    “After getting superpowers, most protagonists decide very quickly that they want to be a superhero.”

    There’s a Mickey Mouse comic that mocks that cliche when Mickey (who is more active in the comics than his film and TV appearances) asks Minnie to make him a costume almost immediately after discovering that he had gotten superpowers from a spider bite. First (and only) night out, Mickey tries to stop some burglars snooping around a mansion only to discover that they were party guests on a scavenger hunt, so now *he* was thought to be the criminal. Then he starts turning into a giant spider.

  137. Clip-Clopon 30 Apr 2014 at 5:29 pm

    #23. Scientists experimenting on themselves:
    One interesting reason for this was used in The Amazing Spider-Man. Dr Connors was initially testing on virtual rats, then real ones. He only tested it on himself to spare the veterans who were going to be tested instead because his employer wanted the serum now.

    “Batman and the Joker are both fueled by insanity”
    -so true.
    Batman is one of the most ruthless, you say, but he never kills. So are there other ways to make characters ruthless without having them kill scores of people?

  138. B. McKenzieon 30 Apr 2014 at 8:08 pm

    “So are there other ways to make characters ruthless without having them kill scores of people?” Although he is (supposedly) nonlethal, he’s significantly more brutal than the average superhero. For example, he frequently uses methods of interrogation that would get a police officer fired or arrested (e.g. throwing a criminal 15 feet onto concrete or mock executions throwing people off of buildings).

    Counterintuitively, I feel that the amount of fatalities is not necessarily a reliable indicator of how brutal a character is — e.g. if a police officer or soldier returns fire and kills several gunmen, that’s not very objectionable. Tony Stark and Captain America have both killed terrorists in battle (e.g. Tony Stark torched several while escaping from Afghanistan), and even the flamethrower fatalities are probably excusable (he had been taken hostage by murderers and was understandably desperate). In contrast, Batman gets brutally violent even with mundane criminals that are already in custody. It’s much harder to justify than violence against combatants.

    Also, the target is critical. With extraordinary enemies (e.g. supervillains, anyone with extraordinary capabilities, aliens, whatever) heroes have a lot more leeway to fight in a brutal fashion. However, the more the criminals are everyday criminals, the more potential there is for viewers to feel uneasy about extraordinary violence against them.

    Also, an action doesn’t need to be violent to be ruthless. For example…
    –Taking advantage of an innocent (particularly a likable innocent) to solve a crime.
    –Any plan which is likely to significantly endanger a nonviolent criminal (e.g. tricking the mob into thinking that one of the accountants cooking its books has stolen its money), especially if the nonviolent criminal is at all likable or has any mitigating circumstances for his actions.
    –When a criminal puts a hero in a dilemma (e.g. forcing him to choose between rescuing a civilian or chasing the criminal), declining to save the civilian is ruthless.
    –Saving oneself at considerable risk to others.
    –Vindictiveness/disproportionate revenge.
    –Declining to help someone because they can’t/won’t pay, because it would create PR problems, or because it would upset the character’s boss or something similarly weak.
    –Declining to cooperate with a character because of a previous disagreement or failure could be ruthless.
    –Being relatively cold and/or less trustful of teammates and allies.

  139. Julion 01 May 2014 at 4:27 pm

    “How often have you seen….. Spider-Man miss? How often….. botch complicated acrobatic maneuvers? Even in the first week on the job, they are implausibly well-polished.”
    In Spiderman’s defense, he got the powers AND instincts of a spider, so (and this is just a personal theory) I assumed that he got all of the grace, talent, and accuracy of a spider. However, that could be just me.

    I also need a bit more advice about cliched superhero names. I’m currently writing a story with a (please dont be mad at me about this) Female superhero that has Telepathy, Telekinesis, and Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (Hypnotism). Would naming her ‘Hypnos’ After the Greek god of sleep be cliche?

    Finally, I found your picture for #32 was AWESOME.

    (P.S. Is it wrong to include the name of a comic that actually exists (like Marvel comics) in a story when someone picks up one of their books for entertainment?)

  140. B. McKenzieon 01 May 2014 at 6:10 pm

    “(P.S. Is it wrong to include the name of a comic that actually exists (like Marvel comics) in a story when someone picks up one of their books for entertainment?)” Personally, I’d be inclined to remove it, but using a company name or the name of another company’s character in an incidental way is probably legally permissible unless you’re defaming the company in some way. In one of the Spider-Man movies, for example, Aunt May uses the line “You’re not Superman, you know” and I would guess you could probably use that sort of one-liner without prior authorization.

  141. BluIdDreameron 07 Jul 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Hi, McKenzie. First off, I just wanted to say that this was a truly great article that pointed out a lot of things that annoy me with comic books, and also opened my eyes to other cliches.

    Second, I’m working on a superhero novel. I want to name the character Silverbolt or Silver-Bolt, but I am concerned about legal issues with that name, especially when there is a Transformer autobot character named Silverbolt (though I have not seen his character for a while in the Prime TV series or the new comics). Would this be legal to do?

  142. BluIdDreameron 07 Jul 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Sorry, I forgot to add, especially if it is his occupational title (if that’s the correct way to define it), like Green Lantern is for Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, etc.

  143. B. McKenzieon 07 Jul 2014 at 10:40 pm

    “Second, I’m working on a superhero novel. I want to name the character Silverbolt or Silver-Bolt, but I am concerned about legal issues with that name, especially when there is a Transformer autobot character named Silverbolt (though I have not seen his character for a while in the Prime TV series or the new comics). Would this be legal to do?”

    In these sorts of situations, the worst case scenario is that your eventual publisher may ask you to change the name. Personally, my non-lawyerly guess would be that there isn’t any risk of confusion between a Transformers character and a superhero, nor is the name particularly distinctive, so you’re probably in the clear here (legally, anyway). If the publisher did ask you to change the name in this case, I’d guess it’d probably be because of creative issues rather than copyright/legal ones — the name strikes me as serviceable but could maybe make more of an emotional impression and/or introduce the character more clearly.

  144. BluIdDreameron 08 Jul 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Sorry for posting this on here. I didn’t actually see the contact information until I read the How to Name Superheroes article. Thank you.

  145. Austen Bushon 13 Jul 2014 at 12:32 am

    In all due respect. Tony Stark was a weapons designer…

  146. Freyaon 20 Sep 2014 at 11:49 pm

    My hero’s trademark is kind of leaving a trail of dead civilians in her wake…
    My villain’s trademark is being notorious for leaving as many people alive as possible…

    Something’s gone wrong here.

  147. Freyaon 20 Sep 2014 at 11:53 pm

    And I have a question; my hero (same as above) is the daughter of the villain. I need this cliche in because it’s the reason the villains commits all the crimes. Is there a way I can do this without it being to terribly cliche?

  148. KCSledgeon 10 Oct 2014 at 8:50 pm

    There have things that have bothered me in comics. I’m putting a lot of effort into avoiding the appearance of an inept police force, as well, devaluing them in the story. Interestingly, I wanted go with a fake city, mainly because I wanted get away from the major metros, and go with a 100k population city, so I took my home community, consolidated seven of its cities and towns, and took advantage of it and the surrounding mountains to serve as th backdrop. Naming it was an interesting experience. The main city of the area is Ogden, UT, and I just thought hard on coming up with something vaguely similar in pronunciation. I won’t say yet what I came up with, but I was surprised to find that the name actually exists as the name of two cities, one in Illinois, the other in Wisconsin. But I’m glad to read your criteria and see I followed your philosophy in that regard.

  149. Freyaon 13 Oct 2014 at 5:27 am

    Hey, B.Mac, if you have time, could you please answer my question on 20th Sept? Thank you.

  150. B. McKenzieon 13 Oct 2014 at 12:18 pm

    “I need this cliche in because it’s the reason the villains commits all the crimes. Is there a way I can do this without it being too terribly cliche?” Not that I can think of. Would it be possible to come up with an alternate way to motivate the villains to commit crimes rather than a family connection to the hero/daughter? (E.g. any of the other reasons that someone might act on behalf of someone besides a family connection? It sounds like the villain(s) is relatively humanitarian/compassionate, so perhaps some sort of humanitarian impulse like guilt over killing someone very close to her?)

  151. Rebeccaon 14 Oct 2014 at 5:58 am

    I don’t know if it’s necessarily a “cliche” so much as quality control for the writers, but I’ve been watching Arrow, and it’s practically a guarantee that if a character finds out/admits to finding out that Oliver Queen is the vigilante, then they *will* die by the end of the episode (unless they’re supposed to be a member or ally of Team Arrow).

    I understand the necessity of not having a lot of people know Green Arrow’s secret identity — or superhero identities in general – but it would be nice if a stalemate were allowed to progress. (**Spoilers**) Sebastian Blood was the mayor moonlighting as a villain and tells Oliver that if he tell anyone “about my mask, I’ll tell them about yours.” Then he dies ten minutes later. It might have been interesting if Season 3 did deal with the stalemate and struggle of knowing how evil the beloved mayor really is without being able to do much about it, but the loose end is just nicely cleaned up by a different character.

  152. Thunderwulfon 15 Oct 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Just curious, how do you make a younger character not annoying. One of my Characters is named Ventus and he is naturally mischievous. He’s the kind of guy who pulls pranks, has witty banter, and is somewhat sarcastic (kind of like Robin from the first season of Young Justice, God forbid the second season…). He does have a darker past, so I know I can weave that into the plot. Any other suggestions other than not making him whiney?

  153. Freyaon 15 Oct 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks B.Mac! I’ll try figure it out… probably with a few more questions along the way, though…

  154. B. McKenzieon 17 Oct 2014 at 10:29 pm

    “it’s practically a guarantee that if a character finds out/admits to finding out that Oliver Queen is the vigilante, then they *will* die by the end of the episode…” DC Comics is particularly fond of this. The list of people that has died shortly after learning Superman’s secret identity is so long that you’d think Batman would look into the possibility that Superman’s a serial murderer. There aren’t any plausible alternatives in-story.

  155. SuperGameLordon 25 Oct 2014 at 6:48 am

    Hi everyone! I’ve just finished my first superhero novel and want to know which direction i should go. I know that i might be thinking a little bit too far ahead but the series is called: The Guardians Saga. The first letter of each book in the series is eventually going to spell: GUARDIANS.
    1-Gifted———-Perspectives of Titan, Circe and Quantum
    2-Uncharted——Perspective of Quantum
    3-Abandoned—–Perspective of Circe
    4-Reunited——-Perspective of Titan
    5-Divided———Perspectives of Titan, Circe and Quantum
    6-Invaded——–Perspective of Circe
    7-Accepted——-Perspective of Quantum
    8-eNdangered—–Perspective of Titan
    9-Summoned——Perspectives of Titan, Circe and Quantum
    The series will consist of 9 books and this is just a little “plan” that i threw together to keep myself organized. I wrote the first book (over 60,000 words) in three perspectives and it turned out nicely but i would like to have “Solo” books to dive deeper into the characters. It helps to think of it as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for me.
    1- The Avengers
    2- Iron Man
    3- Captain America
    4- Thor
    5- The Avengers II
    6- Iron Man II
    etc….

    It just helps keep too much information from the book that is supposed to be about the team instead of diving into everyone personally.

    I have three main characters, Arion (Titan), Jasmine (Circe) and Lucian (Quantum).
    To put it into simplest terms, Arion is a very superman-like character power-wise but he is truly different. Both of his parents are aliens, sent to earth and his mom died when he was younger in a superhero battle, his dad gave up his powers. But when he starts developping powers, he immediately wants to aspire to what his parents were and starts a new generation of superheroes with the other main characters. There’s a little bit of romance between him and Jasmine but he does have a girlfriend which often causes some great “love triangle” moments. He is not too overpowered to the point where everybody is like: Why didnt he just catch the bullet? or…Why didn’t he just throw him into space? He has many physical, and mental limitations that will change his take on the world as he continues to develop his powers. I am using Arion’s solo stories to help introduce a specific genre of superpowered people: Evolutionaries (Evo for short.) So arions stories will deal with: Evolutionaries, Aliens, Humans, Mutants, Superhumans, Experiments, etc. His weaknesses are electricity and his enhanced senses can be a burden. He is a little bit too compassionate and will look for the good in everybody.

    Jasmine is a sorceress with Telekinesis, Teleportation and Telepathy. She may sound overpowered at first glance, but she is almost considered a disgrace as a sorceress. Her powers are very weak, growing stronger. But she can’t teleport yet, and her sorcerery is mediocre at best. She has tactile telekinesis (see: Superboy and “Chronicle”) and that helps protect her a lot, while she’s in the field. Her dad is/was a supervillain and her mom died a hero. Another thing that drives a little bit of a wedge inbetween her and Arion is that her dad killed his mom. Jasmines stories will bring in the mystical/magic genre for superpowered peope: Magic, Werewolves, Vampires, Ghosts, Demons, Angels, etc. Her weaknesses are using her magical powers too much and her mental abilities strain her mind. She is also very arrogant and headstrong.

    Lucian’s dad is a long lost mythological god. These gods are one of the few ones that die of old age and his dad is getting old. So after leaving him as a baby, he reaches out and gives Lucian the abilities of his mythology: Time, Energy and Space. With these powers, he decides to become a superhero. Again, you may think that he’s overpowered but Time and Space are very difficult for him to control and often just cause trouble in the end. I made sure that they wouldn’t be around for too long though. Lucian’s solos will bring us into the godly genre, dealing with: Gods, Titans, Mythological Monsters, Giants, etc. Lucian’s weaknesses is that he gets too excited when using his powers. He gets distracted easily and unfocused=powers go haywire which is never good.

    Their team consists of five members though, the other two (secondary characters with NO perspective) are Atlantica and Hyperion. Manipulators of light and Water, respectively. Again, i’ll say…my characters do sound overpowered, even to me. But when you look at the characters closely, compared to the villains that they face and the fact that they’re just kids, they really aren’t that powerful. I want them to grow and discover their powers as they go on but i won’t dive into it. After the last book, i want to leave it open to the readers to make up their own ending about how powerful they got/get. I won’t go into detail on the whole: Arion fell down and caused an earthquake in china! or Lucian sneezed and reversed time! They have as much control as they need. All of my characters are between the ages of 14 and 17. I’d love some input and insight on these characters and my storyline ideas…THANKS!

  156. B. McKenzieon 28 Oct 2014 at 8:38 pm

    “I know that i might be thinking a little bit too far ahead but the series is called: The Guardians Saga. The first letter of each book in the series is eventually going to spell: GUARDIANS.” Some thoughts and suggestions:
    I think there may be more distinctive alternatives to “The Guardians Saga”.
    –Generally, I’d recommend using 2-7 words in book titles. I think that’ll give you a lot more opportunity to appeal to prospective readers and foreshadow the plot than a single word would.
    –How many years do you see yourself working on this series? Most authors take 10 years to get their first book published, and each novel after that will take (let’s say) another year, so completing a series of nine novels might take 15-20 years if you haven’t been published already. I’d recommend starting with a book that stands alone well on its own and leaving a few possible threads for continuing the story if that’s the direction you’d like to take later. (I don’t know what you’ll be interested in 15-20 years from now, but personally I wouldn’t be interested in working on anything I started 15-20 years ago).

  157. SuperGameLordon 29 Oct 2014 at 4:41 am

    @BMAC. I am planning on self-publishing the book series and yes they will be released once a year. Are you suggesting that i add more words to my titles other that just “Gifted”?

  158. B. McKenzieon 29 Oct 2014 at 5:55 am

    “Are you suggesting that i add more words to my titles other that just “Gifted”?” Multi-word titles are generally more helpful in terms of developing plots and/or characters. “Gifted” suggests the story has superpowers, but doesn’t accomplish much else. In contrast, I think some examples of titles which are more effective at developing their plots/characters include “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, “Captain Freedom: A Superhero’s Quest for Truth, Justice, and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves”, “Cape Killers”, “Evil Inc.”, “America Against the Squirrel Uprising”, and “The Death Ray Will Be on the Test”. For example, I think that identifying something which is unusual about your characters/story compared to most other superhero stories can be a helpful starting point.

    In my own case (The Taxman Must Die), I felt the unusual background of the protagonist was more interesting/important than explicitly identifying the superhero angle, though your results may vary.



    “I am planning on self-publishing the book series and yes they will be released once a year.” Okay, then, 9 years?

  159. KCSledgeon 30 Oct 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Would you say that oft-repeated “suiting up” scene is cliche? My journeyman mind would believe it’s one one those things that works when it naturally blends with the narrative. When I think of bad examples in superhero storytelling is the video short, “Batma: Dead End” (though I confess I take a little guilty pleasure in it), where batman seems to do it knowing he’s being filmed doing it, and it seems to rest too much on ritual, which I dare say, only is effective in comedy (al a “Three Amigos”). I’d also say that it woks best when it’s made simple. Only recently did I see it done in “Gotham” where Gordon did little more than cinch his tie. It seems like it should focus almost entirely on getting the viewer a sense of the dedicated person getting to work. But I thought I’d just throw it out to get a general idea from the more experienced.

  160. B. McKenzieon 01 Nov 2014 at 10:16 am

    “Would you say that oft-repeated “suiting up” scene is cliche?” I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a few sentences on it unless it’s contributing to character/plot development or perhaps comedy. (In a TV show or movie, it’s rare to spend more than even 10 seconds on this* — e.g. 4 seconds in episode 5 of Gotham).

    *Though it may possibly be part of a longer training montage.

  161. Dr. Slavicon 04 Nov 2014 at 10:11 pm

    I have a villain who’s also a mother of two young children. While she’s not the main villain, she’s still an important antagonist, and in the climactic fight, on the verge of death her maternal instincts take over and she begs for her life to be spared (successfully). After she gives up her lifestyle, her children grow up. Her daughter decides to join the protagonists to atone for her mother, while her son is upset she would give up her power and uses his inherited powers to live his mother’s old life. (These would be two seperate stories)
    My question is two-fold:
    a) Does the mother’s actions make her a weaker villain or character?
    and
    b) Is having the mother of a heroine be a reformed villain too close to the Vader cliche?
    Thank you in advance

  162. B. McKenzieon 09 Nov 2014 at 10:35 pm

    “Does the mother’s actions make her a weaker villain or character?” It depends on execution, but I think begging to be spared after beating beaten makes her look weaker than someone who walked away when it was still her choice. Also, her son would probably have more to be upset about if she walked away when she still had the choice vs. someone that got beaten and had no choice about it.

    “Is having the mother of a heroine be a reformed villain too close to the Vader cliche?” I don’t believe so — her interactions with her children will probably be very different than Vader’s, I suspect. In the interests of dramatic complexity, I’d recommend against her being 100% heroic or reformed afterwards. E.g. maybe she still engages in rule-breaking for fun, but generally not in a way that threatens many lives (e.g. maybe she moved into smuggling).

  163. Carloson 15 Nov 2014 at 11:35 am

    What do you guys think of power ranger city names? Blue bay harbour, angel grove, reef side, silver hills etc. ? Do you think they are more realistic than superhero comic names? Just asking

  164. B. McKenzieon 15 Nov 2014 at 1:47 pm

    I like “Angel Grove” and “Silver Hills” better than “Silver City” or (God help us) “Angel City” — I think they sound less generic, and my impression is that many U.S. town names use generic geographic terms (e.g. “Grove” or “Hills” or “Lake” or whatever).

    That said, I don’t think they sound much more realistic for a major U.S. city, though. English words (besides surnames) are very very uncommon in the names of large U.S. cities. (By my count, only 7 of 100 of America’s largest cities have an English word in their name, and if we count out uncommon words like “Aurora” and “Phoenix”, we’re only left with New Orleans and the four that end in “City” — NYC, OKC, Kansas and Jersey).

    So if we’re looking at (say) a Midwestern city, I think a name based on a native term or a surname would be more realistic. For example, Chicago is an English-friendly spelling/pronunciation of “Shikako” (something like “skunk place”, which is actually a lot more fitting than the Miami could have imagined). If I were going for something similar, I’d take something like “Kanol” (an Iroquois term) and Anglicize it as “Canell.”

  165. Crosseon 16 Nov 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Here is an explanation of certain things I may have fallen into on this list, and how I feel I have avoided it becoming cliche. If it still seems really bad, just let me know. I love constructive criticism. Also, this is going to be primarily about the game I am working on designing that will take place in my other stories universe, on a military base in the Mojave, in the late seventies (alternate timeline).

    PLOTTING
    1. The story’s inciting event is an alien consciousness taking over the body of a “hound” (see hellhound) and using its inherent abilities to break itself and others out of the testing facility so that it can flee north, to the location it’s ship is being stored at and experimented on by a government agency under the guise of a pharmaceutical company

    2. None of the villain’s really have anything you could call a “superpower,” unless we were to have a different understanding of which characters are villains, and if being an animal counts as a villain. If you do, the the hellhounds have a certain array of powers that they received from Alphonse radiation…as well as further experimentation by Ficluer Pharmaceuticals and the Association for the Advancement of the Human Race (AAHR).

    A.) As I said, the hellhounds get their abilities from Alphonse radiation. The alien gets its ability of consciousness transferal from… The aliens, in my stories universe, have advanced to the point where they have nanites implanted in them from birth. They help with lots of things, including cellular reconstruction. But, should the alien, a Stillborn (so named for their form of interstellar travel), die, it can use some of those nanites to implant it’s consciousness into another living creature. (The actual alien itself will have a very limited impact on the story, but it is still there, so I feel the need to explain it…) The “hero” of the story that you would be playing (using a game as a form of medium to inflict choice on the player, and make impacts from the story deeper based on knowledge that their actions caused the outcome.) has been part of a double blind test on board a military base that is aimed at finding a cure for radiation sickness. In my universe, that has become a huge issue. He gains certain abilities when using the drug, though nothing largely significant unless he takes incredibly large doses, which can be lethal. The baseline is increased speed, stamina, strength, and regenerative abilities, though if he takes those larger doses, he can manifest a form of telekinesis. The main villains are just people though, and have no abilities, other than being the lead and head of the company that are in charge of said drug tests.

    3. One of the villains is his brother. Yes, I understand that that can lead to a lot of melodrama, but here…it will not. I’m taking as many precautions as I can, and so far the story seems pretty solid. It also makes fleshing out conflicts between the two characters, and allies on each side, easier and smoother. Neither character is inherently good or bad, and both look out for each other, but the story essentially tests the bonds that we have with those we love, and what we are willing to sacrifice to help them.

    4. The latter parts of my story deal with this directly. Due to the combination of the miracle drug and the hellhounds blood, a deadly virus is formed, and Damien (protagonist) is forced to decide between a few options. Well…choice up to that point can remove some options…but the choice of destroying any traces of the virus, and a cure for radiation sickness, is always there. You could also attempt to find a cure, or quarantine the area. That’s actually the climax. Yourself and another main character arrive to try to stop Alexander (Damiens brother) from detonating the nuclear warhead that is somewhere on the military base. Based on the players choices, and conversational choices, they can either side with Alex and choose to stop the virus with fire and brimstone…or try to convince him that there are other ways to do it.

    6. The setting of my story is abouad the Marine base of 38 Dates (avoiding using the actual name and likeness of the base that it’s based on, 29 Palms, for potential legal issues) that is situated in the middle of the desert. Outside of the base, there are a few fairly small towns, though the closest thing you could call a “city” is about 35-40 miles south, behind a mountain range. (fake palm springs.)

    7. I am guilty of this. Damien has more or less estranged himself from his father, because his father’s devotion to work, and not the family, ended up destroying and separating their family.

    SUPERPOWERS
    9. The drug that gives Damien abilities is extremely addictive, and has similar side effects and withdrawal symptoms of heroin, as certain chemicals are in both.

    11. Damien is in the military, so he is already fairly physically fit, decent at the use of a pistol, and an expert at the use of rifles. He also took an interest in what would one day grow to be parkour when he was growing up, so while being agile and fairly flexible, he isn’t quite as acrobatic as he once was. He’s also got, for the most part, a full combat load on, so anything more than simple vaults would be hard. However, he is also fairly introverted, and more a follower than a leader. Throughout the story, he grows to be a much better leader, and comes to know what true responsibility is. In the game that I have planned…he doesn’t really get a chance to use his telekinetic abilities but one time, as he has no idea he has them. And his regnenetive ability works much faster than a regular persons…but is nowhere near enough to save him from fatal damage. A broken bone will still be a broken bone for a period of time.

    CHARACTERIZATION
    12. As I said before, Damien is no superhero. He is someone that isa going on a journey of survival and discovery. By the end, he does happen to hold the lives of several thousand people in his hands, but that is just an extension of his survival, and his growth into a leader.

    13.1. Not referencing the story in my game here, but rather the stories that take place years down the line. The Association doesn’t hate people with abilities. They just need to find some way to…get rid of them. Or contain the radiation that comes from having and or using them. It just so happens that some of the ways to find out how to do that require experiments that some would call “harsh.”

    16. All of my heroes and villains are rather average. Except for alexander, who is jokingly called “beautiful” by most of his underlings and coworkers.

    17. Damien falls into this a bit. He knows what he is good at (biochemistry), but does not want to start down the same path that his father was on when he destroyed his family. Which is another reason that Damien chose the least thought provoking job in the military, infantry. He knows that he can always fall back on his fathers name in science if he absolutely must, but wants to do something different. He’s sort of stuck between becoming a cop and traveling the US. He doesn’t know exactly what he wants…which plays into the growing up that he has to do over the course of the game. I’ve got his personality mapped out pretty well, and refuse to let myself fall victim to the “put the character in your shoes” virus. As I said before, hes mostly introverted, and focused more on the survival himself and the very few that he is close to. So him making big decisions that affect himself well, and others badly…not the best person to ask.

    18.1. Damien Crosse, Paricia Thomas, Wayne Douglas, Alexander Crosse…to name most of the main cast.

    SCIENCE!
    20. Scientists are knowledgeable of their realm of science and parts of other ones that might influence their own. Damien is knowledgeable in biochemistry, biology, and chemistry, but not much else. More so, he hasn’t had a chance to test himself in quite a while, so actual knowledge and ability are likely not as good as he feels.

    21.1. They are not inherently evil. Their goals are good. The “evil” part comes in how they do things, and in the corporate espionage and downfall between the two companies.

    22. That is the exact opposite. If the player does things right, they can perfect the panacea for radiation sickness. The only issue would be in that AAHR steals it and then makes it their own. But either way, the protagonist still helps cure radiation sickness.

    23. Even (allegedly) brilliant scientists regularly use themselves as test-subjects Damien is forced, at one point, to show that the panacea works by injecting either himself or a very close friend of his.

    24. Completely untrue

    LAW AND ORDER
    27. Realistic body counts for any and all interactions resulting in death.

    28. In my universe, the “superheroes” generally try to remain nonlethal so that the AAHR has less to use against them PR wise. Though…it doesn’t really matter much, because a “super” using their abilities is usually extremely dangerous, as it releases certain amounts of Alphonse and Gamma radiation. When it comes down to it though, if they see the need to, none of my heroes are afraid to kill. Also, given Damien’s background in the military, he’s much more likely to do whatever must be done. If he can’t make it through without killing someone who would alert the others, then he would. He doesn’t love killing, but he see it’s necessity.

    29. Permadeath. And anyone can kill anyone, if need be. Super villains would be either imprisoned or killed depending on their actions…though there aren’t many suepervillains…as the people with abilities noticed that they would need to work together to survive and stop the AAHR. Though there are those who are misguided on how to go about their survival.

    31. Superheroes don’t go to jail. They are taken by the association and dropped in the “forsaken land” (area near blast that gave supers their abilities) to “live” and be experimented on. People care about them, but care more about the spread of radiation sickness and possible destruction of their lives.

    NONHUMAN CHARACTERS AND EXOTIC CULTURES
    I will avoid starting talking about the stillborn. I am conworlding them at the moment, and it’s coming along great. But this would get incredibly long if I tried describing them.

  166. Carloson 19 Dec 2014 at 5:38 am

    Can I just say that tropes are not bad? Sorry if others have gone into more detail, but a superhero story that used none of these tropes wouldn’t really have the feel of a superhero story. Thanks for changing the title from just cliches to clichés tropes and conventions, B.Mac. It makes it seem less negative.

  167. Puckon 14 Jan 2015 at 11:48 pm

    The only thing I found no true and frankly insulting for the ‘hero’ in question was your flying car/cancer analogy. Im sorry the flying car as at least an end goal. where as cancer of is many personal forms as well as types is completely amorphous. there would not be ‘one cure to cure them all.’ so the analogy falls flat. could you come up with another example to explain that thought.

  168. AjofEarthon 11 Feb 2015 at 8:49 am

    Possible suggestion for trope/cliche: The Good Guys Win.

    I know this is tricky because what is any superhero story about if not how the hero in some way triumphs over adversity in the end?

    But what if they don’t? Like I said, I know it’s very tricky but it’s something that I’m very interested in teasing out/hearing folks’ thoughts on. One of the most awesome examples of this I think, when the hero doesn’t win, is the film Skeleton Key.

    I know it’s not technically superheroes, but there are clear good guys/bad guys with magic and supernatural powers at play – and the finale of the film [SPOILER] is definitely not of the hero having pulled through in the end [/END SPOILER]. Super fresh, super unexpected and in my opinion, very very cool.

    But what is everyone’s take on the idea that sometimes, despite every effort, the villain emerges victorious? Very interested in y’all’s thoughts.

    Dig it.

  169. Szion 03 May 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Hey there, Guys! I’m running into a huge problem of cliches in my writing- for example, my newest wip revolves around a minor villain’s henchwoman who gets involved with the big league baddies when she is sent to jail for her boss’s crimes. Unfortunately, many people have noted similarities between this story and that of Guardians of the Galaxy, or the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. It takes place in a quasi-dystopian world where superheroes and supervillains have made life for normal people very difficult. In exchange for protection from the local supervillain/crime lord, my MC,Kaz is a none-too-bright petty criminal, swears loyalty to her – usually this just means that Kaz gives the supervillain some profits off her scams or thefts, or works protection on the supervillain’s base, but as the story begins, Kaz has been arrested for breaking-and-entering, arson, and manslaughter, so her super-villain boss asks that Kaz take the fall for a few of her crimes while she’s headed to jail anyway – a murder or two, a bombing or three. Kaz agrees so that her family will be looked after, but doesn’t realise until she has actually been put behind bars that one of the murders she has confessed to was that of a prominent superhero – the world’s equivalent to Superman, if you will. When she ends up sharing a cell in the most maximum-security prison on the planet with said-superhero’s notorious and psychopathic nemesis, who’s all-too-keen to manipulate her, and is approached by a retired superhero to work as a mole within the villain-populated prison, life becomes very difficult indeed – especially when Kaz inadvertently masterminds a prison break and finds herself rather enjoying being a villain rather than a nobody.

    Are there a lot of cliches here? It might be worth noting that Kaz has absolutely no powers, and little combat experience, and her main talents lie in conning people. At the end of the story, I initially planned for her to take over the mantle of the retired superhero to protect the people in her old neighbourhood who felt driven to work for villains because of poverty, but other readers have said this comes off as reminiscent of the end of the Dark Knight Rises. any thoughts or criticism would be hugely welcomed.

  170. Johannon 07 May 2015 at 4:44 pm

    What I would say is that it’s all in how you pull it off. Yes, you do want to avoid overloading your story with cliche, it isn’t impossible to pull off a decent story. As long as you can work with it, it can sometimes turn out better than if you reached and reached for a really really unique story. There are a reason cliches exist and as long as you can realize when you have to many or aren’t using them effectively you could pull it off. Also I really like the idea so far, and although there are cliched elements, the story seems to work well.

  171. ekimmakon 10 May 2015 at 8:29 pm

    32. Violence is the ideal solution to any crime

    I’ve actually written a sort of joke at that: The heroine tries to rush head-in, but the police stop her, saying that this is something that they really don’t need her help with. If any lizard men were involved, then they’d want her help, but not for this.

    And then a lizard man attacks.

  172. Loudnon 13 Jun 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Another example of #36 is the tv show Dr Who. Despite being physically able to travel anywhere in space and time, the doctor spends a disproportionate amount of time in London and earth in general. The aliens make the same mistake, repeatedly attacking London and Earth despite knowing that an extremely knowledgable enemy protects it.

  173. Sweetolebob18on 25 Dec 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Costumes
    It’s a convention that you can always get a cool costume. (The Incredibles made it a subplot, otherwise it’s almost never mentioned.) IRL, how many guys would even have access to a sewing machine, never mind have clue flaming one how to use one? Your costume will never be awkward. For example, Superman has boots & a cape but has no problem wearing them under his clothes. Steve Rodgers (Captain America) wears a shield on his back. Hawkeye walks around w a bow & arrow. Tony Stark carries a suit of armor in a brief case. No one ever notices. You will almost never have a problem changing into your costume.

    “All a hero really needs is courage, confidence, and a cape” Darkwing Duck

  174. Alexison 09 Jan 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I have a question. How does one successfully write a story that involves a superhero with children or a child as a part of their civilian life?

    It’s something I feel is too rarely seen in comic books and I would like to know the general idea on how to make a story of a superhero who is also a parent feel compelling.

  175. B. McKenzieon 09 Jan 2016 at 9:49 pm

    “I would like to know the general idea on how to make a story of a superhero who is also a parent feel compelling.” I think the kid needs to be an interesting character (e.g. distinctive personality traits, interesting choices, etc). If the kid is mainly a plot device to get threatened/kidnapped rather than a well-developed character, I think the parent-kid relationship will suffer because it’s hard to care much about a plot device. Also, maybe a semi-conflicted relation between the parent and child (preferably conflicting on some issue(s) besides the parent being overly protective and/or not letting the kid do interesting/plot-relevant things because he’s too young/immature).

    It might also help if the kid is also involved in the central plot of the story (again, preferably in some way besides just being a plot device). E.g. in Gotham, the young Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle has some resources, capabilities, and problems that the other main character (Jim Gordon) doesn’t have. in The Taxman Must Die, a main character’s nephew is a semi-criminal mastermind, so he’s at least indirectly involved (or at least interested) in some of the crimes his uncle is investigating.



    So… I think the short version would be that it’d really, really help if the child were not just part of their civilian life, but also played an active role in the central/super part of the story (either as active partners a la Incredibles or semi-partners or adversaries). Or maybe the child could indirectly affect the central/super part of the story without being an active participant (e.g. a new father or mother thinking about leaving superheroics or going part-time because he/she wonders whether being involved in the child’s life matters a lot more). In a case like that, I think it’d be make sense if the (super-young) child didn’t have much personality, dialogue, or even on-screen time.

  176. MrDenimon 23 Jan 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Wouldn’t mind some folks opinion on these characters. This is just bare bones info for them, as the story is still heavy in the planning stages.

    Superheroes

    Name: Thunder
    Sex: Male
    Secret Identity: Albert Winslow (Enclosure)
    Team: Coalition of Protectors (CoP)
    Position: Team Leader and Founder
    Power(s): Electromancy, Flight, Enhanced Reflexes
    Weapon(s): Collapsible Bo Staff

    Name: Fantasia
    Sex: Female
    Secret Identity: Victoria Prescott (Enclosure)
    Team: Coalition of Protectors (CoP)
    Position: Team Deputy
    Power(s): Mystick
    Weapon(s): None

    Name: Magma
    Sex: Male
    Secret Identity: Dwayne Harrison (Enclosure)
    Team: Coalition of Protectors (CoP)
    Position: Team Brawler
    Power(s): Lava, Fire, Earth
    Weapon(s): None

    Name: Blizzard
    Sex: Male
    Secret Identity: Gregory Miller (Enclosure)
    Team: Coalition of Protectors (CoP)
    Position: Team Sniper
    Power(s): Cryomancy
    Weapon(s): Bow & Arrow


    Supervillains

    Name: Mister Fortune
    Sex: Male
    Secret Identity: None
    Team: The Alliance
    Position: Team Leader
    Power(s): Enhanced Agility, Healing Factor
    Weapon(s): Dual Pistols

    Name: Fault
    Sex: Female
    Secret Identity: None
    Team: The Alliance
    Position: Team Enforcer
    Power(s): Earth
    Weapon(s): None

    Name: Monstrous
    Sex: Male
    Secret Identity: None
    Team: The Alliance
    Position: Team Tank
    Power(s): Nuclear Energy, Enhanced Durability
    Weapon(s): None

    Name: Fear
    Sex: Male
    Secret Identity: None
    Team: The Alliance
    Position: Team Interrogator
    Power(s): Emotion Manipulation, Super Speed
    Weapon(s): Warhammer


    Enclosures

    Name: Albert Winslow
    Age: 43
    Occupation: Unemployed. Retired military.
    Notable Remarks: Served with the United States Navy 2008-2016. Retired Chief. (Story takes place in 2033.)

    Name: Victoria Prescott
    Age: 36
    Occupation: Tea Shop owner
    Notable Remarks: Unassuming identity with little to note.

    Name: Dwayne Harrison
    Age: 32
    Occupation: Mechanic
    Notable Remarks: Works primarily with classic muscle cars. (’40s-’80s)

    Name: Gregory Miller
    Age: 26
    Occupation: Writer
    Notable Remarks: Author of the bestselling science-fiction series Ascend. Movie contract rumored to be under negotiations.

  177. B. McKenzieon 23 Jan 2016 at 8:01 pm

    MrDenim, there’s no character development or plot development here, so I can’t offer much feedback on the factors that matter most to getting published. Secondarily, the heroes’ superpowers look viable. I feel like Blizzard’s bow/arrows are anachronistic enough that they may strike readers as odd. Unless you’re going for a “what are you thinking, Hawkeye?” vibe, just using a ranged power instead would probably be a bit smoother, I think (ice control should be fine there). Also, this isn’t particularly important, but I’d suggest more serious names for the villains, especially anyone meant to be scary — e.g. in place of Monstrous and Fear, would a given name (or something that sounds like it might be an actual name) work?

  178. catswoodsriveron 28 Jan 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I’m trying to do a stupid team that fights stupid villains until the main character comes along. I want both the team and the villains to be semi-cliched. The team is also somewhat commercialized. Any suggestions? I want the main character to have to save them at one point, so they can’t be extremely OPed.

  179. B. McKenzieon 28 Jan 2016 at 8:25 pm

    “I’m trying to do a stupid team that fights stupid villains until the main character comes along.” Okay, cool. It sounds like you’re fairly committed to this plan. May I play devil’s advocate for a second, mainly for the consideration of other writers who might see this thread at some point?

    Most of the submissions I’ve seen that use highly incompetent characters tend to do so to create humor. But the most consistently funny superheroes tend to be highly competent characters in serious plots. E.g. Batman, Iron Man/the Avengers, the Incredibles, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even the cinematic Ant-Man work on levels besides comedy. In contrast, I think that making major characters deliberately incompetent will probably make it much harder for them to hold an interesting plot together. E.g. incompetent antagonists mean that the threat level is probably really low, which can undermine pacing and memorable conflicts. There may also be some major problems with character likability — being incompetent makes it much harder for characters to do the things most likely to endear themselves to readers.

  180. catswoodsriveron 31 Jan 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Well, the incompetent foes are the reason that the main character has to save the team from a bigger threat. I’m thinking of having a teleporter/someone who can open gateways to other places to cover a plot hole. The plot hole is that they travel to a different world/alternate universe through a gate, but I haven’t figured out how it got there. I might have the team somewhat competent, but lazy. The team is in one arc of a book that I’m planning (and started writing). The book moves between worlds with the main character, who can travel long distances through space. I’m going to start that arc with the main character’s arrival, then cover her audition to get onto the team as a secretary/sidekick. I’m going to show the team doing what they usually do and the main character getting in trouble for pointing out a member of the team’s suspicious activity before I move on to the other world. I have no idea what they face yet, but I’ll figure it out.

  181. catswoodsriveron 31 Jan 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Sorry for the info dump/subject changes in my other comment. The reason the incompetent foes lead to the team not being able to defeat the better foe is that the team has grown lazy/not bothered to develop their powers and fighting techniques. The team is also somewhat commercialized, and you can get directions to their headquarters from the person at the store selling the team’s merchandise (comic books, sketches, action figures).

  182. catswoodsriveron 05 Feb 2016 at 9:43 am

    The team isn’t supposed to be humorous, just a little frustrating. In retrospect, I think I don’t actually want them cliched, just strangely familiar.

  183. Aaronon 24 Apr 2016 at 11:14 am

    The genius aspect reflects reality. Due to obvious evolutionary reasons the dumbest and the smartest people are men.

    The IQ distributions in all major IQ tests are markedly different between men and women, on average men and women are roughly equal but women’s IQs are more grouped around the middle whereas men’s are more spread across the spectrum, meaning there are more stupid men than women but a lot more highly intelligent men than women.

    This is because the bigger the difference between men the easier it is for women to select the smartest mates and the best selected from an evenly spread group is going to be much more intelligent than the best selected from an average group thus humanity’s intellectual evolution advances more rapidly via natural selection.

    With greater variety amongst the males, natural selection has more to work with.

  184. Aaronon 24 Apr 2016 at 4:33 pm

    You also forgot the biggest trope.

    The male protagonist will lose his powers at some point, a tired cliche.

    Another cliche is the gradual depowering of male characters with a female character outplaying or eventually overpowering him toward the end. This is a classic feminist bait and switch technique of the Marxist social engineers who control the media and pop culture.

  185. B. McKenzieon 24 Apr 2016 at 6:23 pm

    I think in the long term pretty much every superhero will lose his/her powers at some point. I don’t think there’s a strong gender component going on there, but if there is, it’d probably work in favor of bestselling characters (which tend to be men) regaining their powers more quickly. E.g. Wonder Woman lost her powers and was reinvented as a private detective from 1968-73 and Barbara Gordon has been disabled since 1988’s Killing Joke. In contrast, for a bestselling character it’d be much shorter-term (e.g. Batman got his back broken by Bane in 1993 and was back in 1994, and in Dark Knight Rises they accelerated that to maybe 20 minutes of airtime).

  186. R.O.S IVon 27 Apr 2016 at 7:25 pm

    I’m curious about writing a story in which there is only one character with flying brick type powers. What kinds of non-super conflicts could drive them? Since this is the cliche page, I’m hoping to stay away from the usual “People/Government wants to use them as a weapon”. Are there other tropes that haven’t been explored in this regard? I was thinking of looking at religious themes, and critiquing people’s need/constant desire for a savior.

  187. B. McKenzieon 28 Apr 2016 at 5:12 pm

    “I’m curious about writing a story in which there is only one character with flying brick type powers… Are there other tropes that haven’t been explored in this regard?” Especially if you’re writing a novel, I’d recommend going relatively light on action and heavier in some other direction (e.g. whatever other genre you’re interested in – drama, thriller, detective/mystery, sci-fi*, adventure, romance, comedy, whatever. If the character and/or plot are very effective on some non-action level, it won’t matter much that his/her fight scenes are probably terrible. So, in this case, I could see a premise where the appearance of a figure with flying brick superpowers maybe leading to some sort of religious movement and/or upheaval. He’s trying to make it as (insert profession) over considerable opposition (e.g. people thinking that anyone that has X superpowers would be wasted as a doctor or a teacher or whatever and would make a much bigger contribution to society). A cultish religious movement thinks that he’s critical to their ideology or prophecies, etc…

    *Using sci-fi as a major part of the story in some way besides just allowing epic fight scenes and/or explaining where superpowers come from, but rather as something critically important to the central plot and/or setting and/or characterization and/or central conflict (e.g. like Blade Runner or The Matrix, but not Spider-Man).

  188. R.O.S I.Von 29 Apr 2016 at 5:59 am

    Thanks for the response B. Mac. It’s always great to hear your input! Yeah, I was thinking along those lines too. In my universe, my character’s powers are gifted to her by a spiritual source, (the spirit of a woman who lived a long time ago) but I explain the existence of religion as being from other people in the past who were also gifted with these powers, but used their powers to be worshiped. I’m a former Christian, so I was thinking of having Yahweh be a man who used his skill to forge a legacy and create the Judeo-Christian religion. This would apply to the Greek myths as well, along with Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Maybe my character is at a conflict with knowing the true nature of religion (in this universe), and the millions of people who see her as a divine figure?

    Also, side note, I’m thinking of having each figure throughout history be given the flying brick powers, plus one power unique to them. I won’t be sued if my character has an ability like the Green Lantern will I? Her constructs would be made of blue fire, but still relatively similar.

  189. B. McKenzieon 07 May 2016 at 9:36 pm

    Are the place you live and the events you go to interesting and a good fit for the story? E.g. in my case a data analytics convention would probably be not a terribly interesting addition to a crime novel (even though it might be plausible)… If I hypothetically were writing a crime novel where an analytics convention would make sense, I’d probably take it in an unexpected direction (e.g. focusing heavily on the seedy/promiscuous/illicit side of the data analytics lifestyle).

  190. B. McKenzieon 13 May 2016 at 5:21 pm

    “I doubt anyone would just want to read about a dance, unless there was something interesting happening at the dance…” The Tango de la Muerte?

  191. Carlyon 28 May 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I’ve never heard of that, but I’m probably going to tighten up my first book so that it sounds better. Also, where are my other comments?

  192. Adminon 28 May 2016 at 7:27 pm

    If your internet service provider has given you the same (usually unique) IP address as a banned user, your comments will not be visible to anybody else.

  193. Ozzyon 26 Jun 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Would it be bad if the villain and hero were roommates? they aren’t really hardcore (the villain sticks to petty crime and the hero really only does it for the stories) and they don’t know they’re doing it. I was thinking they could’ve been born with it, or maybe a full crowd was exposed to it. it’s meant more for comedy than a serious series.

  194. B. McKenzieon 27 Jun 2016 at 7:21 am

    “Would it be bad if the villain and hero were roommates?” Oddly, you’re not the first to ask this year. My thinking is that any comedy generated from this setup would probably feel sitcom-ish. I think it’d be less contrived (and more dramatically promising) the more people in the background have superpowers. And/or maybe the two roommates know that the other is superpowered, although maybe not about the full extent of what they’ve been up to.

    If we were talking about the only two people in the world with superpowers just randomly happening to be roommates, I’m hoping you’re going for some other payout here than “neither one knows who the other is!”, which I think would be very sitcom).

  195. Ozzyon 27 Jun 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Oh. I didn’t plan on a sitcom vibe, so I’ll make sure to watch out for that. I was thinking a full crowd of random people having superpowers would make it easier, since it’s harder for the characters to figure out who’s who. And there can be background characters doing mundane things with their powers. Thanks for the help!!

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply