Jul 21 2012
1. I’d like to see each of the following from ideally every superhero on a team:
- A personality, including at least one notable flaw.
- At least one unusual decision, ideally one which reinforces something unique about the character. For example, Stark is less socially restrained and more curious than anybody else on the Avengers, so it makes sense that he cattle-prods Bruce Banner to test whether Banner will turn into the Hulk. If you’re having trouble giving characters unusual decisions, the characters probably do not have sufficiently distinct personalities yet. Additionally, each unusual decision should have some consequences for the plot and/or character development. Cattle-prodding Banner creates conflict between Stark and the more polite Captain America and helps develop Banner’s limits.
- Individual goals and motivations. Hopefully, these contribute to some protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict. For example, see Beast-Mystique and Magneto-Xavier in X-Men: First Class.
- A notable relationship with at least one other team member and ideally some effect on a relationship between two other team members. (For example, Magneto’s relationship with Mystique drives a wedge between Mystique and Beast and Bruce Banner’s treatment at the hands of Tony Stark builds a conflict between Stark and Captain America in Avengers).
- Some role in the story besides just 1) superpowers and/or 2) being a love interest. If the only thing the character brings to the story is his superpowers, you’d probably be better off either fleshing out the character’s personality more and/or moving the superpowers to a character that’s actually interesting.
2. It’s not necessary to cover individual origin stories or the formation of the team, as long as we see motivations and character development elsewhere. Some common setups here:
- The members develop superpowers (usually because of the same cause) and/or form the team (usually because of a common threat/enemy, opportunity or interest)–e.g. most superhero movies.
- A single character (usually the main character) joins an already-established team–e.g. Soon I Will Be Invincible.
- The team is already established and we instead start with a new mission or problem confronting the team.
- The main character interacts with the superhero team, but isn’t actually on it–e.g. Bob Moore: No Hero.
- You will probably have less space for side-characters outside the team. In the interest of saving space, I would generally recommend versatile side-characters that can interact with most of the teammates rather than side-characters that are limited to interacting with just one or two of them. For example, how many interesting moments has Alicia Masters had with anybody besides the Thing?
- Giving antagonists less screen-time and relatively simple schemes will probably help. If you’re deadset on major antagonist-on-antagonist conflict (a la Dark Knight), I’d recommend going with 1-2 superheroes.
- Splitting a large superhero team into separate squads can make scenes more efficient.
- Eschewing secret identities. With really large teams, I’d be careful with alternate names altogether (even if the second name is public, like Ben Grimm and The Thing). If you have 10+ names for 5+ characters, it will probably surprise you how many of your readers cannot reliably remember who is who.
4. Unless you’re very confident in your ability to quickly develop a large cast, I’d recommend using 2-4 superheroes on the main team. The most common problem I see with superhero team stories is that the characters are too one-dimensional. Eliminating and/or merging characters will help buy you time to develop the remaining characters and make them more interesting. If you are absolutely sure you want more, make sure that each character contributes enough to the plot to warrant his/her space.