Dec 16 2013

A Criminal Profiler’s Guide to Superheroes

Published by at 4:04 am under Realism,Research and Resources

Email: “One of my protagonists is a detective looking for superheroes/vigilantes. What sort of traits might tip him off?

 

Here are some trends that come to mind for American superheroes.

 

Strong Associations

  • They’ve had a loved one(s) murdered by a stranger. That’s pretty rare in the United States. Only about 2,500 U.S. murders are committed by strangers per year. If we rule out intergang violence and drug deals gone bad (because most people in a Uncle Ben or Martha/Thomas Wayne situation are not gang members), we’re probably looking at about 500 murders per year that might be of interest to police looking for superhero origin stories, and probably less than 10-15 a year in any particular city.
  • They’ve had a loved one(s) kidnapped by a stranger, sometimes repeatedly. (For example, are there any Metropolis supervillains that haven’t kidnapped Lois Lane at some point?) Normally, it’s EXTRAORDINARILY rare for someone to get kidnapped more than once by a stranger. I doubt it’s happened in U.S. history. It should certainly raise a lot of questions about why so many major-league criminals have an interest in kidnapping this particular journalist rather than any of the other major journalists in town.
  • Most superheroes are 1) extremely physically fit but 2) do NOT work out regularly at a gym or at home. If the investigator has access to credit card records, he can look for purchases of gym membership and/or fitness equipment. Most superheroes won’t have any. (If Clark Kent started bench-pressing thousands of pounds at a gym, it would raise a lot of questions, and any fitness equipment specialized enough to help a superhero train is suspicious enough that they probably wouldn’t keep it at their residence).
  • Most superheroes don’t have any kids or pets. First, there’s the time factor. Being a superhero is a major time commitment. There could also be security issues if a kid sees anything interesting or mentions to a stranger that his parent(s) disappear every night.
  • Superheroes will give off lots of signs of combat experience but almost never have any military experience. (Even Captain America had only 1-2 years before getting iced). These signs may include paying a lot more attention to exit routes, habitually glancing at anyone entering the room, and avoiding turning his/her back towards an entryway or window.
  • Adult superheroes are almost always college-educated. In contrast, 70% of U.S. adults don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
  • If you interview the coworkers/boss of a superhero, certain traits will probably crop up. They’re brilliant, but hard to work with. They have major absenteeism issues and frequently come into work tired or with (poorly explained) injuries, and they NEVER follow orders or a chain of command.  Despite their many failings, superheroes’ coworkers will unanimously agree that they are exceptionally competent at their job. (Bruce Wayne is virtually the only exception here — most superheroes are too proud/lazy/careless to pull off a dummy act).
  • In most cases, everyone that knows a superhero well will agree that he’s unusually courageous and altruistic, but has issues with punctuality and reliability. A lot of people that know him will attest that it’s hard to get him on the phone and/or that he sometimes disappears during work.
  • Everyone that has observed this person in a life-or-death emergency will agree that he was unusually collected, even if he’s normally sort of bumbling (e.g. Clark Kent).
  • They won’t own any guns, no matter how bad their neighborhood is.
  • Most superheroes don’t have a criminal record, but will be surprisingly familiar with police capabilities and tactics. For example, in most cases, the police can get a suspect to unwittingly give a DNA and fingerprint sample by offering a soda (or paperwork to fill out). These techniques will certainly not work with a superhero. However, a superhero will never insist on having a lawyer present, which will come across as highly unusual for a suspect that otherwise knows what he’s doing. (In-story, superheroes might not get a lawyer involved because they think it’ll make them look suspicious and/or afraid and/or because they really hate defense attorneys. (Not surprising after how many times Lex Luthor has gone free on a technicality). However, the main reason writers avoid having lawyers present is because they almost always make interview scenes less interesting… it’s basically a lawyer’s job to keep its client from saying anything interesting).
  • Superheroes are generally extremely sensitive about their medical records. Even the identity of their general practitioner will be a closely-guarded secret because the doctor is almost always an active collaborator that knows what’s going on. It would be very hard for a superhero to hide the truth from his doctor because routine x-rays will show an extensive history of broken bones and the superpowers may cause their bloodwork or DNA to be highly unusual.
  • We can rule out virtually everyone who has an unprestigious job. In-story, this might be explained because a vigilante that’s flashy enough to create a gaudy persona is probably an attention-seeker. Also, prestigious jobs tend to be more helpful for a superhero than an unprestigious job would be (in terms of resources, access, training/skills/education, etc).
  • Superheroes tend to value money quite a bit less than the population as a whole. Most superheroes could be wealthy if they wanted to be, but most don’t care that much about it. Even billionaire superheroes tend not to be that personally involved in the day-to-day operations of their company.
  • If a superhero suspect has a personal connection to a supervillain, follow up on that. People that know a superhero are far more likely to become a supervillain. In particular, 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).
  • Most superheroes have exceptionally good reflexes and reaction times. If the investigator has access to insurance or police records, it’s unlikely a superhero has any routine accidents on his record. If there are any accidents, it’s probably because the driver was doing something outlandishly daring/reckless.
  • If a superhero has the ability to fly or teleport or run extremely fast, he probably drives and/or takes public transit much less than normal. “Your credit card records indicate that you haven’t purchased gasoline or refilled a public transit card in the last 3 months. How do you get to work?” If he claims that he made all of his gas station purchases with cash (yeah, right), then the investigator can check the speedometer on his car. If he claims that he pays cash for public transit, the investigator can ask routine questions about public transit (e.g. “which stop do you usually get off at for the Daily Planet?”). In addition, if I were looking for a superhero that could move especially fast, he probably won’t have any records of taxi usage on his credit cards.
  • If a superhero does not have flight/teleportation/super-speed, his credit card records will probably show he travels less often than normal because it’d be logistically difficult for a hero to get back to the city quickly in case of an emergency. Also, the more time Peter Parker spends outside of New York, the more likely that someone will notice that there are no Spider-Man sightings while he’s away.
  • We’re probably looking for someone that isn’t at home most nights. If you check his credit card records, there probably won’t be any purchases over these hours-long absences.
  • We can probably eliminate anyone that can be easily tailed and/or put under surveillance. Most superheroes have situational awareness bordering on the supernatural and are mobile enough to disappear around any corner or through any fence.

Weak Associations

  • Superheroes are generally romantically dysfunctional. There are a few superheroes that make a long-term relationship work (frequently because they date/marry other superheroes), but more often it’s a Bruce Wayne or Punisher situation where the character is a pathological loner or divorced by murder.
  • We can safely rule out anyone that’s been divorced. In-story, one explanation might be that the significant others of superheroes are in so much danger that they don’t usually make to the 7 year itch, or that they’re so dysfunctional they can’t find anyone to get married to. Alternately, most superheroes are desirable enough (e.g. generally wealthy and intelligent, athletic, altruistic, and interesting) that significant others might not start to wonder if there are better options available.
  • We can safely rule out anyone that’s had an affair. Betraying someone that generally knows life-or-death secrets is a really bad career move.
  • We can safely eliminate anyone that’s poor, and I’d look especially closely at billionaires. In-story, the explanation here is that someone who is ludicrously wealthy probably has more resources (e.g. gear, vehicles, training, healthcare, etc) and probably more ability to spend tens of hours each week on unpaid volunteering.
  • Most superheroes are 15-40, particularly 20-35. In general, most superheroes have had unusual success in their chosen day-job at an early age.
  • I’d take an especially close look at scientists, journalists, and corporate moguls.
  • Generally very talkative/outgoing, but secretive.
  • Some people close to the hero may suspect the person is having an affair or otherwise hiding something because he lies so often (and perhaps so implausibly) about so much (e.g. where he is, why he misses appointments, why he’s been injured, whatever).
  • Most superheroes aren’t noticeably religious, even the ones that personally know gods. In contrast, most Americans attend religious services regularly.
  • Most superheroes aren’t noticeably politically active. In contrast, most American adults are registered to vote with a particular political party.
  • Nobody’s ever seen him sweat or show any signs of fear.
  • Generally has lived in a particular very large city his/her entire life. In particular, most Americans don’t attend college in their hometown, but most superheroes do.
  • Probably attended a very respectable university in a city (e.g. Empire State or Gotham University). In real life, the United States only has a few of them (U-Chicago, Columbia, maybe USC and Rice). There’s going to be so much strangeness surrounding these few elite urban universities that it’d be impossible to miss — e.g. Dr. Connors turning into a lizard monster.
  • Even within the city, most superheroes do not move very often. (If there is a secret compartment in the house, moving would be very inconvenient). If a superhero does move, he does not use a moving company, even though he probably earns enough that it’d be unusual to do it himself.
  • Superheroes tend to be significantly more attractive than the population as a whole. In particular, most superheroines could pass as models.

 

“Too Long, Didn’t Read” Version:

Almost every adult superhero will meet at least at least 5 of the following:

  • They’ve had a loved one murdered by a stranger.
  • They’ve had a different loved one kidnapped or seized by a stranger.
  • No divorces or infidelity.
  • They’re exceptionally good at their day job but have trouble following orders.
  • No criminal convictions. In the rare cases there were any convictions, there’s probably a bizarre philanthropic angle to the crime.
  • They’ve graduated from college (usually a prestigious one) and have a prestigious or glamorous career.
  • They will not give police any medical information (e.g. medical records or a saliva swab) because it might be incriminating.
  • They’re exceptionally physically fit, but not a member of a gym.
  • There is evidence they’ve seen a lot of combat, but they don’t have any military experience.

 

41 responses so far

41 Responses to “A Criminal Profiler’s Guide to Superheroes”

  1. Mynaon 16 Dec 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Whoa this is really convenient, two of my characters are trying to track down the secret identity of a super. I didn’t think of the job-related ones but those fit very well…

    Great article as always!

  2. Jed/Elecon 17 Dec 2013 at 2:45 am

    Agree with the comment above. Excellent article that’s studied a single topic in-depth. This sort of thing isn’t going to crop up in my current novel, but if I ever need to do something along these lines this would help greatly. Thanks B. Mac!

  3. Kevin Holsingeron 17 Dec 2013 at 4:47 am

    Good morning, Mr. McKenzie.

    Not sure how one would connect the dots on this, but heroes usually experience one home-burning in their lives. Sometimes it doesn’t just involve burning, but explosions.

    Also, unless the hero has the time, skills, and materials to make its costume, it’s going to have to hire someone to do that. Though, with the Internet, the superhero might not have to buy locally, probably making the investigation more difficult.

    Enjoy your day.

  4. Kevin Holsingeron 17 Dec 2013 at 6:39 am

    Additions…

    1. Loved ones’ death: not only do lots of superheroes lose loved ones, but they don’t tend to seek therapy to deal with the traumas of their losses.
    2. If a superhero shows up once an alarm goes off for a bank robbery or something, the speed of the superhero’s arrival…taking into account abilities and vehicles…can tell you something of how far away the superhero is from the crime scene. Flash can live in a different city from the robbed bank, but Spiderman has to be local.
    3. If superhero movies are any indication, male superheroes usually sound either like their civilian selves, or slightly lower in pitch.
    4. Injuries on superheroines could lead people to think they’re in abusive relationships.

  5. Innocent Bystanderon 17 Dec 2013 at 7:10 am

    Nice! I could use this for my series at some point. Thanks!

  6. B. McKenzieon 17 Dec 2013 at 8:32 am

    “Flash can live in a different city from the robbed bank, but Spiderman has to be local.” You’re right here that Flash could be from a different city. However, most heroes live in the city they save most often, even if they have the ability to live elsewhere. E.g. the Flash focuses mainly on crimes in Keystone City. He COULD be living in Cleveland or Miami (or anywhere really), but most heroes aren’t that creative.

    (If the cops are actually getting pretty good at identifying superheroes*, characters that are able to might start moving away their alternate identities far away from where the cities they protect. Some other unusual forms of protection: instead of having just one person don the suit of Batman, perhaps it’s a team of people that are coordinating. That makes it easier for each member to maintain an alibi (and also a normal day life if desired). Perhaps a superhero discards one superhero identity and starts another after a few years.

    *I don’t think it would be very hard. If the police are actually committed to finding a superhero, I think it’d be pretty easy to find out who he is unless he’s taking unusual measures to protect himself.

  7. B. McKenzieon 17 Dec 2013 at 8:36 am

    “Loved ones’ death: not only do lots of superheroes lose loved ones, but they don’t tend to seek therapy to deal with the traumas of their losses.”

    Also, some heroes have psychological disorders, but NO heroes will ever get diagnosed with anything. Tony Stark will never get diagnosed with ADHD and Bruce Wayne will never get diagnosed with everything.

    (That’s a bit of an exaggeration on Batman. For example, Dr. Wolper diagnoses Batman based on news reports in “The Dark Knight Returns,” but the psychiatrist is consistently clueless).

  8. Kevin Holsingeron 17 Dec 2013 at 10:24 am

    “However, most heroes live in the city they save most often”

    Yeah, you’re right. As your post is about profiling, it should be about the likeliest scenarios, which means local (once there’s enough data on superheroes to show that most are indeed local).

  9. B. McKenzieon 18 Dec 2013 at 7:41 am

    “once there’s enough data…” Ah, yeah. In The Taxman Must Die (tentatively), the superheroes the police actually know about are mainly retired, so the police are trying to search for modern superheroes based on what superheroes used to be like circa 19801995.

  10. Kevin Holsingeron 18 Dec 2013 at 11:25 am

    Good afternoon, Mr. McKenzie.

    I’ve seen you mention “The Taxman Must Die” before, and since I’m relatively new here I might as well ask…did you get that finished/published? I did a Google search for it and only found a few sample pages.

    Enjoy your day.

  11. Blackscaron 18 Dec 2013 at 8:18 pm

    (Wow, it’s certainly been a while, haha!)

    This was extremely helpful, and it made some incredibly valid points, and I’ll certainly be able to use this in my novel! (God knows I’ve been doing some major editing and refining lately, haha.)

    Hopefully I’ll be able to begin posting on here a bit more, as I’ve missed this place.

    – Blackscar

  12. Glamtronon 19 Dec 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Lolz.. Kinda hilarious but i wonder how superman’s cape stays under his suit without much difficulty.. Lol.

  13. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2013 at 12:04 am

    “Did you get The Taxman Must Die finished/published?” No. I haven’t submitted it anywhere yet. I’m not sure I have the drive to complete it — I’m not sure I could commit (say) 500 hours to writing fiction.

  14. C.R.on 20 Dec 2013 at 7:51 am

    Apologize if this is too OT… I’m writing a superhero novel. The MC acquires powers like Superman; ‘tho not the crazy ones, just F.I.S.S. 😉

    OK, shortly after getting those powers, a small covert team of dastardly aliens come to investigate(the antagonists). The MC is trying to lay low while getting a handle on what he can do. The aliens compromise this by alerting governments–e.g., through those confidential, “black”, government web networks. 😉

    So, realistically, present-world… how do you think those black ops, and the Feds would react if presented with unimpeachable evidence of a superguy? I’m thinking that your usual, cookie cutter plot that has the authorities storming in to kidnap or kill is unlikely. That’s my opinion, sorta based on conversations with someone who works for those alphabet agencies (didn’t ask him directly; he was so helpful I didn’t want to chance my luck. Plus, you know…).

    Ergo, I’m going with passive surveillance, but details I’m not sure of. What would the government actually do in RL? Feds or anyone in power throughout the world. Any help?

  15. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2013 at 8:35 am

    “The MC acquires powers like Superman… just F.I.S.S.” Umm, what is FISS? (Power suggestion: Generally I’d recommend against giving any protagonist both super-speed and any degree of invulnerability because it makes it exceptionally hard to challenge him).

    “So, realistically, present-world… how do you think those black ops, and the Feds would react if presented with unimpeachable evidence of a superguy?” If (hypothetically) an American developed the superpowers you’re describing, I’m guessing the feds would do a gentle amount of observation and perhaps covert scientific inquiry (e.g. light surveillance, discreetly taking a DNA sample and reading his medical records), but unless there’s some reason to believe he’s actually dangerous, they’d need some other reason to take a more confrontational approach. For example, in Man of Steel, the conflict between the feds and Superman is mainly caused by pressure from dastardly aliens (e.g. find this fugitive or I’ll destroy the planet).

    If the guy is more professional than dangerous, I think a job offer would be more likely in real life than a capture/kill order. I’m assuming he doesn’t have a violent criminal history?

    If they DO decide to kill the guy, I think they would QUICKLY discard any idea of a direct confrontation because 1) the PR/legal consequences to randomly killing someone because he has superpowers would probably be unacceptable unless the threat level was extremely high and 2) it’s a really dumb way to try to kill someone like Superman. Something like poison would probably be more effective. They may plant an agent close to the individual (e.g. a coworker or classmate or “friend” or whatever) to evaluate whether he is actually a threat. If it did come to poison, that person would probably be involved in some capacity (e.g. getting that individual out of the apartment so that something in his refrigerator could be safely poisoned).

  16. C.R.on 20 Dec 2013 at 11:13 am

    Flight, Invulnerability, Super strength and Super speed. I saw it somewhere on TV tropes, BMac. IOW, none of those powers Supes acquired in the Silver Age–super ventriloquism, shape shifting, blah, blah. Long story short, he’s an energy based entity, not biologically based. The world of the story is much like ours–superheroes exist only in comics. He’s the first and only one, which means no one else on earth has any experience with such a freak. HE is likewise in a state of shock, similar to Sentry of Marvel comics.

    At first, the Feds have no idea of what is going on: Ok, some more details. The alien team detected the MC’s transformation and came to investigate. They have earth on a list: “to be conquered and subjugated”, in any case. Since they are several hundred years advanced, they can do this with ease. However, the protag is transformed, releases energy on the dark side of the moon(trying to safely gauge what happened to him). The aliens know little about the extent of the protag’s power and obviously want to vet him out.

    They decide to do this by informing the earthlings of his presence and see how they deal with him, plus get his reaction. I have them do this by using their advanced tech to e.g., hack into confidential state computer networks around the world, leave clues that the MC is the hacker… and so on. I’m sure you-all will agree this would send agencies in a turmoil everywhere and trigger responses, probably covert. The extent of which–the smoking out–would vary depending on the party involved,:). Possible intelligence and spec ops derring-do between countries, eh? Like the aliens are doing to us on a smaller scale?

    Good ideas, maybe later in the narrative. He has no criminal history, and (usefully?) he retains his brain and memories from before. He’s a college drop-out, 20y.o., a wannabe actor who’s frankly no Einstein, but like most folks he has no desire to wreak devastation and kill people. But… and I realize some will cringe… he is enormously powerful. In his default state, one of two, the other lesser) he can elementize polycosmoses as easy as you or I blink an eyelid B). That would freak anyone out to say the least. Matter of fact, the alien antagonists could be said to be doing the right thing; however for the wrong reasons :).

    Legalities, I love it. 1) When they find out how powerful he is, would they have a choice? He can wipe out everyone if he loses it or if his favorite football team loses. Remember, this Earth has no experience with supers–they’re only in comics. And what of powerful NGOs with no compunction to abide by sane tenets of society? 2)You and me agree about the agent in close touch. I’m thinking of getting a close relative or friend becoming a snitch for the feds. The guy is just too insanely powerful.

    This drags on, but you got me thinking about this with your post, heh, heh.

    BTW, the gov guy I mentioned thought the local authorities would get involved at first; the idea of a superman is just too freakish a concept in the real world. When I told him about the alien’s hanky pankies he didn’t answer. 🙁

  17. C.R.on 20 Dec 2013 at 11:17 am

    Whoops, screwed up the quotes–if this double posts 🙁
    ” Umm, what is FISS?”
    Flight, Invulnerability, Super strength and Super speed. I saw it somewhere on TV tropes, BMac. IOW, none of those powers Supes acquired in the Silver Age–super ventriloquism, shape shifting, blah, blah. Long story short, he’s an energy based entity, not biologically based. The world of the story is much like ours–superheroes exist only in comics. He’s the first and only one, which means no one else on earth has any experience with such a freak. HE is likewise in a state of shock, similar to Sentry of Marvel comics.

    ” If (hypothetically) an American developed the superpowers you’re describing, I’m guessing the feds would do a gentle amount of observation and perhaps covert scientific inquiry (e.g. light surveillance, discreetly taking a DNA sample and reading his medical records), but unless there’s some reason to believe he’s actually dangerous, they’d need some other reason to take a more confrontational approach. For example, in Man of Steel, the conflict between the feds and Superman is mainly caused by pressure from dastardly aliens (e.g. find this fugitive or I’ll destroy the planet).”
    At first, the Feds have no idea of what is going on: Ok, some more details. The alien team detected the MC’s transformation and came to investigate. They have earth on a list: “to be conquered and subjugated”, in any case. Since they are several hundred years advanced, they can do this with ease. However, the protag is transformed, releases energy on the dark side of the moon(trying to safely gauge what happened to him). The aliens know little about the extent of the protag’s power and obviously want to vet him out.

    They decide to do this by informing the earthlings of his presence and see how they deal with him, plus get his reaction. I have them do this by using their advanced tech to e.g., hack into confidential state computer networks around the world, leave clues that the MC is the hacker… and so on. I’m sure you-all will agree this would send agencies in a turmoil everywhere and trigger responses, probably covert. The extent of which–the smoking out–would vary depending on the party involved,:). Possible intelligence and spec ops derring-do between countries, eh? Like the aliens are doing to us on a smaller scale?

    “If the guy is more professional than dangerous, I think a job offer would be more likely in real life than a capture/kill order. I’m assuming he doesn’t have a violent criminal history?”
    Good ideas, maybe later in the narrative. He has no criminal history, and (usefully?) he retains his brain and memories from before. He’s a college drop-out, 20y.o., a wannabe actor who’s frankly no Einstein, but like most folks he has no desire to wreak devastation and kill people. But… and I realize some will cringe… he is enormously powerful. In his default state, one of two, the other lesser) he can elementize polycosmoses “sp?” as easy as you or I blink an eyelid B). That would freak anyone out to say the least. Matter of fact, the alien antagonists could be said to be doing the right thing; however for the wrong reasons :).

    “If they DO decide to kill the guy, I think they would QUICKLY discard any idea of a direct confrontation because 1) the PR/legal consequences to randomly killing someone because he has superpowers would probably be unacceptable unless the threat level was extremely high and 2) it’s a really dumb way to try to kill someone like Superman. Something like poison would probably be more effective. They may plant an agent close to the individual (e.g. a coworker or classmate or “friend” or whatever) to evaluate whether he is actually a threat. If it did come to poison, that person would probably be involved in some capacity (e.g. getting that individual out of the apartment so that something in his refrigerator could be safely poisoned).”

    Legalities, I love it. 1) When they find out how powerful he is, would they have a choice? He can wipe out everyone if he loses it or if his favorite football team loses. Remember, this Earth has no experience with supers–they’re only in comics. And what of powerful NGOs with no compunction to abide by sane tenets of society? 2)You and me agree about the agent in close touch. I’m thinking of getting a close relative or friend becoming a snitch for the feds. The guy is just too insanely powerful.

    This drags on, but you got me thinking about this with your post, heh, heh.

    BTW, the gov guy I mentioned thought the local authorities would get involved at first; the idea of a superman is just too freakish a concept in the real world. When I told him about the alien’s hanky pankies he didn’t answer.

  18. C.R.on 26 Dec 2013 at 7:56 am

    Wow, bored everyone with that double! Worried–maybe I should re-think my plot? 🙂

  19. B. McKenzieon 26 Dec 2013 at 1:14 pm

    “Wow, bored everyone with that double! Worried–maybe I should re-think my plot? :)” I wouldn’t read too much into several days of inactivity, particularly around Christmas. Internet traffic plummets during the holidays.



    “I’m sure you-all will agree this would send agencies in a turmoil everywhere and trigger responses, probably covert.” Actually, I’m not sure of this. Unless there’s something I’m missing, I think they’d have to be really dumb to fall for this setup, but I think this could be fixed pretty easily.* My suggestion would be to alter his background a bit so that it might be remotely believable he’s turned into a master hacker. For example, maybe he’s really good with electronics and/or computers and he has some mildly criminal past (e.g. getting busted for stealing car radios at one point).

    *Any remotely competent investigation would definitely raise questions about whether this person actually could be a master hacker. For example, asking friends and family and former teachers about his background in computers, investigating his computer, checking out his school transcripts, etc. If pretty much everyone that knows/knew this character agreed that he’s not a computer expert, that would raise major red flags about whether the information tying him to the attacks is reliable at all.



    If the government knows about and is concerned about the scope of his superpowers, I think framing him as a hacker is unnecessary. (Unless the hacking is really important to the plot moving forward).



    I think the bigger concern would be his personality and superpower selection. “But… and I realize some will cringe… he is enormously powerful. In his default state, one of two, the other lesser) he can elementize polycosmoses as easy as you or I blink an eyelid B).” I’m not cringing, but I would recommend picking superpowers that are a better fit for the plot/antagonists. If this character has godlike powers (e.g. “elementalizing polycosmoses*”), I think that will short-circuit the conflict between the feds and the protagonist because it doesn’t sound like the feds actually have the ability to challenge him. Personally, I’d pass on this proposal pretty quickly because I don’t see the fed-protagonist conflict creating much drama. (Secondarily, I find alien conquerors to be not terribly interesting, but if the protagonists have enough personality, you may be able to overcome the limitations of an alien antagonist — e.g. see Avengers and Galaxy Quest).

    *I do not know what “elementalizing polycosmoses” means but would infer that it is reducing universes down to their base elements (i.e. godlike destruction).

  20. C.R.on 27 Dec 2013 at 8:42 am

    I see your point about the hacking. Ok, he didn’t do the actual hacking. But would they not at least flag this guy and at first, send a couple assets to watch him covertly? And curiously, this guy disappears and can’t be located for long periods of time during said surveillance.

    And what of the MSS-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_State_Security_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China

    the GRU-
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glavnoye_Razvedyvatel%27noye_Upravleniye

    and, say Oghab 2-
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oghab_2

    How would they react if an American’s name came up during their investigation of a massive hacking of confidential networks and databases?

  21. B. McKenzieon 27 Dec 2013 at 9:36 am

    “How would they react if an American’s name came up during their investigation of a massive hacking of confidential networks and databases?” I think they’ll figure out VERY quickly that this guy does not actually have any unusual computer skills. If they don’t have any other reason to believe that he’s involved in the hacking at that point, they’ll probably move their resources towards leads which are more believable. “Well, it looked like the evidence implicated him, but it could have been spoofed by an actual hacker. That’s far more likely than the alternative.” I don’t have any experience with federal investigations, but my guess would be they’d take several weeks (or maybe a few months) to be thorough and, if they haven’t uncovered anything uncovering their suspicions after thousands of hours of investigation, will probably accept that the initial evidence tying him to the crime was either incorrect or spoofed.

    “And curiously, this guy disappears and can’t be located for long periods of time during said surveillance.” Hmm… And why do they think that is? How does a 20 year old with no known professional training start shaking (probably escalating) levels of surveillance? Given his background, career criminal (e.g. drug dealer) would probably be the first theory that came to mind there. If the investigator were REALLY high on something, they might come up with “well, he’s obviously not a spy*, but maybe he’s been recruited by some spy as a disposable asset.” That would be a hell of a reach, considering that he doesn’t have access to anything a spy would care about and doesn’t exactly come across as a reliable accomplice in anything.

    *He’s not even a college graduate, which would be a disqualification for most interesting jobs in the U.S. public sector.

  22. Anonymouson 27 Dec 2013 at 9:36 am

    If a superhero relies mainly on their powers and not gadgets you can’t really rely on them being rich, if they only use there powers and a costume that doesn’t offer much protection it’s possible they could be somewhat poor. For example Peter Parker lives in an apartment and a somewhat shabby one at that, if you eliminated poor people you might eliminate him depending on your definition of poor. Although you could probably eliminate anyone homeless in all situations.

  23. ztron9000on 27 Dec 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Could you do something like this for “ahem” differently powered individuals? I(i.e. superhumans. look it up on TV tropes)

  24. Anonymouson 01 Jan 2014 at 12:54 pm

    B.Mackenzie-
    an i make my superhero politically active and an enemy of thegovernment or fighting enemies who are believers of different ideologies? will that cause controversy?

  25. B. McKenzieon 01 Jan 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Anonymous, I think it depends. If the conflict between the hero and the government resembles an ideological controversy in real life, that could create marketing problems. E.g. if one side comes off looking like conservatives and the other side comes off looking like liberals, you’re writing off not only conservatives or liberals but (more importantly) the large majority of people that don’t like their entertainment to be political.

    If the conflict between the hero and the government does not resemble a liberal vs. conservative conflict in real life, it probably wouldn’t draw in that outside baggage. For example, Batman and Spider-Man have major conflicts with police, but they’re fighting over tactical issues (how to best stop crime) rather than politics (e.g. X-Men’s main conflict with the government is mainly about political issues like gay rights). If, hypothetically, the main conflict between your hero and the government was something like corrupt police and/or politicians, I think you’d be okay because that’s not a party-line issue.



    If the conflict between the hero and the government does sort of resemble a party-line political issue in real life, I’d recommend having likable protagonists on both sides (e.g. both the more libertarian Lucius and the more authoritarian Batman are likable and rational in the Dark Knight — the movie doesn’t push viewers to agree with one or the other).

    Also, if you’re publishing in the United States, most U.S. readers are a lot more protective of soldiers than cops or (especially) politicians.

  26. Ilikechocolateon 01 Jan 2014 at 8:40 pm

    So I’m the planning stage for a story about about a hippie superhero set in the 1960’s. I have one main character who is a hippie and she is a some-what mentally strong person, but will fight for what she believes in no matter what. Her main goal is to use her powers to solve real life problems, like homelessness, hunger, war and crime that doesn’t involve monetary gain (like robbery, stealing money.) She believes very strongly in peace, so she refuses to use her powers in anyway that could physically, mentally or emotionally hurt anybody. She can control the four elements, but how could she use the element of fire peacefully and creatively? What would be a good origin story for her? Also there is a secondary character who she meets later on and teams up with her. He was held as a POW and tested on unethically, but now is a telepath. The thing with him though is that war kind of ruined him mentally so half the time he is crazy and hearing voices and the other half he is actually reading minds and sending mind messages. Because they are in the same world should I make the girl hippie a sci-fi origin or fantasy because fantasy seems to fit better with her character?

  27. Siwyenbaston 02 Jan 2014 at 12:26 am

    Ilikechocolate, while I should let Mac respond before posting, I just feel like I can add to the discussion here. I believe your hippie girl could use the element of fire with cooking, which if done in a soup kitchen would hit some of your suggested problems. As far as using it to fight crime, flames can become a barrier if they’re structured right, a la DnD fire wall.

    Alas, she is your character, and you’re the one that needs to come up with an origin story. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t give you some suggestions. I believe Celtic and Greek mythology and reconstructionism were enjoying a resurgence during the 60s and Wicca was just being written down, so you could pull from those. The fantasy/mythology angle would work a lot better than a sci-fi angle in an origin story for a character that controls all four classical elements. If it were one or two, it’d be a different story.

    As far as POW telepath, he could have a sci-fi-esque story in the details of that experimentation. That’s the beauty of superheroes, you can have magic and mythos alongside sci-fi, tech and natural heroes/villians and it’d all still mesh well together.

  28. B. McKenzieon 02 Jan 2014 at 1:39 am

    “Ilikechocolate, while I should let Mac respond before posting…” Nah, you’re fine.



    “So I’m the planning stage for a story about about a hippie superhero set in the 1960′s… Her main goal is to use her powers to solve real life problems, like homelessness, hunger, war and crime that doesn’t involve monetary gain (like robbery, stealing money.) She believes very strongly in peace, so she refuses to use her powers in anyway that could physically, mentally or emotionally hurt anybody.”

    Hmm… some concerns that come to mind:
    –Is this character going to be able to do action scenes? It sounds like she refuses to do combat, and social problems like homelessness and hunger don’t lend themselves to edge-of-your-seat action scenes. (You may be able to get around this by using the POW for action scenes, but that would probably raise questions about why she’s the main character if he gets more interesting scenes than she does).
    –The character only solves non-monetary crimes? What’s her reasoning there? (From a dramatic perspective, I think this may end up limiting your plotting options).
    –If the main character does not engage in many of the activities that readers turn to superheroes for (e.g. solving crimes and/or incredible combat), it may be worth cutting the superhero angle (e.g. making her a cop or a journalist or a community organizer or an aspiring politician or whatever) or using the superhero angle to establish a conflict between the protagonist and a more conventional superhero. Alternately, adapting her beliefs to allow her more flexibility in terms of when she gets involved and/or fights (a la, say, Green Arrow).

    “What would be a good origin story for her?” It depends on her personality and whatever makes her unique. For example, the first thing that comes to mind at 0230 would be that one reason she’d be noticeably more hippie than the average superhero was if she was personally involved with a corporation in a negative way. E.g. maybe she gets her elemental powers from a chemical spill or something (but preferably plotted in such a way that she makes some sort of decision or has some sort of effect rather than just being a completely random bystander when it happens).

    An alternate approach to the origin story would be focusing on a major job as a superhero rather than where her powers came from. In this case, her defining moment as a superhero might be some case that ended in disaster because she tried to go in like any superhero would (e.g. powers blazing trying to save hostages from bank-robbers) but a lot of hostages died and now she’s committed to pacificistic solutions because she doesn’t want to repeat that mistake…

    By the way, I like your superpower selection in this case. I think it’s thematically fitting that her powers are (subtly) environmental in nature BUT probably destructive enough that she has good reason to be wary of using them in combat. (In an urban setting, it would probably be pretty hard to use fire, earth, water or wind without risking a lot of destruction and/or injuries).

  29. Anonymouson 02 Jan 2014 at 11:23 am

    thanks a lot about the helpful reply

  30. Breadon 13 Feb 2014 at 7:34 am

    hello everyone, i just discovered this website and i think it s pretty interesting! how do i go about posting my ideas/plotlines for this superhero-ish story i m writing for people to feedback and give advice on? thanks so much for all the help 🙂

  31. B. McKenzieon 13 Feb 2014 at 7:47 pm

    “How do I go about posting my ideas/plotlines for this superhero-ish story I’m writing…” Leaving a comment on a post would probably be the best way.

  32. Vendettaon 12 Jun 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I like that you included the fact that poorbpeople are rarely heroes. In an old story i may or may not return to, the main character’s best friend was the owner of a computer company. The main character/hero was actually his friend’s assistant. When the cops were looking for the hero, the police were a major antagonist through the first half of the story, they overlooked the hero and made his friend their primary suspect.

  33. Mynaon 12 Jun 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I like that twist, Vendetta!

    My story’s kind of in the same boat. The protagonist Seth comes from a working class family and is a relatively religious Muslim, so if police were trying to find him it would be hilariously difficult. Although the leader of the superhero organization in the story is a super-wealthy dude, but he just inherited money from… somewhere. It fell out of a plot hole!

  34. Vendettaon 12 Jun 2014 at 3:47 pm

    He obviously inherited it when he found out he was secretly the heir to the throne of a random country no one’s ever heard of.

  35. Mynaon 12 Jun 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Truly. In the big reveal halfway through the 32nd book, he ascends to his rightful place as king

  36. Vendettaon 12 Jun 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Only to be overthrown by his evil uncle.

  37. Mynaon 12 Jun 2014 at 5:32 pm

    *sheds tear* It’s beautiful. I’m gonna write a bestseller

  38. catswoodsriveron 21 Oct 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Who would be the people to capture/arrest a superhero?

  39. B. McKenzieon 22 Oct 2015 at 7:25 am

    “Who would be the people to capture/arrest a superhero?” It depends on the plot you’d prefer, but I think the above list would probably be most useful for local or federal police. If the superhero were being hunted by a supernatural police force (e.g. the Green Lanterns or something magical), they’d probably have their own methods of finding him.

  40. Andrewon 30 Sep 2016 at 2:08 am

    I have a character who’s a P.I so this is helpful. One question though about P.Is that’s been bugging me, the hat and trenchcoat get up, do they really wear that or is it just a cartoon stereotype?

  41. B. McKenzieon 30 Sep 2016 at 6:40 am

    “One question though about P.Is that’s been bugging me, the hat and trenchcoat get up, do they really wear that or is it just a cartoon stereotype?” I would guess it’s a stereotype from movies set in the 1920s-1940s. It’s a job where not standing out would probably help (e.g. tailing somebody who might be having an affair, or trespassing), so wearing fedoras would probably be counterproductive. (However, if the story is set before the 1970s, most men did wear hats whenever they went outdoors).

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