Archive for the 'Superhero Origin Stories' Category

Jul 02 2012

Signs of a Promising Superhero Origin Story

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

1. The main character makes a notable decision, ideally one that most other main characters in the genre wouldn’t make in the same position. Ideally, this develops something unusual about your character compared to other protagonists in the submissions pile. For example, one thing that distinguishes Peter Parker from most superheroes is that he’s unusually human, so it’s fitting and memorable that he lets the robber go (which ends up getting his uncle killed).

 

2. The origin story reinforces a key character trait or mood. For example, Parker’s decision helps reinforce that he’s not purely heroic and experiences regular human problems like pettiness. Batman’s origin story helps establish his loneliness and isolation.

 

3. Ideally, the origin is driven by the main character’s actions rather than the character getting passively chosen. Individual effort is usually more memorable than, say, good luck or high birth. For example, Steve Rogers became a candidate for Captain America because he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he won the competitive process by demonstrating cunning and bravery. The plot (and Steve Rogers) would have been MUCH less interesting if the Army had randomly picked his name of a hat.

 

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Feb 16 2012

List of Superhero Origin Stories

If you’re not sure where your superhero’s superpowers might come from, here are some potential superhero origins.

Science and Science Fiction

 

1. Cybernetics–replacing human limbs or organs (usually crippled/injured ones) with superior mechanical substitutes.  See Cyborg, the Bionic Woman, etc.

 

2. Genetic engineering–e.g. replacing genes with sequences from other sources can create interesting results, such as pigs that glow like jellyfish.  See Spider-Man, etc.

 

3. Powersuits, exoskeletons and/or giant death machines (Iron Man, Steel, the M-1 Abrams, etc).  We already have jet packsmilitary-grade lasers, and a five-pound rocket launcher, so within (say) 30 years, origins like the Iron Man suit might not actually be science fiction.

3.1. Robotics.  Domo arigato, human-sized death machine.  (Robots don’t have to be androids, but usually are in fiction).

 

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Jun 06 2010

Superhero types and how to distinguish yours (Part 2)

(Part 1 here).

Jekyll and Hydes

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

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May 28 2010

What Makes a Superhero Story?

Here are some common characteristics of superhero stories that come to mind.

1.  In most cases, a superhero has an origin story that explains 1) how he goes from ordinary to extraordinary and 2) why he chooses to fight for others. I’ll focus on #1 here.  Most superheroes start in a place where they don’t stick out and only stick out later. For example, Superman and the Martian Manhunter become extraordinary by coming to Earth, where they are aliens.  Peter Parker, Virgil Hawkins and the like are regular people that gain superpowers in various accidents. Superheroes are rarely born extraordinary. In X-Men, most mutations manifest during adolescence rather than at birth. In contrast, Harry Dresden is probably more of an urban fantasy character than a superhero in part because he has always been extraordinary (magical).

 

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May 20 2010

Superhero types and how to differentiate yours (Part 1)

Students

  • The student/superhero usually goes to A School Just Like Yours for maximum relatability, but sometimes the school is more unusual (for example, superhero academies like the Xavier Institute for mutants or Sky High or the school for supergeniuses that Tony Stark attends in Ultimate Ironman).
  • Whether you go with a typical school or something more extraordinary, I’d definitely recommend differentiating the school if you set any scenes there.  For example, instead of doing just another school, maybe it’s an inner-city school.  Or a school in an area so preposterously wealthy that the kids have plastic surgeons on speed-dial.  Or maybe the petty rivalries between students are notably fierce.  Or maybe the kids are training to lead humanity against the Bug hordes.  Just do SOMETHING with it besides being a default school–otherwise, it probably won’t have very much personality.
  • Similar to the previous point, how do you differentiate your leads from Peter Parker?  What are some conflicts your student characters might have that a character like Peter Parker wouldn’t?
  • In terms of conflicts at school, can you do something fresher than using jocks vs. dorks?  Thanks.  There are so many ways kids split into cliques  and screw each other–surely you can come up with something!  (For example, see Mean Girls or the house system in Harry Potter or mutants vs. humans in X-Men).
  • Student superheroes are probably more prevalent in cartoons (which are usually aimed at something like an 8-13 audience) than superhero comic books (which almost always rely on men aged ~18-30).  If you’re doing a comic book about a student superhero, many (most?) of your prospective readers are probably significantly older than a high school or junior high student.  So just doing a straight-up story about the character getting through high school or maybe even college probably wouldn’t work very effectively for enough people that actually go to comic book stores.  In the world of novels, Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies successfully retained older readers with stakes that are considerably higher than, say, making the cheerleading squad.

Noble Strangers

  • This is a character whose differentness is a major part of his origin story.  They are often alien or foreign to most of the other characters around them.  For example, Superman and Martian Manhunter are aliens, and Wonder Woman and Black Panther and Aquaman hail from magical Mary Suetopias.
  • The character will usually have either no flaws or subdued flaws.  Are we really supposed to hold it against Superman and Wonder Woman that they are too nonlethal?   Additionally, the character’s native society will usually be utopian.  One alternative would be that he is a refugee (or official/tourist/emissary/field researcher/used ray gun salesman/whatever) from a place that has a lot of shadiness going on, like the imperialist Krypton analogue in Invincible. Adding depth to the society usually makes the stranger more interesting.  Another choice to consider is whether the character is a child or an adult when he leaves his homeland.  I find that it usually says more about the character and his decision to leave if he departs as an adult, but do what fits your story best.  (For example, Superman’s all-American childhood helps give him relatability and ties into his moral decision to become a superhero).
  • Conflict between the noble stranger and the locals (or their values or customs or laws) usually plays a significant part of the plot.  The most cliche way to do this would probably be “KILL THE FOR’NERS!”, but it could be as simple as the locals curtly enforcing a “no shirt, no service” policy.  I’M LOOKING AT YOU, NAMOR.  (AND TRYING NOT TO).
  • On a superhero team, the stranger(s) might conflict with the locals in values or methods.   For example, Superman vs. Batman.
  • Noble strangers don’t usually have much relatability.  One unusual possibility: what if we’re meant to relate more to the stranger than the locals?  Peter Parker is arguably a noble stranger when he’s on the Avengers by virtue of being the only normal guy there.  For more examples of normal characters thrust into strange worlds, please see Avatar, District 9, Dancing with Wolves, Pocahontas, The Taxman Must Die, Escaflowne, Bleach, Inuyasha, etc.

Part 2 here.

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