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"You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but I hear them crying for one everyday."
- Superman to Lois Lane, Superman Returns (2006)
Superheroes. The word immediately brings to mind a jumble of images: a man sticking to a wall like an insect, a woman flying through the air without the aid of modern technology, or even a bad cut on a man's forearm that slowly heals as you look at it.
According to the recent documentary,” Look Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman", aired on A&E, Superman was the world's first superhero when he made his debut in Action Comics back in the late 1930s. Surprisingly, Superman almost didn't make it to the pages of comic books and then into history. When the story idea was first proposed, people thought it was "too fantastic" to be believable. Lucky for us, and the rest of superheroes everywhere, Superman's first comic was published and was a big hit with readers. On his heels came "the Bat-Man" in 1939, a superhero with no super powers, just fab abs and state-of-the art technology. Also premiering that year was the Flash, a man whose super power was the ability to run faster than the speed of light. In a steady stream, more superheroes followed: the Green Lantern, Captain America, Wonder Woman, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men.
All these characters and many more, enjoy popular followings even now, and not just among comic book fans. Saturday morning cartoons prepare a new generation and the recent trend of superhero movies has ensnared a portion of the population that probably wouldn't read the comic book. Movies such as the blockbuster hit Spider-Man (whose weekend earnings at the box office were a record breaking $114.8 million, unbeaten until Pirates of the Caribbean 2). Following the success of Spider-Man came movies featuring the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, three movies about the X-Men, Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, and, of course, the most recent Superman Returns. But superheroes don't always have wear brightly colored spandex. Sometimes, they look like you and me; less-conspicuous roles such as Bruce Willis' character in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable.
How can we, as writers of the fantastic, write a superhero that is as memorable as the ones mentioned above?
1) Decide what super power he/she has and stick with it.
Speakers in the "Look Up in the Sky" documentary mentioned that at one point in Superman's long career, the writers of the comic began running out of things for Superman to do because they had made him too powerful. If your superhero keeps gaining or discovering new powers in your story, make sure it's believable. Readers won't be able to relate to characters that are too powerful, who beat everything that comes at them with the flick of a finger. Which brings me to...
2) Give them a weakness (aka make them human).
For Superman a sliver of Kryptonite can make him weak and sick, Spider-Man's life as Peter Parker often severely complicates his hero work, Batman's thirst for justice sometimes clouds his better judgment. Every hero has a weakness, even if it's an internal flaw rather than external stimuli. Perhaps your hero's siblings commandeer much of the time he/she want to spend saving people. Perhaps they're college students, or the mother/father of a large family. Maybe they're allergic to pollen and every time they are out saving the day, they don't look very hero-ish because they're sneezing all over the place. I'm sure you get the idea.
Give them flaws, foibles. Maybe your superhero is claustrophobic and has the opportunity to save someone from a collapsed building. Maybe they have a real problem with anger management and though they save people, no one likes them because of how rude they are. Maybe your hero doesn't want to be a hero, they simply want to be normal and not have whatever ability they have.
3) Give him or her a drive
Superheroes are heroes because something inside or outside drives them to do the things they do. For Spider-Man guilt and a hefty dose of responsibility send him webslinging all over New York, Batman's guilt and anger over his parents' murders drive him to see that the criminals of Gotham get the justice they deserve. Or perhaps your hero is paid for what he or she does, like a service they provide. Maybe it's part of their job. Whatever the reason is, give your hero a reason to do the things they do.
4) Have fun.
Part of the fun in reading about superheroes is the “what if” factor; what if I (the reader) was in the hero’s shoes? Or in the shoes of the person he/she rescues? Get quirky instead of campy; inject some life into your story by staying away from the formula
Erin's Fantasy Book of the Month
Jude Allman has died three times. Yeah, you read that right, and all three times when he wakes up, he remembers nothing. No white light, no tunnel, no nothing. Hounded by media and fanatics, Jude runs away from his past and begins a new life. His complacency is disturbed, however, when he discovers something about a series of child disappearences and that his past might be more than tabloid material after all... Read my review of "Invalid Product Review" .
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From: Nighala a.k.a. Doxie Do-Right
Thanks for explaining the oligarchy, it's that one form of government that sort of lurks in the corner and nobody ever talks about. But it can be quite useful when writing a fantasy story.
I hadn't heard the term Oligarchy before. It just happens to describe the government in my fantasy novel though. The ruling body is an Enchanters Council, and they select individual enchanters to govern each city. Magic is power.
From: DusktilDawn: One day at a time
A very informative and interesting Newsletter, Erin. I must point out (*snickers) that even in today's 'diplomatic' society, there is someone rich and powerful usually lining a politician's pocket. It's a shame that we can't have a Dragon or a magic spell to incinerate such wrongdoers.
Oligarchies are fairly new to me. Kinda sounds like the Council that governs the Jedi.
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