Writing Superheroes (Without an Expy Parade)

During my Young Avengers rant yesterday, an idea struck me. I don’t write comics. I really don’t know if I’d want to work for Marvel or DC if I ever got the chance (writing my favorite characters vs. editorial headaches). But I do want to write the type of kitchen sink fantasy that typifies superhero comics (or in this case superhero fiction or fantasy). So how does one write superhero fantasy (I prefer this term to superhero fiction) without having an expy parade?

The problem is that the most successful superheroes are all archetypes that have captured the popular imagination. When other writers, wishing to dip from the same creative well, create their own superheroes, it becomes easy to figure out that this new superhero is based on or inspired by that superhero from Marvel or DC. The first superhero is almost always an expy of Batman or Superman. Any patriotic or military related hero will be a “son” of Captain America. So on and so forth. There are so many iconic superheroes that one could legitimately ask if there is no way to escape having one’s own heroes be easily identified expies of more iconic heroes. 

It does seem that way. If one pays any attention to superheroes non Marvel or DC, it can, perhaps, become a fun game of guess who which hero or villain is inspired by this Marvel or that DC hero or villain. Apollo and Midnighter? Superman and Batman. (I really need to rant about the fuck up job done to Stormwatch over the course of the New 52). The villain cast of The Boys? The Justice League, the X-Men, all of them. 

The well is so explored and exploited it raises the question if anything new can be said. Can a creative new direction be taken? Where are all of the undiscovered stories never imagined?

Honestly, I think this makes for an interesting challenge. 

But this raises the question, is it inherently problematic to use expies? It would be if DC stepped in for every Superman influenced character or Marvel for every Spider-Man influenced character. But they don’t. And it is not like writers of superheroes are the only ones using expies. 

Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy uses two expies. Brakebills is Hogwarts reimagined to American educational contexts. And Filory is based on Narnia. Does borrowing from Rowling and Lewis strip away what originally comes from Grossman’s own creativity? No. Grossman’s work is his own, even if the influences are rather obvious. 

And let us not discuss all of the Middle Earth expies running around. . . 

So, what is so attractive about writing superheroes? They are modern myths. Their history melds with that of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. And that is key, I think. The thrill to get to play with the twentieth century is undeniable. 

I’m excited. I can’t wait to get to the planning. But I must return to my original question. How do I avoid a parade of expies? Simple, by making my world of superheroes and supervillains my own. Whether it be a full history or more metafictional, I must make it my own. 

And here I was all for abandoning comics. Fool! As if!

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Posted on November 20, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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