Questions to Ask When Writing Superheroes
A few weeks ago, I blogged about writing my own superhero fantasy. As I’ve thought more about the idea, I’ve concluded that there are avenues to take, but that there are, equally, pitfalls to overcome. The challenge of creating an entire superhero universe is intriguing. The struggle to remain original will be mighty. It sounds like fun. But perhaps the biggest challenge will be that superheroes are, right now, over saturated in the market.
What has jumped out at me while thinking about superheroes is the idea that there is something vital missing. Superhero comics are fundamentally conservative even as many of the themes (and heroes themselves) are progressive. What I mean is that the world remains the same, is unchanged, even as the heroes (and villains) have the power to change the face of the world (or universe).
Why doesn’t Reed Richards use his fantastic intellect to better humanity rather than just using it to fight various criminals? Or Peter Parker, for that matter. How many of his crime fighting inventions could be used for other applications? (In recent years, Peter Parker has been doing that as part of Horizon Labs, but that is only a tiny fraction of his fifty year history). Scientist is one of the most common professions for superheroes (and villains), but they so rarely use their abilities to do anything worthwhile, bar beating villains to a pulp. What would the world be like if these heroes did use their amazing brains for more?
Another question that has bugged me is what do mutants do if they do not want to be X-Men? Are there careers that could cater to the special powers of mutants? For example, acting would be a fabulous career for shape shifters like Mystique. What other possible non superhero careers are out there?
Thinking of these questions, and many others, it becomes apparent that writing superheroes outside of the traditional narrative is going to be difficult, but not impossible.
The answers to questioning superheroes may very well lead to something new being said about the genre.
But the true problem lies, I think, with the fact that superheroes are so saturated in contemporary popular culture.
Anne Rice is original. Maybe Laurel K. Hamilton. But is Stephanie Meyers? Or any of the glut of vampire/ werewolf urban fantasy/ paranormal romance? Not really. Right now, urban fantasy (or paranormal romance) is the king of the fantasy heap. There are a lot of imitators. A lot of derivatives. Some may be good. But the majority are utter crap with only fans of the genre being able to stomach the crap churned out.
Right now, superheroes are everywhere. The biggest movies for the past ten years or so have been superhero inspired. Superhero comics make up the vast bulk of the comic book industry. There is Marvel and DC, who between them have likely covered any ground to be covered. There are the various creator owned superheroes who provide variations on a theme. Superheroes are, for now, ubiquitous.
So, is this the right environment to write a superhero fantasy? I really don’t know. Two points have to be raised. Should one write what one wants even in the face of unpopularity or over saturation? Or should one focus on those genres that are on the outside that could use a comeback?
Which is the successful path? Honestly, both can be. Cashing in on whatever is hot right now may bring in sales, but writing back a dead genre may start a whole new trend. Conversely, cashing in on whatever is hot right now may catch the tail end of the trend, and writing back a dead genre may lead to nothing but a still dead genre.
In the end, it is the choice of the writer. He or she is taking the risk in deciding what they want to write.