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Thread: Week 45: Superheroes- An Overview

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 45: Superheroes- An Overview

    Itís Tuesday! Youíve been looking forward this, havenít you? Well, to tell the truth, so have I. Itís a long time from Tuesday to Tuesday, and between you and me, I gotta say, I miss you. Youíre my favorite. No, really. You are. Just donít tell the others, okay?

    But, itís time for some Bolts & Nuts! So, letís get started.

    Itís been a while since Iíve talked about actual writing. Iíve been talking about lots of other things when it comes to creation and such that Iíve kinda moved away from the writing aspects. Time to correct that. So, for the next little while, Iím going to be talking about writing. For now, Iím going to focus on superheroes, because like I said way back in the mists of time, everyone has a superhero universe or three, just waiting to burst out.

    Yes, itís totally possible that we could be here for a LONG time.

    Like it or not, whenever someone says ďcomic bookĒ in America to what weíll call the layperson [those not in comics: they donít read them, they donít write them, they barely know Spider-Man is Peter Parker], the first thing they thinks about are superheroes. In America, comics equal superheroes, and everyone wants to add to the pantheon in any way they can. You have the House that Stan and Jack built, you have Detective Comics [the true name of DC], and thatís really about it. Yes, there are others, but really, to the layperson, it doesnít matter that Spawn [theyíve seen the movie, which is why they know him] isnít in the same universe as Marvel/DC. Itís just not something they think of, if they think of it in the first place. Itís basically Marvel/DC to them, if theyíre able to get that far, and thatís it.

    Now, we also know that superheroes are adolescent power fantasies, generally male, but sometimes female. Now, if you want to break it down further, theyíre also highly sexual in nature. There arenít many superheroes/villains that arenít extremely well endowed, attractive, and wearing outfits that arenít painted on.

    So, we know all of that, and if itís news to you, then you havenít been paying attention.

    Now, superheroes generally have fantastic abilities, and this is what I want to talk about for a little while first.

    The first thing that happens when you get an idea for a superhero is that you really donít know anything much about them except for some powers. When you were younger and creating superheroes, they were probably Superman with a different costume and name. And Iím talking about the pre-Byrne Superman: a character that was supremely over-powered, because you didnít want him to be beaten. As you got older, you refined the character, powering him down in order to let him be more than a tank. [Basically, you ďByrnedĒ your character.] Thatís all well and good, but you started your character off with powers.

    If you read a lot of superhero comics, eventually youíre going to play the ďWouldnít It Be Cool IfÖĒ game. Itís inevitable. Youíre not going to care about anything else besides a set of powers and a name. Youíre not worried about a costume yet, youíre not worried about a nemesis, youíre not worried about anything besides powers and their uses.

    Iím not going to say this is wrong. This is how a lot of us do it. What I want to caution you to do, however, is to create a complete character.

    As weíve gotten older as a society, weíve [seemingly] grown more sophisticated. This should be present in your characters, as well. Your heroes are rarely good ďjust because itís the right thing to doĒ anymore. They have reasons for doing what they do, and rarely is it for goodwill towards man. Make sure that your reasons have the ring of truth around them, because if you just tack a reason on, youíll be making a character worth less than the paper itís printed on.

    There are lots of reasons for someone want to be a crimefighter. They may be trying to live up to past guilt [Spider-Man], they may want to punish criminals for taking away something or someone precious to them [Batman], or any of a dozen billion reasons and rationalizations. [Actually, there are very few compelling reasons for true heroics, with most basically being a variation of a theme. Look around and see how many variations of the same thing you can find.]

    The reasons for heroics have to be good, but the reasons for villainy have to be better. No matter what anyone tells you, your heroes will be defined by their villains. Your villains have to be stronger or smarter [or both] than the heroes they fight. Villains need a special reason for beingórevenge is one of the bigger ones, but you also have things like greed and being power hungry as well. Just like the heroes, your villain need a compelling reason for being. Give that to them, make it memorable, and youíll have a good villain on your hands.

    Powers, though, are the big thing. Characterization is going to be vital, but it takes time to come up with characterization. For the nonce, letís talk powers.

    When I got really deep into creating characters, I used the Marvel Super Heroes Saga system. It was a card based system, with five different suits. It was pretty nifty for what it was, and it covered a decent amount of powers.

    Letís talk about Iceman for a moment, under this system. At his base, he has Ice Control as a power. Everything else that stems from that is listed as a Stunt under that Control power. Covering/turning himself into ice, ice blasts, ice slides, and ice shapesóbasic things that Iceman uses, and theyíre all listed as stunts under this system. The beauty of the system, to my mind, is that it forces you to truly THINK about the powers you wanted to use, instead of just throwing together a hodge-podge of things.

    Letís talk Green Lantern under this system. (But Steven, itís for MarvelÖ.) [Donít start yer whining! Just because it says Marvel doesnít mean it canít be used for other universes.] GL himself would have no powers [Iím talking anyone who is not Alan Scott or Jade], but would have Equipment. His Equipment would have the power of Cosmic Energy Control, with a few limitations. Under this system, Cosmic Energy Control is a catch-all power set.

    So, like I said, it forces you to think about the base set of powers, and then expand from there. [This system is no longer being published, distributed, or supported. There may be some people still playing it, and have come up with their own unofficial supplements, but I believe they are few and far between nowadays.]

    Why go into all of this?

    Because I want you to think about the powers youíre giving your superheroes. Generally speaking, names follow the powers, and can also give an indication of whether or not theyíre a hero or villain. This can lead you to a reason for being for the character, and quite possibly relationships to other characters you may or may not have made already Yes, all of that from a set of powers. But I want you to think of the characterís powers at their base, and then move up the ranks to stunts from there.

    I also want you to think about how powerful you want to make your hero. Your heroís power level is EXTREMELY important. Basically, you donít want to have Superman stopping muggers all the time. Once in a while? Sure. All the time? How exciting is that? (Not very.) Exactly. The power levels of your characters will determine the types of stories youíll tell. Youíll only go outside that power level on occasion.

    Also, realize that writing superheroes, youíre basically dealing with science fiction. If youíre writing them, you are, by necessity, a science fiction writer. [Weíll get into magic and such later.] Youíre also a soap opera writer.

    Superheroics have certain tropes that have to be used in order to be successful. The hero has to be weaker than the villain, has to overcome really bad odds, and has to have personal problems that his powers wonít help them withóor if they do, the help is more trouble than itís worth. The hero has to be in trouble, or has to find a way to get out of a really tight spot, and it cannot be something easily seen.

    This means you have to be smarter than your readers. Not all of them, just most of them. Youíll never be smarter than all of them, but youíll have to be smarter than most of them. You have to put your hero in a situation that needs a unique way of getting out of. This, folks, is a LOT harder than it looks.

    I donít suggest trying to start out with an ongoing series, but if you do, you need to have subplots running concurrent to the main story. This means that you also have to plot out your stories well in advance. You also have to work out when youíll be resolving those main plots, advancing the subplots, and creating more.

    Superheroics is the main stomping grounds of ongoing series. Without careful plotting, you can run into a great deal of trouble pretty easily. Thankfully, thereís help.

    In Denny OíNeilís book, The DC Guide to Writing Comics, he gives an example of what he calls the Levitz Paradigm. In the paradigm, he charts out what the main plot is, per issue, as well as the subplots. It also charts when the main plot will resolve, and when the subplot gets promoted. The chart itself is pretty simple, but can be an invaluable tool when you want to see where youíre at and where youíre going.

    Wow. This seemed really fast with a lot of quick hits. Next week, weíre going to talk about character types, still within the superhero set. Letís consider this as an overview, and weíll start going into specifics next week.

    See you then!



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    NOW we're talking!

    When I create my characters, I use the old MAYFAIR GAMES rules from the DC HEROES ROLE PLAYING GAME. 3rd Edition donchew know.

    It was last seen being used for the BLOOD OF HEROES RPG.

    Anyway, it works similar in terms of powers, however it's a points based system. Each character starts with 450 points, and you buy everything from your powers to your equiptment, wealth and what have you.

    What helps here is, if you want to create more or less powerful characters, you halve or double (or quadruple, etc.) the base 450. This helps keep the characters balanced.

    Plus, it has allowances for advantages or weaknesses for powers and/or equiptment.

    Things like if it can be taken away in combat, does it need recharging, how strong is it, how much punishment can it take, etc.

    It's all the little things that help get you fleshing out that character!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  3. Sliverbane Guest

    Now, we also know that superheroes are adolescent power fantasies, generally male, but sometimes female. Now, if you want to break it down further, theyíre also highly sexual in nature. There arenít many superheroes/villains that arenít extremely well endowed, attractive, and wearing outfits that arenít painted on.
    *record scratch* Hold on!! Well endowed in what way? One of the things I noted about MANY male superheroes is despite all the ripped muscles they are more often than not - drawn with small and or diminished packages. Not all but damn near it... While women's boobs practically drag on the ground or block out the sun. I've surmised that it is just men drawing men thing. 'Oooo, don't make his penis look bigger than mine!!' *devious grin* But that's just me.

    As I've read your column you've really boosted my confidence. 50% of the time I'm right there with you... I've embraced the concept. Or I already know and understand what you're talking about from past experiences. The other 50% is all new information that I am greedily adding to my mental library. It's kinda of exciting that half of the time I've been getting it right.

    For instance; a characters powers and how they affect relationships with other characters. YES! I look forward to discussing powers that are 'magically derived'.

    I have a character that by all accounts should be a dangerous villain - However, he doesn't coin himself a villain. It's hard to make friends when you're a demon. Especially one with ' insatiable urges' like he has...

    The reasons for heroics have to be good, but the reasons for villainy have to be better. No matter what anyone tells you, your heroes will be defined by their villains. Your villains have to be stronger or smarter [or both] than the heroes they fight. Villains need a special reason for beingórevenge is one of the bigger ones, but you also have things like greed and being power hungry as well. Just like the heroes, your villain need a compelling reason for being. Give that to them, make it memorable, and youíll have a good villain on your hands.
    Oh, man this one is tough, but an exciting challenge. I ask myself that question constantly. And as a result have turned my lead antagonist in to a very complex web of instincts and desires. It's his nature to destroy, but what else is there? Conquest? Personal gratification? And then what? Rule the world? Boooring! There has to be more! So I went further... Something was taken from him at the height of his power. He was about to smash his enemies and claim is well earned victory and the 'people upstairs' said 'We are done - it's all over - go home'. So he stewed for a few thousand years - the obedient solider. Then an opportunity arose he snatched it up. 'Time to settle the score. Finish what I started. And put anyone or thing down that gets in my way'. Naturally what starts out as a quest for retribution spirals in to something much more sinister. (By way of other influences and events)

    So...uh, yeah. Great Overview...eagerly awaiting more.



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    I LOVE my villains! I like them better than my heroes, and I really REALLY like my heroes.

    Once you have a few really well developed villains, the rest of your villains are easier, because you can play them off the big guys.

    Many of my villains are lackeys to the main guys, willingly or for their own ulterior villainous motives.

    The real fun is figuring out who is actually using whom! :cool:
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  5. Sliverbane Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by SebastianPiccione View Post

    The real fun is figuring out who is actually using whom! :cool:
    Yes! Exactly!! :eek:



  6. Dungbeetle Guest

    'Bane, you have to remember when gay ancient Greek sculptors were crafting likenesses of gods etc. they always had small weenies too.

    You'd have to be a pretty messed up villain to actually accept yourself as the villain, most don't.

    I think I've been writing my "powers" backwards... I want to do a very small scale British domestic setting vaguely "superhero" type thing, just so I can get some practice in doing one shots, whereas before I've been writing continuous chapter-based stuff... Here we're dealing with strange goings on in a fictional area of London, some of the kids who have (mostly mental) powers "reality hacking" etc. and the shadowy government "talent scouts" who frequent their Academy school (the Academies in England are the names for special "non curriculum" schools they open up, generally in deprived areas).

    Anyway, reason I say I've been doing this backwards (perhaps to my own detrement) is because one main theme running through it is belief. The kids can do these things because they think in a different way from everyone around them. As the story unfolds we find that only a few of the older students have any abilities. The Powers That Be are trying to harness them, confine them, and don't really understand that the powers stem from individuality... so we have, for example, a kid who goes invisible (or more accurately, makes people not realize he's there) because he's an outcast/recluse, and a photography student who is a voyeur, who's psychic ability seems to revolve around remote viewing of a location he's previously photographed. We also have a boy who is an Afghan refugee, and is potentially a walking bomb, but who manages to stay calm despite the racist bullying he is subject to, and a telepathic narrator who is the only other character who knows this, and also never speaks because he knows what everyone thinks before they say it (imagine the low self esteem you'd ACTUALLY have with that power?).

    Maybe it'll just be dull and I'm trying to draw too much on my experience of working with young people, and I know the "subverting superheroes" thing has been done to death... I just like the idea of taking the whole teen hero x-men type thing and completely flipping it, concentrating on the real identities, where the powers are purely a burden to most and there is no cosy safehouse to run off to, with an understanding mentor, and no realworld acceptance of the idea of a superhero. We take the convention of the power defining the character and flip it, because these powers are psychic, and a product of the person's background etc. rather than some latent physical ability. What do these kids actually do? Probably steal lots of vodka. I've said too much.

    /end masturbatory rant.



  7. Sliverbane Guest

    Bane, you have to remember when gay ancient Greek sculptors were crafting likenesses of gods etc. they always had small weenies too.
    This is true!! LOL



  8. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Sliverbane View Post
    *record scratch* Hold on!! Well endowed in what way? One of the things I noted about MANY male superheroes is despite all the ripped muscles they are more often than not - drawn with small and or diminished packages. Not all but damn near it... While women's boobs practically drag on the ground or block out the sun. I've surmised that it is just men drawing men thing. 'Oooo, don't make his penis look bigger than mine!!' *devious grin* But that's just me.
    Silverbane, I purposely phrased it that way in order to get this response. Yes, I'm devious that way.

    Here's what I want you to note: when dealing with superheroes, we're talking about an idealized version of the human form. Rippling muscles, obscenely large breasts...and penises that are larger than average. You may have to look to notice the bulge, but trust me, its there. And because you're noticing the bulge, and because it's flaccid in the comics, it HAS to be larger than average. You can't get the bulge in a flaccid state any other way. If the penis were erect, then you'd have the tenting of the costume/uniform.

    So, yes, the males are well endowed in every sense of the word, and thank you for falling into the word trap. I appreciate it, and knew I could count on you.



  9. Dungbeetle Guest

    "t***ies are my kryptonite"



  10. Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dungbeetle View Post
    "t***ies are my kryptonite"
    I should make a villain who claims this, just so that women will bombard him with with their beautiful bare breasts!

    You can almost picture it, the villain, with a slight smirk under his twisted mustache yelling, "Oh No! Not Boobies! Stop. Please. Don't." while topless heroines rush to apprehend the fiend!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



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