Monday, July 9, 2012

Misc. Monday: Super Heroes v.s. Less-Than-Super Heroes
As Josh and make our way through the Batman and Superman animated series, I'm struck by how much more I like Batman in general. It's tempting for me to say this is because Batman is so much darker and edgier, while Superman often has a campy tone. That reason is valid, but in truth my fondness for Batman has more to do with his humanity.

Batman has no super powers. He's basically an ordinary guy who trains really hard in mixed martial arts and bad assery. Sure, he's really rich and can afford all of the best gadgets, so not exactly your average Joe. But overall, his lack of supernatural/superhuman advantage keeps him more sympathetic, more likeable, and easier to relate to.

Extending this principle into my wider fictional preferences, I notice an interesting trend. I do tend, overall, to like underdogs and less-than-super heroes more than those with a ridiculous multitude of superpowers. Some of my very favorite leading men--Jamie Fraiser, of Outlander, Nora Robert's Quinn Brothers, Sam and Dean of Supernatural--are entirely human, and have to deal with whatever crazy crap is happening via wit and brute strength. I'm also deeply fond of characters with very limited powers--enough to keep them alive, not enough to make them Superman. Curran, of Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniel's books, has powers and is very strong, but in the context of that world his powers are exceptional. It's more his personality and leadership skills that make him the alpha. I enjoy the struggle, the adversity that they have to overcome to save the day, or the girl, or the orphan, or the basket of puppies that are in sudden peril.

For writers of PNR and urban fantasy, it must be tempting to gift your protagonist with whatever unreasonably fantastic super powers you can think of at the time. But if you do that, you run the risk of making him a godlike figure that no one can feel connected to. Superman is less interesting to me because he exists in a world of mere mortals, where any remotely challenging villain has to be a robot or an alien. So the general rule, for me, is this: the more powerful the hero, the more deeply twisted the world building needs to be. It's fine to have a super strong lion shapeshifter, if the world around him features magic and gods and vampires that eat people. Plop Curran in our world, and he'd still be sexy, but I wouldn't be worried or interested in what happens to him. Adversity is a vital story element.

Now I pass the ball to you guys: think of your favorite fictional heroes. How powerful are they, and how do their powers fit into the world around them? Do you find that you like the ubber-strong god types, or do you prefer them more human?


  1. This is a great post! It has certainly made me think. I think its a mixed bad for me, Thinking of my favorites they usually have overcome something. Probably my all time fav BB is Lore from the demonica series. He's definitely not the strongest of the brothers but he seems the most vulnerable. Due to his "gift" he can't touch anyone but family without killing them. He was so incredibly lonely and touch hungry. Yes he was totally bad ass and an assassin, but it was the lingering affects of his gift and the horrific time of adapting into his power that touched me the most. I see that repeating pretty much in all series.

    I'm also a sucker for the tortured, tatted hero type. =)

    -Amanda P
    Paranormal Romance

    1. Oh yeah, the tortured hero gets me every time...


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