Up, Up and a…Huh?: The Components to Creating Superhero Fiction

Throughout this week, 5 books/series have been featured on Superhero Week 2013 because they’ve been determined to be superhero fiction. There were other books that I’ve read that are superhero fiction but they either a) I wasn’t too much of a fan or b) I COULD ONLY CHOOSE 5 and they didn’t make the cut this year. I’ve also read books that were called superhero books but were, in fact, NOT. So want does a book need to be a part of the superhero genre?

I asked the same thing to Kelly Thompson, author of The Girl Who Would Be King and the writer of Comic Book Rresource‘s column SHE HAS NO HEAD!, a few months back:

I suspect there are a lot of different ways to do a superhero book successfully but for me you certainly need some elements of Hero’s Journey. I personally feel like superheroes have their roots in myth, and so Joseph Campbell is a great place to start in breaking things down.  Superhero books are a nice pairing with YA in a lot of ways because the hero’s journey has a lot of base similarities with any character journey that has to do with growing up or finding yourself. I think, for my book it was important to draw parallels and perhaps inverted parallels between the two leads of “hero” and “villain” and to show them “leveling up” as they grew into their own. I think recognizing a sacrifice that is needed in order to be true to what they want/need/believe they are is important.  And for both heroes and villains, the realization that they cannot have it all, no matter what they do or how they try. I think every superhero needs mentors or friends or sidekicks of some kind along the way, either to help them, remind them who they are, or guide them to it.

Again, I think there are a million different ways to do these things and make them sing. My personal opinion is that like with any novel, you start with the characters and your basic premise, and if you build all of that correctly you’ll be surprised how naturally it all falls together.

I agree with Kelly. One of the basic aspects of a superhero story is the “Hero’s Journey” but that isn’t just limited to the superhero genre since it can be found in other genres one way or another. This is probably why Kelly also mentioned the villain (doesn’t necessarily have to be evil to the core but has to at least become an opposition to the hero), recognizing a sacrifice they must make to be who they need/want to be (this could be lying to your loved ones due to having a secret identity, not saving everyone and/or having loved ones threatened) and having mentors or friends on this journey (either to guide them, remind them of who they are, confined in them especially in the case of a secret identity situation and even protect them).

Most importantly, I think a superhero story should at some point put our hero in a costume (it can also be inferred). Secret identities may have become optional these days but that’s a must for me. What differentiates Superman from Dick Tracey? The costume because it’s the costume that adds the SUPER in superhero. It becomes iconic.

What’s Superman without his S shield?

What’s Spider-Man without his red and blue leotard/tights outfit?

What’s Wonder Woman without her star spangled outfit?

This can be debated in terms of narrowing down a list of requirements but I’m that if we brought out a book and were asked if it fit the bill, we’d be able to agree on the answer. I feel like it’s an instinct you have after reading enough of the stories.

What do you think? What requirements should be added or taken away?

This is the last post of our Superhero Week 2013 so I hope you guys had some fun reading the posts!

Until next year,

A. A. Omer

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