The Ogmios Genre Guide
Part V - Subtypes of Superheroes
Image by Alex Ross
superhero \soo`per-hee`ro\ n.
A figure, especially in a comic strip or cartoon, endowed with superhuman powers and usually portrayed as fighting evil or crime.
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)
FOUR COLORED SUPERHEROES
The heroes are not only omnipotent, they are better than normal men in any conceivable way. Not only do they demonstrate superior strength, speed, toughness and other extraordinary abilities, they are also the role models of superior courage, honor, compassion and ethics.
Heroes are Omnipotent
Superheroes are truly superior. They are usually not only super-powered, but simply better than anyone else in virtually everything.
But Villains are Omnipotent Too
Since the heroes are so outrageously powerful, the villains need to incredibly powerful too. Usually, the fight would be on equal terms, and the hero would prevail only thanks to his courage and sense of commitment.
Or Painfully Mundane
On the other hand, omnipotent heroes often do battle with villains which are undoubtedly less powerful than themselves. These villains often rely not on on technology to mimic our hero's powers, but also on dirty trickery such as taking the hero's loved ones hostage, manipulating public opinion, etc.
Really High Stakes
Such powerful heroes would not be challenged by petty criminals. These heroes often need to fight to save the entire world, or at least the entire city they are sworn to protect.
Black vs. White
The rules of the genre dictate a clean cut between good and evil. The heroes are good, the villains are bad. No shades of gray are allowed here, only pure white and pitch black.
The Hero is Publicly Accepted
Since the line between heroes and villains is so clear cut, it is easy for the public to identify the hero and to admire him. Often, these heroes work alongside the police and the armed forces.
The Hero's Identity is a Secret
Our hero, albeit omnipotent must keep his true identity a secret lest his friends and family be attacked by his enemies. Only a select few individuals know this secret, usually being his partners, not his closest friends (and especially not his significant other)
Strongly benevolent. The hero may face supposedly insurmountable odds, but will always emerge victorious in the end, not only in his battles against super-powered space monsters out to destroy the world, but also in his personal life.
DC's Superman, first and foremost. Most other heroes of the comics' Golden Age - The Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America, etc. Valiant's Solar.
Dark and dismal cities are the perfect setting for these breed of superheroes. No brightly colored tights and flying over the city for these gritty heroes - just back allays and sewers. These heroes are as violent as the criminals they hunt, and more often than not twice as scary.
Low Power Level
These heroes are only slightly superhuman, if at all. More often than not these heroes rely on their skills and experience to best their opponents.
These heroes didn't wake up one morning, discover they were superhuman and set out to save the world. They often suffered some terrible injustice in their past and are bent on a mission of revenge.
Evil We Are, Lest Evil We Become
These heroes are usually disillusioned from the judicial system. Either dirty money can buy anyone's freedom or there may not be any prison strong enough to hold the supervillains they bring to justice. These heroes use the villains techniques against them and are no strangers to intimidation, battery, maiming, torture and sometimes even murder. An interesting twist on this notion is that the hero's powers are truly of an evil source (demonic deal, stolen technology, etc.).
The Hero is Not Publicly Accepted
Because such a thin line separates heroes from villains in this genre, the hero is usually as feared and hated as the villains he hunts. More often than not, he his also wanted by the police.
Hostile. When it rains stones, it seems like it never stops raining. Not only is the hero hunted by various superpowered opponents, but he must also deal with his personal life breaking apart all while fighting to protect a public that often fears and hates him.
DC's Batman was probably the character who started this genre. Other characters include all of Batman's subtitles, DC's The Shadow, Marvel's The Punisher and Image's Shadowhawk, Spawn and Darkness.
Having superpowers is like, not as cool as it looks, you know? I mean, it's pretty neat to be able to fly up to the basket and slam-dunk, but it ain't all fun and games. We got issues too, OK? School, and puberty, and parents, and peer-pressure is like a lot to deal with and stuff.
The superheroes are teenagers, faced with all the problems teenagers in the real world face - school, discovering their puberty, sexual angst, peer pressure, the works.
No One Understands Me
Added to the typical teenager notion that "no one understands me" is the fact that out hero has superpowers. truly, no one can understand him.
Superpowers as a Metaphor of Maturing
Out hero usually only developed his powers when entering puberty. These powers are often a Metaphor not only for the physical changes he goes through, but also for the mental change he must face - stepping into the adult world and learning the meaning of responsibility.
Slightly benevolent. Odds may seem overwhelming at some point (like most teenagers feel at some point or other in their life), but at the end everything usually turns out to the best.
Marvel's Generation-X. DC's Superboy. Image's DV8. Malibu's Prime. Most of Marvel's Ultimate line. To some extent, Marvel's Spiderman
The time when one hero could save the day single-handedly has passed. The world faces greater threats that can only be faced by the diversity and cooperation of many heroes combining their efforts.
Diversity of Powers
The heroes have joined together since no single one of them could prevail alone. Usually their powers are radically different (albeit commonly from a mutual source such as mutantcy, alien origin, divine gift, etc.) and often complete each other.
Diversity of Backgrounds
The heroes are drawn together from the four corners of the globe. They often exhibit diverse ethnical, social and ideological backgrounds.
A Lone Wolf
Most creations in this genre have one character who is part of the group, but not really a part of it. A loner who prefers his solitude to the overbearing constant presence of his fellow team-mates. However, he is a valued member of the team, and would gladly give his life to saves theirs.
Together We Stand
Once every so now and then, one of the team-mates would venture out on a personal mission (usually, a personal revenge or a personal debt which must be paid off). He will get himself knee-deep in trouble, until ultimately being saved by his fellow team-mates.
Varies, but usually not too hostile.
Marvel's X-Men, and its many spin-off groups (X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Generation-X). DC's Justice League of America and Legion of Super Heroes. Image's Wild C.A.T.S and Newmen.
Whimsical, pun-filled adventures playing on the conventions of other subgenres. The heroes, although likeable, may well be inept or stumble footed, to increase the irony.
Anything for a Laugh
No situation is too contrived if it leads to a nice pun, usually involving private jokes of those who know the genre well.
Heroes are Ridiculously Powerful
The hero is omnipotent to a ridiculous level. He could lift an entire planet, compress matter to a degree it starts the process of nuclear fusion and leap across entire cities.
Or Pathetically Powerless
On the other hand, a hero could be pathetically powerless, always fantasizing about the powers "real" heroes should have.
Regardless of his power-level, the hero is a prime example of all the personality flaws a real super-hero should not have.
Quite strongly benevolent, or else amusingly capricious - whatever would be funnier.
The Mask. The Tick. The Pro. The Incredible Super-Friends segments on Dexter's Lab. Calvin and Hobbes strips featuring Stupendous Man. DC Comics' Impulse.
I'd be happy to her any comments, corrections or contributions to this article - just drop me an e-mail.
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