I’m at a conundrum and I need the help of Superhero fans!!

I’ve been asked and inspired to write a female superhero that is heroic, vulnerable, multi-dimensional and something that girls and women can look up to.

I’ve reached several problems that are formulaic standards in successful heroes and I need to know just how important they are to superhero fans. Because if I’m gonna do a superhero story, it’s gonna be good and it’s going to be for the fans.

1) How Epic Does the Character Name Need to be?

The name seems as though it needs to be epic. Superman, Wonder Woman, Rogue, Batman, Thor, Magneto, Hellboy, The Hulk etc…

Names of Superhero’s seem to have either their powers, abilities or physical traits in the name.

I even see superhero names that are objects: Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Blade, Storm.

Is Percy Jackson a superhero even though he doesn’t have a superhero-like name?

2) Are Healer Powers Lame?

This relates to my first question because if powers or traits should be in the name of the superhero than anything I put with Healer might be a double lame-ness.

Blade has healing powers but he’s also a daywalker (vampire) so that can take away the lame-ness if you’re into vampires.

Wolverine has healing powers but he’s an angry… with claws…

3) When does a Superhero story turn into a Fantasy story and no longer a superhero?

Superhero’s seem to be on both sides of science-fiction and fantasy.

Batman and Ironman powers come from devices they construct (science), and super-solider projects like Cpt American, Hulk and Wolverine (science), Storm is a priestess/goddess. (fantasy) Thor is a god. (fantasy) Wonder Woman is a Amazon Princess Daughter to a goddess (fantasy), Superman is an alien (science?).

I know they are wizards, but is Gandolf or Harry Potter a superhero?

Is Katniss from Hunger Games a superhero?

Is Neo from Matrix a superhero?

My husband’s thoughts are that if the world is based in reality or modern day – it’s Superhero. If the word is fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) then it’s fantasy and not a superhero.

4) Does none of this matter as long as the costume is awesome?

Please leave a comment. I’ll even re-post comments from Facebook on here and I could really use your help. I want to get it right for all the girls who have been waiting for a female superhero.



6 thoughts on “superheroes

  1. Bret Robinson says:

    Great questions!

    1. The name the character EARNS should be epic, but part of the fun is having an ordinary mortal become a Superhero. Then we all think we can do it!
    2. Healer Powers are lame unless:
    A. That’s all the Superhero can do, (SuperNurse, to the Nursemobile, stat!)or,
    B. You MAKE it lame. A medical professional who is incredibly successful may find out that she can manipulate proteins, cells, and viruses, and end up pursued by millions. (Think Jesus–not lame!)
    3. Josh is right, although there is very little honest-to-goodness SF in Superhero stories. It’s more of the Fantasy/SF highbrid called SciFi. It would be great to see a true SF Superhero story set in the “real world”, but most probably wouldn’t know the difference.
    4. I’m all about story, but unless the story is at least as good as KickAss, the costume needs to be iconic. My first inclination is to start with something fairly conventional, then own it with something new and unexpected, like thigh high leather boots, a kevlar jacket, and an “invisibility cape”
    My second is to dress the character like Jackie Kennedy–classy, but a few decades back, yet have her be a scientist with access to futuristic tech.

    Just my opinion! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!


  2. says:

    1. The name needs to get the attention long enough to have someone look at the story.
    2. It’s not the power the hero has but how it is used. Wolverine uses his power to fight evil/injustice using his powers allow him to recover and continue. Is this the power to heal themselves or others? Yet it is also partly not the power but what is the hero’s ‘weakness’? their personality, history/situation, an object, nemesis, or a colleegue/lover, etc… despite having some power, what is it the individual must overcome to be the hero?
    3. I agree with your husband, the viewer needs to recognize a generally ordinary world so the superhero stands out as a package, otherwise the powers seem more a part of the world not the hero.
    4. costume? is Dr Who a superhero? To some degree i depends on the powers the hero has. if it science based tools, what is Batman or Ironman without a costume? Yet Dr Xavier was normal except for his wheelchair (his weakness).

  3. ramonthedog says:

    1) The hero needs to grow into the name, and it is not so much that the name has to have the power in it, but that it should convey the essence of what the hero is.

    2) Healing as a power in the real world would be huge, but for a movie or comic it isn’t very action based and heros need to have action as part of thier power. Wolverine can regenerate, but his power comes in his strength and of course the claws.

    3) The presence of a hero with super abilities in an world where that is not something the common person has makes the hero super. Harry is one wizard among many. Gandalf is a wizard in a world full of magic. That the hero is using thier power to protect and help the common person is pretty important as well. The antagonist(villian) is just as important as the hero, and should pose a very real threat to not only the hero, but the citizens of his environment.

    4) All of this matters, the costume is part of the hero’s identity as well as a disguise in most instances and sometimes it is the power like Blue Beetle, or Ironman. The costume should look cool, and like the name provide an essence of the hero, but also be functional.

  4. Andrew Ulrich says:

    Well, I can’t really turn down the chance to sound like a comic-book expert, so….

    1. The name normally does have to have some “epicness” to it, certainly some hyperbole, but I’d go with a descriptor if possible and only go for “general use” words if the character is too varied in their awesomeness. Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man, Flash, the color words… all descriptive and focusing on the one aspect, OR THEME, of the character. Guys like Dr. Doom, Superman, Wonder Woman have all kinds of abilities that you can’t describe at once, so you go with the “general” words (super, wonder, doom). There’s also the addition of inherent authoritative titles to help you out, like Dr., Capt. Mr. and so on.
    For the most part, if you don’t have an alter-ego, you’re not a super-hero (though not a hard & fast rule). So I’d say Percy Jackson doesn’t count unless he starts calling himself something like… Ocean Master, for example. You can be a comic-book without an alter-ego like that (John Constantine), but you’re probably not a superhero (unless you’re doing a real-world example like HANCOCK).

    2. Healing powers have become something of an over-used idea, because they allow for a lot of sloppy story-telling and because they’ve been taken to their extreme limits in stories. Anytime you’re using a too-popular trope, you have to be careful about HOW you use it and what sort of twist you put on it to differentiate yourself.
    This is not to say you shouldn’t use it. Instead of pure healing, perhaps give the ability to heal using a strange method or external stimuli. (Russel Crowe in VIRTUOSITY is a robot that self-repairs by absorbing glass. The Mummy self-heals by stealing body parts from people. These are extreme examples, but you see what I mean).
    Healing powers are not, by themselves, lame… and could lend to some fun thesaurus-hunting for one-word names. (Regen, Dermis, Scab… eh, ignore that last)

    3. Of the examples given, NEO comes the closest to the idea of a super-hero in the story he belongs to. The wizards and Katniss could find their place in a super-hero story, but as they currently exist, then no. Like any other genre, the super-hero genre has certain tropes that act as signifiers of the genre (superpowers or super-talents, the alter-ego, the costume, etc.) Not all of these tropes are necessary in every super-hero story, but if you don’t have at least a few of them, then it’s something else.
    It’s very hard to draw a straight line between genre’s based on one checkpoint the way you’re trying to with the setting…. Iron Man has visited King Arthur’s Court, Doc Strange and Thor hang out in Times Square, and the X-Men head out to space nearly as often as they time-travel.
    It’s not very helpful, but the best way to know it’s a super-hero story is if a super-hero is the main character. You just gotta apply the old, “I know it when I see it” rule.

    4. A good costume can’t save a bad hero. A bad costume can doom a good hero. But awesome always overrules everything.

  5. Chris Wittman says:

    Good questions, Kate. It’s late Sunday night and I should be wrapping presents, but I thought I’d do something important first :
    1) I think the name should reflect the essense of the character. Sometimes a Super’s name can be misleading or just not make any sense at all (i.e. The Blue Raja from Mystery Men). If her powers are healing, then keep it simple and just call her “Healer” or something similar.

    2) Lameness is in the writing, directing, and acting, not the power itself. Pixar can take a very mundane subject (Toys, monsters in the closet, a made-up video game) and make a good movie out of it. Seems like you could do the same with healing powers.

    3) The more ordinary the world, the more extraordinary the power. A really good sci-fi female superhero with really cool toys would also be interesting.
    It seems like a “true” super would be someone with super natural abilities. Fancy gadets are very cool, but the hero wouldn’t have a power if not for the expensive toys; No less heroic, but not necessarily a “super” hero (Unless they save the world or something through shear guts and determination).

    4) I’ve always considered the costume as a way of protecting the hero & his family from reprisal of his enemies. It also should be very functional. I think Chris Nolan did a great job showing the evolution of Batman’s costume in Batman Begins.
    Like the name, the costume should also reflect the essence of the character. You could also have some fun with it: The Healer could wear some really high heels (get it?) like the Black Widow.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with the character development!

  6. Kate Chaplin says:

    Great Comments from Facebook! Here are the posts:

    Steve Spikermans You could have “projective healing” — Healing others by touch. Transferring one’s lifeforce to heal…It’s only lame if it’s portrayed wrong. It must be believable.

    Ellen Tevault 1) Percy Jackson, I believe hasn’t developed to the point of having a superhero name. 2) healing powers works for a woman because we are usually the caregivers. 3) the dual identity keeps a fantasy story a superhero story. Harry potter & other wizards don’t have that. They have powers, but they don’t struggle with the hidden identity issue that is a part of most superhero stories 4) an awesome costume helps as well as good story telling.

    Corey Wayne Button I agree with Ellen on the Percy Jackson note, also I might add Jean Gray, neither are awesome super-names. 1) Might I suggest that the name doesn’t have to be over the top, but if it is more average at least have it have duel meaning. ( like the root meanings of the given and surname ) 2) Healing powers are good, but to give it a dramatic twist, say she suffers some adverse side effect each time she uses her power. Can she only heal herself, or others as well? If she has the ability to heal others, then her power is in choice and judgement. (as it may harm her she has to choose who to heal) 3) Superheros by definition are fantasy, but a fantasy also is built in the world it is set in. Most superheros are grounded primarily in reality. 4) Costume must be awesome, yet functional…Are you familiar with the concept of a sin eater? Maybe when she heals (eats the sin), she takes on their pain (sin), then her power is self-sacrafice….She has to pay for the wrongs of others, but does so because she can…I think that would add an air of nobility to it…Women are natural care givers and take a lot of shit emotionally, show that using the physical metaphor. Show that her power is also her greatest weakness…As far as duel identity, she should be very meek and insecure and awkward. Stay classic, think female Clark Kent, or Bruce Banner, it would make her more identifiable

    Judith Ann Eudaly Per Corey’s idea of her damaging herself if she heals others, there was a Star Trek (TOS) episode on that issue, but I don’t remember it’s name.

    Rj Sullivan Take your cues from Wonder Woman, specifically, the George Perez-authored re-imagining that came out in 86, not the TV show. To some of your questions: 1)I don’t think the name matters much if the concept is great and if the name fits the concept, 2) there is a distinction between healing one’s self and healing others. Personally, I think a superhero that could heal/help others in some way would not only rock but kind of tap something maternal in the concept, unless you’re intentionally steering clear of any classic woman tropes, I say go for it and embrace it. 3) The distinction between superhero fiction and other fantasy can be broken down into to ideas, first, the exhibition of outlandish battles in an urban setting. Harry Potter and Gandalf in an ubran setting are Doctor Strange. An ability to stand toe to toe with a villain. Which brings me to the second part, ideologies in their extreme. In superhero fiction, the genre accepts the idea of “good” and”evil” with the protagonist representing the good side. Sure, Peter Parker and Wolverine have some gray in them, but you never lose track that your protag is essentially the “good guy”, your villian is exactly that, a villain, and you can’t stray too far from those ideals. Finally, the costume, which, frankly, for a female hero, may be your biggest challenge, as female costume, historically, tend toward the fettish and male fantasy designs. That’s the norm and expectation when it comes to a female hero. I love Wonder Woman but even I have to roll my eyes at her red and blue bathing suit while at the same time I wouldn’t want to see it changed, either. So you have several areas where you can make a statement…Star Trek episode is The Empath…Corey, Jean Grey was not her hero name, it was her true ID. Her hero name was Marvel Girl, later Phoenix and still later, Dark Phoenix.

    Chris Spurgin 1. It’s not about the name. If the character sucks, the coolest name in the world will never save it. Probably my favorite superhero and best superhero comic IMHO is Invincible. That’s his name. Pretty cool, but not exactly inspired or anything. But the character is great. A spinoff of that one is Science Dog. Lame, right? Wrong. He’s awesome. Don’t call her something like Heal-o Girl, and don’t think the name doesnt matter. it does. But don’t make the name your top priority either. Also, Percy Jackson’s not really a superhero. He’s a demigod.2. Healer powers aren’t lame unless that’s the only power they have. Blade has accelerated healing, but that’s just a side effect of being undead and a day walker. His real power is being kind of a badass. He’s not really a superhero anyway. He’s more of an antihero. Wolverine is a superhero, but he’s definitely a reluctant one. His power is his healing factor, but he’s cool because of his adamantium skeleton and claws. If he wasn’t a brawling, brooding badass with metal injected into his body, the healing factor wouldn’t amount to much. Most characters who are just healers take a backseat to other characters. They are important and have their own story, but they aren’t anybody’s favorite. One character that stands out to me is an X-Man named Elixer. He not only has the power to heal himself and others, but he also has the power to kill. He has a healing touch and a counter to that, a death touch. It makes for an interesting character. He’s also good in a fight.3. I would say the superhero story crosses into fantasy when it is no longer tethered to any kind of reality. Take Superman. He’s an alien who is a great protector of earth, but his alter ego is a mild mannered reporter working in Metropolis. There’s a sense of there being some kind of relateability in where the character comes from. Most characters in the Marvel or DC universes have some kind of sense of reality. Also, characters like Spider-Man or Batman are the exception. They are unique, usually misunderstood, and generally don’t seem to belong in the world in which we live, despite living there. Guys like Gandalf or Harry Potter are extraordinary indeed, but their worlds are not of ours really. They have these fantastic worlds of which they are completely a part. They aren’t really superheroes. They are just special versions of the norm where they come from. Katniss? Not a superhero. Hero, maybe, but she’s really more of just a survivor. Neo is a kind of superhero, I guess, but he falls more into the sci-fi category. I would say that category is defined similarly to fantasy, just more sciencey and fictiony.4. It all matters. Just like with the name, you can have the coolest costume ever, and if the character sucks, so will the whole thing. In fact, the costume should come dead last. Unconventional though she is, Buffy (you know, the slayer) is a superhero. She doesn’t wear a costume, but she’s still one of the best written heroes out there. The costume (or lack thereof) is just the flare. The signature. You can start with it if you have the idea already, or you can do it last. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s all you need. Remember the Greatest American Hero? His costume is what gave him his powers, but he didn’t know how to use it. So what happened? He wasn’t that great. Hope that helps.

    Rj Sullivan I agree with everything Chris said, and would add, that although it is rarely mentioned as a conventional superhero film, ROBOCOP I think is one of the best examples of a superhero film. Although it’s SF in that it takes place in the near future, it’s near future Earth and has the same societal trappings of any made up city in a comic book. MICRA is a good example of another near-future SF superhero in comic form, and WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA were both very successful alternate reality superhero stories.

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