Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I want to be different. (Just like everybody else)

Enthusiastic victims: You saved us! Thank goodness! Who are you?
Hero: I'm... Unique Man.
Victims: Oh. Just like all of them?

They point to posters on the wall featuring One-of-a-Kind Guy, The Original, and Captain Never-Been-Done-Before fighting Dr. New.

Sometimes people just don't get it. There seems to be a continuing quest to create completely unique heroes and villains. Now, this can be a Good Thing. There is little that is as disapointing as picking up a new comic book and immediately going, "Oh, look, this guy is just a thinly veiled Superman." Completely aside from the legal issues involved, that would get really boring.

But not every super-strong flying guy is another Superman. Captain Marvel, with all of the complications of being Billy Batson, and his dealings with the wizard Shazam, is not just Superman in a different costume. Marvel Comic's Wonder-Man is different than both of them, and Thor is different then all of the previous examples. Do they have some similarities? Sure, but they have differences that make them interesting.

And the biggest of these differences aren't in their powers and abilities. It's who they are underneath the costumes. Strip them of their superpowers and put Clark Kent, Billy Batson, Simon Williams and Donald Blake in a room together and you will see four completely different individuals. A good comic book focuses on who the hero is outside of their heroic identity, and so making the people unique will almost always be enough to make heroes with similar powers different in the minds of their readers.

When playing superhero games, be they role-playing games or computer games like City of Heroes, there seems to be a fear of overlapping. "You already have a martial artist/gadgeteer, huh? Hmmm. Ok, guess I'll try playing a speedster then."

I think when we do this, we rob ourselves of a wonderful opportunity. There have been many wonderful comic books featuring heroes with overlapping abilities, or in some cases, even the same exact powers. Every member of the Green Lantern Corps has the exact same powers, but that doesn't keep them from being unique individuals. The Bat-family is made up of gifted atheletes with keen detective skills who use gadgets to help them fight crime, but anyone who thinks that the Huntress and Robin are "the same character" has clearly never read their comics. Helena Bertinelli and Tim Drake come from completely different worlds.

So, to the creators of new superheroes, whether it be for comic books, films, novels, webcomics, roleplaying games, City of Heroes or doodling between classes, stop stressing about it so much. Worry about who your hero is, not what he does, and I promise you that you'll have a unique character that everyone will enjoy.

(And a special thanks to Abby at The Green Avenger, who did a wonderful job of making the Green Avenger completely different than any other super-strong flying hero around, and the people I game with in Oxford for making me think about this topic.)


Blogger Al B Here said...

Out of curiosity, do you play City of Heroes? I'm on the Justice game server, myself...

9:50 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Sure do. Myself along with the Os, Nico and Dave who have left comments are all pretty active on Liberty, though we have a side project we just started on Triumph.

12:19 AM  

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