Tag Archives: superheroes

Q&A: Acrobatic Shooting

Guess that using firearms contemporary or futuristic, with acuracy is quit impossible during acrobatics jumps, right?

Pretty much. Even putting a round where you want it while moving is difficult. Doing so while you’re bouncing off the walls is effectively impossible, without some kind of extremely sophisticated auto-targeting system.

That said, if your character explicitly has some kind of superhuman affinity for firearms and ballistics, they might be able to make it work. I’m talking about superheroes or maybe some kind of cyborg or android. Not something a normal person could do, though.

For what it’s worth, the idea of simultaneously firing dual pistols at separate targets is a similar situation. You could, if you wanted, use a pistol in both hands, alternating between them, but firing at guys who are on either side of you with a pair of pistols wouldn’t work without some ability to track exactly where the gun is pointed without looking.

Something like Shadowrun’s Smartguns, which link a camera feed to the user (either with a helmet’s HUD, or cybernetically), could theoretically allow for precision blind firing, and (with additional cybernetics) might allow for precision shots during acrobatics. So, when you open up the gates on future tech, this might be possible, but, probably not in the near future.


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Q&A: Superheroes Creating Their own Villain

Do you think real life masked superheroes would ‘create’ villains? I liked what I heard of Mr. Ravenblade and people who dressed to give food to the homeless but do you think this type of activity would bring out villains/criminals as some people say?

Kinda, sorta, not really.

So, the theory is that superheroes like Batman face so many villains because they, “create” them. That is to say, when you’ve got a mentally unstable guy dressing up as a bat and beating the snot out of criminals, that will encourage other mentally unstable individuals to pick similarly bizarre themed costumes, and then join in the fun.

With some characters, particularly Batman and Spiderman, there’s a direct correlation between their actions as superheroes, and their rogues galleries. With others, the connection is a bit more tenuous.

Even in a real world context, this is fairly plausible. Someone engaging in extraordinary acts of violence will provoke others. Either to oppose them, or to aid them. For example: a vigilante hunting Mobsters would encourage the mob to look for specialists to deal with their masked psychopath problem. They may also provoke other, more aggressive, criminal syndicates to move in and set up shop in the city.

So, why isn’t Seattle currently dealing with real life super villains? Because, people like Phoenix Jones and Mr Ravenblade (no matter what Mr Ravenblade liked to call himself) are not superheroes.

To be clear, both Phoenix Jones and Mr Ravenblade are Seattle based individuals who style themselves as superheroes. Ravenblade claimed membership in the “Real Life Superhero Movement,” while Phoenix Jones was a member of the “Rain City Superhero Movement,” until it disbanded in 2014. Since then he’s been operating under his actual name, Ben Fodor. (As far as I can tell, Mr Ravenblade is completely inactive now.)

As with so many other things, the reality is far from romantic. Ben Fodor is a professional MMA fighter, who spent four years wandering the streets in body armor with a can of pepper spray. He never became involved in anything big enough to really test the super-villain theory. (Though he claims to have prevented a bombing during the Occupy Seattle protests in 2012.)

To be fair, if you really want to look at the entire superheroes create villains theory in a serious way, I think it’s far more likely that the relation runs, primarily, in the reverse. If you had costumed villains, you’d be far more likely to see a spike in the hero population.

The problem for people like Ben Fodor is a search for purpose in their superheroing. There’s a kind of implicit promise in the genre that you go out, put on your costume, and foes will pop up for you to fight. As the RHSM has proved, that’s an unrealistic expectation.

The theory does have some legitimate basis. In the real world, threat-response patterns occur, both at an individual and organizational level. So, if superheroes posed a real threat to street level crime, then you would see individuals specifically targeting them. As is, they’re just not relevant enough to create their own villains.


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Q&A: Glass Cannons

So is a “glass cannon” (i.e. Somebody who can dish out a lot of damage, but can’t take much in return) really possible? Or can you really not cause significant impact if you aren’t physically strong/conditioned enough to take a hit?

Not really. It might be more accurate to say, humans are, by nature, glass cannons, but I’ll come back to this in a second.

For those unfamiliar, a glass cannon is a build, usually from RPGs, where you minmax a character to have a very high damage output at the cost of any defensive options.

The problem is, that’s not how people really work. You can’t trade outgoing damage for durability in the real world.

RPGs, and storytelling in general, tend to exaggerate the differences between people. Yes, one person may be healthier or tougher than another, but not to the point where they can shrug off bullets.

So, let’s look at why this exists at all. Combat in games is, at best, an abstraction. You’re working with a specific amount of hit points or some other concrete limit to the amount of damage a character can take. If everyone is forced into playing the exact same way, that will result in an uninteresting experience, particularly in a game where you’re including multiple players simultaneously.

Supporting distinct builds to aid with unique play styles can go a long way towards keeping combat interesting, and under the best circumstances, ensure that everyone can contribute and that they should have some unique options based on their choices.

This kind of game design can easily lead something called, “the trinity.” A trinity is three (or more) players, split between tanking, damage, and support roles. Tanks draw the attention of the foes. Damage (or DPS (Damage Per Second) in most video games) actually kills the, now distracted, foes. Support heal and otherwise enhance the other participants. Depending on game design, there’s a lot of opportunities to blend across these roles. For example, the Tank may also have the ability to buff other characters, or the Support may have additional crowd control options. But, the short version is, it’s built around the idea of having a character who can take a beating, and a cadre of fragile characters focused on dealing significant damage.

(Yes, I know the trinity is usually expressed as Tank/Healer/DPS.)

This is where the glass cannon excels (and the only place it really exists). Even without a tank, you’re still dealing with an abstract combat system, where you’re trying to reduce the opponent’s hit points to zero before they do the same. In many games, saying, “screw defense,” and stacking damage output is a viable (if sometimes difficult) strategy. So long as you can reduce the opponent’s HP to zero before they can do the same to you, it’s a win. (This practice is sometimes called a Damage Race, in case you’re wondering.)

In fact, with some games, forgoing defense can result in massive bonuses that, in the hands of a skilled player, can be substantially more valuable than the sacrificed defense. This is especially true of games with multiple defensive systems, where you’re trading one form of defense for another while still increasing outgoing damage.

The problem is, when it comes to real combat, none of this matters. You’re not going to be dodging bullets, or hitting eleven times as hard because you’ve got a flanking bonus. You’re also not going to be five times tougher than someone you’re facing. If your opponent collapses your lung with a well placed sword strike, that’s it, you’re down.

This is why these kinds of abstractions exist, by the way. When you’re in combat, knowing what’s been injured is what matters. Even blood loss which, I guess, you could argue is, “kinda like,” HP, is still an injury, with its own effects. Trying to calculate realistic injuries with a D20 at 3am just isn’t going to be fun, so instead we get an abstract, “damage,” value. That’s far easier to manage on paper, and since all of the combat is an abstraction anyway, the players are allowed to tell their own story with it.

Fast forward 40 years, and we’re now crunching numbers on computers. It’s way easier to calculate realistic injuries, but we still don’t because, “hey, this is more fun than realizing your character is hemorrhaging internally, will be dead in under an hour, but you can’t actually do anything except hope someone swings by and helps.” Characters suffer damage, and we get on with our day. It also fits with the kinds of heroic fantasies we’re buying in to.

When you create a glass cannon, you’re playing a character who’s hyper lethal, but is still inhumanly durable. You’ve chosen that instead of a character who’s traded some of that extra lethality for even more resilience. Really, strip the surface off of most RPGs and you’re playing a superhero (or villain). (Yes, even in high fantasy settings.) There’s nothing wrong with that per-say. It’s an aspect of the genre since the beginning; whether you trace it back to Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber, or Tolkien.

If that was the question, “can you have a superhero who’s a glass cannon?” Yes. Absolutely. You can create a character who has offensive powers or capacities, but has no enhanced defenses. Arguably characters like The Punisher would fall under this header. If you have a setting with superheroes, any of your non-powered characters will be glass cannons by default. They can’t soak off a bullet and keep on going, but the firearms or martial arts they use can absolutely mess up their foes.

Getting punched through a wall, or shot in the head will put them down, however.

Humans are incredibly resilient creatures; we’ve just gotten very good at killing one another.


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Q&A: Powerful Characters

If I already set a character to be very powerful/skilled in a fantasy setting (either like making them canonically the most powerful swordsman in the world, or giving them abilities to do something like cut a castle wall with a sword), how do I keep tension in a fight scene/story? How do I make a fight scenes with overpowered characters entertaining other than giving them more powerful enemy to fight or weakening them somehow?

There’s two types of powerful characters in fiction: Wish fulfillment power and power with consequences.

Wish fulfillment power is boring, and no amount of creativity is really going to make it interesting. This power is here to give us a high, make us feel powerful as the self-insert and then go away. The fight scenes based on wish fulfillment power never lead anywhere, they never do anything for the story. I’m not saying these characters won’t be popular, they are but they’re also not interesting.

Power with Consequences is interesting. If Superman used his powers at their full strength, regardless of his intentions, he’d be seen as a villain by everyone in his setting. He must moderate his abilities for the enemies he faces because otherwise he’ll be more terrifying than they are. That’s tension.

With Superman the question should never be: can he save the day? We know he will. There’s no tension in the question, it’s not up for debate. The real question is, can he do it without wrecking a city block or destroying Metropolis?

Regardless of their powers and abilities, a hero must still live in their world. If your swordsman can cut a castle wall in half, then that’s great up until the moment where he needs somewhere to stay and no tavern or local inn will have him due to the trouble he’ll bring.

The more powerful you are, the more famous you are. The more famous you are, the more challengers come crawling out of the woodwork to face you. The more challengers who crawl from the woodwork to challenge you in order to take the crown of “Best Swordsman” then the greater likelihood innocent people, their homes, and their means of making a living will be caught in the crossfire. Whether it’s a sword strike that levels a farmer’s field or a mass battle with hundreds dead, that farmer still will have their field destroyed. If it’s destroyed, then they’ve no way to feed their family or sell their produce. They’ll starve.

It’s important to remember that no character, no matter how powerful they are, is free from the consequences of their actions.

This is the problem of characters who are “The Best” at something. The Best is a concept, it’s a title given to someone by others. They get it through competition, and the competition doesn’t stop just because they’ve been crowned.

“My character is the best swordsman in the world.”

So? The pinnacle of ability is a moving target. The Best At This Moment isn’t The Best Ever. Perfection is what we chase, it isn’t what we are. The closer we get to the top, the more heated the competition becomes. The more powerful you are, the more skilled you are, and the more your skill is recognized then the more battles you’re forced to fight. The Best is just more incentive for all those who want to be the best swordsman in the world to come take that title from them. Like Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin, your super skilled character will never be able to get away from challengers even after they’ve decided to retire.

The Best is a state determined by others in their field and not by the character themselves. They may think they’re the best swordsman or the best assassin in the world but they’ll still have to prove it. If they’re recognized as The Best it’s because of the battles they’ve fought to get there, usually killing someone else who was also considered The Best. When a character is The Best, all they’ve done is set the mark that others will strive to reach. Being at the top is painting a target on their back, and every single asshole who thinks their the best is going to jump at the chance to knock them off the pedestal. “The Best” is a nebulous concept, it’s a title, and titles can be taken.

When you’re famous, people speak about you in hushed whispers. They talk about you behind your back. You may be asked to leave because the guards are coming and yes, you could kill them but the tavern owner will pay the price after you’re gone.

Remember, characters other than yours will also pay the price for your super skilled character’s actions. If you played The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, think about how much attention Geralt gets. He can’t go anywhere without being noticed, and most places he’ll be recognized either as a Witcher or as Geralt, the White Wolf. He attracts powerful figures to him, those who will make his life difficult if he doesn’t provide them favors. He could probably kill the garrison commander who wants him to kill a griffon, but that’d just create more problems for him in the long run and end with the nearby village getting destroyed in retaliation. Violence won’t solve all your character’s problems, and definitely won’t provide any help with the social ones.

The better you are then the more responsible you’re expected to be. The more famous you are then just as many will hate you rather than love you. You are an unwitting rival to those who want the adulation you enjoy, and a thorn in the side of the socially powerful who’d rather you just went away.

A famous character creates problems for themselves in their own narrative by existing. They don’t need to do anything, the problems will find them the moment they step out their front door.

Himura Kenshin is probably one of my favorite examples of a powerful character who self-limits. 90% of the tensions in his fight scene aren’t built on whether or not he’ll survive, he probably will. He’s a famous manslayer who doesn’t want to kill anymore, and is trying to hold to that even as he’s forced into battle. The tension in his fight scenes is whether or not circumstances will force him to break with his self-imposed limitations, flip his blade over, and kill. (Rurouni Kenshin ignores blunt force trauma, but this is an issue for another day.)

Your famous, powerful swordsman may enter situations that handicap and essentially force them not to fight at their full potential. These handicaps are social rather than literal. They are self-limiting out of survival. Those handicaps create natural tension, especially when their enemies use the rules of the situation to their advantage. We see the potential consequences if the hero fails to abide by the social rules, and that reinforces your setting’s worldbuilding.

Kenshin could kill, and be justified in killing. However, killing betrays the person he’s trying to be and the philosophy he’s chosen to pursue. Skilled characters like Saito Hajime and Shishio Makoto actively challenge his philosophy in combat.

What brings a fight scene to life is the people in it. Tension comes from what will happen next and where the character’s actions take the narrative. The more powerful a character is then the more responsibility they have not to use those powers. That sounds backwards, I know. Why give a character powers if they won’t use them? The reason is that the other people who exist in the setting with them won’t stand by and take it. Power is fought or fought over.

You have a character who can cut through a wall with their sword? They will either end up the ruler of the kingdom (possibly just out of necessity) or every lord in the kingdom will come chasing them down to take that power for themselves. They can’t afford to have that power in the wild. The more power a character attains then the higher the stakes are for them. Extend the context beyond, “hey, my character can do all these cool things” to “what does it mean that my character can do these things?”

The consequence of power is that you are ultimately responsible for what you do with it.

When a character overreacts with their power in a situation that doesn’t warrant the reaction, they become the villain. An example is a character who can swing their sword to crack a castle wall uses that same techniques on bandits and ruins the road. Now, we have all these additional problems. They start with the asshole who blew up the road.

It is much more difficult to limit yourself so that you’re only just a little bit better than the people you’re fighting than it is going all out. However, for the warrior and martial artist, having control is a part of your responsibility. Acting reasonably and appropriately is a requirement. It is a social mandate, a choice made out of survival. Your character has to live in the world, if they throw their power around willy nilly no one will have food to sell them.

By pitting what a character can do versus what the situation allows for naturally creates it’s own tension. Superhero comics and anime do this all the time, there comes a point where the character’s abilities simply become to dangerous to the world around them. The focus shifts then to the character trying to fight while avoiding hurting the innocents around them. This is a challenge in and of itself. Moderating your ability to what is contextually appropriate and still win against someone who is going all out against you is more difficult than simply fighting.

This act of self-limiting gives the author the freedom to cloak the character’s true abilities and save their punch cards for when it counts, while also eventually bringing in more powerful enemies who will test the hero’s limits and press them to reveal more of their abilities as they a battle for their life. Then, the action versus consequence of the hero’s powers enter into the fray.

The trick to understanding this method is that self-limiting isn’t weakness, it’s acting responsibly. A black belt who spars a green belt or a blue belt must limit themselves. They fight on the green belt’s level rather than going all out like they would in practice with another black belt. The same rules apply to the “best swordsman in the world” being challenged by some random nobody in the middle of the street. If they go all out, they will have acted inappropriately and be seen as a villain by anyone watching. Their job is to mitigate and subdue, not kill. This often means resorting to skills your character may be less practiced at or less familiar with.

As a character, Superman is only interesting when he self-limits. You can’t treat Superman like Batman because he’s a different sort of character. Batman may be considered one of the best martial artists in the world, but that doesn’t help him much when he’s fighting Killer Croc. He faces challenges that test his intellectual ability from the Riddler, and a random thug on the street will still mess him up with a single well-placed bullet. The Best doesn’t mean invincible.

Batman has a host of weaknesses that make each and every battle with him interesting (in hands that know what they’re doing.) Superman is one where you’ve got to fight for it. If he lets loose, innocent people get hurt. If he roughs up thugs too badly then he’s the villain. Superman dangling a thug off the roof is a villainous route, no matter his intentions. Superman inevitably attracts far more dangerous villains to him than Batman. People are afraid of Batman, but no one’s really afraid of Batman. Everyone is hoping deep down that at the end of the day Superman is a good guy because they’re screwed if he’s not. We see groups like Cadmus refuse to take the risk.

We have to trust Superman and the question is, can you?

Think about the episodes from Justice League about the Justice Lords. A setting where Superman just straight up lobotomizes… everyone who disagrees with him.

When dealing with characters who have massive amounts of power then the more you need to internally justify the scene in the narrative and it has to lead somewhere. The consequences are important because not having them will break suspension of disbelief. The more power there is, the bigger the consequences there will be. If Superman levels a building in Metropolis then something better happen as a result. That’s the beginning of a story, not the end of it.


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Q&A: Wonder Woman

Did you see Wonder Woman? The fighting that the Amazons did was extremely choreographic and really beautiful to watch for a plebeian like me, but did it seem grounded in reality?

There’s nothing about Wonder Woman that’s grounded in reality. This is an intentional design decision and, to be fair, the likes of Atomic Blonde and Haywire aren’t either. In Haywire’s case, it’s because what makes for a good MMA fight is about as far from SpecOps as you can get.

The combat seen in Wonder Woman is stylistically designed to be superhuman because Diana and the Amazons are superhuman. They’re immortal, godlike beings who live on a paradise island hidden from the rest of the world. Their combat style and choreography emphasizes that aspect of their characters. It’s part of the visual storytelling ongoing to show us who and what they are.

Wonder Woman is the sort of archetypal character meant to inspire, who we look up at in wonder, who inspires us to be better, and to believe in ourselves.

The combat isn’t grounding in reality and it doesn’t need to be. In reality, we can’t reflect bullets with gauntlets and walking across No Man’s Land with just a shield would just lead to Diana’s legs being shot out from under her by a gatling gun. Realism isn’t the point of the movie though.
Besides that, Wonder Woman is no more realistic than Captain America fighting Nazis with a shield or Batman doing whatever Batman does in the Dark Knight. Or Athena kicking Ares keister in the Illiad.

Wonder Woman walking into the No Man’s Land is thematic not realistic, and that’s the same for the movie’s fight choreography. Hear it: Wonder Woman walks into No Man’s Land. You don’t even need the visual to feel a sense of awe. This woman walking where soldiers are scared to go.

This is archetypal, mythic storytelling with mythic heroes.

The problem is that “grounded in reality” has become the new version of “believable” or “suspension of disbelief” or “relateable” except with much more restrictive rules. Usually because this justification is really “I don’t like it, therefore”. Used more often to shut down conversation than start it, because “realism” sounds more legitimate than personal preference or inherent bias. If you’re ever in a discussion with someone and they can’t elaborate on why it isn’t “realistic” with a genre that was never about realism anyway, then you can usually say this is why.

Realism as an argument gets brought up a lot with superheroes, and the idea that anything in the superhero genre (and this includes superspies) is real is laughable. It’s called “superhero fiction” for a reason, and DC’s heroes from the Gold and Silver Age are all archetypal, mythic heroes who are better than humanity and through which we find the best of ourselves.

What’s real are the emotions and beliefs Wonder Woman inspires in you, the sense of awe, the wonder, and the hope. To hope for and fight for a better future than the one we see before us. To inspire our dreams so we find the courage to chase them. To look up at the stars instead of down at our feet.
To believe we’ll find victory so long as we keep getting up again.

To remind us we can change the world.

Sometimes, we just need freedom reality’s constraints to find the best in ourselves. Inspire us to see who we could be, beyond what we’ve previously believed to be possible.

You know how many glorious scientific inventions we have because of science fiction? Like hoverboards from Back to the Future. Or flip phones from Star Trek. They weren’t grounded in reality either when they were imagined. There was only the possibility they might, maybe exist… someday.

When discussing anything creative try and remember this: no is not a shut down nor does it remove the idea’s value.

Rather, any explanation on the subject is meant to help us gain a better understanding of the subject. The more we know then the more choices become available, and we’re able to pick the one best for us.

The choreographers, directors, and producers who put together the Amazon’s combat style are people who have a firm grasp of how combat is supposed to work both onscreen and off it. They chose this route because what we see on screen is representative of the themes they had in mind and the story they were trying to tell. It was intentional, not accidental. They knew what they wanted.

The point is don’t be discouraged from chasing after a feeling or a dream just because fiction is what inspired you. The difference between fantasy and reality is the will we have to take ourselves there.


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Why do you think Batman is the only superhero that gets picked on for doing what pretty much every superhero does? He dresses up in a cool outfit, he stops crime, he helps people, and yet everyone attacks him for it. These are basic traits of all superheroes, and yet when everyone else does them, it’s perfectly fine (especially Nightwing, who is basically a discount Batman but is almost universally loved). Why is that?

Once you account for popularity, I seriously doubt Batman is the most derided superhero. Hell, Bruce isn’t the most derided version of Batman, that would probably go to Jean Paul Valley. I’d be honestly surprised if Dick or Terry are anywhere near as unpopular as Jean Paul. (And, if you just had to google “Jean Paul Valley,” to figure out who I’m talking about… I’m sorry.)

Batman’s simply one of the most prominent comic book superheros out there. Which means, if someone’s looking to slap comics around, he’s right up there with characters like Superman and Spider-Man.

If you account for that, there are a host of characters that (deservedly) take far more flak than Bats. For someone unfamiliar with comics, characters like Grifter, Spawn, or Barb Wire are far less likely to be singled out. Even then, in part thanks to South Park, I’d kind of expect Aquaman to be the favorite superhero punching bag, because, “he’s Aquaman; he can talk to fish.” At the same time you won’t see anyone going after Fathom because, “who the snot is Fathom?”

But, so long as we live in a world where Grifter doesn’t have a live action film, the odds that someone unfamiliar with comics will mock him are pretty low.

As for the underlying question, why do superhero comics get mocked? Because the setup is actually kinda goofy. The have a place, and value as entertainment. Some examples are right up there among the best lit of the 20th century.
(If you’re wondering, I’m thinking specifically of Watchmen.)

There is a degree of absurdity baked into the core of the genre. It also predates comic book superheroes, and is there with the pulp characters like Doc Savage or The Shadow. Some of the best superhero stories address that head on. Either as deliberate commentary, or as parody. But, we are talking about a guy that dresses up as a bat, and terrorizes people because: “MY PARENTS ARE DEAD!!!!” It’s not hard to see why someone might find the premise a bit amusing.


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What are your thoughts on superheroes that use their powers and fighting skills to kill instead of just wound bad guys? Would the public be more likely turn against these people and accuse them of playing “judge, jury, and executioner” than if they had a code against killing? I ask because I’m writing for several superheroes, and I want them to have a code against killing (otherwise I couldn’t have recurring villains) but I’d like “public perception” to be why instead of “because it’s wrong”)

This is a time honored quandary about superheroes and morality. One that has been debated and debated and worked out in comics for a very long time. I’ll start by saying there’s no right answer, so there’s no wrong answer. Killing people is taking the law into your own hands, but so is chasing a bank robber with fire streaming out your hands and trying to blow them up on the highway as a means of stopping their getaway.

Public perception is important for heroes and so is morality, because if public opinion is the only thing driving our heroes forward then things’ll get shaky if they encounter the likes of J. Jonah Jameson. It’s worth remembering that both extend further out and are more complicated than just “killing is bad”. However, if your heroes are wanting to avoid a citywide manhunt then leaving the actual arrests to the police is probably for the best.

If you’re wondering, both work as reasons why.

That said, I have a certain fondness for the Punisher. It’s mostly because he exists in the Marvel universe itself against the backdrop of other heroes, but I do like him. It’s a great examination of what does happen when a “superhero” just starts killing. And yeah, in setting the Punisher is very much a loathed pariah because the argument ultimately revolves around the fact that he’s a mass murderer. The Punisher himself doesn’t care much one way or the other, but he’s had more than a few city wide manhunts for his ass.

The central question for me is always:

What makes one a superhero?

Is it the powers? Does anyone dressing up in a jumpsuit or a leather bondage outfit and going out to beat the crap out of bad guys with a cool, semi-cool, or flat out dorky name get the title?

When you want to get into the nitty gritty discussion, it’s always worth having a concept in the back of your mind of what you think a hero is, what it means, and the form it takes. This will influence your work on both a personal narrative level and a thematic one.

Your going to define what a hero is for your audience. Killing and no killing can both be portrayed as heroic. You’ll see plenty of narratives where the “no killing” justification is accepted by audiences as easily as the “I must kill to save the world”.

So, you need to ask yourself what makes one a hero?

For the average person living in the setting, it’s easy to hate superheroes.

Remember, every time a superhero throws a car at a villain to explode spectacularly they’re throwing away around 20 grand and a person’s livelihood. There isn’t any “superhero insurance”, the car will come back with a deductible on their insurance but the person in question may now have no way to get to work, pick up their kids, and are out a means of transportation. They destroy work places. They blow up buildings. They destroy homes as a casual byproduct of their battles with supervillains. People die.

Superheroes often cause more problems with their destructive tendencies than they solve.

Superhero stories ask the audience to relate to the superhero, rather to the citizens in the setting suffering from Stockholm Syndrome while just trying to get by and hope their not out several hundred thousand dollars because Mr. Miracle blew up their home in an effort to stop the Rampalion Wretch from nuking the downtown area.

Vigilantism is against the law.

Powers or no, a lot of superheroes have powers and the average cops don’t. How do you stop a superhero when they go off the rails? How do you trust someone who takes the law into their own hands?

Cops should be arresting vigilantes and the justifications on why they don’t in most superhero settings is because they feel the heroes are more of a help than a harm, but that can often turn against the heroes when they go off the rails.

It makes sense for a superhero to care about the public’s trust. If they have bad press like Spider-Man then it makes their job twice as hard. Try investigating when no one on the force will talk to you. When the locals think you’re as bad as the villains you fight. How can you figure out what happened if no one will give you access to their crime scene notes, tell you what they saw, or speak to you?

No one.

On some level, a superhero needs good press, public trust, and a good reputation to continue functioning.

If you feel your heroes need to earn that trust or more importantly, they feel they need to earn it, then good for you and them. Many stories out there often just sort of assume it’s the heroes just do. Of course, the author think, my hero will be beloved, they’re on the side of right.

What’s so good about the Punisher when handled right is that he is a bit of a pariah in the Marvel world. He’s a wanted man by the cops, the superheroes, and the villains alike. He lives out of safe houses and the back of a van so no one can find him. He has one real solid contact on the police force that’s unsure if he should be working with him half the time. If it got out that he was, then the detective would lose his job.

A character choosing to take the law into their own hands has their threat level significantly upgraded. How can you trust someone who is deciding who lives and who dies? How can you trust that they’ll only be killing the bad people? Why do they get to decide that? Who gave them the right? What are the shades of gray or are there any for someone this black and white?

Step outside the characters for a moment and think about consequences.

It can be easy to justify character choices when you consider what the consequences of a character’s actions will be for other people.

The obvious justification for kill or no kill is “it’s the law”, “it’s wrong”, and “we can’t stop X from continuing to hurt people, he won’t get caught” or “the system protects them, so I’ll be outside it”.

But you can have characters moderate their behavior for a whole host of reasons. Some may enjoy fame and good publicity. Some may believe they don’t have the right to decide who lives or dies. Some may have parents who lost their home to a super-villain attack and know the personal cost of rebuilding for middle and low-income families when a hero or villain blows up a house.

What do your superheroes actions cost the people they save?

Stop and think about the world your characters exist in. Try to remember that most of our modern superheroes actually follow an antiquated value which doesn’t matter anymore.

The cost of blowing up a person’s car is much more grievous to them as an individual than stopping a bank robbery.

The line in Michael Mann’s Heat when Robert de Niro’s character gets those held hostage inside the bank to cooperate while he holds it up for a robbery: “We want to hurt no one! We’re here for the bank’s money, not your money.
Your money is insured by the federal government, you’re not gonna lose a
dime! Think of your families, don’t risk your life. Don’t try and be a

When your character throws a car through a bank window to stop a villain on a heist, they’re actually causing more damage to the people they’re trying to save than if they did nothing at all.

So think this through, think your world through, and the costs for the people who live there.

Once you have that then the practical reasons for why characters behave the way they do will become apparent.


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Would you say that the punisher is more realistic than batman

Yes, but only in a relatively. Both characters, and most other unpowered superheros, aren’t realistic, because they vastly overestimate how resilient people are. Mark Millar’s Kickass attempts to subvert this.

For the amount of abuse Frank Castle takes on a regular basis, he wouldn’t be able to recover, much less continue hunting down criminals. He’s slightly more realistic in the sense that his day to day activities wouldn’t (usually) be wrecking his body the way Batman’s hopping rooftop to rooftop, and constant hand to hand combat would.

At the same time, recovering from a bullet or even a bad beating will take months, and this is something that both The Punisher and Batman shrug off, as the plot demands.

Anyone attempting to do what Batman does would end up as a subject of a Police taskforce in fairly short order. In contrast, Castle would probably provoke a federal investigation, due to his use of explosives. Neither of these create situations where they’d be able to keep up their crusades for years, much less decades.

So, yes, The Punisher is slightly more realistic than Batman, but not by much. If you want a more realistic comic, then you’re probably going to need to get out of the superhero genre, or look for the comics that specifically address the disparity between someone with minor powers and someone who is, literally, a superhero.

Some quick suggestions on the subject:

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis: this is the original Jessica Jones comic. It’s a good street level view of a character with minor superpowers interacting with normal people.

Powers also by Brian Michael Bendis: This is a series about cops who investigate superpowered crimes and criminals. It’s also very good, and has gotten it’s own adaptation. Still, the comic is worth reading.

If you need more Bendis writing cops, there’s always his run on Sam and Twitch. For reference, it was a Spawn spin off series.

If you’re willing to ditch superheros entirely, then Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country is absolutely worth reading.


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Character Development: Superhero Powers

Character Development: Superhero Powers