What to Give the Hero Who Has it All

How unrealistic is to have a hero who is politically savvy/uses guile but also uses brawn? I heard is bad to have a hero (especially a female one) to “have it all”

“Realistic,” is a bit of a loaded term, but, on it’s own, this is not a problem.

An, “overpowered character,” is only measured in relation to the adversity they face. If there was an objective measure of how powerful a character could be, the superhero genre couldn’t exist.

So, “adversity,” is a little bit of a weird way to phrase it. I’m collecting multiple antagonistic factors together here; including the actual villains, the protagonist’s own flaws, and other incidental factors that are working against them. A story starts to suffer when the protagonist grossly outclasses their adversity.

So, let’s look at a simple(-ish) example of this: On the surface Superman is an utterly boring character. He is absurdly powerful and his greatest foe is a dude with cancer. Here’s the thing about that, Superman has a host of internal flaws. Some of these are the simple vulnerabilities, (like kryptonite and magic), while others are his difficulty with human civilization, his desire to fit in (and the entire Clarke Kent persona), his own moral code (this is a double edged sword, as it’s critical to his identity as a person, but it also seriously limits how he’s willing to solve his problems.) Depending on the writer, Superman can either be an utterly uninteresting brick, or an incredibly compelling character, and this hinges on the author’s ability to balance his inherent limitations to bring out an interesting narrative.

it’s difficult to manage a hero who has it all. This is because, if you miss the balance on their foes, the whole story will fall flat. This leads to two easy solutions, low power heroes with limited options, or extraordinarily powerful villains. However, if you feel up to the task, it’s entirely possible to have powerful heroes who are hamstrung by factors unrelated to the foes they’re facing.

A character who is in a politically important position can’t go digging through dive bars hunting for leads. They may be able to send an agent, but, politically, they may not be able to directly intervene. Conversely, a spy may have the political savvy, and even be willing to get into the occasional brawl to maintain their cover, but they come with the distinct disadvantage that if they’re exposed, they’ll be hunted down and killed. That, by the nature of their job, they are incredibly vulnerable.

The, “trick,” such as there is one, is in understanding the limitations of your character when you’re creating them.

And then there’s Doc Savage. Okay, that’s a little unfair of me, there is an entire host of pulp protagonists from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, that would eventually evolve into the early superhero genre, though Savage is one of the most famous examples. It’s an important stepping stone to understand in the creation of the modern superhero. These were characters who were (generally speaking) without flaws, and (at least in the case of Savage), were thrown into adversity that bordered on parody. The rule of adversity above still applies, however, the entire structure is about applying ever greater degrees of external adversity for the character to overcome. So, while I said it can be difficult to manage a powerful character, Lester Dent was pumping out Doc Savage novels in less than 40 days. (Seriously, he wrote 159 novels in 16 years.)

So, when you’re creating a powerful character, you want to keep in mind the foes they’ll face and their own limitations. If your character can breeze through whatever you put in front of them, you may have a problem. However, if you’ve created foes who can legitimately challenge your protagonist, it doesn’t particularly matter how powerful your character is, only how powerful they are in relation to their opponents and the adversity they’ll face along the way.

-Starke

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