(originally published on ianthealy.com)
No, I don’t mean laser goggles
In my experience, there are basically two types of superhero tales. There are those that are about superpowers themselves, and the people who have those powers. They tend to be more straightforward tales about superheroes doing superheroic things. Hollywood loves these kinds of tales, and recently they’ve done a tremendous job with them. The cliche superhero story is the secret origin, where we first meet a character as he or she gains his or her powers, learns a difficult life lesson, is challenged by a vastly superior foe, nearly defeated, and then manages to come back and pull off a victory. If they’re lucky, they even get the girl–or the guy. We all know these tales. We’re comfortable with them. We know the beats. Most of us writing superhero stories have at least one of these in our collection (and I have two: Just Cause and Jackrabbit).
The second type of superhero tale is the one I want to talk about here, and that’s the kind I have focused upon in most of the Just Cause Universe. This is the genre tale, and by genre I mean some other genre besides superhero. I’ve often said comic books are basically soap operas with costumes. The melodrama, the improbable plotlines, the ridiculous coincidences–all of these are mainstays within superhero tales, just like they are with soap operas. I really enjoy exploring other types of genres through the superheroic lens. I figure, what if I write a (martial arts epic, Bruce Willis movie, political suspense, psychological thriller) tale that just happens to involve superheroes? I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing a murder mystery, and with Champion I did exactly that.
Superhero stories don’t have to just be about superheroes. If you can write a great example of another genre story, like a time travel book, or an alien invasion, why not explore it with superpowered characters? The great thing about superheroes is they can exist in any time or setting. Superpowered cowboys in the Wild West? Why not? I’d read it. Arthur C. Clarke once said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In a fantasy setting, superpowers could easily be mistaken for magic. Or in a science fiction setting, they could be considered superior technology. If you’re looking to move your storytelling beyond superhero-vs.-supervillain type of tales, take a look at some of the other genres out there, and ask yourself how would your superheroes fare in that kind of situation?