Posts Tagged ‘superheroes’

Fun Scifi Tropes: Superpowers

Hey gang! Here’s the first of the tropes post I was talking about last week!

A trope, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a common or overused theme or device.” (Also “a word or expression used in a figurative sense” such as a figure of speech, and “a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages,” so there you go.) Trope does have a bit of a negative connotation, normally something along the lines of implying that the creators are just sticking to common tropes and the work ends up being boring, shallow, derivative, or otherwise problematic.

And yeah, tropes can be used badly, and you can end up with bad or boring stories. But they can also be used awesomely. And the reason why something becomes a trope is because, at its base, it is awesome and it’s something that people are attracted to. Most everyone has a trope or two that they really like and gravitate toward.

Today we’ll start with superpowers. This is fairly self-explanatory; this trope involves humans with powers outside the ordinary. The most obvious example is the superhero genre, but you can also find examples of this throughout other science fiction and fantasy stories. (I’m focusing on tropes that tend to be more historically considered “science fiction” right now, even though most tropes can carry over to fantasy, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion about soft versus hard science fiction, which is a topic no one agrees on and that will never end.)

My favorite thing about the superpowers trope is that anything goes for the source of a superpower. Bitten by a radioactive spider? Great! Spacecraft got hit by cosmic rays? Sure! Normal human evolution? Fantastic! As long as it’s vaguely science, go for it!

The biggest issue with the superpower trope is that it’s easy to overpower a character. Look at poor Superman. He’s strong, bullet-proof, can fly, can see through walls, doesn’t need a spacesuit to go into space, can go back in time (when plot convenient), etc. And as a result, a lot of people find Superman boring. He can fix any problem easily, so often the plotlines get convoluted in an attempt to keep up a semblance of suspense.

There are ways to overcome that, certainly–you give your character or the power itself a limitation. In fantasy, when we create magic systems, there tends to be a system of equivalency–some give and take. You can cast this spell, but it’ll make you blind for a day. Or you can perform this ritual, but if you do it wrong, you’ll be bound to the netherworld for eternity. Those same principles can be tied back to superpower usage.

I like the trend with the superpower trope that we’ve seen lately, where we move away from your standard Superman or Batman and explore other aspects, such as kids gaining superpowers and having to deal with the fallout from that, or people taking over mantles that have belonged to other people and trying to live up to the name, or “normal” folks trying to work beside their superpowered allies.

What’s your favorite superpower, Squiders? Favorite book/movie/TV show that deals with this trope? (I am not really a comic book person, but I recently bought some Hawkeye comics because they’re really good.)

So I Finally Saw the Avengers

Actually, it was a week ago, but the point still stands. And I know I am extremely behind the times, and everyone else who actually cares about the whole Marvel movies thing saw it a long, long time ago.

(In my defense, I was eight months pregnant when it came out in theaters.)

(Also, I’m still deep into my comfort cozy mysteries, so I have nothing to talk about on the reading front except that I am less than pleased with my library’s ebook reader app. It crashed about halfway through the book and then wouldn’t work for the next seven hours.)

You guys know I’m not wild about the whole superhero subgenre, but I really enjoyed the movie. I was a little lost at the beginning because I’ve only seen the first Iron Man and Thor movies previously, but other than that, I thought it was highly entertaining. 

I suspect I liked it so much because so much time was spent not fighting. They had so many characters to pull in, and each character came across as an interesting person, and it was really enjoyable to see them interact. 

And I’m a little sad because I’ve missed the fandom surge that tends to follow a movie like that. Said fandom has moved on to the new Iron Man and Thor movies, and Agents of SHIELD. So, perhaps fortunately, it’s not easy to immerse myself in fandom like I tend to do when I find something I really like.

I mean, I do have a book coming out in two weeks. And then there’s the holidays coming up. So it’s probably for the best.

Have you seen the Avengers, squiders? If you are a fan of superhero movies, how did it stack up against other superhero movies? (And which of the Marvel movies is your favorite?) If you’re not a fan of superhero movies, did you like or dislike it, and why?

Subgenre Study: Superhero Fiction

Up in the sky!  It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…well, it’s a Sky Shark, but we will ignore it for the time being and pretend it’s Superman to go along with today’s entry.

Superhero fiction is somewhat unique among speculative fiction subgenres in that it exists almost exclusively in visual formats.  Comic books, movies, TV shows.  There are the occasional radio show or novel, but they are definitely in the minority.  Some alternative names for this subgenre include Superhuman and Super-powered fiction as villains tend to feature as prominently as the heroes.

It also crosses the boundary between science fiction and fantasy, like many of these subgenres do.  At first glance, a lot of it is science fiction: characters like Batman and Ironman depend on advanced technology, Superman is an alien from another planet, the Green Lantern is just one of many throughout the galaxy.  But there are also more fantastical characters such as Thor (who is the Norse God), and Wonder Woman, and some of the things that both the heroes and the villains get up to have absolutely no basis in science.

This is a very trope-y subgenre, for the most part.  There are the Superheroes.  There are their nemeses, the Supervillains.  They all tend to have silly names.  Most have mild-mannered (or not) alter egos.  Some are more obvious than others.  (Clark Kent, of course, wears glasses while Superman does not.  Batman is at least smart enough to wear a mask.)  Increasingly, superheroes all seem to live in the same universe, allowing them to participate in a number of crossovers with other superheroes, and leading to series such as the Justice League or the Avengers.

While the DC and Marvel characters are probably the most well-known, there are an increasing number of non-mainstream characters, produced through webcomics and indie presses.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this genre is that it is constantly evolving, the characters being re-done and updated to meet the concerns of each age they find themselves a part of.  The modern Superman is very different from the 1940s Superman, because we worry about different things than they did back then.  There’s also been a trend lately of creating antiheroes or adding darker twists to superheroes’ backgrounds, or more media focusing on the villains instead of the heroes.

What’s your take on superheroes, Squiders?  Anything to recommend?  (I’m partial to Batman myself).  Read any books in this genre?