Thursday Thirteen – Thirteen Things That Make Superheroes Unique
By Joe Sergi, author of Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy
Robert McKee, in his great book about screenwriting called Story points out that when writing genre fiction, there are certain rules that must be followed. For example, a mystery story must always have clues and a solution and, when writing a comedy, the cardinal rule is that the main characters can’t really get hurt. In the words of Mel Brooks, “tragedy is when I stub my toe; comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” My new book, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, is coming of age story about a superheroine. I thought it would be useful and fun to take moment to spotlight what makes superheroes and also the superhero fiction genre unique.
1. An origin that begins in tragedy. Superman’s planet exploded, Batman’s parents were murdered before his eyes and Uncle Ben was killed through Peter Parker’s inaction. Very rarely does someone wake up and decide, “I have a well adjusted life, I think I will put on a colorful costume and become a scourge of the underworld.” The catalyst of Sky Girl is featured in Chapter 0, which sets up the main mystery for the remainder of the series. “What happened to SkyBoy?” The fate of DeDe’s father fits directly into that. Does this mean that DeDe is psychologically imbalanced? Of course not. I mean, Clark Kent grew up just fine despite being the last survivor of Krypton (if you exclude Supergirl, the Phantom Zone criminals, the city of Candor, Krypto and . . .well you get the idea)
2. The uniform. Superheroes wear costumes. Generally, good guys wear primary colors and bad guys wear purples, green and black. Of course the primary reason for this is that in the early days of publishing, the printing process was not very good. So, it helped if the reader knew that the little red and blue blur was Superman and the purple and green one was Lex Luthor. In my book, Sky Girl’s costume is based on her male counterpart SkyBoy and is purple and black. That costume, and the color scheme, was a deliberate choice. Then again, the Phantom, one of the original pulp heroes, wore purple and black, so it could be an homage to him. Plus, the Hulk, himself, is green with black hair and wears purple pants and he’s a hero . . . Isn’t he?
3. The powers. Firemen, policemen and teachers are all heroes–but, they are not superheroes. This is because they do not possess that metahuman gene that gives them powers. (Except for my sixth grade English Teacher, Mrs. Lucas–that woman had eyes in the back of her head!) Some like Batman get their powers the old fashioned way, through study exercise, but he is still the World’s Greatest Detective, others through birth (the X-men), environment (Superman), radiation (Hulk and Spider-Man), or drugs (if you think about it, Captain America is the poster child for steroids). Sky Girl has several powers, which she discovers throughout the first book. The mysterious origin of these fantastic powers will be explored in the second and third book of the series.
4. A Mentor. In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell explains the hero’s journey. Part of that journey involves a wise mentor who helps the hero with her destiny. Luke has Obi Wan (and later Yoda). Daredevil has Stick. Clark had Pa Kent. Billy Batson, on the Saturday morning show Shazam, had Mentor (Saturday morning shows aren’t very subtle). Over the course of the story, Sky Girl meets several potential mentors. Some have her best interest at heart, and others have selfish motives. Part of her journey is to determine who to learn from.
5. The ability to overcome overwhelming obstacles. If someone overcomes adversity and defeats the villain, they are a hero. But, to be a superhero, a person must face super overwhelming odds to defeat a supervillain. Batman would just be a man in tights without the Joker. Stan Lee, in the early days of Marvel Comics, added to this by having Spider-Man not only face off against the Green Goblin, but he also needed to make enough money to buy medicine for his Aunt May. Sky Girl is no different. She must not only face off against the villainous Commander Chimp and his Gorilla Army, but also faces the difficult decision of whether to use her powers for personal gain.
6. A confidant/side kick. Batman has Robin, but what many people don’t realize is that he also has Alfred. Superman had Ma and Pa Kent, and now Lois. The Hulk has Rick Jones. Sky Girl has Jason, her comic geek friend. He helps her in her hero’s quest and would be proud to be known as her faithful sidekick.
7. Unrequited love. “If only I could tell Nurse Jane Foster how I feel, but I can’t because I am also the Mighty Thor.” This theme permeates almost all the silver age books, especially in early Marvel Comics. Daredevil loved Karen Page; Spidey loved Liz and then Mary Jane; Clark Kent loved Lois Lane who loved Superman. I think DeDe (Sky Girl) is a little young for love, but she is certainly interested in Adam Berg, the star quarterback. Unfortunately, he is involved with Nicole Debis, DeDe’s rival in every way. The ante is upped when DeDe gets super powers. Given the change in modern heroic fiction, perhaps there is hope for DeDe to find true love. After all, Superman finally married his Lois Lane and Spider-Man eventually married Mary Jane. Never mind, Dan Didio said that never happened.
8. A superheroic code-name “Look, up in the sky; it’s a bird, it’s a plane; it’s Clark Kent.” That just doesn’t have the same oomph. Much the way that criminals would not cower in fear from the Bruce Wayne symbol (even if they are a superstitious and cowardly lot). DeDe’s best friend, Jason, spends a lot of effort deciding what the right name should be for DeDe. In the end, there can only be one.
9. A rogue’s gallery With a few exceptions (like Venom), Spider-Man’s major villains were all introduced in the first year of the book. They still plague him to this day (most recently in The Gauntlet). Batman consistently faces the same insane criminals month after month (as if Arkham Asylum has a revolving door). In fact, the Flash’s enemies actually refer to themselves as The Rogues. In Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, Sky Boy has his own rogues gallery called the Retallion Battalion, which Sky Girl inherits. In the first chapter (appropriately named Chapter 0 since it is superheroic fiction), the readers meet Professor Z, Shadow, Donna Dominion, and the Wag. Each of these characters, and others, play a large role in the overall Sky Girl story.
10. Good heroes always triumph over evil villains. It is the never ending battle. Everyone who looks forward to their weekly Wednesday comic book delivery knows who is going to win that battle. And no matter how dark the reign gets or even in the blackest of night, the heroes will fight the siege of that final crisis and ensure that they will have their brightest day and enter a heroic age. Things look pretty bleak for the world of Sky Boy at the end of Chapter Zero. Hopefully, Sky Girl can save the day.
11. Witty banter. Spider-Man is clearly the master of this. But, every hero is responsible for learning how to crack wise in the face of danger. Perhaps these jokes provide a psychological advantage, throwing their adversaries off guard by making them angry. Maybe, the humor is their only weapon against the dark world of evil they inhabit. I recently did a panel at Balticon about humor in paranormal romance, and someone mentioned that humor is a subtle way to show the strength of the hero—so perhaps that is the reason. Sky Girl is still relatively new to the proper way to converse with the enemy. Luckily, Jason is there to show her the ropes and help her with the comic timing. As her confidence improves, so will the banter.
12. A catch phrase. Everyone knows that Wolverine is the best at what he does (even if what he does isn’t very nice). People know that “it’s clobbering time” when the Thing cocks his fist. Perhaps fewer are aware that Psylocke’s psychic knife is “the focused totality of her psychic powers” (despite the fact that Chris Claremont had her say it every five minutes in Uncanny X-Men). SkyBoy’s catch phrase is “good golly!” Sky Girl doesn’t have one yet, but Jason is working on it and will know it when he finds it. After all, “knowing is half the battle” (the other half is apparently comprised of equal percentages of red and blue lasers).
13. An unerring moral compass and sense of responsibility. Superman is the world’s biggest Boy Scout. Spider-Man remembers the lesson about responsibility taught to him by his Uncle Ben’s death. Someone recently discussed the One More Day storyline that ran in Spider-man, where Spidey makes a deal with the devil. They said that took them out of the story because “Spider-Man just doesn’t do that.” And it is true. A hero is better than that. They face temptation and become stronger for it. Comics were getting pretty dark lately (with the Justice League mind wiping villains in Identity Crisis and the Marvel heroes fighting each other in Civil War), but they appear to be getting back on track. Admittedly, DeDe has some growing pains when her powers first develop and she realizes that with great power comes great opportunity. But, she comes around when faced with her heroic moment of choice—the moment when she must decide to become Sky Girl.
I hope this discussion has helped flesh out the world of Superheroes in general, and Sky Girl in specific. Did I miss anything? Please let me know. And I would like to thank Paperback Writer for allowing me to come on and talk about a topic that I love.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
DeDe Christopher is an average high school sophomore with dreams of winning the National Gymnastic Tournament and dating the school quarterback. But her world changes when DeDe begins to develop fantastic abilities that are strangely similar to those of a fictional comic book superhero named SkyBoy. With the help of her best friend, Jason, a self-proclaimed comic geek, DeDe begins a quest to discover her true destiny as she confronts the all-too-real enemies and allies of SkyBoy. She must deal with capes, apes, and aliens to find a way to live up to a legacy that no one can remember and become Sky Girl.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joe Sergi is an author that lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife, Yee, and daughter, Elizabeth. He has published short prose stories and articles in the horror, science fiction, and super hero genres. Joe has also written for comics in the romance, horror, science fiction, and super hero genres. Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy is his first novel. In 2008, Joe was selected as a semi-finalist in the Who Wants to Create a Superheroine contest sponsored by the Shadowline Imprint of Image Comics. When not writing, Joe works for an unnamed government agency.
Joe’s publications can be found at www.joesergi.net. For more about Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, visit the book’s website at www.skygirlnovel.com.