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The Superhero Syndrome

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Old 01-20-2011, 02:36 AM
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Default The Superhero Syndrome


A contemporary at work, who likes to read sci-fi tells me that in sci-fi novels, the protagonist always seems to be bulletproof and invinceable. I wouldn't know because I primarily read Clive Cussler and some Stephen Coonts. Has anyone else noticed what my friend is complaining about ?

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Old 01-20-2011, 02:50 AM
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Hence the term...Superhero. And, of course, the henchmen are always lousy shots.
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Old 01-20-2011, 03:11 AM
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Superhero syndrome, not superheroes.

I hate protagonists who constantly succeed over ridiculous odds. I can suspense my disbelief, but not constantly. And if I can't suspend my disbelief, whether because of dues ex machina or luck or ignorance etc., I'll just stop reading. And not just with SF, because I wouldn't say it was a more common flaw there than anywhere else.

I see what your friend is annoyed about, but there are many books in which the protagonst isn't Mister Lucky all the time.
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Old 01-20-2011, 04:00 AM
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A hero should triumph over adversity and the odds should be stacked against him. If he has the cheat codes to the universe then he isn't a hero, he's a god. Who wants to read about gods?
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Old 01-20-2011, 04:01 AM
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Superhero and superhero syndrome seem to be closely realted. That of course is just my opinion and as in most posts opinions are the norm. You may or may not agree. I could care less.
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Old 01-20-2011, 05:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Gaines View Post
I could care less.
So you do care at least a little bit

Heroes need flaws, regardless of genre.
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Old 01-20-2011, 06:02 AM
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Depends on the superhero.
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Old 01-20-2011, 06:12 AM
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Personally, if the bad guy is enigmatic... Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face in Batman - for instance - then I hope he totally canes the caped crusader!
I can often be found standing in the bad guys corner, they have much more fun! Boring, good guy do-gooders, lol

My favorite Anti-Hero has to be Hellboy! Aside from the fact I find the movie portrayal of him the ultimate eye candy (a big, red Ron Pearlman). He is a demon, on earth, who fights for greater good despite while still causing all sort of havoc around him, because it is in his nature to be destructive.

I Can't wait to see what they've done with Marvel's Thor when it gets released.

I realise I am talking mainly movies here - but I did used to read the comics... a long time ago.
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Old 01-20-2011, 06:38 AM
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I read a lot of science fiction, and I can tell you it isn't the case in the science fiction novels I read. Your contemporary may be limiting himself to a small selection of "science fiction," but I'd be interested in knowing what he has read.
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Old 01-20-2011, 09:49 AM
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Maybe I'm just lucky in the books I pick, but it's not something I can say I've noticed too much. Although there was one book I read a few years ago where the MC survived an assassination through the most improbable series of events that I almost threw the book in the bin.

It is something that I notice in a lot of films/comics though. When it's there it robs the narrative of any suspense and it's one of the reasons I never got into James Bond or Superman.

Redlorry, good call on Hellboy. I used to love the the comics and I adore the films.
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Old 01-20-2011, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Gaines View Post
Hence the term...Superhero. And, of course, the henchmen are always lousy shots.

Supposedly, there's a screenwriter's handbook with the following:

Bad guys are bad shots because they are confused about their objectives in life, whereas good guys are well trained and have a clear idea on their objectives.

With that said, though, having been a cop and onetime Special Forces, less than two percent of rifle/pistol shots hit their intended targets. Most gunfights take place at less than seven feet and last less than two seconds. Cops are much more likely to hit their targets because they don't just shoot at still targets, they train under stress conditions. Criminals rarely train with their weapons, and are not familiar with emergency procedures (i.e. clearing a weapon jam).

The military is a mixed bag. Some guys train very well, but under fire they freeze up. Some guys train poorly, but respond under fire. Less than one half of one percent train well and respond well. Myself, at two hundred meters, I was a lousy shot. At five hundred I could call my shots within an inch. Once at six hundred, responding to a dare, I put ten shots in one hole.
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Old 01-21-2011, 06:52 AM
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Superhero syndrome isn't restricted to (bad) SF, not to books - check out Die Hard movies.

It's the way things, to a degree, have to be. When bullets are flying, if the hero is the first to fall, he's not much of a hero.
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Old 01-21-2011, 09:20 AM
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Why is the bad guy a lousy shot with an Uzi or a Gatlin typed weapon? You would think that out of a hundred or so rounds at least one or two would hit their targets. And yeah, the movies are as bad as the books. Of course this all becomes a moot point where Chuck Norris is concerned. You can't kill Chuck. He is invincable.

I remember the time when the movie The Culpepper Cattle Company was released. There was our hero John Wayne beating the crap out of the bad cowboy played by Bruce Dern. Beaten to a pulp and left lying on the ground as big John walked off Dern climbed to his feet and shot Wayne in the back.

Holy Crap! John Wayne shot, and in the back no less! WTF! No! This can't be. You don't kill the hero. Are you insane?

So Dern makes a talk show appearance to promote the film that is already in theatres. You wouldn't believe the boos the audience rained down on him! Dern smiles and waves and assures the audienced that John is alive and well. It was hilarious. Even Dern admitted he had asked the director if he was sure he wanted him to kill John. Yup, shoot him dead.

That's why you don't kill the hero. Fans, as crazy as they are, don't like it.

Personally I was rooting for the Joker in the last Batman movie. The guy had panache'.
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Old 01-21-2011, 10:37 AM
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Fans can be nuts, sometimes having a hard time separating a character from an actor. I remember reading that when the old TV show ALL IN THE FAMILY was on the air, Carroll O'Connor, who played the bigoted Archie Bunker, actually got death threats from people who hated him for it. Nevermind the fact that he was, personally, a progressive in favor of equal rights for all. Makes me wonder what people are thinking.
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Old 01-21-2011, 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Steerpike View Post
Fans can be nuts, sometimes having a hard time separating a character from an actor. I remember reading that when the old TV show ALL IN THE FAMILY was on the air, Carroll O'Connor, who played the bigoted Archie Bunker, actually got death threats from people who hated him for it. Nevermind the fact that he was, personally, a progressive in favor of equal rights for all. Makes me wonder what people are thinking.
Back in the 1990's, when the TV show Mad About You was at it's peak, there was a story arc where the couple might break up (the wife, played by Helen Hunt, had cheated ). Anyway, during the story arc, Helen was out shopping in New York. A little old lady came up behind her and hit her over the head with a rolled up magazine, scolding her for cheating on Jaime.

Helen spun around and said "Number one, it's a TV show. Number two, it's a TV show."

The old lady gave her a confused look and walked away.


Originally Posted by Gaines View Post
Holy Crap! John Wayne shot, and in the back no less! WTF! No! This can't be. You don't kill the hero. Are you insane?
John Wayne was killed five times in the movies, usually by an army of Japanese or Mexican soldiers. Bruce Dern is the only single person to do it.



Originally Posted by Mike View Post
Superhero syndrome isn't restricted to (bad) SF, not to books - check out Die Hard movies.
Did you know:

The first Die Hard movie is used in SWAT training (the first hour) as how to actually handle an armed takeover (stealth, recon, document, estaablish communications)

The second Die Hard movie came from an excellent book called 58 Minutes. The movie was a very much watered down version of it.
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Old 01-25-2011, 09:30 AM
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Most things I read have more realistic characters. Normal people put in extraordinary conditions. I think with the superhuman/superhero syndrome it's giving people what they want. They take your ordinary guy (Peter Parker) to have ordinary problems (girls, school, and job) and then one day waking up with powers (like shooting webs from your wrists....) making him almost invincable and able to do the things we could only dream of. It's living vicariously through a character. It's what sells so people keep making them.
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Old 01-25-2011, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Silphie View Post
Most things I read have more realistic characters. Normal people put in extraordinary conditions. I think with the superhuman/superhero syndrome it's giving people what they want. They take your ordinary guy (Peter Parker) to have ordinary problems (girls, school, and job) and then one day waking up with powers (like shooting webs from your wrists....) making him almost invincable and able to do the things we could only dream of. It's living vicariously through a character. It's what sells so people keep making them.
I don't mind it if that is what I am intending to read. If I pick up a story about a superhero-style character because that's the sort of story I want to read at that time, then of course I expect the invincible nature to come through (though they all need weaknesses, right). But I agree that it is irksome when a character displays superhero-type invincibility but is supposed to be a regular, though perhaps talented, person.
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Old 03-12-2011, 11:36 PM
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I'm actually having more trouble with this in my own writing; not because I'm unwilling to put my characters in rough situations or give my badguys cool abilities too, but because I like old myths about giants and dragons and gods and demons. But then, when you have two characters that are super powerful, or on their way to super powerful, it basically scales up or down to any two combatants who have similar skill levels. But I still want my MC to have some control over fire (later being able to become fire) and my villain ... well, I don't know his powers yet, but they'll be awesome too! Heh, but as someone said up-thread, who wants to read about gods?
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Old 03-14-2011, 05:58 AM
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I'm reminded of a popular super hero of a few years ago.

Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.


Another one I heard a few days ago was "What is superman's greatest weakness?" The obvious answer is Kryptonite but that is wrong. The real answer is Lois Lane. Sometimes a super hero is helpless to defend others. What good is being bullet proof when the bullets aren't aimed at you?
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Old 03-10-2015, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by hoverfrog View Post
Another one I heard a few days ago was "What is superman's greatest weakness?" The obvious answer is Kryptonite but that is wrong. The real answer is Lois Lane. Sometimes a super hero is helpless to defend others. What good is being bullet proof when the bullets aren't aimed at you?
[/LEFT]

^This. I love it. And it could be applied in so many different ways! Also at normal non-superpowered MC's, the threat doesn't always has to be directed at the MC, but could be those around him/her or his/her idea. Cool.
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Old 03-14-2015, 08:30 AM
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A hero's or superhero's is only always invincible if they always succeed in every aspect of the goal. Heroes usually live, but this doesn't mean they have completely triumphed.

If you look at the two grandest of modern heroes, Superman and Batman, you will see many times where they fail to save people or capture their adversary. It is sometimes pointed out to Batman that so many people have died simply because he refuses to kill the criminals, especially the Joker. There are different levels of victory that a story should have.

I like what hoverfrog mentioned with regards to Superman's greatest weakness being Lois Lane, though in the new version he is dating Wonder Woman. The point is still relevant. As long as the hero has people they care about they will always have a weakness.

One of the best Batman stories is The Killing Joke, because to get at Batman the Joker goes after Commissioner Gordon and his daughter Barabara. It is for the villain/author to use this information or mindset. Perhaps the problem is not with how they heroes are written, but with needing more creativity from the villains.
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