Superheroes and Comic Book Club discussion

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Discussion Topic - How do you define Superhero Fiction?

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message 1: by Stabbing (new)

Stabbing Here's a general discussion topic for the group. How do you personally define what Superhero Fiction is and isn't?

I see that a lot of book sellers list a lot of things in the Superhero section that would not qualify for my personal standards. Generally I think there are certain tropes that kind of define it. You don't have to have all of them but you have to have some of them.

For instance I personally feel like stories like the Harry Dresden books are better defined as being Urban Fantasy but what does the group think?


message 2: by Samantha (new)

Samantha (mirymom) | 40 comments It is a tricky line to define. Dresden is indeed heroic, but I wouldn't classify him as superhero. I would say the line is whether the powers are magic or something else, but there are superheroes and villains who are powered by magic. ( Dr. Strange, the Enchantress)


message 3: by Stabbing (new)

Stabbing I think most characters qualify as superheros if they wear costumes and have a secret identity. It's not an absolute but it is the definitive element of superhero fiction to me.

I also think there almost has to be some elements of science fiction. The character themselves can have magical and arcane origins and magic but the world they live in must have elements of science fiction.

What do you guys think about John Constantine? I think for a long time he was well in the Urban Fantasy genre but is he a superhero now as a part of Justice League Dark?


message 4: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 40 comments Superhero fiction doesn't necessarily have to have tights and capes. It doesn't even need to have fistfights and flying faster than a speeding bullet. But it does have to be informed by the comics.

The first time they rebooted Superman (the John Byrne version) they bobbed out Superboy, Superbaby, Krypto, the Legion of Super Heroes -- everything. It was annoying, and it was impossible -- Superman simply could not function the way they suggested. But the only way I could explain it was to write a novel. To show why it could not work that way.


message 5: by MadMaxx (new)

MadMaxx (MaddMax) | 10 comments Not trying to look at other peoples comments yet, don't want them to influence me, but many of you prob said something about caped and underwear on the outside. I will just have to go with heroics and maybe even some kind of powers beyond being smart or even having gadgets. Maybe even if there are a number of characters who act as a team like the Avengers or the Justice League. Most of all, I think the reader just wants to have fun with the story and the characters in it with some heroics would make anyone's superhero story.


message 6: by Stabbing (new)

Stabbing MadMaxx wrote: "Not trying to look at other peoples comments yet, don't want them to influence me, but many of you prob said something about caped and underwear on the outside. I will just have to go with heroics ..."

Some excellent points. Superhero fiction does often have teams with diverse origins and power sets.


message 7: by Fritz (new)

Fritz Freiheit (fritz_freiheit) | 24 comments I see superhero fiction being defined by the following tropes / elements:
* superpowers
* costumes and masks
* secret identities
* hero vs. villain
* genre blindness
* crime fighting / vigilantism
* 'super' plots
* superhero culture

"Superhero culture" is probably the most difficult to define, but for me is the most definitive of the set. Roughly, "superhero culture" is where the general populace knows about supers, expects heroes to help and villains perpetrate evil deeds, and is aware of and expects the other tropes, such as masks, costumes, and powers.


message 8: by Tiamatty (new)

Tiamatty | 39 comments I'd say it needs to feature characters who do things that are impossible for normal people to do. In general, I would rule out fantasy, except in the case where magic characters interact with non-magic superhero characters. So, Dr. Strange is a superhero, Constantine is a supehero, Harry Potter is not a superhero.

The costumes, the secret identities, all that other stuff - it's things that are common to superhero fiction, but I don't think any of it is necessary. A superhero can wear jeans and a t-shirt and still be a superhero.


message 9: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 40 comments But how is Batman not magic? You could clearly argue that he cannot actually get all those Batarangs into the utility belt.


message 10: by Stabbing (new)

Stabbing Brenda wrote: "But how is Batman not magic? You could clearly argue that he cannot actually get all those Batarangs into the utility belt."

Lols. ;-)


message 11: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 40 comments I look at my own novels and they are all clearly informed by years of comic book reading. My characters wear masks, overt or covert. They fight crime, in their own weird way. They have tech, appropriate to place and time, and seek out allies, a Robin to their Batman. Almost the first thing I can remember reading was a comic book, and it has clearly warped me.


message 12: by Samantha (new)

Samantha (mirymom) | 40 comments Brenda wrote: "Almost the first thing I can remember reading was a comic book, and it has clearly warped me. "

Another writer friend of mine says that his mother always told him that comic books would warp his mind . . .and she was right. :-)


message 13: by MadMaxx (last edited Aug 14, 2015 08:10AM) (new)

MadMaxx (MaddMax) | 10 comments Fritz wrote: "I see superhero fiction being defined by the following tropes / elements:
* superpowers
* costumes and masks
* secret identities
* hero vs. villain
* genre blindness
* crime fighting / vigilantism
..."


I totally get what you are saying here, but I will have to call all that as "Comic Book Fiction" being a lover of comics the way I am. Other than no super powers, James Bond is a superhero, he just has gadgets instead of powers, but he falls into all the things you mention. No clue what you mean by genre blindness, but Bond is all the others.
But when you think about is, fiction is fiction no matter what. The justice League is just the same as the Fellowship of the Ring. And as much as Bond has different identities like batman or superman, not all heroes like aquaman will not, they will be in the open with who they are just like Legolas and Frodo. Powers don't make the superhero, although it don't hurt, the story and enjoyment in the way you look at it make it superhero or not.
Lots of artwork to go with the story, make it a comic. And comics have come a long way in the past 10 years, even more in the past 20. We have fantasy comics as well as sci-fi, hell even star wars comics and there is even a spy comic called Danger Girl: The Ultimate Collection Danger Girl The Ultimate Collection by Andy Hartnell .
So comics don't just have heroes in tights, but spies, fantasy creatures and aliens... in tights.


message 14: by Fritz (new)

Fritz Freiheit (fritz_freiheit) | 24 comments MadMaxx wrote: ... I will have to call all that as "Comic Book Fiction" ...

I equate "Comic Book Fiction" with "Superhero Fiction" (if you are going by the attributes I gave). While comic books have always had other forms of fiction, I see the superhero form as being the dominant form of comics from the 60s through the 90s (possibly beyond, I am less well read post the mid-90s). I don't see the Justice League being very much like the Fellowship of the Rings, nor do I see James Bond as a superhero (see below). And, for me, it's not about powers (see below).

The distinction between James Bond (and spy-fi fiction in general) and superhero fiction is that spy-fi fiction lacks public crime fighting and any notion of "superhero culture" (the idea that the general populace is aware of and expects superpowers, costumes, secret identities, crime fighting, etc.).

I'm not suggesting that all superheroes (or supervillains) in superhero fiction have each element: superpowers, costumes, or secret identities. But they have at least one of those, and it's combined with the other elements. I look at it like the definition baldness vs. non-baldness. It's not how many hairs you have on your head, but at some point you have enough hair to go from being considered bald to not. Thus, non-superhero fiction becomes superhero fiction when enough of the elements are present.


message 15: by MadMaxx (new)

MadMaxx (MaddMax) | 10 comments Like I said, it is all in how you look at it. You ask a guy who has a receding hair line if he is bald or not he will most likely tell you he is not even if he only has a few hairs. We all think of it as bald, but like I said, it's all in how you want to look at it.
I see James Bond as a form of superhero. He fights a villain and uses things of extraordinary uses has a cool car and always wins the day, that sounds just like Batman to me.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a group of people battling a force of evil, each one of them having some kind of individual trait(even if they are not super powered) and they come together as a team to beat their foe, sounds like The Justice League to me.
The way I look at it,( and I do speak for me, not you or that person, just me. If others agree, that's fine) and again it's how you want to look at it, they are the same just told in different ways.
Some writer could take the story of LOTR and tweek it a little, take comic heroes and write a story for comics. Some one could take Dr. No and do the same for Batman.
It is all how you want to look at it. If you add drawings and art, it's now a comic, take them away and it's a novel.
Maybe it is because I have such a love for comics, that I see the similarities and just go there. But again that's me, not forcing any of my views on anyone. Just stating my opinion.
I would live some James Bond Comics. I think he would fit in perfect with the genre.


message 16: by Jim, The Ulti-Moderator (last edited Aug 17, 2015 08:48AM) (new)

Jim (jkmfilms) | 787 comments Mod
This is a great discussion! As you might guess, I've thought about this a lot over the years. Quite a bit before starting this group - and a lot after. (I mean, the whole reason I started this group is because I love the genre!)

I think for me, superhero fiction includes:

Superpowers (not magical powers) and/or secret identities and/or costumes and masks.

Basically, some combination of the first 3 on your list, Fritz.

I think any one of those can apply. Batman doesn't have superpowers, but he does have a secret identity and a costume.

I would include the book The Girl Who Would Be King because of the powers they have.

I don't think I would include Constantine. He deals with superheroes, and he can do magic. But I don't think of him as a "superhero" because he doesn't have a costume or secret identity. The same reason I wouldn't include Harry Dresden. (Or Harry Potter.) I guess, to me, magical powers are different than superpowers. (Although, I would still read a Constantine novel in this group, because of the relation to comic books...)

Fritz wrote: "I'm not suggesting that all superheroes (or supervillains) in superhero fiction have each element: superpowers, costumes, or secret identities. But they have at least one of those, and it's combined with the other elements."

I think this makes the most sense to me - and looking back over the books I've read, it's basically how I characterize the genre. I wouldn't characterize a vigilante as a superhero. Until he has a secret identity - even without powers.

Tiamatty wrote: "The costumes, the secret identities, all that other stuff - it's things that are common to superhero fiction, but I don't think any of it is necessary. A superhero can wear jeans and a t-shirt and still be a superhero."

I tend to agree Tiamatty - though in my mind one of those is necessary. You don't have to have powers, but you're not a superhero to me unless you have a costume or secret identity. You can wear jeans and a t-shirt, but would still have to have some sort of power.

But that's just how I define the genre...


message 17: by Jim, The Ulti-Moderator (last edited Aug 17, 2015 08:53AM) (new)

Jim (jkmfilms) | 787 comments Mod
Natalie wrote: "I think most characters qualify as superheros if they wear costumes and have a secret identity. It's not an absolute but it is the definitive element of superhero fiction to me."

I tend to agree, I think. Though I would allow for someone to have powers and not have a costume or secret identity.

Natalie wrote" "I also think there almost has to be some elements of science fiction. The character themselves can have magical and arcane origins and magic but the world they live in must have elements of science fiction."

I like how you put this!! Yes; there must be something in addition to the magic to make the person a superhero.

I still don't know about Constantine, though :)


message 18: by Stabbing (new)

Stabbing Jim wrote: "This is a great discussion! As you might guess, I've thought about this a lot over the years. Quite a bit before starting this group - and a lot after. (I mean, the whole reason I started this grou..."

I've been finding the replies on this subject to be quite fascinating, myself. :-)


message 19: by Samantha (new)

Samantha (mirymom) | 40 comments I find that I like it less when magic is brought into my superhero reading. I think I agree with Natalie that the powers should come from science fiction: mutations, experiments, exposures. I can accept some pretty tenuous science, but not outright magic.


message 20: by Fritz (new)

Fritz Freiheit (fritz_freiheit) | 24 comments Samantha wrote: "I find that I like it less when magic is brought into my superhero reading..."

Unfortunately, I can only think of a handful of superhero novels that don't have some form of magic in them.


message 21: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 19 comments I think the superhero genre is the genre that uses superhero tropes. Like a sonnet, which is a poem that conforms to the format of a sonnet, the genre is less philosophically clear than fantasy or SF.

What tropes?

Well, the first one -- after, well, superpowers -- is a certain cheery mix-up of origins such that they are not clearly SF or fantasy. If all your superheroes are aliens sent to Earth as babies and grown up among us, you have a SF story. If they are molded out of a clay and given life by Greek goddesses, you have a fantasy story. (Metaorigins can push the story one way or another.)

Beyond that, you are strongly helped by
* masks and costumes
* code names
* secret identities
* crime fighting


message 22: by Shelly (new)

Shelly | 16 comments As with any genre, the definition is very subjective. The debate over the definitions of science fiction vs fantasy has been going on for decades and probably will never be resolved.

So, I'm going to borrow/paraphrase/adapt a definition I read once about science fiction. Superhero fiction is what I look at and call superhero fiction. As in, I know it when I see it, but don't try to pin me down to a specific definition.

For me, that usually involves heroism and superpowers, but I include non-powered characters like Batman and Green Arrow. Sometimes, I call them all costumed crimefighters (costumed crimefighter fiction), but not all wear costumes. But I really don't sweat the details.

I don't like genre labels particularly. I see their usefulness for shelving and helping people find what interests them in bookstores and libraries, but I tend to prefer broad subjects over narrow ones. I don't like nitpicking if something is an urban fantasy or a high fantasy, a mystery or a suspense novel or a thriller. Hard science fiction or space opera. And genres get blended so often, it makes it even more complicated. Fantasy westerns! Science fiction horror! Fantasy Romance!

So when I categorize books, I just choose what sounds right to me for my purposes and if I'm inconsistent, I don't worry about it, especially since I can assign more than one category or subject or tag, or to use GR's terms, shelves to a book.


message 23: by Phillip (new)

Phillip Murrell | 53 comments Natalie wrote: "I think most characters qualify as superheros if they wear costumes and have a secret identity. It's not an absolute but it is the definitive element of superhero fiction to me.

I also think there..."


I agree with this point. Costumes and secret identities are a must. Even better if the reader doesn’t always know the secret identity.


message 24: by Wilmar (new)

Wilmar Luna (wilmarluna) | 4 comments I would say that right off the bat, super powers don't necessarily make for a superhero book.

For instance, a vampire can fly, turn into bats, and sometimes they have super strength. But they're not superheroes.

I also don't think that a book needs a super villain to be classified as superhero fiction.

What I think superhero fiction boils down to is providing a power fantasy for the reader. It's something where the protagonist tries their best to be heroic and save the day. Saving people, standing up to bullies, standing up to injustice with a superheroic flair.

I think that is what superhero fiction is to me.

Watchmen is technically superhero fiction, but it's too dark and depressing. Also, most of the character don't have any super powers which is a bummer because I love super powers.

The fiction doesn't necessarily have to be uplifting, but the Watchmen characters were too jaded for me to root for. Again, loved the comics, but that's not an ideal superhero world for me.


message 25: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 40 comments From the plot point of view, superhero fiction always involves a person fixing something that's wrong with the world: people who killed your parents, Nazis, gangs, whatever. The story is always about that struggle; ancillary stuff (romance, the inheritance of Asgard, etc.) is a side issue.


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