Back to tropes: This week I want people to again look at the supers genre. This time instead of trying to define the genre, I want to examine common plots and tropes. Take some time to think about it. Then answer the two questions below:
Edited beholdsa (November 21, 2014 09:46:15)
What are your favorite supers plots/tropes?
I like the over-the-top flexibility of the genre that you mentioned. Since anything is possible, anything is possible in an over-the-top way. It doesn't work in many other settings. I was reading a book on script writing recently that had a rule against settings with too many genres (saying that double mumbo jumbo is not allowed). I like that this rule is broken by supers.
I love interesting powers and watching characters find interesting ways to use them. I like the power-with-a-drawback trope (Rogue, Layla Miller, Cyclops). The powers are such a big part of the story, and so they should be an interesting part of Supers.
I like the big change arcs like loss of powers, gain of powers, different costumes, etc. that result in character growth. Yes, I know sometimes these look lame (the spider-armor for example), but they were part of an interesting story.
I love the nemesis trope. I like each hero having one villain who plays off them perfectly. I actually really enjoyed playing out this trope in both Supers campaigns I've taken part in.
What are your least supers horror plots/tropes?
I dislike major ret-cons and resets. I can't read DC for this reason since every few years, something big resets everything. All companies are guilty of this though. It is less likely in Supers RPGs I would expect though. On the flip side, I don't mind it if no villain dies, and they break out of prison. I can't imagine a X-men without Magneto, Superman without Lex Luthor, Batman without Joker, etc.
While I like personal growth arcs, I put the caveat that I dislike “women in refrigerators” or other unnecessary minor character death growth tropes. As a reader of Daredevil, it is pretty horrific to see this trope appear at least three times.
Edited Micah (November 23, 2014 21:54:19)
What are your favorite supers plots/tropes?
With great power comes great responsibility: Spider-Man says it in so many words, but I love the idea of examining what happens when ordinary people are given extraordinary power. Inevitably, the ones who become super heroes and stay super heroes don't do it for the fame, or glory, or money (even heroes like Booster Gold who were explicitly after just that to begin with). Getting powers allowed these formerly ordinary people to “live their morals,” so to speak, and risk everything for the chance to make a difference in the world. Superheroes are not shining examples because of their powers; they are examples because of what they choose to do with them. Stories that examine the incredible personal sacrifices required to be a hero, and the ever-present temptation to take the “easy way out,” and allow the hero to rise to these challenges, are my favorites.
Vincit qui se vincit: Related to the above, the most important battles that a hero fights should be internal. Why does everyone in the Marvel Universe respect Captain America so much? His powers are paltry compared to literally every other member of The Avengers (except Hawkeye and Black Widow). The reason they all respect him so much is because everyone knows, deep down, that the powers don't matter. Captain America has conquered himself; he has won the battle that all heroes fear losing more than any super-villain duel, and even his enemies must respect him for it.
Through a glass darkly: As Micah said, the best villains in super-heroic genres reflect the hero's own fears and insecurities about what they could be capable of if they crossed some line. Batman is a psychopath whose psychosis just happens to involve punishing criminals; the Joker constantly shows Batman the face of madness and how much freedom he could have if he just stopped fighting it.
The savage beauty of combat: I like fight scenes. I like fight choreography. The possibilities for cool fight scenes and fight choreography increase exponentially when super powers are thrown into the mix. It's easy to totally drop the ball on this, but when it's done well it is an absolute beauty to behold.
What are your least favorite supers plots/tropes?
Revolving door afterlife: Part of what makes super heroes such amazing, inspiring figures is their willingness to lay down their lives and make the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals. Constant resurrections, cloning, alternate-timeline-replacements, and magical interventions cheapen this sacrifice and are blatantly motivated solely by commercial concerns. Those precious few instances of actual permanent superhero death have resulted in fantastic new stories about the next person to take up the mantle.
Depending on the writer: The best heroes and villains have a real core to their personality and concept, and ideally this core can be preserved even when writers change. But sometimes, the writers decide to take a character in a “new direction,” and this works out well sometimes, but I'd say in more than half of all cases it turns out to be a bad move. I don't like character inconsistencies, and long-running comic book titles inevitably accumulate them in spades.
I also hate massive retcons, but I don't if I know anyone who doesn't.