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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Chance For "Superheroes"

The television series "Heroes" succeeded not because it featured superpowered people. It made a major dent because it featured ordinary people who happened to have superhuman powers. It's a grand what-if involving disparate personalities, backgrounds and ethnicities, mostly tackling the question "what would these people do."

As we've seen in a previous post, the superhero comics market is small, but there's no reason why you can't create a graphic novel involving superpowered people, which is something like what manga has achieved, though in a different fashion. Still, the focus on human drama and pathos is what drives these stories forward, with some slam-bang action thrown in for some healthy dose of kinetic energy.

Because the characters have "costumes" you can normally buy in a department store and don't run around toting a codename, potential readers shift their focus to the heart of the story. This isn't a story involving capes and a big logo on a chestplate. This is about Joe who's wrestling with an extreme case of insecurity--his mind-reading powers pick up the thoughts of his parents, schoolmates, and the girl he wants to be with.

How about mousy medical student Sandra who discovers she's as strong as five powerlifters? Will she trade her quiet non-descript life for possible fame and fortune, or fulfill the dreams of her conservative and religious parents in Nebraska?

And that's where you hook a potential reader--a character who goes through what many people go through, only exaggerated or complicated by the inclusion of some kind of power. When Joe, who's become rather socially inept because of his insecurity, discovers that some of his classmates plan a dastardly deed against the school principal, what is he going to do? Or, to be more like recent headlines, picks up the thoughts of a reclusive classmate and uncovers homicidal thoughts involving a couple of guns and a dormitory?

Sandra, on the other hand, accidentally breaks the bones and kills her boyfriend. Her hometown is stunned by the incident, but no one believes Sandra to be capable of doing such harm. Will Sandra turn herself in? If she does, how can she explain how the accident occurred without her revealing her unusual strength?

Human drama. Human conflict. Throw a superpower in to add interest, but never make it a highlight. In stories like these, having superpowers can affect a character's decisions, but using them is rarely one of the options unless pressed against a wall.

Exercise: Write a short premise of a graphic novel involving a person with a superhuman ability. Make it two to three short paragraphs similar to a back-cover book description. However, you cannot use the word "superpower" or "superhuman" or any word that could suggest some kind of superheroism. This premise can also be used for your press releases.

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