META: Three Metaphors for Superhero Teams

Scott Eiler seiler at
Wed May 2 16:03:52 PDT 2012

On 05/02/2012 08:31 AM, Tom Russell wrote:

> If a superhero story doesn't, in some way, concern itself with people,
> and doesn't believe in the inherent value of the human endeavor, for
> me it's not really a superhero story.

I'd say instead, it's not really about people.  It's like writing about 
(say) Ketchikan-Alaska and not only missing the landscape, but getting 
it entirely wrong.  If you do that, why bother saying it's about Ketchikan?

I can't say I set out to write stories about the inherent value of the 
human endeavor.  In fact, lately I gleefully write stories that make fun 
of it.  The woman who wanted to have children became a romance-novel 
cartoon character; the general who wanted to defend his town from 
overseas enemies became a buffoon villain.  I claim satire license. 
Some of my characters really aren't people; they're cartoons.

I do work with human endeavor as part of my landscape, though.  My 
heroes (even the silly or the borderline ones) actually do believe in 
protecting the innocent, even though they usually stumble into doing it. 
  Even the Powernaut was surprised when he inspired the French 
Resistance.  And I think PowerTEEN actually became a much better 
role-model than his publisher intended.  He's kind to his weaker grampa, 
and he refuses to see even his enemies/rivals hurt.

> It would have helped, I think, if I had picked a metaphor for my
> teams, or, for that matter, realized the obvious: good superhero teams
> function as metaphors for social groups.  These fall into three broad
> categories by my reckoning.
> 1. The team as family.  Sometimes, such as the Fantastic Four or Power
> Pack, these are literal families.
> 2. The team as social clique, or "friends".  This usually manifests
> itself as a "teen" team, like the Teen Titans or New Mutants.
> 3. The team as professionals.  Call this the Howard Hawks model-- like
> some of the great director's films, the characters are good at what
> they do, (ideally) stable and sober-minded, "manly" (even when
> ladies), and respect one another's abilities and track record.  They
> are, in a word, colleagues.  The Justice League of America and the
> Avengers come to mind.

I suppose even satire heroes follow these same rules.  The Powernaut 
will someday assemble heroes around him, who will at various times fit 
in *most* of these categories.  But there might be one more:

4.  The team thrown together.  Not every group of people in a superhero 
comic have common cause.  The Defenders and the "Heroes" TV show often 
fall in this category.

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