Masked: Superhero, Supergoodness

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A couple of days ago, I decided to write a short story featuring a superhero. That got me thinking about why no one seems to be writing any super hero stories. We seem to be getting a lot of them in the movies, so why not books.

A quick search on Google and Amazon, revealed this gem hidden amongst a small selection of other superhero works available. Reading the extremely short preview, I was instantly hooked by the introductory paragraph of the first story. Just to be clear here, this is fiction, or more accurately put, science-fiction where instead of aliens and guns shooting lasers, you get mutants and eyes shooting lasers. That’s about as different as the genre gets.

To give you an example of what type of action-packed writing grabs me. The first story “Cleansed & Set In Gold” started with this:

I’m on the ground trying to breathe through a chest full of broken ribs. The only reason I’m still alive is because I happen to be invisible  at the moment. Verlaine is dead. His body is twitching, trying to patch himself up, but the thing that killed him is chewing on his heart, its long tongue flicking. I can hear Verlaine’s fingernails scratching against the rocks.

We all thought Veraline was immortal. He wasn’t.

This super-amazing first story focuses primarily on the super hero, his powers and his fight against a seemingly unbeatable foe, and is worth the price of the book alone in my opinion. But for the most part, the rest of the stories chose to write about how their super-strength protagonists meandered their way through society. It’s a varied lot to be honest, you get your super-villians using their talents to to rob a bank, the gay superhero who tries to fight injustice in more ways than one, and other societal themes that seem to be a general trend throughout the book.

Here, my stand is simple. That’s NOT a good approach. To sum up how I feel, let me quote one of the buyer reviewers – Patrick O’Duffy

Too much kryptonite, not enough super-writing

There’s an interesting mix of comics writers and prose writers here, but there’s also a strong deconstructive tendency from the non-comics authors. It’s not enough for them to simply write a superhero story; it has to be one that critiques the genre and its conventions, and usually in a way that finds those conventions wanting. The comics authors, on the other hand, were more interested in following those conventions to find a story that respected them while still working within a different medium/form. Those stories tended to be better, if only because I could read the story without the chip on the author’s shoulder getting in the way.

Anyway, before I go into my rant, I highly recommend the first story in the novel. The fight scenes were EPIC. I wish I could write half as well as the author.

Thoughts on presenting the superhero genre

While everybody appreciates a good storyline that tries to go deeper beyond “Hulk smash!”, there has to be a balance between trying to humanise the hero, while still trying to present him as a world-saving hero. Most of these stories focus too much on the emotions and thoughts of victimised heroes standing alone in a depressed world, instead of shooting lasers and generally, just kicking ass.

Here are some quick thoughts on how to write a superhero book.

Stay Physical

Superheroes and what they do are meant to be very physical. Wolverine gets angry, he slices stuff up. He gets sad, he slices stuff up. He gets hungry…. you get the drill. A brief glimpse into the inner demons he’s battling inside might make for good story fodder, but it should not ever detract from the “slice stuff up” aspect. To me, if the author made this mistake, then he shouldn’t be writing science fiction.

Focus On Action

Honestly, your genre allows you to use face-melting beams and heroes who can fly without explanation. USE IT. If I want to read a story about how the good guys tried to sneak their way in or talk their way out of a confrontation, a different setting like WW2 would be better. I want to see cars flung in the air, impossible somersaults that befuddle the cops giving chase, and as much furniture breakage as possible. Like the example of the first story above, the author went into quite gory details about the fight scenes and deaths. The end result of which was actually quite stupendous.

Gadgets!

If you need your character to be less like the invincible Superman and more vulnerable, try going the Batman route with gadgetry instead. This puts him in a position where he can be very weak, but once he gets his stuff on, he can beat up the guys who were chasing him just a moment ago. Trick is to make him still play out like a superhero instead of a decked out James Bond. Often, this requires the author to give him a deeper persona or agenda that separates him from a typical spy.

To end it off, I really hope more writers will start picking up on using superheroes in their stories. It’s honestly quite good fun. I’ve about had it with vampires and the undead.

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Super: Part 2

Action Sequence. Kinda uncertain if I should be using any descriptive terms here at all. Just want the action to flow.

Super-Hero

Super: Part 2

“Since when can you fly!” Williams shouted after the Captain, as he disappeared into the clouds.

In the air, Eric enjoyed a rare moment of solitude as he allowed the magical gauntlets to pull him above the clouds. A loan from Wonderkid, who was enjoying his paid time off sipping mai-tais down in Hawaii, they chugged a little at the heavier frame of the Captain. Other than that, it was something that Eric could seriously get used to.

Blessed with super strength, super speed, super agility and a whole array of heightened senses, the one gift that Eric wished he had as well was the power of flight. If nothing else, it was the one way he could get a little solitude in this city of eight million. Sometimes, Eric wished that the agency could have gotten him a gig elsewhere with a little more peace and quiet. Somewhere less of a target for the super-villains of the world.

But that would have to wait for now, as the financial district loomed large before him. Shifting his fists downwards, he started his descent towards Central bank.

The Captain landed outside a barricade of squad cars surrounding the bank.  Without waiting for an introduction, he walked up and seized a megaphone out of the hands of a awe-struck officer.

“Alright Hawk. Fun times over, come out nice and easy and no one gets hurt.”  He waited for a response, but none were forthcoming. “Last chance Stevens,” he said, calling out the Hawk by his real name.

Suddenly, the air was filled with arrows. Steel-tipped shafts that sliced through cars and flesh alike. The men standing closest to Eric suffered a multitude of wounds and went down immediately.

“On the ground now!” Eric ordered, as everyone around him threw themselves onto the tarmac. The ring of cars offered absolutely no protection against Hawk’s projectiles as the arrows shredded through men and cars alike.

“Christ! That man’s crazy!”

“Help, I’m bleeding!”

“Someone get a medic!”

“Captain!”

In a moment, the barrage stopped. Several officers got up and ran to pull their wounded comrades to safety. Others got back to defensive positions, training their weapons on the bank.

“No, stay down!” Eric ordered, but it was too late. An explosion ripped through the air as scores of men were knocked to the ground by the flaming fireball. One of the squad cars flipped backwards into the air, and threatened to crush the helpless officers hiding behind.

Eric sprung into action. Running between the men and the car, he delivered a fierce right hook into the burning wreck and stopped it dead in its tracks.

“Thanks Captain!” the grateful officers echoed.

“Get out of here!” Eric barked as he got ready to move in. The only problem now was getting close to Hawk without being turned into a pincushion. And for that, he needed a diversion.

Picking up one of the squad cars, Eric spun around once and flung the vehicle towards the doors of the bank. As expected, the Hawk countered with his own incendiary arrows and blew up the car as it hurtled towards him in the air, blinding everyone looking at the explosion.

“Cover me!” Eric shouted, as he leapt over what remained of the barricade. Immediately, another volley of arrows came directly at the Captain, but he nimbly rolled under the advancing projectiles. Hawk was shooting blindly now, relying more on intuition more than sight. Eric ran in a zigzag pattern towards the broken doors of the bank, and side-stepped another wave of shafts before finally making it into the bank.

Throwing himself behind a counter out front, Eric tried to provoke the Hawk into revealing himself, “Drop your weapon now Stevens! It’s over!”

“You’ll have to catch me first,” came the hidden voice from the back of the hall.

Eric lunged for the next nearest cover, counting to himself as he went. “One..two..dive!” Just in the nick of time, as a steel-tipped arrow flashed past his head.

“What’s the matter Hawk, arm getting tired?”

Eric heard the thud of an arrow striking wood, and he instantly tried to scramble clear as the desk behind him exploded in a rain of splinters. His ears were ringing from the blast, disorienting him for the split-second. It was all the Hawk needed to get a clear shot off.

Eric somersaulted acrobatically as he tried to dodge the arrow but it struck him cleanly on the shoulder. “Damn it!” the Captain grunted as he rolled towards the next desk. More shots came close as he scrambled behind cover.

Looking at his wound, Eric saw that the arrow had missed the bone. He Captain grimaced as he pushed the arrow further into his flesh, until it exited through his body. He snapped off the arrowhead and extracted the shaft. Years of condition had taught him how to block out pain.

“Having fun now Eric?” The Hawk said, mocking the retreating Captain. “You know you try so hard, but you don’t even know who you’re fighting for anymore, do you Eric?”

Eric did not bother with a reply. He dashed towards the sofa in the middle of the hallway and pushed it like a battering ram towards the location of the voice.  Several arrows pierced through the leather and cushioning, and one managed to slice him  below the ribs. But he ignored the pain and charged. He was at the end of the banking hall.

And then he saw his adversary, perched atop a table drawing yet another arrow. He was dressed differently from the last time Eric saw him, taking the Robin Hood reference a little too far with a matching green suit and matching hood.

Unimpressed, Eric heaved mightily and flung the shredded sofa towards him. He was rewarded with a satisfying “Oofph!” as his shot connected.

“Give it up Stevens!” Eric roared as he rushed forward to close in on the Hawk.

But Hawk still had plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He launched another arrow into the ground in front of Eric which exploded with a loud bang, filling the air with a thick cloud of powder.

And then he was gone.

Super: Heroes?

Why are there so few superhero novels?

Super: Part 1

There was a knock on the door.

“We’ve got a problem Captain, best if you came and take a look.”

“For god’s sake, go away! I’ve got company tonight.”

“Can’t do that, Metro bank just got hit. Both the mayor and the chief wants you on the scene right away.”

“Get Peter, I’m off-duty!”

“We can’t find him, that’s why I’m here… Captain?”

Eric did not reply, hoping that Williams will get the hint and leave. Even superheroes needed their time off once in a while.

Williams knocked again, harder this time. “Captain, I know it’s a bad time, but the city needs you. Besides, we think it might be who you’re looking for this time.”

That caught Eric’s attention. He interrupted the girl laying atop of him. “What makes you so sure?”

“Well, for starters, he’s shooting arrows instead of bullets.”

“Ah Christ, alright I’m comin’!” Eric replied as he tried to get up. “Sorry sugar, but duty calls.”

“Damnit, what about me!” Marie hissed, staring daggers at the man she was  making love to a few seconds ago.

“If you want, I can get that nice man standing outside to come in and keep you warm,” he grinned, flashing his megawatt smile that had only recently graced the cover of People magazine.

Marie slapped him hard on the chest, “You’re not getting rid of me that easily soldier.” she said, pinning the Captain down with her legs.

“No time for that love.” In a sudden motion, Eric twisted his body and rolled hard to the side, sending Marie tumbling down to the bed. Before she hit the sheets, Eric had his arms around her and gently laid her down on the bed. In the blink of an end, Marie found herself pinned under the body of the Captain, who was busy smothering her with kisses.

“You’re mean, you know that,” Marie answered, unable to keep herself from giggling at the Captain’s crazy antics.

“Yea I know, that’s why you love me,” Eric grinned as he got up from from bed. “Now where’s my costume?”

“Here!” Marie snapped, throwing the pair of glittery tight-fitting spandex at him. Hiding herself under the sheets, she pouted at the Captain as she watched him slide into the skin-tight fabric of his suit.

“Just teasin’ baby, don’t get mad,” he said, smiling as he crawled into the space beside her and planted a long wet kiss on her lips. “Help yourself to the booze before you leave.”

Instantly, Marie’s frown disappeared. For all of Eric’s manly stubbornness and insufferable ego, he was also a man who appreciated his alcohol. And thankfully, a grateful mayor’s office kept him well-stocked in this regard. Better for him to do his drinking at home then to be photographed in a seedy pub on the wrong side of town. He had an image to maintain.

“Don’t forget sweet cheeks,” she said, getting up to browse his selection in the wine cabinet. “We’re having dinner tomorrow with my parents, so try not to get messed up now, alright?”

Eric sighed, he had forgotten about that dinner. “Don’t worry hon’, fighting is the easy part. It’s the report I’ll have to write in the morning that’ll kill me,” he answered, lacing up his boots. It was a blatant lie of course, he was going after the Hawk, another super-something just like him. But Marie did not need to know that.

“And do me a favor will ya, if that reporter comes snooping around your house again, just call the agency and they’ll deal with it. No need to talk to that scum.”

“You mean Kylie? She’s a friend Eric, trust me. She’s one of the better eggs out there.” Marie said, smirking as she poured herself a bourbon. “Besides, that article she wrote did wonders for my acting career.”

“You little devil,” Eric grinned, giving her a playful squeeze as he got up to leave. “But seriously now, don’t go around feeding the press. If my enemies find out who you are…” he left the obvious unsaid.

Marie made a face. “Don’t worry tough guy, I know where to cut a man to make him bleed,” she said, jabbing a finger into Eric’s groin. “Besides, I’m sleeping with the most powerful man in the world, he’ll protect me right?”

Eric kissed her again. “Just promise me alright. I’ll really hate to lose you now.” He said, hesitating for a moment. “I think I’m really starting to like you.”

“Yea, yea, whatever.” Marie replied, ignoring him as she downed her whiskey. “If you really love me, then go out there and say it. I feel like a whore sneaking around the whole time.”

Outside, a very anxious Williams pounded the door again. “Captain, you ready? We really should be going now,”

Eric shouted back, “I said I’m coming! Jesus, it’s a robbery, not the end of world.” He gave Marie a quick peck on the cheek, “We’ll discuss this another day honey, I promise.”

“You said that the last time tough guy,” Marie said, pouring herself another bourbon.

Ignoring her comment Eric slid on his custom-made mask and walked out of his bedroom. Putting on his magical gauntlets, he opened his front door and saw Lieutenant Williams waiting impatiently outside.

“Took you long enough Capt’n. Look, we need to get moving, our boys got the hawk trapped inside the bank, but he’s heavily armed. They can’t push in without you and…” Suddenly Williams forgot what he wanted to say. He was staring at the beautiful redhead who just walked into view behind Eric.

“Hey boys,” Marie teased, winking playfully at Williams and giving him a little toast before slipping back inside the room. She was wearing nothing except for a blanket wrapped around her waist and a shot glass in her hand.

Eric followed Williams eyes, “Oh god,” He groaned before turning back to face the lieutenant.

“Is that….”

“One word about this to anyone, and you’ll be back to filing paperwork Williams, I mean it.” Eric snapped.

“Whatever you say loverboy.” Williams replied with a broad smile on his face. The rest of the guys are going to flip once they found out who the Captain was sleeping with.

Slamming his front door, Eric tried to turn the conversation back towards official business. “The Hawk, what about him?

“Boys can’t get in without being shot at, they need you there now,” William’s answered, back to his usual no-nonsense self.

“Where’s Peter? Isn’t he on duty today?” Eric asked as they made their way to the waiting vehicle.

Williams shrugged. “He’s not responding.”

“Probably hiding somewhere getting high again,” Eric sighed, “Someone needs to wake up that damn kid up.”

“Come on Eric, you know his situation.”

“Yea, save it. I heard that story before. Would be nice to have him here though. Easier to deal with Hawk when you give him two targets to shoot at.” Eric answered, remember the last time he had to face off agains the sharpshooter.

“We can’t wait for him. Chief wants this cleared pronto, He’s afraid it’s going to turn into another media circus,” William’s said, getting into the squad car. “Jump in, Capt’n.”

“No thanks, I’ll fly.” With a mighty leap, the Captain launched himself into the air, and was gone before Williams could even start the car.

END PART 1

Part 2 Here