Monday, April 14, 2014

A Galactic Superhero Rebellion--a solution to the supervillain shortage

Superhero stories are becoming increasingly popular in American and yes, world culture. I'm not actually a huge fan of the superhero story, though. The most important reason why not is because to be interesting, a powerful hero needs to be opposed by powerful villains. Of course superhero stories feature supervillains, but as a general rule, supered-up bad guys tend to be silly and/or uninteresting for me.

Silly because there is something compelling about someone who goes through an extraordinary set of circumstances to make him or her no longer an ordinary person for the cause of goodness. We all root for the superhero, wishing secretly we had a set of circumstances happen to us to propelled us into that role. A superhero is, ironically, an everyman sort of figure, who most people are able to identify with. But the supervillain goes through a process to make him or her extraordinary as well--but then must adopt characteristics the audience will not identify with or like to be seen as villainous. The everyman aspect of the hero causes the audience to suspend disbelief about the nature of how he or she gained his or her powers. We have no such cause to suspend disbelief for the villain, who as a result so often seems larger than life in a way that's at least a little silly.

It's also good storytelling form in a story for a hero or heroine to struggle against a foe or foes stronger than he or she is, or more numerous. As a point of fact, every superhero of comic book lore has a complete set of very powerful villains to fight. Therefore the total number of supervillains as a result far outnumbers the superheroes. Which are already an already highly improbable group, so the huge number of super bad guys really makes no logical sense from even the most imaginative point of view.

So I have found the bad guys too improbable, too uninteresting, or too weak to really challenge the good guys, which has ruined a lot of superhero stories for me. Not at all coincidentally, the superhero stories that come across the best for me--Superman outnumbered by Kryptonians as powerful as he is--Batman facing a brilliantly insane Joker--the X-men against mutant counterparts every bit as powerful and empathetic as they are--all have had great villains.

One of the problems of the supervillain is that he or she would be scarier if we, the audience, felt the world we live in was in actual danger from that kind of person. Which is why mobsters and assassins and tech lords make realistic super bad guys--but they are almost always too weak when matched up against the superhero. The audience of the superhero story simply knows that while villains may rule our world, supervillains do not.

It occurred to me there needs to be a story setting in which the villains are given a clear and obvious upper hand, where the bad guys rule with an iron fist, where any superhero is a definite underdog in a way that makes sense to the audience and causes our superhero to struggle for victory. Thinking over these problems, I realized mingling a dystopian galactic empire akin to the one in Star Wars with superhero stories would provide the kind of overarching but realistic villainy that would give superheroes worthy opponents to fight.

Imagine a galactic empire, brutal and oppressive. With the equivalent of Storm Troopers, but these ones really fight well and would burn every last Ewok on the forest moon to death without sustaining a single loss. This galactic empire would involve major hybridization between man and machine of its enforcers, its stock of people designed to read minds, torture, and kill anyone who would oppose them with an widespread efficiency and brutality that only Darth Vader himself matched in the Star Wars universe.

Opposing these monstrously oppressive villains you'd find on each planet of this empire a mysterious force would create a single hero on each inhabited world to combat the evil enemy. Perhaps this force would be spiritual or quasi-spiritual, like the Force of Star Wars. Or perhaps it would be a secret organization. But whatever the cause, each hero would have a variety of powers and abilities like superheroes of familiar comics. Each one would start out on his or her own world in a rebellion against the evil empire, but would eventually join forces with each another, forming their own organization devoted to defeating the all-powerful enemy, something like a mixture of the Avengers or Xmen or Justice League and the Rebel Alliance of Star Wars.

This Galactic Superhero Rebellion would face off headlong against the ruthless cyborg armies of the galactic empire, outnumbered literally millions to one...



  1. I'm interested. Keen to see where your thinking takes you on this one.

    You may like Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. In this book, all the super-powered characters turn to evil. It's up to ordinary human beings to stand up to them.