Comics have been going for quite a long time now, even superhero comics. People have been able to witness the heroic deeds of people who have been able to fly, speed fast, create anything they can imagine, teleport, travel through time and so much more. Superheroes have often been tied to their powers, even when they don’t have any as such, such as Batman and his wealth. But over the past 10 to 15 years, the genre seems to have been split.
What makes a superhero? Well, we have real life heroes – people who put their own lives on the line to save others or to avert a larger body count. But superheroes? They’re the ones in comic books (and now in TV and film) with superpowers that do those things (even though they often unwillingly accept their fate to be superheroes).
And then there’s the relatively recent addition of groups of superpowered people who aren’t all that heroic (or at least where the drama and interpersonal relationships are the priority). Unlinking the chains between powers and heroes, you can quite easily see that the powers aspect should be considered a sub-genre.
4400. Heroes. Misfits. In films, Chronicle and Jumper. These are just the ones that spring to mind. Each have the main focus on the drama with powers mix. What makes them different, is that they’re not all about saving people by defeating a villain. 4400 saw 2 homeland security agents after 4400 people returned from abduction. Heroes sees the disparate members of a new form of human evolution. Misfits sees a group of people that through some unexplained storm, develop powers. Each of these series sees groups of superpowered people – often with incredibly varied powers – and how they interact with one another.
There’s also some common themes between them as well, such as losing powers, swapping powers, power evolutions, battlelines drawn between the characters, powers not working correctly, visions of the future, even the concept of everybody in the world having powers. Then there’s the super powered serial killer, people with seemingly useless powers and people who can use loads of different powers.
There’s often a character or several characters that are interested in becoming a fully fledged superhero team – saving innocents from supervillains – but it doesn’t always pan out. They have their own idealised versions of what a superhero does and then the story muddies it. For example, Hiro abides by most of the ideals he aspires to – not using his powers for personal gain, saving the innocent at any cost and being a hero even when he’s not superpowered. But even Hiro makes a deal with Sylar and goes back on it in season 4.
50 shades of morally grey
For most of the superpowered people, they are morally grey and they bounce around the scale, often quite quickly. Sylar starts out very much bad. Then he later becomes closer to the middle and after the Parkman/Sylar mind-bending, he gets a little closer to the good until he eventually becomes fairly good. Misfits has virtually nobody that actually is completely good or evil (heck, how many probation officers did they go through?).
Conventional superheroes on the other hand? They’re often very good, and remain so – at least within a specific range. Their personalities are actually fairly stable and only go off the deep end occasionally and only for very short periods of time. You’re also more likely to see resurrections in the basic good/bad dichotomy. Even if a particular character dies, their superhero identity is often taken up by someone else, whether it be the incarnations of Robin, Spider-Man, Captain America or whoever.
Secrets and lies
Superheroes as a genre also usually don capes and masks – both physically and metaphorically. They maintain a private life (no matter how small) and have a super hero persona, which does the daring acts. Super powered people however have one life. Sometimes they do daring things, but at the heart of it all, they’re not actually symbols. They’re people who can sometimes help because of their abilities.
My personal feelings
I don’t know about anyone else, but I see more potential from super powered people rather than superheroes. Super powered people can have wildly different stories – and sometimes they’ve taken bits from the supernatural/magic type shows such as Buffy, Supernatural and such.
I think there’s room enough for both superpowers and superheroes, but I do think these should be treated as separate sub-genres. I also think there needs to be more superpowered shows – drama can be interesting and the element of superpowers can open up all sorts of new story ideas, including a more international focus. That’s something worth developing.