Monday, May 30, 2016

Pounded in the Butt by Superpowers

Sacchi Green

I think I’d prefer Bigfoot. But maybe not T. Rex.

I’ve never been much of a fan of superheroes. Nothing against them, really, and Christopher Reeve was fun as Superman, but the whole trope of a single (or even several) crimefighters with unworldly powers battling a single (or possibly several) twisted villains to save the world just doesn’t make much sense. The actual threats to our world cannot be condensed into a single “bad guy,” or overcome by a single “good guy,” no matter what other-worldly powers he may have.

Of course these stories aren’t meant to represent the real world, but rather to be distractions from it. I have no problems with unreal worlds, at least the fantasy varieties; I’ve written stories about magic-users, sorceresses, earth mages, green mages. But I can’t quite get my mind around the difference between fantasy stories and superhero stories, even though I know the difference is profound.

So why, one might ask, have I contracted to write a lesbian superhero novella for a publisher who has invited me to do so? I mean, I do think that it’s a great idea to have lesbian superhero stories, and I’d really like to explore the theme in certain ways, but I’m having a very hard time getting inside the head of a superhero character. I’m probably going to tell the story from the perspective of her sidekick/lover, in fact. I’m hearing her voice already.

I know the general plot, or at least the questions I want to deal with. How would someone, in this case an Army Lieutenant stationed in Iraq several years ago, react to having a superpower suddenly thrust upon her by way of a tiny carved ivory goddess figure that literally falls on her from the crumbling roof of a cave eroded into the bank of a dry Wadi? How would the Sergeant (hiding there with her from approaching enemy fighters) react? Wouldn’t they both think they were going crazy unless I make this a world where superheroes are already known to exist, which I’d rather not do? Does telekinesis, the power in question, even qualify as a superpower? There must be a considerable learning curve involved, at the least, and quandaries about how to use such a power, how not to use it, and how to conceal it from, say, military entities with their own ideas of how to use her. In any case I know I have to get them away from the military, mainly because the publisher doesn’t want much of a political nature in the story. I want my superhero to do things like free female Yazidi and Kurdish women, some of them soldiers themselves, enslaved by ISIS, and to save Boko Harum captives in Africa, but instead I’ll have to show her battling sex traffickers and similar stock villains, and then at the very end hint at further adventures involving freeing women enslaved by unnamed nasty powers far away.

I do know roughly how my first chapter will end. The enemy doesn’t find them because the Lieutenant uses her new power to move stones and dirt in front of their cave to obscure it. Once out in the open, she exercises her “shadow hand” cautiously, tentatively, the Sergeant urging her on as they both come gradually to believe in what’s happening. The Sergeant, though, has begun to think about what all this might mean, how her Lieutenant/friend/lover may be changed forever, and is caught observing her with a bit of a worried frown.

“What’s the matter? Do you hear them coming back?” A stone sharp as an axe head floated into her waiting hand.

“Nope. No problem. I was just thinking now you’re a superhero, you’ll need a new uniform. Like in the movies.  Sleek, skintight, low-cut here, high cut there…” Her gestures made the anatomical areas in question quite clear.

The swat on her shoulder would have staggered her if she hadn’t braced for it. Her jaunty grin was at least half relief that it had been delivered by an actual, familiar hand. Not but what the new situation might have other intriguing possibilities…

So there it is. I’ve contracted to write something that I don’t understand at all well, and I’m struggling with it. I’m accustomed to trying to balance on the edge between what I want to write and what readers will expect, but this time feels even trickier. What do people expect from superhero stories? How much or how little “real world” can I get away with? The readers probably want to get far away from the real world, and I can’t blame them. Do I have to keep to a simplistic good versus evil plot line? Just asking that shows that I’m in danger of “writing down” to my own faulty stereotypical view of the readership. Do I…do I have to go watch a bunch of superhero movies to see how they’ve evolved since the days of Christopher Reeve’s Superman? What have I got myself into?  

 Fortunately I have what should be plenty of time. And, on the bright side, at least I don’t have to deal with zombies.


  1. Superheroes don't have to have any powers at all, Sacchi. In fact the thing that distinguishes a superhero from, say, a character in a paranormal novel where a character happens to be telepathic, or a vampire, or able to see other people's dreams, is the hero's (or in your case, the heroine's) desire to save the world (however you define that). Have you seen the movie KickAss? I think you might want to check it out just to get a handle on the superhero mentality. (It's also very funny.)

    There are quite a few superheroes who have no powers whatsoever. BatMan, for instance, has nothing going for him but technology and a bitter hatred of criminals. IronMan has technology plus the brain of a genius, but there are lots of really smart people out there who don't don costumes and fight the powers of evil.

    It's the peculiar obsession with righting wrongs, that defines superheroes, not their unique capabilities.

    I also think that readers will allow you to stretch the tropes quite a bit, if you're clever about it.

    For some reason, I'm also reminded of the lyrics to one of the songs in the Buffy musical "Once More With Feeling":

    We've all been there.
    The same old tricks.
    Why should we care?

    1. Thanks for the movie tip! I hadn't heard of that one. I did see several of the Batman movies way back when, and the old Superman TV series (and Batman, in the back ground, while others in the family watched it. I can certainly remember the theme music! And all of the Christopher Reeve movies.

  2. Batman also has earthly powers of strength and extreme acrobatics. Perhaps create a superhero who has developed her talents by design? Like the 'free runners' who run through cities jumping cars garbage cans and making turns utilizing the sides of buildings and such.

    1. I'm thinking that with a sudden, unexpected power, there'll be considerable of a learning curve, and much trial=and-error practice to fine-tune the effect and not do more harm than good.

  3. Love the Chuck Tingle reference in your title :)

    And please share more about the lesbian superhero novella when you've got it. I, for one, am fascinated!

    1. I keep thinking that I should read one of Chuck Tingle's works, to learn from the master.

  4. Action movies are my favorite! On our first date, husband took me to a drive-in and we sat on the hood of his car drinking beer and watching "Conan the Barbarian." I loved it! He told me that's when he knew I was a "keeper."

    I agree that the main thing driving a superhero is the need to right wrongs. In real life, most of us just want to be left alone, to live our lives in peace and quiet. We argue about politics only half-heartedly, then return to our jobs and our reality.

    But superheroes feel the need to change things for the better. So so secret agents, at least in the books I write. If you want to see what kind of issues can be dealt with, I heartily recommend the second and third Captain America movies. The second one deals with the issue of how much liberty are you willing to give up for safety. The most recent one, Civil War, (my favorite), deals with non-enhanced people wanting to control what the enhanced people can do, which is a huge part of the theme of all of the Xmen movies, but is handled much better in Civil War.

    Yes, there is violence, but it's cartoon-like. And there are lots of moments of humor and heart, especially in Civil War. Marvel is on top of their game now, with their movies. As long as they're so well-made, my family will always see them the weekend they open.

    1. Come to think of it, I loved Conan the Barbarian, too. Never thought of that as a superhero movie, but I can see that it would fit.

      I don't think I can do cartoon-like, but the obsession for saving the world sounds great.


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