There’s a podcast I frequent by one of my favorite authors. It’s called Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing and live streams every Monday on Youtube. It features indie authors giving advice and experience with marketing their books. They often feature other authors on the show as well. Three weeks ago Nalini Singh was featured on the podcast (which was SO AWESOME!) and last week the focus was on how authors can get their books into libraries and the process libraries go through to receive books whether you’re indie or traditional. The featured author was actually a librarian as well as an author and he was discussing his new book that he said was in the superhero fiction/urban fantasy genre. That sparked a little bit of a debate in the live chat about what readers consider superhero fiction vs. urban fantasy and how hard it is to find “true” superhero fiction cause it’s being drowned out by urban fantasy. One viewer got quite heated about the subject. It got me thinking about the characteristics and qualities of a person for them to be considered a superhero. In this post, I’m going to discuss definitions found on Google as well as what I personally think.
When the term superhero is used, the images that automatically come to mind are Marvel or DC Comics heroes; i.e. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, SpiderMan, Thor, etc. These are heroes we’ve all grown up with. They have quite an extensive universe as evident by the hundreds of comic books, television shows and movies. However, can we consider a different fictional character as a superhero? Is the definition of a superhero as broad as I think it is? Let’s take a look at some definitions around the interwebs space.
A simple Google search produces this definition:
“A benevolent fictional character with superhuman powers powers, such as Superman”
The one right below it comes from Merriam Webster’s dictionary and states:
“A fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also :an exceptionally skillful or successful person.”
These two definitions are quite similar. One implies only a fictional character while the other suggests that a superhero doesn’t necessarily have to be fictional as long as they are skillful and successful. The individual I mentioned above, who got heated during the conversation stated that a superhero is “a costumed crime fighter with super powers.” That narrows it down a bit more specifically with the words “costumed crime fighter”. Now as specific as that definition is, it got me thinking about some of our costumed superhero favorites. For example, the Green Arrow is a costumed crime fighter but he literally has no super powers. He’s just “exceptionally skillful” with a bow and arrow and he’s rich. Hell, even Batman doesn’t have any super powers nor does Iron Man. They’re just highly skilled in tech and they’re rich.
Now, if we look at a character out of an urban fantasy novel, to keep it simple, they’re usually a shapeshifter, a vampire or a witch (or some type of magic user) wouldn’t you say? To take it step further, they are usually in a situation where they’re fighting a villain who has superpowers or some type of non-human super trait that allows them to fight one another. Usually, they are trying to save the human race in some form or fashion even if the human world is governed by these supernatural creatures. The only trait these fictional characters are missing is the costumed part of the definition. Let’s look at the definition of supernatural shall we?:
“(of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.”
Looking at that definition, would you agree that a supernatural character is not the same as a superhero? But does that not contradict the superhero definition? For example, Superman is not even human. He came from a different planet entirely with powers that are not of scientific understanding or the laws of nature as governed by humans of Earth. But then someone like Spiderman is considered a superhero because his powers can be explained through science, i.e. he was bitten by a radioactive spider who’s venom manifested inside of him turning him super human. Then we look at characters such as witches and wizards. They are a bit of both wouldn’t you say? Some are born with power yes, but they still tap into science as well as nature in order to enhance the power they already have or to draw power into an object making it more powerful.
I asked my husband what he thought of the difference between superhero fiction and urban fantasy (after explaining urban fantasy to him). He stated that he believes that urban fantasy characters can be considered superheroes. He thinks of superheros as people or creatures, who participate in vigilante acts that protect the human race or race of species in general. When looked at it that way, I can agree with my husband that at the end of the day, whether your powers come from science, magic or an alien universe, a character can still be considered be a superhero – costumed or not. I’ll end with this definition from Stan Lee:
“A superhero is a person who does heroic deeds and has the ability to do them in a way a normal person couldn’t.”
What are your thoughts on superheroes in fiction? Do you believe the definition is cut and dry or is it more broad? Do you have any favorite non Marvel/DC characters in a fictional universe that you would consider superheroes? Let me know in the comments below!