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A Superhero is a fictional comic book hero, usually with abilities far beyond those of normal human beings. The abilities are usually superhuman -- like invulnerability, but may be perfected versions of normal abilities -- like great agility. Superheroes spend much of their time fighting supervillains. This kind of fiction is generally considered a subgenre of fantasy, but its special nature is that easily combines with numerous other genres elements like science fiction, crime fiction and detective fiction.

Many superheroes, eg Batman and the Green Hornet, are ordinary men possessing no super-powers. Their status as a superhero derives from an extraordinary willpower, intellect, physical perfection, exotic useful equipment and a drive to fight for what is right.

There are a wide range of attributes that are typically considered part of a superhero's make up, although they are by no means definitive. Typically, the classic superheroes have a few of the following features:

  • A secret identity
  • Super powers, mastery of relevant skills or advanced equipment
  • A typically flamboyantly distinctive costume (usually to hide the alter ego)
  • A willingness to risk life and limb in the service of good without thought of reward
  • An above-average moral code
  • A very strong sense of idealism
  • An unwillingness to kill
  • An arch enemy and/or a collection of regular enemies that s/he would fight repeatedly

While these are the traits of the classic superhero, many break the mold. For example:

  • Marvel Comics' Wolverine has shown a willingness to kill and act like a jerk. Indeed, Marvel Comics' superheroes could be seen as a reaction to DC Comic's super-virtuous heroes of the 1950s and 1960s.

  • DC Comics' Batman has no powers, acts out of a desire for vengence, and is troubled within. However, Batman has trained extensively as a detective, is physically fit, and has at one time or another developed a number of specialty devices.

  • Marvel Comics' Spiderman makes mistakes on a regular basis and cracks jokes while fighting villains. He also has made a living taking and selling pictures of himself in action to The Daily Bugle and is willing to accept paid work on the occasional adventure as long as he is paid in cash.

  • The Incredible Hulk of Marvel Comics is usually defined as a superhero, but his actions have often, both inadvertantly and deliberately, have menaced the population and as a result, he has been hunted by the military and other superheroes.

  • Luke Cage AKA Power Man and his partner, Iron Fist, operated a business called Hero for Hire which charged a fee for their services although it was negotiable in certain circumstances.

  • The Punisher[?] of Marvel Comics is a vigilante who is often grouped with other superheroes. However, his response to opposing evil is hunting out and killing as many criminals as he can. This makes him the target of the police and other superheroes who are opposed to his extreme methods.

  • There are superheroes such as The Demon from DC Comics and The Ghost Rider from Marvel who are actual demons from Hell who find themselves manipulated by circumstance to be allies for the forces of good.

Most recently introduced superheroes have never had a secret identity. Some superheros that once had a secret identity, like Steel/John Henry Irons (DC Comics) have later made their true identity public. Other superheroes like Wonder Woman (in her current version) have never had a secret identity to begin with. In keeping with changing trends and a more open society, Marvel comics has also introduced the first openly gay superhero, Northstar.

The fantastic nature of these characters usually require an elaborate backstory called an origin story where the circumstances of the character acquiring his/her abilities or equipment is explained as well as their motivation for using it for fighting evil.

In Superhero roleplaying games, superheroes are informally organized into a variety of categories how their skills and abilities are oriented. The basic categories

  • 'Brick':A character who's designed be superstrong and can endure an extraordinary amount of damage. IE. The Incredible Hulk, The Thing
  • 'Energy Blaster': A Hero whose main power is a distance attack. IE Cyclops
    • 'Archer': A sub varient of this type where the hero uses a bow and arrows that typically have a variety of specialized functions like explosives, glue, nets, rotary drill etc. IE. Green Arrow.
  • 'Martial Artist':A hero whose main feature are combat skills that make for strong attacks and defend by dodging attacks. IE. Daredevil and Captain America
  • 'Gadgeteer':A hero whose main asset is access to useful equipment that often imitates superpowers and usually has the relevant technical skills to maintain the equipment and use it to the character's best advantage. IE. Iron Man
  • 'Speedster':A hero whose main ability is to move at a superhuman rate. IE The Flash
  • 'Mentalist':A hero whose main abilities are psionic in nature such as telekinesis and telepathy. IE Professor X of the X-Men
  • 'Shapechangers':A hero who can manipulate his/her own body to suit his/her needs as disguise or stretching. IE. Reed Richards of The Fantastic Four and Plastic Man[?]
    • 'Sizechangers': A subvarient who are superheroes whose powers involve altering their size to their advantage such as The Atom[?] who can shrink to almost any degree while Colossol Boy of The Legion of Super Heroes can become a giant at will.

These categories often overlap with various characters. For instance, Superman is extremely strong and damage resistant like a brick. However, he also has ranged attacks like his heat vision and superbreath like an energy blaster and can move superfast as well like a speedster.

Through the history of comic books, this kind of character usually conformed to the basic social assumptions and stereotypes in popular fiction during the first half of the 20th Century. Hence, the typical superhero character is a white middle to upper class heterosexual male professional. Typically, the character is often either independently wealthy like Batman or has a job that allows for a minimum of supervision so his whereabouts do not have to be closely monitored such as Superman's civilian job as a reporter. The typical female superhero was seen as a exception like Wonder Woman or docile and obedient helpmeets like Susan Richards AKA The Invisible Girl.

In the 1960s, the various Marvel Comics characters began to loosen the demographic type to allow for different images such as Spider-Man making a marginal living as a freelance photographer. Furthermore, the company created superhero characters of other racial groups as such as The Black Panther[?], Luke Cage and Shang Chi. Unforetunately, the early examples of these characters often played to specific stereotypes such as Asian ones were often masters of martial arts. The rise of modern feminism also encouraged more active and independent female characters though some seemed to exist to be preachy radical feminist stereotypes like Marvel's The Cat. Eventually, more sophisticated characters were later developed to display a more honest sense of diversity such as Marvel Comics' Storm of the X-Men and DC Comics' Cyborg of The Teen Titans[?].

This genre has been dominate in comic books for decades. The reason for this domination would partly be because of the fact that their adventures could not be adequately depicted in other visual media outside animation. Also, the genre has proven be remarkably flexible in the kind of stories it can tell since almost anything can be happen in the genre's world and it can still feel natural in it. For instance in a early period of the 1980s series, The New Teen Titans[?], the team faced off against a supervillain who controlled a religious cult in one story, then went off to another galaxy to participate in a space war in the following story, then returned to Earth in the next story to become involved in a gritty urban crime drama involving young runaways. The content of these three stories are each radically different from one another, and yet the same principle characters are involved without any feeling that they clash with the subject matter.

The word "superhero" may owe its existence to the most famous superhero of all time -- Superman, one of the most powerful superheros, and the standard by which other superheros are judged. However, many of these same traits were shared with protagonists of later Victorian literature, such as Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, and the dime novel stories of Buffalo Bill.

The word "superhero" itself is a trademark held jointly by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.

QUOTATION: "When men are growing up, reading about Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, these aren't just kid fantasies. These are career options." -Jerry Seinfeld

Superhero is also a song by Ani DiFranco.

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