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Superheroes and their costumes (longish)

Is this really a good idea?


No, I don’t mean swinging high above the city from a thin strand that was liquid seconds before, and that you made yourself with a basement chemistry set. I mean the suit. Should Spider-man be wearing a suit with webs and spiders on it?

Hey, you’re thinking, it’s a theme. I get that. I get the theme, but as soon as you see a superpowered guy with a spiderweb on his clothes, don’t you immediately think “I’ll bet he has spider powers, like climbing walls and shooting webs.” The strength might be a surprise but come on, he’s wearing a costume. Better to assume he can throw a Prius at you until you prove he can’t.

And what about this guy:


Maybe if he shaved his mutton chops (and his shoulders) you might think “What’s this guy call himself, the Clydesdale?” But no, not with those bare feet and unclipped nails.

Next, imagine her:


And him:


Just before they started using their powers. If you saw people in those costumes committing a bank robbery on Action News, what would you bring with you as you raced to the scene of the big fight? That’s right–a fire extinguisher for the first one and a flame thrower for the second.

Even worse, their names are Firestorm and Blizzard.

This is what we call Giving Too Much Away. When I get superpowers and start fighting crime, I’m going to get a black and white striped suit, with a mane down the back. People will see me and think “Zebra? I’ll bet he’s pretty fast and can kick hard.” Which is just when I’d breathe fire on their asses.

In fact, I’d have a bunch of different suits to wear, and some of them would be identical to what the other heroes in the city wear. High-tech jewel thieves wouldn’t know if they were facing Meson Ray, Knifey the Stabber, or Captain Breath… until it was too late!

Seriously. Let’s try to use our heads here.

Why am I thinking about this? Because of one of the toughest edits to Man Bites World. The POV is, again, tight on Ray, and he doesn’t have a lot of people explaining things to him. He certainly knows more than he did in book one, all hard-earned info, lemme tell you, but not everything.

And my agent (who is my only beta-reader, remember) gave me a note saying that I needed to define the main antagonist’s abilities. Is he incredibly powerful like the guy from book 2? More? Less? What can he do?

Of course she’s right. I need to establish the boundaries and set the context here. Except, this guy, who does not have a friend in the world, has no one to tell about his abilities. What’s more, he has no reason to talk about them. He has several conversations with Ray in the course of the book, and he knows Ray is thinking about killing him, so why would he want to show his hand?

Antagonist: Me? Oh, I can generate large pulses of electrical energy and discharge them through my hands or teeth.
Ray: (writes in notebook: “buy rubber galoshes”)

So the only way to reveal what the guy can do is to show it happening, and by then shit is already going down.

This is the most difficult note she gave me, and I’m not sure I solved it completely. The change I made was this:

Ray: Why would you even do that to yourself?
Antagonist: Trying to find out more about my powers, eh? Hah! Forget it! (snaps fingers in Ray’s face)
Ray: (rolls eyes)

Okay, the revisions weren’t literally like this, but that’s the gist. Will it work? Hell yeah! I kinda love it. Will it work for anyone else? Well, that’s sorta the question. I’ll explain things to my ever-wise agent and see what she says. But sometimes you have to respond to a note like “What was in the box?!?! You never said!” by scrolling down to the last line of the document and writing “And we never did find out what was in that box. THE END”.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here or there.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)

Well, I don't think the superhero genre is the one to pick on. For one thing, in those universes symbolism MEANS something; that's one of the only ways to explain the common trope of a weak hero defeating a powerful enemy that by all rights should beat them like a drum.

Another point is that the "conceal information" trick only works ONCE, especially if you're a superhero with a costume going around the city fighting evil. The first time, okay, maybe it would give you an advantage, but not the second. Look at the Fantastic Four. Identical costumes, every one. Yes, the Thing's physical appearance kinda gives his abilities away, but you can't tell by looking which of the other three is the firebug, the stretchy, and the invisible. But after they become even vaguely well-known, anyone who sees them recognizes who they are and what they can do.

The usual way of revealing information to the reader that the viewpoint character isn't supposed to know is to have a couple of interludes that have a secondary point of view which DOES know the information -- ones generally from the villain's PoV. I do that a lot.
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
I'd want to belong to a superhero team, and I'd want all of us to have copies of each other's costumes. It would keep people on their toes.

The usual way of revealing information to the reader that the viewpoint character isn't supposed to know is to have a couple of interludes that have a secondary point of view which DOES know the information -- ones generally from the villain's PoV.

That gives me a good idea. Thanks!
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
Unless you all look pretty much alike other than the costumes, this would likely not work too well. "You know, Spidey, Firestar looks a LOT better in your costume than you do in hers. So, you shackin' up together and just grabbed the wrong suit out of the closet?"

Feb. 25th, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
Hey, the dude has transformed into a giant spider in the past. I wouldn't be surprised.
Feb. 25th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
Another option would be to show the aftermath of the antagonist's abilities somehow. Maybe someone shows Ray a photo of a smoldering crater that was once a city block and says, "You really wanna mess with this guy? Look what he did to the last schmuck."
Feb. 25th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
That's what I was thinking, too. Or Ray comes in at the scene after Antagonist has just toasted some redshirts.
Feb. 25th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Redshirts!?! ::gasp!:: I would never write a disposable character! Nevah!

Okay, I would, but only if it was absolutely convenient.
Feb. 25th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting idea for a future book, but I'm afraid it doesn't work here.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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May 2020


  • 14 Jan 2019, 21:47
    Oh, yeah, excellent point.
  • 14 Jan 2019, 21:46
    Oh yeah. Like the lawyers who get obvious really venal criminals off because it makes their success rate look good. But those are not the ones I am referring to in meaning well. These guys are mixed…
  • 14 Jan 2019, 20:37
    This reminds me of the time my wife was injured and the insurance guy handling her case did everything possible to deny and stall the payment. We had to put her surgery on a credit card because this…
  • 14 Jan 2019, 19:24
    The creepiest part is that some of them are actually well meaning.
  • 14 Jan 2019, 19:08
    Yeah. It's godawful what people will do when they have authority and no fear about using it.
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