Friday, May 04, 2007

Super-powered Heroic Fiction

An Interview with Robin Reed on Superhero Fiction

I found Robin Reed on a forum on general writing topics for writers. When I saw Robin's release of the second in her series "Power vs Power," I decided to ask a few questions. This is a relative small niche market, but the writers and followers of the genre are enthusiastic.

The question comes to mind: Where do superheroes come from? I don't mean in the Superman sense of arriving from the planet Krypton, but how superheroes are formed in the minds of the writers. Marvel and DC comics aren't the only venues for superheroes. The Metahuman Press on-line zine is a place you can find brand-new superheroes to admire. If the topic rings your bell, check out Robin's work on MHP and go to their forum to bat ideas with the folks creating the new superheroes as we speak.

By Robin Reed
Power vs Power series:
Hero Without a Name
Xanthan Gum: Print and ebook available through Booklocker
Earth - the fobidden planet! Where strange beings called humans toil endlessly, creating the stories loved throughout Galactic Civilization. Stories collectively called The Movies.

One brave soul dares to go there. He has a dream. He wants to be a Movie Star like his hero, E.T.

Xanthan Gumm is his name, and he has risked everything to be in The Movies and to meet the King of Earth - Steven Spielberg!

Robin also draws a mean cartoon. Check out Barstow Productions

Marva: So, since superheroes are iconic...

Robin: I have to stop you right there. Who says superheroes are iconic? I read a lot of comics in my life before I ever heard that superheroes are iconic, and I regard it as the kind of idea that is used when people write Ph.D theses on popular culture but don’t actually read the original material. I will grant that the most well known DC superheroes, especially Superman, have become a bit iconic because you can say “Superman” anywhere in the world and people will assume you’re talking about the superhero rather than anything by Nietzsche or George Bernard Shaw.

I have never liked characters that are the least bit iconic. Icons are boring. They never change. Superman in particular is hard to write because he can do so much. When I was a kid DC had a lot of Superman titles but they all were about Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen and how their lives interacted with Superman. The man of steel himself is too perfect to be interesting.

The only interesting stories about Superman that I have seen are really about Clark Kent. He arrived as a baby on Earth and was lucky to be taken in by a couple that taught him how to be human and what is right and wrong. They taught him to like humans, to believe that their lives have value even though they are so much weaker than he is. Imagine the same baby being picked up by people who tried to abuse him, or even being in an orphanage or a series of foster homes. If he learned to hate people, if he became selfish and never had any discipline, he would grow into a monster and use his powers to make himself Emperor of Earth. Actually, you don’t have to imagine this, just see General Zod in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.

I was never a DC reader anyway. I was a Marvel reader. In Marvel comics each character - hero, villain, or otherwise - is an individual, a person. If someone gains amazing powers, whether they use them for good or evil depends on their character, the person they are before they gain the powers. Peter Parker starts out using his powers just to make money, he becomes a celebrity. Only when his uncle is killed by a criminal that Peter didn’t bother to stop, does Spider-Man start doing good.

In the Marvel universe, characters sometimes change sides too, bad guys become good and vice versa. Things happen in their lives that change them. Icons never do that.

Marva: How do you create that feeling of superhero-ness when nobody has heard of your SH before?

Robin: I’m not sure how to answer this. All fictional characters start in the brain of a single person. Nobody ever heard of Sherlock Holmes before the first story was published. If a writer creates a character that many people like, soon that character will be famous.

Marva: Do you follow specific rules in SH creation? That is, is there a formula for backstory, as shown in Spiderman (created by external forces superhero) or Superman (SH by birth) or Batman (SH by use of wealth?). Are there other creation formulas?

Robin: There are no rules. Or formulas. Writers just come up with ideas that they like. Sometimes they go on to glory, often they flop.

Of your three origin stories, “external forces” is really a huge variety of origins. The origin is just a way to get your character started, though. It could be anything. What matters is the character of the human being and how he or she uses his or her new abilities. Even being born with powers doesn’t guarantee whether someone will be a hero or a villain, it’s the person.

Marva: Who's your superhero? What are his super powers? How does he or she fit into the mythos of comic book superheroes as outlined above?

Robin: I have created two for the series at One is a riff on Batman, I will admit. I always thought that a billionaire could do a lot of good in the world without donning a costume and personally beating up bad guys. He can prevent crime by giving inner city kids some hope and getthing them good educations. Batman, as Bruce Wayne, is shown supporting charities in the comics, but just the cost of one Batmobile could help a lot of people.

My other one is a young man who has Superman like powers given to him by a strange amulet he finds. He is attracted to superheroing by the glory, the applause of other people, rather than by a real devotion to doing good. He means to do good, he is not a bad person, but he can’t handle the responsibilty to use the power properly. He will become famous, a shining example of heroics to the world, but will let himself come under the control of dark forces. He will do bad things even while the world still thinks of him as a hero, even iconic.

Marva: How does your methodology differ from that fan fiction?

Robin: I don’t know how much comics-based fanfic there is. I mostly hear about fanfic related to TV shows and movies. I might be surprised if I searched for it on the internet.

Marva: Thanks for answering my questions, Robin.


  1. Good interview. Of course, I know both authors, the interviewer and the interviewed, so I am a bit prejudiced, I suppose, but rightfully, since both authors are extremely talented.

  2. Good interview. As someone who's work has appeared alongside Robin's at Metahuman Press and Cyber Age Adventures before that, I can say that it's quality stuff.

    Can't wait for more Power vs Power.