Captain Marvel, sometimes known as the magical version of superman.

Superheroes are generally relegated to the comic book industry.  While there are a few novels retelling major story-lines (i.e. The Death and Rebirth of Superman), they are relatively few and far between.  To some degree this is understandable, super-heroes were introduced with by the comic book medium (even if you argue that modern day superheroes are simply a recasting of ancient mythical characters you must admit that there is a significant difference between mythical hero stories and modern superheroes).  However, while there are a large number of magical heroes in comic books such as Dr. Strange, Brother Voodoo, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, The Shadow Pact, The Demon Etrigan, Dr. Fate, and Captain Marvel (just to name a few), there do not seem to be any ‘superheroes’ in the Urban Fantasy fiction genre – the most natural place to find them.

Now there are some specifics that are necessary for a character to be a superhero, although not as many as one might think.  While urban fantasy characters tend to have a few of these (i.e. super-human abilities is generally a given in an urban fantasy setting), there are several that they commonly lack.  For instance, every superhero has an origin story – some incredible and traumatic event that explains how they got their powers and what drives them (i.e. the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Peter Parker’s spider bite, the destruction of Krypton, or the murder of Frank Castles family).  Every superhero also wages an eternal battle (Batman’s war on crime, Ghost Rider’s war against hell, Dr. Strange’s battle to protect the earth, etc).  Lastly every superhero is a generally moral person; though many heroes have an alternate morality – for instance the Punisher operates on a strict code that reflects the rules of war, while his actions are illegal and wrong, they fall within his own strictly moral code – and some superheroes struggle with certain moral decisions and sometimes fall – see the descent into insanity of Plastic Man, or Antman’s fall from grace (however once they fell they were no longer considered ‘heroes’).  There are also some superheroes that have distinct mental problems, such as Captain Marvel’s identity issues or the Sentries bouts with psychosis.  So, superheroes are real people who struggle, but one of the defining aspects of a superhero is that in the end he will do the right thing, and is he doesn’t, then his status as a superhero is automatically brought into question.

The Shadow Pact

In general these are things that on does not find in Urban fantasy.  Of course there is also a strong (though not universal) tradition of vigilantism and rebellion in the comic book tradition that is also not found in Urban Fantasy.  My question here is why? Most of the Urban fantasy that I have found is a combination of mystery and paranormal romance, which has always seemed rather limited to me (though I admit to not being an expert).  However, urban fantasy demands the same kind of alternate modern reality that superhero comics naturally create.  I must admit that I am surprised that the concept of masked heroic vigilantes hasn’t jumped mediums by this point and become as much a staple of the Urban Fantasy genre as it is of the comic medium.  Perhaps someday it will, and I do have a couple of superhero stories in the back of my head that I plan to write at some point.  However, this hasn’t happened yet.  So, anyone have an idea why? Opinions?

2 thoughts on “Why No Masks?

  1. Most superheroes are over-the-top corny. Especially D.C. Comic heroes. While I fully admit I haven’t read much urban fantasy, I generally get the idea that the themes are more mysterious, mystical, and dark. Not really goth, per se, but one might say that urban fantasy is to goth what clowns are to superheroes. Maybe. If that makes sense.

    Marvel Comic’s heroes are a lot better, but they’re still a few stages removed from realistic characters. Somehow, I just don’t see that meshing with the more gritty and grey aspects of urban fantasy.

    In short, the difference isn’t so much theme or ethical/moral content as it is style. Superheroes are more flashy, more dramatic, more extreme… by several orders of magnitude. Plus, who wears spandex tights these days?

  2. You don’t need spandex to be a superhero, but you DO need a codename, unless your real name is cool enough to stand in for one. If your last name is Strange, you’re good. If your last name is Jones, you may want to go with Professor Nemesis or Lady Justice.

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