How not to write a superhero

You’ve read the great old English epic poem about Beowulf, right? Beowulf was a Viking-type warrior, and one of the first writings about a superhero. Strong enough to rip the monster Grendel’s arm outta its socket! Tough enough to hold his breath underwater for a day! And heroic enough to protect… um… not so much.

The story goes with Grendel the monster barging into the village and killing and eating villagers at night. Beowulf and his army stake out the main hall, or tavern, or whatever you called the place where tough hairy sweaty sword-warriors hang out, and they all sleep, waiting for Grendel to barge in the front door. And Grendel does barge in that door. And what does Beowulf do? Does he yell, “Awaken, my mighty band of barbarians, dream of stabbing enemies and smooching wenches later, we have a real monster to slay!” No. He waits until Grendel grabs the guy sleeping closest to the door, watches Grendel slurpily gobble him up, and THEN he battles Grendel. Because Beowulf boasted that he would beat Grendel single-handed. Because that will get him more fame and glory. (A bit of advice: Heroes shouldn’t boast. Leave that for the macho men with low self-esteem.)

When I read that in high school, I knew that I would not want to work for that guy. Beowulf: “Okay, you sleep right next to that door where the monster is gonna bust in when we are all asleep.” Me: “Oh, right, and when Grendel breaks in you’ll give the battle cry and you and I and our army will all gang up on him?” Beowulf, “Uh, riiiiight, you just cuddle up there and snooze, and it was a pleasure working with you.”

But Beowulf could be worse. He could be Mr. A.

Invulnerable, but not boring!

Nickelodeon’s superhero comedy show, The Adventures of Kid Danger, is in its final season. This show is one of my guilty pleasures. It is mostly about Henry Danger, the sidekick to the superhero. Captain Man is heroic, handsome, conceited, pontificating, brave and bold, and his superpower is… hmm, let’s do a flashback.

THE NICKELODEON WRITER’S ROOM. A BRAINSTORMING SESSION SEVERAL YEARS AGO.

Writers are sitting around a table. A guy in a Spongebob t-shirt says, “We gotta get into this superhero thing! Lookit all the moolah those movies are making!”

A guy in a Superman t-shirt(size XXXXXXL, he is build like the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy) sits with a sourpuss pout. “Yeah. At Marvel. But didja see DC’s Man of Steel?”

A man in an Iron Man t-shirt sighed deeply. “Why don’t you tell us for the two hundredth time?”

“Making Superman and his dad follow that objectivist crap?” The Supes-t-shirt guy stands up, making his 49 inch waist wave and roll like a tsunami. He thrusts out his pudgy arms to strangle something invisible. “If I had the power of time travel, I’d strangle Ayn Rand! WHILE SHE’S STILL IN HER CRIB!!!”

He sits back down—THOOM!!!—and crosses his arms, which makes his blubbery chest stop bouncing a few seconds sooner.

A young woman in a Black Widow t-shirt glares at him. “Hey, it’s only a movie, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”

Supes guy turns red in the face. He opens his mouth and clenches his teeth. “I will let that go. I see you are new here. But we must respect the fanboys!”

The woman meets his fiery gaze. “And fangirls!”

The man nods. “I totally concur! We must give the children Marvel type heroes! Flawed! Funny! Heroic!”

The woman nods, and wipes off a tear. “Like Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.”

Everyone at the table puts their hand over their hearts and choruses, “Ernest and Tim, we hardly knew yee.”

The Iron Man guy says, “Okay, let’s do a kid sidekick show. Kids like seeing kids. All we gotta do is create a superhero, and we got it!”

Supes guy and Black Widow gal shoot him withering glares. “Really? A kid hero-worships the hero? Where’s the FUN?!?!”

Iron Man guy says, “Oh, when the superhero is being shot or hit or something, and everything just bounces off, the kid can scream when he almost gets caught in the crossfire and the hero stands, hands on hips, heroic smile, and says, ‘You cannot hurt me!'”

The woman’s lips curls. “I hate him already.”

Supes says, “Bah! The reason Superman is hard to write is that he is invulnerable!”

The woman says, “Don’t forget the…” she pantomimes a big fat yawn, “perfect personality.”

Supes says, “Of course. We can make our superhero conceited, full of himself!” He stands again, hands on hips, and thrusts out his ample chest and belly. “A hero with a hilariously obnoxious personality!”

The woman smiles. “Where’d you get that idea?”

Supes says, “But there is that problem of invulnerability. If nothing can hurt him, where’s the danger?”

The woman says, “You know, it’s funny. Superman has bled, he’s even died.”

Iron Man guy says, “He got better.”

The woman says, “My point is you are either 100% invulnerable or zero percent.”

The writer’s room door open fast, smacking Supes in the butt. A pizza guy enters the room. “Pepperoni and anchovies?”

Supes guy stumbles, holding his butt. “Ooo! Ooo! Ooo! That smarts!”

Iron guy laughs. “Ain’t you invulnerable?”

The woman ogles Supes. She smiles big, bigger, BIGGER! Her eyes look like fireworks are going off! “Eureka! Yes, YES, YESSSS!!!”

Supes guy glares at her. “What is so frakin’ funny?”

The woman says, “What if Superman said, ‘Ouch?'”

Supes guy’s eyes light up also. His smile become that of a great white shark about to feast on unsuspecting, 18-21 year old, muscle-beach, sculpted lean meat surfers. “Yes! YES!!! HE IS INVULNERABLE!!! BUT…”

The woman rushed up to him and hugs him! “But he still says ‘OW!'” And the woman and Supes guy dance around the room, not caring how they bash the table and knock over chairs and spill pizza and high-caffeine colas.

Supes guy says, “Think of the slapstick! Boulders bounce off his big stupid cement head, and he says, ‘Ouch, ooo, owie!'”

She laughs. “Lasers bounce off his chest, and he scream, OOOOCH, my nipples! If we can sneak that past the censors.”

Supes laughs, expertly spinning her. “We’ll call it hot purple nurples!”

The woman laughs as she whirls to a stop and embraces him to get right up to his face. “But you know what he needs!”

Supes dips her. “Of course. A catchphrase.”

The woman smiles wickedly, then winces. “Ooo, kink in my back!”

Supes’ face gets worried. “Are you hurt?”

She smiles. “No. I’m okay.”

Their faces, mere inches apart, light up. He says, “THAT’S IT!!!”

She says, “Anvils bash his head, rockslides bury him, huge burly wrestlers pick him up and bash him onto the hard concrete floor, and he says ‘OW OUCH OOO THE PAIN,’ and then he gets up and smiles and says…”

Supes lifts her high and they crow together, “I’M OKAY!!!”

He sets her down. “We need a skirt in the show also.”

She says, “Of course. Two guys together doing dangerous stuff? Get a smart girl to be the voice of reason!”

Supes lowers her. She smiles up at him. They say, “I think I love you!” They kiss.

Iron guy munches pizza and says, “Ah, I love when ideas come together. Take that, Ayn Rand!” He shakes his fist at the heavens. “MOO HAHAHAHA… wait. Wrong direction.” He shakes his fist toward the center of the Earth. “MOO HAHAHAHAHA!!!”

OKAY, BACK TO DAVE!

Captain Man, a hero who is indestructible, but who still says ouch. Who gets bashed and mashed and comes back for more. I wonder where they got that idea…

YEARS AGO. THE MARVEL BULLPEN.

Stan Lee is shaking his head. “Guys, we need a new type of hero and we need one now!”

Roy Thomas and Les Wein (Hulk and Spider-Man t-shirts, respectively) say (respectively), “Uh, how about a teenage superhero?” “But bulletproof?”

Stan looks like someone force-fed him a lemon. “What? No! If he’s invulnerable, we just got a younger and even-more-boring Superman!”

WHAM! The door opens, hitting Stan in the nose. The pizza guy says, “Uh, pepperoni and anchovies?”

Ron and Les jump out of their chairs and huddle around Stan. “You okay? Does it hurt? You gotta little nosebleed!”

Stan pulls a hanky out and dabs his nose. “Nah, I’m fine, it’ll get better.”

Les Wein’s eyes light up. “Yeah. YEAH!!!”

Roy says, “Wait… YEAH!!!”

Stan looks at both. “What?”

Roy and Les babble together: “A hero who is tough and fights and gets shot and stabbed and punched and kicked and lasered and smashed! AND HE HEALS UP AND GETS BETTER!!! REAL FAST!!! And he fights again with the fury of a honey badger!”

Stan says, “Um, how about a wolverine?”

Les says, “Iron Man has armor on the outside, so he never says OW.” Les grins wickedly. “But what if this Wolverine guy…”

Roy says, “Is armored on the inside! Invulnerable skeleton! Bullets blow bloody holes in him! Swords stab into his chest and out his back! Knives gouge hunks of flesh off his arms and legs! And he gets up and heals fast and says…”

Stan Lee shouts, “‘Is that all yuh got, bub?'”

Stan and Roy and Less hug and jump for joy. “The blood! The gore! The violence! The kids will love it!”

Captain Man and Wolverine. Invulnerable does not have to be boring.

RIP Stan Lee. Humans entertain, gods bore.

A bright light has gone out in the world. I was but a kid when Spider-Man and Fantastic Four were first published. Compared to DC Comics at the time, Stan’s characters were more flawed, more human, more fun. Super Holly Hansson is the Superman of my writing world, but she is not a perfect boy scout. She is a geek girl with a short fuse. Lesson learned.

John Trumbull ran an article a while ago that showcased Lee’s dialog when some of the jerkier fanboys would say it was ALL Kirby and ALL Ditko and Stan just took all the credit. In the article, John showed a panel from Fantastic Four, Lee’s writing and Kirby’s art.

And one from New Gods, Kirby’s writing and art.

Have I mentioned that one way to have Super Holly Hansson give you a fat lip is to call her a goddess? Putting “Gods” in a title puts me off. Fellow writers tell me that they like how Holly is “very human.”

On Stan Lee’s Fresh Air interview, he asked Terry Gross to imagine a monster: 12-feet tall, purple skin, breathing fire, two heads. In the 1960s, a typical superhero would have said, “A creature from another world – I’d better capture him before he destroys the city.” Spider-Man might say, “Who’s the nut in the Halloween costume?” Stan said he tried to do dialogue that represented the way real, flesh and blood, three-dimensional people would talk. What better writing advice can I get?

Stan loved making original sound effect words: “btkooom” (the third O is, of course, silent) and “PFZZAKT” (a bullet going through a wall). I have been a little lax with crazy original sound words lately, but I admit that I still love Harry Headbutt punching Super Holly and then she clobbers him with five: THOOM! POW POW POW POW POW!!! THOOM! POW POW POW POW POW!!!

Stan said he used those fun alliterative names (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm) because he had a bad memory. I use them too, I like their sound: Holly Hansson, Katsuko Kimura, Cal Critbert, and my favorite: Harry Headbutt! (Nice when the name says a bit about the character.)

P.S. I was going to have a Stan Lee type character in my stories: Dan Mann. But I already have three older men in Super Holly’s life: her Uncle Pops, Bennie the rubber cop, and Lash the barber. So I am gender-flipping Dan Mann into Fran Lee. When I FINALLY finish The Comic Book Code, Fran will be the head of a Marvel-type company who publishes Holly’s graphic novel, The Last Super. She will know comic book history. She’ll be Jewish. And she will have some of HERstorian and writer Trina Robbins in her soul.

Justice League review: it’s humor and humanity, stupid.

I saw Justice League. Alone. I did not want to inflict it on anyone else. My expectations were low, like they were when my friend Brian “Mondo” called me up and wanted to see Dude, Where’s My Car? But I liked it. It was funny! (“We are hot babes.”)

I liked Justice League too. Sure, it grated on my writer brain. Some scenes felt glued together with library paste, I believe there was a payoff without setup, and too much dialog was blabby moody exposition. (Alfred Hitchcock said that exposition is a pill that must be sugar-coated.) Plenty of room for improvement. But this movie had two story elements that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman lacked: humor and humanity.

The Flash’s geeky, gawky enthusiasm and Aquaman’s heroic beer-chugging macho were especially fun. (The original Aquaman and Barry Allen Flash in DC Comics had the personalities of Macys mannequins, so this movie was right to revamp that.) Wonder Woman was again the fearless, ferocious fighter with a heart (although some of her fellow Amazons should not bare their bellies when going into battle). Batman showed his after-battle ouchie bruises and he stated his true superpower: “I’m rich.” When Superman stepped up to the villain, his voice was purehearted Christopher Reeve (it made my heart sing). Cyborg got to say his favorite line from Teen Titans Go (starts with a “B”). This movie gave the DC supers humanity to build upon. (Except Wonder Woman, she and her most excellent movie were slopping over with humanity to start with, even considering the goddess thing.) And its photography avoided a lot of the black bleak depressing sad angsty moody sepia dark tones of M of S and B v S.

Speaking of gods, a YouTube video that I saw (and lost) said it best: In the Marvel movies, the supers are human. In Man of Steel and Bats v Supes, they are gods above men. YUCK! My advice for DC movie makers: keep losing the Ayn Rand crap and you’ll keep improving.

In a super-fight, who wins?

Which super-strong superheroes would win in a fight with Super Holly? Superheroes fight a lot when they first meet. I am assuming that neither Holly or her fighting partner is under evil mind control, else the one not under control wins.

 

Wonder Woman: WW wins. Diana has many decades of warrior training, she HAS to win!

Supergirl: Probably Holly, provided that incarnation of kryptonians does not have them pushing planets out of their orbits. Holly is a better hand-to-hand fighter, and she is older and tougher, but she would feel awful about fighting a young girl.

Superman: Superman wins. Why? Because he’s Superman.

Power Girl: They would fight, but verbally.

Power Girl (pointing to Holly’s chest): “Copycat!”

Super Holly (pointing to Power Girl’s chest): “Get a logo!”

Thor: Thor would call it a draw once Holly picks up the hammer. She is worthy, although she does not think so. She would give it right back to Thor, of course. She has issues with being called a goddess: them’s fightin’ words, and that would likely be the cause of the fight in the first place.

The Hulk (Bruce Banner / Hulk Smash version): The fight would go like this:

“HULK SMASH YELLOW HAIR!” Big green fists hit Holly: THOOM BAM BOOOOOM!!!

Holly staggers. “OUCH! Oh yeah? Well, Holly smash you in the schnoz!” Super boxing fists belt Hulk’s nose: POW POW POW POW POW!!!

The Hulk staggers. “OW! YELLOW HAIR HIT HARD! LIKE STUPID ARMY GUNS FROM STUPID ARMY MEN THAT ALWAYS HOUND HULK! MAKE HULK MAD!!!” The Hulk raises his fist.

Holly grabs that big green fist with her super-strong blue telekinetic fist. “Tell me about it! Stupid paparazzi hound me! They zoom stupid telephoto lenses on my chest, and when that gets on the six o’clock news, supervillains laugh at me for days! I HATE THAT!!!”

The Hulk lowers his fists. “YELLOW HAIR HOUNDED TOO?”

Super Holly lowers her fists. “Yeah.”

The Hulk says, “HULK NOT MAD ANYMORE. YELLOW HAIR KNOW HOW HULK FEEL.”

Holly smiles and holds his hand. “Poor thing. Wanna talk about it over coffee?” Holly flies the Hulk to the nearest coffee shop, where they quaff gallons of iced mochas and talk and laugh and Tony Stark pays the bill because the Hulk does not have a wallet, and because Super Holly’s cash, not being from the Marvel Universe, would not be legal tender.

Fault Zone Uplift: My latest published Super Holly story

My short story, What Goes Up, is published in Fault Zone, a publication of the SF Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club. Super Holly Hansson saves the day several times in one day, but finds something she cannot save. I give many thanks to Laurel Anne Hill, who worked super-hard to put together this anthology, and who edited my writing into a story worthy of Fault Zone. Writers, editors are your friends.

Here is the start of “What Goes Up.”

The six-foot-tall, apricot-shaped computer on the auditorium stage glowed brighter. Was the thing about to go KA-BOOM, like old sci-fi mechanical brains computing love to the last digit? Super Holly Hansson gritted her teeth harder, tapped the console’s keyboard, and motioned toward Chris Jobz, the Apricot Computer CEO.

“Would you please hand me your tablet,” Holly said, “and get your butt behind the blast shields with your employees?” Too bad she couldn’t pitch that big yellow- orangish monster into the ocean. Too dangerous, according to Chris. “You’re not bomb- proof. I am.” So far… She swallowed hard.

Chris glanced in the direction of his staff, yet made no move to give Holly his tablet, as if he thought his lint-free black turtleneck was a supersuit. Arrogant but brave. He acted as if she could still channel superpowers into others, like she’d done to those comic book geeks months ago. She couldn’t do that anymore. Not even for a fellow geek.

“Miss Hansson, you need both hands and my help.” Chris shoved his Apricot tablet closer to Holly’s face. “You’re not an engineer.”

“I was a technical writer,” Holly said, “and this geek girl can read code.” But could she get through this in one piece? All those kids in the hospital would be so sad if she didn’t show up today. She typed faster, restraining her super-strength. Last year she’d

pulverized her favorite wireless keyboard. The shining apricot’s timer taunted her: 01:29, 01:28, 01:27…

“I know women can code. Forty percent of Apricot engineers are female,” Chris said. His eyes shot virtual daggers toward the smiling teen boy his employees restrained. “But if you don’t finish writing this Swoop code before that timer reaches zero, this Apricot will destroy the Internet.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Holly hissed as her fingertips tingled. “I suppose it was that kid’s bright idea to build a doomsday Apricot with a super-scalding keyboard.”

“Yes. Me. Crestley Smusher, to you.” The teen’s voice was nerdy, gleeful, and dripping with condescension. “It was a science project to put my highly intelligent, brightly smiling face upon every display on the planet. Upon the exact second of my eighteenth birthday, less than a minute from now. Except my superior code merged with inferior code from lesser engineers to form a nasty virus—”

“Shut up, Crestley,” Holly and Chris shouted. Holly tapped out the last line of code and turned. Behind thick, clear, plastic bomb shields, several angry Apricot geeks held Crestley’s arms. A six-foot-six and rather wide engineer got a stranglehold on the techie, whose smug smirk vanished. Speaking of vanishing, how much time had elapsed?

…00:03, 00:02, 00:01… The timer stopped. Just like on Stellar Trek, where the countdown always stopped at one. Whew! She’d done it.

Chris examined the Apricot’s display. “The Internet is saved.” He shook Holly’s hand. “Thank you.”

Such firm fingers he had, like a writer. “You’re welcome.”

“Auto destruct in fifteen seconds,” the monster Apricot voiced in a monotone. “Fourteen. Thirteen.”

“What the hell?” Chris sputtered. He and Holly whirled to face Crestley. Crestley smirked again. “All doomsday devices need a failsafe.”
“Nine. Eight.”
A failsafe? Time for Holly’s own brand of mind over matter. Crap. This was

gonna hurt. She reached out. A telekinetic hand—big, blue and transparent—shot from her own flesh-and-blood hand and engulfed the Apricot monster.

“Seven. Six.”

She punched her free fist upward. A telekinetic fist cannonballed out of it and bashed a hole in the ceiling.

“Five. Four.”
She flew through the roof and into the bright blue sky.
“Three.”
The Apricot campus shrank below her.
“Two.”
She held the doomsday Apricot in her telekinetic hand.
“One.”
Damn all arrogant nerds. Well, not all.
“Zero.”
KA-BOOOOOOM!

TO BE CONTINUED!

A rubber cop beats me to the punch.

I watched The Flash tonight. They introduced Ralph Dibny, The Elongated Man. Ralph has super-stretching powers. And he’s a cop.

My character, Bennie the Rubber Cop (based on Lennie Briscoe of Law & Order) also has super-stretching powers. (Long arm of the law, get it? Wink wink, nudge nudge?) I have not even published his short story yet (The Criminal Cupid, click to read an excerpt). Bennie does show up at the very end of my little Kindle book Super Bad Hair Day. He helps Holly deal with her… um… twin physical adjustments when her superpowers manifest.

Oh, well. My Bennie will stay rubbery. There is room for more than one stretchy cop in the world. Bennie is older. Wiser. World-weary-er. I just hope I can write more former-homicide cop wisecracks.