City of Too Many Heroes

Superheros are exciting and cool because they are special, relatively rare, and interesting in a meaningful way. An MMO where everyone can be a superhero completely destroys each of those points: superheros become plentiful, mundane, and end up performing repetitive tasks.

Andrew has an entirely valid point. This is, however, a sub-genre of superhero stories. You do not see them often, and far less often well thought through, but you do see Astro City and others that take the notion of having a city of superheroes. I wish I could remember more, but my reading of comic book deconstructions is way behind. There have been comics about the equivalent of superhero internal affairs and the clean-up crews that deal with all these heroes. Other comics occasionally toy with the idea, like Silver Age stories where there are entire cities of Supermen or JLA Rock of Ages.

I will cite this last for how it is hard to do well, because while Rock of Ages was a great story arc, the DC universe then politely ignored the social implications of literal angels appearing on Earth or temporarily granting the entire planet superpowers. Or even what happened in those hours of ubiquitous demipowers.

: Zubon

12 thoughts on “City of Too Many Heroes”

  1. Top Ten was the best example that sprang to mind for me, and another example of how hard it is to do well (the Alan Moore original: great; some of the non-Moore follow-ups: not so great…)

    1. Top Ten, good, yes. I thought of it but dismissed it before checking. You must have been the one to plant the idea in my mind.

  2. Top Ten and Astro City are the best known, but it’s not exactly unheard of. Nodwick’s PS238 has everyone but the central character and his mentor have a superpower (and arguably, they have the superpowers of common sense and money, respectively). It’s even more common when we go beyond settings where literally everyone is a superhero as in Top Ten, and go to ones where only the vast majority of major and sideline characters are superheroes or otherwise empowered. After all, whether in City of Heroes or in Champions, there are loads of non-superheroic folk to beat up, rescue, or take missions from.

    Take the Justice League TV show. Seven primary heroes, and with Unlimited they had so many that there were superpowered living props in the background and people bickering over which super-stretchy guy they needed. Even settings you’d expect to have a single superhero focus tend toward this. The 1990’s Starman, an excellent post-Dark Age series, spends the first three comic books on talking about the importance of a single man to fill an empty legacy. By the second part of the series, we’ve got three people with the ‘starman’ moniker, the antivillan Shade, a reincarnated cowboy, an entire prison full of comparatively superpowered beings, a half-dozen retired supers, eight dead supers that won’t stop jawing off, it goes on and on.

    Heck, the early City of Heroes comic book managed to keep the concept working very well, and that’s despite going out of their way to avoid the rare Surviving Eight megaheroes for the earlier run and having relatively every-man characters.

    What makes superheroes cool is them being exciting and interesting. It doesn’t matter how many flying bricks there already are in the setting if you can make your new one meaningful, and it does matter how special your powers are when your character is just another boring Mary Sue.

  3. Thanks for the link, Zubon.

    I submit that there can be worlds populated primarily bu super heroes, but even still I doubt those stories would be as engaging to me as those where heroes (and villains) are the minority.

  4. The original argument is pretty lost on me regardless though, whether it’s fantasy, superheroes or especially a licensed world with establisher heroic figures, overloading any of them with thousands (or millions) or heroes all works out the same.

    Wasn’t this the argument against online worlds in the first place? The theory went that in a multiplayer game, each player cannot be the main protagonist as they are in single-player games. I think that’s been substantially debunked by now. There’s plenty of room for everyone to be the hero.

    1. Is everyone really the hero? There’s something players enjoy in these games, that’s the truth, but in many ways it isn’t being the protagonist that really drives a lot of MMO behavior — arguably even most of it. The rare occasion that the player character really is the hero rather than an errand-boy tend to be considered very special: see the recent post on Fallen Earth’s tutorial, and the name of this blog for the opposing situation.

      It’s a particularly relevant issue in superheroic settings where ‘team players’ are less well-received and have less history, but I don’t think it’s a solved problem.

      1. And yet superhero teams are how much younger than superheroes? Wikipedia dates Superman to 1938 and JSA to 1940. Even if you want to toss out JSA/JLA/Avengers-style “these are all our famous heroes” comics, Fantastic Four came out in 1961 and X-Men in 1963. For most of the time that we have had superhero comics, we have had superhero teams.

      2. I don’t think it’s a solved problem. I’m just not sure it’s actually a problem that needs solving.

        It’s kinda like saying a novel is different from a movie. Yes, an interactive multiplayer game isn’t a comic book, but they can share some elements.

        In the case of any RPG there’s a line where it’s reasonable to compare to the source material (or reality) and a line where well, you’ve moved into a different media. The question is not so much whether they’ve emulated the media it came from, but whether they’ve adapted well to the media they’re in.

  5. There is plenty of athletes, rock stars, actors etc in our reality, where many of them certinly get special treatment, admiration from the “regular” people – even if there are plenty of them.

    I certainly do not see an issue with there being too many of a certain type of character from a story or background perspective. It provides a more interesting story setting where it is not obvious that a superhero will save the day and not everyone will superpowers will be the ultimate good or evil character.

  6. I wonder what the ratio of superheroes to mundanes are in Paragon City. Sure, all the *players* play superheroes, but there is a whole mess of normal contacts, victims, drivers, and pedestrians out there.

  7. It’s not a game, but I really enjoyed how the novel _Soon I Will Be Invincible_ created its own take on that idea–very few people are actually superheroes, but there are enough to create a feeling that, especially if you live in a big city, you just expect them to be there somewhere.

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