So I’ve been writing a lot about superheroes. I mean…a lot. When you’re writing a novel about superheroes (oh, by the way, I’m writing a novel about superheroes) you tend to think about them a great deal. And the more I think about superheroes, especially the ones we have been given by the major comic publishers, the more I realize how many of them are utter and complete bullshit. Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy them. I totally dig them all (except Superman, you cheating fuck). But they might as well just be based on magic, because most of them have nothing to do with real world physics whatsoever. I have been developing some rules for myself as I create heroes from scratch, looking at the examples we already have in comics and movies. So here are some thoughts.
RULE 1: DON’T CREATE A HERO WHO CAN ONLY DEFEAT ITSELF
When I wrote out this rule, the example that came to mind the quickest is The Incredible Hulk. For those who don’t know, The Incredible Hulk started out as mild mannered scientist Bruce Banner. During a test of Banner’s gamma bomb, some dickhead teenager got the bright idea of driving onto the bomb range. Banner saved the kid, but the radiation changed him into a whole new kind of creature. During certain times, under certain conditions, the mild mannered scientist turns into a humongous, unbearably strong monstrosity called Hulk. (Fun fact: Hulk was originally grey, but difficulty with printing required him to become green). The Hulk is much like Jekyll and Hyde, with the hidden anger and frustration coming out and taking over the milquetoast protagonist.
I won’t go into the realism of the backstory (somewhere between 0 and fuck) but I’ll just address the narrative interest. The Hulk is huge. He’s bigger than huge. In some stories he is a somewhat realistic 8 or 9 feet tall. In other stories he’s the size of a goddamn house. And some stories (like World War Hulk) take him to such extremes that just about nothing can get to his level. So when you have a Hulk who is so strong that seemingly nothing can best him, what kind of enemies do you create to defeat him? Big things. The US Army. And other hulks. Other hulks? Yes, other hulks. When you have a hero that can easy pick up a tank and fling it like he’s in the Olympic hammer-toss, you’re gonna need something a lot better than a few guns or laser vision to bring the damn thing down.
Thaddeus Ross is probably The Hulk’s oldest enemy. As a military general, he commanded pretty much the whole friggin’ army to take Hulk down. And eventually, after a couple decades of that not working, he became the one thing that could beat a Hulk: another Hulk. As Red Hulk, Ross definitely gave Hulk the best run for his money. And therein lies the problem. When the hero is so overpowering that only a clone can stop him, that just loses narrative interest. Spider-man is powerful, but not overwhelming, so anyone with serious heft can try their luck. But unless you’re 10 feet tall, and look like Rob Liefeld drew you, you might as well just not even fucking bother messing with Hulk because he’s going to crush you without even seeing you.
As an interesting post script, let me throw a little physics at you. Say you’ve got a punching bag with one of those force meters like Ivan Drago punches in Rocky IV. In one corner you have The Incredible Hulk. In the other corner, you have Flash (superpower: speed). Who is going to have more force behind the punch? You’d probably say Hulk right? I mean, look at those arms. You could transport illegal immigrants in the crook of his elbow. But that may not be exactly true. Physics tells us that force is the result of mass multiplied by acceleration. So you’ve got Hulk, who is incredibly strong but not necessarily super fast. Then you have Flash who is as fast as it gets, but looks just like we do. If Flash is as fast as Hulk is strong, then they will both punch with the same amount of force.