Created By: SorrowsNeptune on July 8, 2012 Last Edited By: Tuckerscreator on June 19, 2016

Real Superhero Genre

A genre of superhero fiction that puts emphasis on cynicism and realism

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A sub-genre of superhero fiction which deconstructs the conventional idea of a superhero, demonstrating the kind of person who would want to beat up bad guys at night, and the mental and physical hardships that would come out of that.

The hero doesn't have any powers (or otherwise they're nothing too spectacular), and just wanders the streets at night beating up thugs and mafia members in a vigilante quest for justice; usually because of some psychological problem they have.

The genre was born out of the popularity of The Dark Knight Saga and the recent reserge in popularity for Watchmen; although neither works exactly fit the trope, they served as the inspiration for later works.

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Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • July 8, 2012
    nitrokitty
    Soon I Will Be Invincible does this with the villain as well, who is forced by his Science Related Memetic Disorder to grab the Villain Ball even though he knows its stupid.
  • July 8, 2012
    planswalker
    we need to fix the one-word examples.
  • July 8, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Are there enough truly non-supernatural examples to make that a separate trope or subdivision? I think Tim Burton's Batman may technically qualify, with only a small bit of Artistic License Chemistry.
  • July 8, 2012
    JonnyB
    A recent commercial for DirectTV shows a guy making a progression from feeling powerless to joining a karate dojo to becoming a real-life super - eventually falling through the skylight of someone's penthouse apartment in the middle of a dinner party.
  • July 16, 2012
    PaulA
    The Black Pearl, a series published by Dark Horse Comics in the 1990s, is another example.

    I'd argue against either Soon I will Be Invincible or Batman being examples. SIWBI resoundingly fails "doesn't have any powers (or otherwise they're nothing too spectacular)"; Batman not so resoundingly, but its hero still has unrealistic capabilities that to my mind put it outside the range of this trope.

    Speaking of Batman, though, there was a short story many years ago that I think would fit if only I could remember the title and author -- the premise was that there was a real-life Batman who inspired the comic book, but he was just a thuggish vigilante with no particular detective ability or amazing gadgets.
  • July 16, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^Well if Batman doesn't count, the guy in Unbreakable certainly doesn't either.
  • July 16, 2012
    JonnyB
    I don't remember the name of it, but there was an anime series about a group of superheros that had to fund their work through endorsements. (No, I'm not thinking of Mystery Men, although they parodied the idea.)
  • July 16, 2012
    KingZeal
    Expect to see a lot of Demythication and Real Life Superpowers.
  • July 16, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    Please drop "real" from the name. They still deal with impossible and improbable things.
  • July 16, 2012
    JonnyB
    Well then we just end up with "Superhero Genre", which defeats the purpose.

    How about changing it to Reality Superhero Genre?
  • July 16, 2012
    NimmerStill
    It seems to me to be two different tropes: (1) Deconstruction of the superhero genre, and (2) a superhero with no supernatural powers. You can easily have one without the other; Watchmen is full of deconstruction but has Dr. Manhattan, while many incarnations of Batman, notably at least some episodes of the 60s series, don't involve anything specifically supernatural but don't deconstruct shit.
  • July 16, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^^ I didn't mean to only drop that one word. I meant the name as it is doesn't work. Plus the laconic makes it look cynical, when it's not always the case.

    ^ This does seem to be two tropes.
  • July 18, 2012
    JonnyB
    The '40s Batman was also pretty non-supernatural.
  • July 18, 2012
    abk0100
    The original batman comics might count. I think he was one of the earlier attempts at doing a superhero comic the superpowers.
  • July 18, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Actually, these came first. Supernatural superheroes started around Superman, but other stories were around before that.
  • July 18, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay their Superman knockoff the Escapist is a very good Escape Artist. That's his "super" power. Later Defictionalized - which is to say, there became real, hard-copy comic books about the character.
  • July 19, 2012
    MusikMaestro
    Ther are a lot of films which Devonshire and poke fun at superheros. Lots of them have heroes with powers, so you should open it up to include them.

    Also films like this usually have a comedic element.
  • July 19, 2012
    MusikMaestro
    Deconstruct*
  • July 19, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    I think limiting this to 'non-supernatural' is probably not good. Even the most realistic stories have to stretch the bounds of reality. Also, there are some good examples of this genre that do involve sketchy pseudo-science or outright supernatural elements, and I don't think they should be excluded. One example is listed here (Unbreakable), and another would be Chronicle.
  • June 12, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    May involve Beware The Superman when the work takes the stance that With Great Power Comes Great Insanity.
  • June 12, 2016
    Koveras
    Compare Real Robot, a genre taking a pragmatic and cynical approach to Humongous Mecha.
  • June 12, 2016
    Chabal2
    The Boys: Superheroes exist... and except for a few cases, are worse than the few criminals they fight.
  • June 12, 2016
    NateTheGreat
    Needs a better name. Real Superhero Genre as opposed to a Fake Superhero Genre, anyone?
  • June 12, 2016
    DAN004
    Even Real Robot genre would have some speculative elements in it. Just that those speculative elements are heavy with Magic A Is Magic A.

    So why not this one? That is, having supernatural element shouldn't stop a Real Superhero Genre from being "real".
  • June 13, 2016
    LondonKdS
    Another very influential work on this genre was The Death-Ray by Dan Clowes, initially published as an issue of his comic Eightball and later as a hardback graphic novel. Although the protagonist is not a pure Badass Normal (due to his father's Mad Scientist activities he has low-level superstrength and is armed with a Disintegrator Ray), he is unable to find actual supervillains deserving of his powers, and is implied to become simply a serial killer disintegrating people who he convinces himself deserve to die for trivial social infractions.
  • June 13, 2016
    rmctagg09
    Worm would count since one of the premises it examines is what happens when the majority of super-powered individuals get their powers from traumatic experiences. One is that women "capes" outnumber men by a slight majority, and that the majority of capes happen to be villains. It also means that it's harder to get capes to work together when many of them happened to be loners. social misfits, or otherwise unsuited to groups before gaining their powers.
  • June 13, 2016
    Diask
    Gritty Superhero Genre for a name, maybe? I want to punch people whenever they use "realistic" as a synonym for "cynical".
  • June 14, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    ^ From the current examples (all of them zero context) I think the idea behind the trope is less "cynical superhero works" and more "what if a real person started acting like a superhero?" None of those examples involve superpowers I believe.
  • June 19, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Looks like we have this already. It's listed under Capepunk.
  • June 19, 2016
    NateTheGreat
    I repeat, please change the name. Please.
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