Superhero

"If I could be a superhero
I would be... Awesome Man
I’d fly around the world fighting crime
According to my awesome plan
And if I saw criminals trying to lie
Hurting other people and making them cry
I'd haul them off to jail in my awesome van
'Cause I would be Awesome Man"
Stephen Lynch, "Superhero"

For a list of tropes common to the genre, see Superhero Tropes.

A series where the main character has powers and/or abilities that set him aside from other people. Usually (unless he's Not Wearing Tights) he is a costumed do-gooder with a colourful outfit (which likely sports a Chest Insignia), a Secret Identity and often unusual and useful superpowers or equipment. Sometimes he's a loner trying to deal with the hand that fate dealt him. Usually his reason for existence is to defeat his nemesis or arch-enemy the Supervillain.

Sometimes the show focuses on a team or other grouping of powered individuals. The original modern superhero is arguably The Shadow (first published April 1, 1931 in The Shadow Magazine, seven years before Action Comics #1 introduced Superman). Though he did not initially have have super powers other than being a master hypnotist, he gains psychic abilities beginning in 1937 that let him induce psychological invisibility in the radio series. He was inspired by previous fictional adventurers and crime fighters, such as the Scarlet Pimpernel or Zorro (who may be the Ur-Example). In turn, he has inspired many future superheroes, most notably Batman who was a blatant Expy at first before being becoming the character we recognize today. The first comic strip superhero would have been Mandrake The Magician (June 11, 1934) and the first spandex-type costumed Super Hero is arguably The Phantom (first published Feb. 17, 1936), who wore a skin-tight purple outfit with a mask.

But of course, when you get right down to it, the first superhero is Superman, who remains doubtlessly the world's most recognized characters and the Trope Codifier for superhero stories as a whole; indeed, any similar character that came before is likely to be classified as a Proto-Superhero. After Superman's debut, the concept was repeated numerous times, eventually spawning the Justice Society of America which was the first superhero team.

Note that not all superheroes are super-powered; Batman is often considered a superhero despite having nothing but training, intelligence, willpower, minor gadgetry and the writers on his side; Phantom was in peak physical fitness, had excellent reflexes and was a sharpshooter. They are generally considered superheroes, partly because of the costume. In trope terms, they go under Non-Powered Costumed Hero.

Sooner or later, all superheroes have an origin story. If the series lasts long enough, the Sorting Algorithm of Evil will introduce the bigger threat of a Supervillain, possibly an Arch-Enemy. If the superhero fights enough of them often enough, they may gather a Rogues Gallery.

Superheroes are not limited merely to comic books and their derivations. Gladiator, Golden Bat, Prince of Gamma, Lone Ranger and Green Hornet predate all comic format Superheroes, and Knight Rider or The Six Million Dollar Man are television examples partaking fairly little of the comic book medium. On Japanese television though, the tokusatsu has a long and proud tradition of superheroism, most famously Ultraman and Kamen Rider, serving as the national image of superheroes. Anime is also chock full of super heroes from Astro Boy to Sailor Moon; Sentai and Magical Girl Warrior are two Japanese genres that are an outgrowth of this, not to mention Super Robot, which is a gigantic, armored variant of the superhero.

In a broader sense, superheroes can be considered old as the superhuman heroes of ancient mythology, with Gilgamesh being the Ur-Example. Other examples include Hercules, Perseus, Krishna, Hanuman, and Sun Wukong (a.k.a. Son Goku). In classical times, that's what being a "hero" meant; it was a statement on a demigod's power, not necessarily their actions. Only later did heroism come to be associated with moral purity, becoming the modern superhero.

In some continuities they may be called something other than superhero, but they're usually still recognizable as such. See also Superhero Prevalence Stages and Standard Superhero Setting.

See also The Cape, Stock Superpowers, Form-Fitting Wardrobe, and of course the Most Common Super Power. The exact opposite would be the Un-Sorcerer.

If you feel you have a handle on the elements of a superhero comic book, hop on over to So You Want To Write A Superhero Comic and see what you can contribute.


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Alternative Title(s):

Superheroine