Who Wants to Be a Superhero? is a reality show hosted by Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, the original X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four. Contestants dress up as comic book superheroes of their own invention.Each week, Lee challenges the contestants to represent what "superheroes are all about." The twist is that almost every challenge has a second Secret Test of Character that will be obvious to the viewer. Each episode, one or more of the superheroes deemed the least deserving is eliminated. The grand prize for the winning superhero is to have his or her character star in a Dark Horse Comics comic book written by Lee. They also have a cameo appearance in an original movie to be aired on Sci Fi Channel; whether or not this can be considered a reward is debatable.A UK version aired on CBBC in early 2009. Instead of adults, the contestants were children. The programme was hosted by CBBC presenters Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes while Stan Lee merely contacted the heroes through a television set to give them their missions and later give a debriefing. The premise is basically the same mentioned as in the above paragraphs. The prize for the winner is to go to Hollywood and be turned into a comic book hero by Stan Lee. Unlike the American version they did not appear in their own TV movie, and the winner's comic was not sold in the shops.The two winners of the two American competitions are Matthew "Feedback" Atherton (Season 1) and Jarrett "The Defuser" Crippen (Season 2). The winner of the UK version was Karl "H2O Man" Harris.
This series provides examples of the following tropes:
Anti-Villain: The Dark Enforcer could be seen as a Type 1. Even though he was a menacing supervillain and held a grudge against his former teammates, he still worked for Stan Lee (referring to him as "boss"), didn't hurt the superheroes' family and friends when he "interviewed" them, and gave himself up once the remaining three heroes stopped him from blowing up Universal Park.
Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The giant clone of Stan Lee, which is created by stealing electricity or something. As one IMDb poster put it, "Oh no, a giant old man is on the loose! Somebody head him off at the county buffet!"
Awesome Mc Cool Name: Iron/Dark Enforcer is a pretty badass name for a superhero/villain but his secret identity has an equally badass name, Steele Chambers.
Badass Normal: The Defuser's concept, and appropriately, he usually winds up leading. Also, when you get down to it, all the contestants are Badass Normals. Or at least they want to be.
Big "NO!": In the UK version, Dolphin Girl, on realising she has given away her real name and other personal details to the reporters and that Dr. Dark is likely to have heard it.
Blown Across the Room: Dr. Dark's defeat at the end of Season 2 has the Defuser, Hyperstrike, and Hygena send him flying through a door with a combined blast. Of course it was a stage fight, but that doesn't take away from the awesome.
Bound and Gagged: The pet shop owner in episode five of the UK version. Sam and Mark get the same treatment a number of episodes later.
Broken Aesop: An episode of the UK version has Sam and Mark remind the viewers that superheroes should never accept rewards for their deeds, to the extent that Dolphin Girl was powered down because of it. One episode later, Nine Lives receives a reward (immunity from the power down). A couple of the superheroes were not happy.
Butt Monkey: An unintentional example with Ty'Veculus. The poor guy just cannot catch a break.
Catch Phrase: Most of the contestants in the UK version had one, though Nine Lives's was probably the most memorable - it was his "theme song".
Five, six, seven, eight, Nine Lives! Nine Lives! Nine Lives!
It was later parodied by Dr. Dark after he got hold of his secret identity file.
Five, six, seven, eight, NO LIVES!
Ty'Veculus had the particularly hammy, "By the source of light, I am Ty'Veculus!" Though, this was arguably one of the best that the series ever offered.
You want hammy? Try Major Victory. "Be a winner, not a wiener."
Captain Ersatz/Writing Around Trademarks: Mr. Mitzvah, in Season 2, originally entered as Peaceman, a character he'd invented and previously used as part of his charity work. When he learned he'd have to sign away the copyright to the character to be part of the show, he came up with the Mr. Mitzvah persona instead, which is pretty much just Peaceman with a goofier costume.
Determinator: Oh, so many, but to pick one for each season...
Season 1 had Monkey Woman. In episode 2, the heroes had to cross a yard to the back door of a house with two attack dogs pulling them away. Three candidates rushed the door and made it in under thirty seconds. Five others try, but quickly cry uncle (literally - that was the safe word). Monkey Woman, however — she fights the dogs back and forth across the lawn for nine minutes and forty-three seconds to finally, successfully make the door.
Season 2 had Hygena, a hero who is just a little compulsive about cleaning, having to dive into several messy challenges one after another. You can see her on the verge of freaking out several times — but each time she fights it down, and often takes a position of leadership to power through it. She ended the season as the only contestant who never voluntarily gave up on a challenge.
Fail O Sucky Name: Having a hero name like Basura? In Tagalog (and in Spanish), it means rubbish/trash. She knew what the word meant and chose it because her costume was actually made from things she found in the trash.
Fanservice: Most of the superheroines and their self-made costumes were at least reasonably titillating, and many were downright stripperific - Monkey Woman and Creature in season one are good examples. Though perhaps the best example is an unnamed applicant who we see rejected in the first episode who "for distraction purposes" fights topless.
Flanderization: Parthenon in Season 2 started out as Straight Gay like Levity from Season 1 was, but a few episodes in, he began to act ridiculously Camp Gay and remained that way for the rest of the show.
Friend to All Children: Easily one of Fat Momma's greatest traits. She's one of the few to stop and help the little girl in the first challenge and won by a landslide in the elementary school challenge due to her heartwarming speech about being yourself.
Fun Personified: Major Victory, who deliberately played his role over the top. Also Hyper-Strike from Season 2, with his exaggerated Dragon Ball Z-esque moves.
It helped that Hyper-Strike was actually a stuntsman, so he was actually doing flips and high kicks. Excellent!
Genki Girl: Creature in Season 1 and Ms. Limelight in Season 2.
Genre Savvy: Several nice cases. In Season 1, Lemuria passes the self-nomination challenge and smugly tells the cameraman later that "Stan will have to try a lot harder to outsmart me like that." In Season 2, Hygena is the only one to consider that Dr. Dark is lying when he implies that one of the heroes is a spy (as indeed he was).
Stan: You make a lousy superhero. But you'd make a great supervillain.
Hoist By His/Her Own Petard: Since this is a reality TV show that promotes superheroic behavior, rather than backstabbing "winner takes all" tactics, every contestant who was eliminated was legitimately eliminated due to having a failing of some kind or a major-screw up. The only exceptions were Rotiart (who wasn't a real contestant and in fact part of a challenge, thus having to leave of his own free will once his role was over) and Fat Momma (for whom no explanation for her elimination was given):
Levity was eliminated due to his own greed getting the better of him, signing onto this show just to profit off toys.
Nitro G, while not the only one to pass up the little girl looking for her mother, was the only one to fail the first part of the challenge, by changing into his superhero costume in public rather than look for someplace inconspicuous first.
Cell Phone Girl was eliminated out of cowardice, since she quit a challenge in 4 seconds (she had a headache, but this apparently did not impact Stan Lee's decision).
The Iron Enforcer was eliminated for acting like a jerk, rather than like the superhero Stan Lee was seeking. This is a bit of a subversion, however, because Stan liked the guy so much that instead of sending him home, he made him the Dark Enforcer instead.
Monkey Woman was eliminated because Stan Lee found out she'd lied to him about her profession, and she gave away her secret identity to a civilian right off the bat, as opposed to most of the other contestants who had to be cajoled into it.
Ty'Veculus was eliminated for trying to throw Lemuria under the bus to save his own skin. (Fat Momma also tried to eliminate Feedback, but this didn't count because she did it for Feedback's own well-being.)
Creature was eliminated for breaking the law on television (by jaywalking) and thus setting a bad example as a superhero.
Lemuria was eliminated because she was the only contestant (out of the remaining four) not to win the "dangerous inmate" challenge.
Major Victory was eliminated because his Large Ham behavior came across as too much of a "parody of a superhero," rather than the way an actual superhero would behave.
Hypocrite: Stan the Man criticized Major Victory for his past (key word: past) as a stripper (As well as being a parody of superheroes). Stan apparently forgot that he himself is the creator of Stripperella. Or more conventionally, Clint Barton, a former thief and Natasha Romanoff, a former career assassin.
In the costume upgrade episode for season 1, Ty'Veculus was criticized by Stan for not being upfront about not being totally happy with his new look. In season 2, however, Hyper-Strike was very open about his dislike for Stan's upgrades, and was subsequently criticized for not being open to change.
Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: As noted above, Creature got in trouble for this, because she was jaywalking and thus breaking the law on live television, setting a bad example. Stan is always watching!
Jerkass: Mindset from the second US season. Aside from insulting Ms. Limelight, he deliberately failed a challenge by refusing to spell words the (incorrect) way the villain wanted them spelled, getting his teammates stung by bees in the process.
According to Mindset, at least in the second case, he was refusing to play by Bee Sting's twisted rules and banking on that being the secret challenge of the day. (On this show, stranger things have happened.) But it turned out it wasn't, and he was reprimanded for putting himself above his teammates, who had no say in his choice even though it affected all of them, and they were understandably not pleased.
The Iron/Dark Enforcer from the first season also counts, but he's apparently a lot nicer in real life.
Large Ham: Pretty much everyone, Stan Lee included. EXCELSIOR! indeed.
And in one unusual case, this trope actually caused someone to be eliminated. After managing to make it to the final three contestants (along with Fat Momma and Feedback), Stan Lee finally decided to eliminate Major Victory because Major Victory's behavior had been too consistently over-the-top, and Stan Lee didn't want a "parody" of a superhero to win the contest.
Mean Character, Nice Actor: Mr. Mitzvah, who after being portrayed as nearly a villain during Season 2, was revealed to be a philanthropist in real life who helps raise money for children's charities. He did show his nice side prior to his elimination.
Also Steele Chambers, the Iron/Dark Enforcer from the first season.
Most Common Superpower: The comic book versions of the superheroes tend to be more muscular (for males) or have bigger breasts (for females) than the real-life counterparts.
Never My Fault: Mr. Mitzvah had this problem. He was up for elimination three times in a row (with the third strike getting him out), and each time, rather than tell Stan why he ought to allow him to stay, he justified the reason for which he'd been put up for elimination.
Nineties Anti-Hero: Iron Enforcer, which got him eliminated. As mentioned below, Stan is looking for something closer to The Paragon, which is why he feels Iron Enforcer, a character whose schtick is about killing his enemies, would make for a terrible superhero, but a great villain.
Older than They Look: In the UK version, Santh and S.G.W. are 20 and 360 years old respectively (well, their characters are).
Only in It for the Money: The first contestant eliminated in the first season of the US version, Levity, got cut after admitting he'd joined the show with hopes of marketing the hell out of his character. Stan wasn't thrilled to have someone sign on out of sheer greed and tossed him out.
The Paragon: The kind of superhero Stan Lee is ultimately looking for. This is probably why some contestants were eliminated despite having the potential to be interesting comic book superheroes.
Race Against the Clock: Many of the challenges involved this. However, the very first example was a subversion, because stopping to help a little girl look for her mother would not help anyone beat the clock, but it was the right move. After all, does a superhero care more about winning a contest by racing against the clock in hopes of glory, or actually helping people who need them?
Sdrawkcab Name: "Rotiart backward is... traitor!" Interestingly, Rotiart wasn't actually a "traitor" in the villainous sense, but in the sense that he was a plant of Stan Lee's and not a real contestant. Why? Because Rotiart's job was to have conversations with all the contestants at the beginning to weed out people who were in the contest for selfish reasons... like Levity, for example, who was then eliminated for wanting to use the contest to promote his own toy merchandise. Apparently, people really do fall for Sdrawkcab Names in real life, even when it's spelled out for them right across his chubby chest.
Secret Identity: It's one of the basic rules of the show that the contestants are never to break character by "revealing their secret identity" to the public (that is, giving their real name or admitting they're contestants in a show or — in the UK version — giving away their hometown). Breaking this rule may be cause for elimination; in fact, this, along with her having lied about her real-life occupation, got first-season contestant Monkey Woman eliminated without even the usual chance to defend her actions to Stan.
It wasn't so much the fact that she gave it away, as most of the others had, as well; it was that she gave it away voluntarily, and as part of introducing herself to the contact.
Monkey Woman: (on hidden camera) I'm Monkey Woman, a.k.a. Mary.
Secret Test of Character: Nearly every challenge had one hidden in it. Justified, because Stan Lee was completely serious about looking for a super hero, not just someone who could follow his instructions in hopes of winning glory and fame. The secret tests of characters were all related to whether or not the contestants could actually act heroically in the face of temptation, difficulty, etc.
Some were so obscure, or even counterintuitive, that a fair portion of the second season's contestants went past Genre Savvy and into paranoid trying to meet the secret requirement of the day. This usually did not work out for them.
Shout-Out: In the final battle against Dr. Dark, Hyperstrike does a Kamehameha attack while shouting "HY-PER, HY-PERRR STRIIIKE!"
Smug Snake: Dr. Dark is intentionally played as this. He talks in a raspy voice and spends his screentime boasting about how evil and brilliant he is. Then when his big plan in the second season fails, he confronts the superheroes personally and gets beaten up in a fight that lasts about a minute and a half.
Special Guest: The UK version featured Danni Harmer, known for playing Tracy Beaker, Best Of Friends presenters Abs and Rani, Prank Patrol presenter Barney Harwood and one of the presenters of Newsround. And a Season 2 episode of the US version featured Rob Van Dam making an appearance to give the contestants kickboxing lessons.
Spell My Name with an S: Lumeria spelled out her name in her audition. Lum- as in light, seeing as her powers are light-based. That didn't stop the show from spelling it "Lemuria", implying lemur powers.
Team Dad: In Season 2, eventual winner The Defuser took on this role to some contestants, most notably Whip-Snap and Ms. Limelight.
Tempting Fate: After passing the self-sacrifice challenge, Lumeria said "Stan's gonna have to do a lot more than that to outsmart me." And Stan did just that. By the end of the next episode, Lumeria is eliminated for not completing her part of the convict challenge (sitting on the convict's lap for 10 seconds).
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Iron Enforcer was constantly criticized for having a BFG as his power. The second-season contestants caught on and explicitly declared their abilities to be non-lethal.
Too Dumb to Live: Ms. Limelight. Her greatest moment was when, during the course of the season, Stan pointedly asked her what kind of powers she had. She stood there and went "Umm..." for a good five minutes because she'd evidently never given the background of her character any thought.
There's also Nitro G from the first season in the USA. One of the first challenges required the heroes to find a place to change into their costume in the middle of a public park and then Race Against the Clock to a predetermined point. While most of the heroes failed the real test — a Secret Test of Character (i.e. noticing a lost child and then stopping to help her) — Nitro G was the only one who failed the first part of the challenge... by stripping down to his skivvies and changing into his costume in an open field in broad daylight!
Turn in Your Badge: Stan Lee will tell an eliminated contestant to turn in their costume. They are then required to take off various pieces of their costume, such as wristbands or the like and put them into a trash can before leaving.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Feedback was eventually chosen as the winner when the final challenge was just between him and Fat Momma. No reason or explanation was given as to why Fat Momma won second place and Feedback was chosen as the winner, but Fat Momma took it gracefully despite the lack of given explanation.
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Contestants frequently get to deal with any phobias they have, whether it be tight places, roller coasters, insects, or, yes, snakes. One memorable example is Lumeria from Season 1, who was terrified of high places and broke down in tears when one of the tests included them.
The snakes example was for Parthenon, who got penalized (though not eliminated) for letting out a girly scream when he accidentally touched one.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Several contestants tried to employ tried-and-true "reality show" backstabbing tactics, failing to realize that the show was serious about looking for a superhero. And heroes aren't selfish, lying, backstabbing reality-show creatures. (Usually.)