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Literature / How to Be a Superhero

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"I want my money back."
—Captain Shrivelled Manhood

How to Be a Superhero is a book by Mark Leigh and Mike Lepine, illustrated by Steve Dillon, and published in 1992 by NBM.

As the title indicates, this is a parody of various "how-to" books, guiding the reader through the steps and considerations needed to be a Comic Book Super Hero. Topics include how to acquire superpowers, do-it-yourself cyborging, choosing a proper Secret Identity, licensing and financial support, and the problems with kid sidekicks. The writing style is breezy and conversational, with a lot of Lampshade Hanging of Super Hero Tropes peppered with a good dose of Toilet Humor.

This book demonstrates the following tropes:

  • Affectionate Parody: The humor is very sharp and crude, but underneath it all the writers are clearly affectionate of comic book superheroes.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: A recurring gag in the book, such as when a dialog on superhero motivations gets derailed by two male readers arranging a date.
  • Animal Super Heroes: Covered in the appendix on Superpets, including what commands to teach (and not teach) your superpet.
  • Atrocious Alias: A section is devoted to avoiding choices like this, such as "Mr. AC/DC" might not be a good choice if you have electrical powers, or the poor guy who got his powers from and named himself "Purple Helmet".
  • Bat Signal: There's a section on this, including a joke about making sure you have a symbol suited to this, and commenting on how the Women's League for Decency got the Purple Helmet's signal banned (although he still sometimes mistakenly answers summons for Doc Hemisphere).
  • Bed Trick: The book recommends programming your robot double to say they have a headache if your partner suggests sex in order to avoid this trope (and having an example that is impossible to live up to when you return from your mission).
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The section on how to fight ninjas has an addendum about how, since most superheroes buy the technology they use to fight crime from Japan, ninjas have been known to substitute the instructions for them with fakes rendered useless through an impenetrable translation to sabotage heroes who oppose them.
  • Brainless Beauty: Mocks the tendency of comic books to give heroes female partners who are just there to provide sex appeal (and not to be capable enough that they might steal the spotlight).
  • Brick Joke: Before the book begins there's a weird exchange about two guys making a date. Later there's a bit where they're having the beginning of that discussion, and are told to take it to the preamble because they need the space to discuss superhero stuff.
  • Captain Superhero: Numerous. Lampshaded in the section explaining why superheroes shouldn't try to fund their career with bank loans:
    Superhero: "Good morning. I want to apply for a loan."
    Bank official: "Certainly, sir. And what is your name?"
    Superhero: "Captain Whirlwind."
    Bank official: "Ah, a captain. Well, we offer preferential loans for veterans. What part of the forces did you serve in?"
    Superhero: "Er ... well ... I didn't ... I'm not actually a real captain."
  • Coverblowing Superpower: A mild-mannered reporter knows a secret phrase which turns him into a blue whale, "the indomitable sultan of the seas!" Too bad he uses it in the middle of the newspaper's offices.
  • Crimefighting with Cash/Signed Up for the Dental: One example features "Captain Z", who literally fights crime with cash; he offers the Big Bad's mooks higher wages, paid vacations, and a health plan, then orders them to beat up their former boss.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Occurs in the section on cosmic powers, where Captain Cosmic uses the power of a single eyebrow to defeat the collective forces of the Crime Kings (and obliterate the Earth in the process).
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Heavily parodied when a sidekick explains away rope burns from a supervillain hostage situation to his teacher as him and his adoptive father "getting into some really rough stuff." Naturally, this doesn't help the situation.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Several examples are shown in the chapter on crimefighting motivations, of stuff you shouldn't concern yourself with if you want to be taken seriously.
    ''On blackest nights / on sunniest days
    No jaywalker shall escape my gaze!"
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: Captain Eagle breaks into an orphanage to find a kid whose parents were killed by a mugger and who might want revenge on crime. One boy seems promising, until one of the other orphans points out, "But you've only got one leg, Bobby-Ray!"
  • Dumb Muscle: The book's description of Super-Strength. It's handy in so many situations, but the stronger you get, the less you'll be able to see them, because you get less smart the stronger you are. Mainly to take some cheap shots at the lack of intellectual prowess of Dolph Lundgren and Dan Quayle.
  • Embarrassing Cover Up: A swamp monster attempting to maintain a Secret Identity and trying to explain away the smell by claiming to have had 'an accident' in his pants.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: "Becoming One With the Cosmos" is mentioned as one source of super-powers, though the reader is warned not to Become One With New York City and turning into a massive pile of shit as a result.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Early in the book there's a section addressing selling your soul to the Devil to get super powers, and the fact that you can't wriggle out of your contract is why you shouldn't.
    Where do you think lawyers go when they die?
    • Gets even more in-depth in the section on secret identities, mostly in the one about how to act like a convincing lawyer. This includes stuff like putting broken glass in old ladies' purses for the hell of it.
  • Evil Sorcerer: There's a section educating the reader on this type of villain. Mainly how to tell the magicians who want to take over the world apart from the magicians just trying to make an honest buck entertaining at parties and trade shows.
  • Face Death with Dignity: There's actually a section near the back of good things to do to face death in a heroic fashion.
  • Faux-To Guide: Obviously, the book is only intended to amuse the reader.
  • Groin Attack: A recurring source of humor, often with a superheroic twist.
    "I'm going to heat up your seminal fluid to 24,000C..."
  • Heroism Won't Pay the Bills: Invoked to discuss the whys, hows, and methods for the would-be hero to license his exploits to Comic Book publishers or seek other forms of corporate sponsorship.
  • Home Made Inventions: Discussed as a way for cash-strapped heroes to get by, whether it's with homemade equipment or self-inflicted Cyborging...
  • Instructional Title
  • Kid Sidekick: Played for laughs extensively in "The Problem With Boy Wonders". Basically, a chapter on why not to have one.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Getting struck by lightning is discussed as a possible origin. A testimonial from the Amazing Scorch Mark says he got struck by lightning and now fights crime with powers of third degree burns and incurable stutter.
  • Loads and Loads of Rules: The primary drawback of being a member of the Space Police.
    Volation 2,004,673: Xammalanning off-world without permission in triplicate.
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Discussed as an inevitable side effect of having a Secret-Keeper; no matter how well-meaning your significant other is, she's not going to understand superheroic issues like cleaning alien hell-slime off your costume.
    Wife: "Does that need a pre-soak?"
  • Moral Guardians: Readers are warned to avoid seeking Comic Book sponsorship if their powers or exploits will offend the Comics Code Authority.
    Typical things the Comics Code will not stand for:
    1. Anyone calling himself Penis Man.
    2. Anyone who transforms himself into a superhero by yelling the magic words, "Hey, kids, smoking is really good for you!"
    3. Unnatural relationships with any member of the animal or plant kingdoms, no matter how integral to the plot.
    4. Superheroes who restraint foes by sitting on their faces and wriggling.
  • My Little Panzer: The authors warn the would-be superhero about putting his name to merchandise without checking its safety, citing such previous PR disasters as Captain Feline and Blackie the Wonder-Cat's "Kitty-Fun" playsets (a variety of ways for a child to torture a cat) and the Mr. Inferno dressing-up kit (one costume, one bottle of kerosene, one box of matches).
  • Ninja: Among other villain types, has a section on how to survive battles with these masters of stealth. Mostly by randomly saying racist things about the Japanese to make them mad enough to blow their cover.
  • Pest Controller: In some light-hearted Take That! aimed at Ant-Man, one of the superpower sections is power over the ant, and how it's actually pretty useful if employed with some imagination. Some of the examples are pretty silly (like having them ruin a villain's picnic to demoralize him before taking him on directly, having the ants form themselves into a beard or mutton chops when you go undercover), some less so (having ants crawl up the villain's pants and squirt formic acid on his privates to distract him during a crucial moment).
  • Potty Emergency: According to the book, inducing one is the trick to defeating villains in Powered Armor (or "Man-Droids"). They're completely sealed up so nothing gets in, but also nothing can get out...
  • Power Perversion Potential: Lots of jokes about why having stretching powers will make you very popular with the ladies (and why other heroes without them will hate you for it).
  • Product Placement: Listed as one of the downsides of being a superhero with a corporate sponsor:
    They [the sponsor] insist that you use their products in the fight against crime.
    (This may be OK if they manufacture napalm, titanium plating or radar equipment, but it's not much use if they make children's clothing, toothpaste or sanitary napkins...)
  • Queer People Are Funny: A regular source of gags, especially in the chapter "The Problem With Boy Wonders"
    Reader: "I know what you're going to say. You're going to do lots of jokes about how suspect it is for a grown man to be running around with a young boy."
    Narrator: "You peeked ahead."
    Reader: "No, I didn't. It was blindingly obvious."
  • Raised by Wolves: Parodied in the section on being a "Jungle Lord," which includes a list of orphans who didn't make it due to a poor choice of adoptive animal (and why in general this isn't a popular type of superhero to be anymore): Tomar of the Molluscs (starved to death), Mikki of the Dolphins (drowned), Sven of the Lemmings (jumped off a cliff), and Eric of the Man-Eating Bengal Tigers (guess).
  • Robot Me/Sex God: The reader is warned to make sure his robot duplicate behaves exactly like him, except for one thing...
    Girlfriend: "God, you were fabulous last night!"
    Superhero: "What? IN BED?"
    Girlfriend: "In bed... on the floor in front of the fire... in the bathtub... on the stairs... on top of the breakfast bar... behind the couch... in the attic... on the porch... in the rocking chair... inside the closet... under the bed... what a night! Whooo!"
  • Running Gag: Boy Wonders frequently (or even exclusively) exclaim "Holy ________!"
    Boy Wonder: "Holy Giving Away Your Secret Identity By Mistake!"
  • Secret Identity: Discussed in the chapter "Secret Identities" (duh). The authors' recommendations for best secret identities include millionaire playboy (so you can leverage Crimefighting with Cash) and a politician (as you can disappear at any time without accountability).
    Superhero: "I just gotta go out for a quick blow job and score some crack, OK?"
    Aide: "Sure thing, Senator!"
  • Secret-Keeper: Discussed as an inevitable effect of super-heroics, due to the hero's slip-ups:
    1. You park your Crimemobile in the garage.
    2. You put your dirty costume in the laundry basket.
    3. You keep shouting, "Eat disintegrator blast, Crimemaster!" in your sleep.
  • Self-Made Orphan: This is a recommended method for becoming a superhero.
    Getting Your Parents Shot Dead In Front of Your Eyes
    At first, this might seem like a strange tactic, but if it was good enough to start you know who on one of the most successful crimefighting careers of all time, then it's certainly an avenue worth exploring!
  • Self-Serving Memory: One of the benefits of licensing your exploits to Comic Book companies is that they will whitewash your less-than-heroic moments. For instance, Captain Triton's fainting at a gory crime scene is rewritten as the result of a hidden cache of argonite.
  • Shout-Out: Lots, some obvious, like the Bat Signal reference or the spoof Green Lantern oath, and more subtle ones like a bad idea for a costume being an alien symbiote pretending to be a costume. It's possible that the Comic Code's disapproval of plot-essential relationships with plants is a reference to Swamp Thing losing its Code seal.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The book offers several examples and recommendations, most notably The Castrator, a man in spiked body armor who wields a bloody chainsaw.
  • Super Zeroes: Lots, including Pogo Man, e e cummings man, and Mr. Yoyo.
  • Take That!: Includes lots of jabs at Dan Quayle.
  • Toilet Humour: The source of a lot of the jokes.
  • Underwear of Power: Specifically says to avoid this in its section on costume design.
  • Vine Swing: Mentioned as a means of transport, where it is said not to be suited for urban superheroes, as the closest thing cities have to vines is power lines.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Gets brought up sometimes, like if you think about joining a team, make sure you know what heroes you could be trusting to save your life, like somebody whose power involves controlling peanut butter or worms. Also used to mock some of the ridiculous gimmicks that 40's heroes had in the rush to capitalize on the new fad, like Blindman, the Cross-Eyed Swami or Yo-yo Man. note 
  • Wild Child: Parodied in the section of superhero origins, in which being raised by wild animals is given as one possible origin. The authors then present the story of a child raised by oysters, who drowned 20 years ago and the oysters never noticed.