Your Ideal Superhero Universe

4 years ago | Sharkerbob (Member)

I was reading through a little comic book history recently, and came upon an article about Jim Shooter and his previous works in world building a couple of comic book universes. His first big crack was Marvel's ill-fated New Universe, where a mysterious event triggered a bunch of random super powers, but was otherwise supposed to resemble our real world. Due to various problems, the New Universe concept more or less broke apart, but he got a second try with the Valiant Universe. In Valiant, characters still largely got their powers from a single source, but there were more fantastic elements as well, weirdly combined with a sense of real world physics (super strong people couldn't just pick up a car and throw it like a baseball, they'd usually just rip off whatever piece of the car they were holding). One big element was making sure there was a tight continuity, and a sense of the shared universe.

All this as opposed to main Marvel and DC, where it's pretty much every possible genre shoved into a blender. Which can be cool in it's own way, but as I get older, the all-you-can-read-buffet starts to get wearisome, and as a writer, I found it honestly more interesting to narrow the scope of things. It got me thinking about my own multiple attempts at superhero worlds and thinking about how non-mainstream stories will usually go two different ways:

1) An all-sources world that basically apes Marvel and DC, which can work out fine, since it can build off pre-existing archetypes to immediately get people into the story without having to explain everything upfront.

2) A limited-sources world that has it's own specific set-up to explain where all superheroes come from, and which will more often attempt to go for the whole "what if superheroes existed in the real world" sort of deal. Unless it's an anime type, where things are more stylized.

It's interesting to look back at my own works, back when I drew crappy comics as a kid, I did ape Marvel and DC, although in hindsight, my first few worlds were actually a lot more coherent than I first gave them credit. My Power Universe concept had magic and aliens and time travel and super tech and mutants, but 80% of the characters were actually mutants, whose creation could be tied back eventually to a specific mad scientists experiments, which themselves could be traced back to the presence of aliens. Magic and supernatural monsters were just aliens from another dimension, usually. I was surprised at how, even as a kid who just made up random stuff on the fly, my main hero universe made a decent amount of sense. Maybe that was more due to limited knowledge or conceptualizing of what could be done in such a setting, though.

After I quit that world, I notice the majority of my superhero projects tended to go the "one source" route. I came up with the whole "mysterious energy wave hits earth and gives people random powers" trope all on my own, though of course, I would later discover it had already been done about 5,347.6 times before I thought of it. :P

At the time it seemed novel, which I guess is why I got hooked on the idea, even though in some cases, I also threw in aliens and wizards into the mix on the side. But I've gone with this set up for a bigger chunk of projects than I had realized. While I'm not sure I'm specifically into it anymore, it does make for an easier experience as a writer. Creativity through limitation and all that, plus, it's helpful for keeping ones vision more focused if they don't have to worry about, "Okay, so, this thing with the mutants is happening and it's terrible, but wait, we've shown there are angels and benevolent guards looking out for humanity, why aren't they getting involved in this crisis?"

As for continuity, I dunno. I suppose I've never really been consistent, and most of my old stories were just random things I made up without much care to canon, other than a few major events. As I got older, I mainly was just concerned with maintaining continuity within a single title, and not worrying too much about matching it to other titles. I kind of wish they'd just do that for current Marvel and DC, too. Say Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, they all have their own canon within their title, and then maybe Justice League is also it's own thing that gets to pick and choose continuity as it feels is best.

So what are you're thoughts on the matter? What sort of tenets would you prefer a superhero universe to follow?

Read responses...


  1. ChrysKelly (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    They could do that so easily. Batman is Earth 1, Flash is Earth 2, WonderWoman is Earth 3, JL is Earth 4. Done. Would make so much sense.
    And they could end things. When Earth 1 Batman gets old, retires, dies, then we get Earth 100 Batman and it's different.

    Would be good. Can't see it happening.

    My serial is currently the one type of power thing. Well, actually, there are a lot of powers, and no one knows what causes those powers, but everyone who can develop them shares the same marker in their DNA.

    But after I finish Rejects, the first story set in that world, I'm going to slowly introduce a new type of power. I'm not sure, but it could be magic (have to decide).
    After Rebels (the second Sanctioned story) I might introduce something else. It won't be aliens, but it could be spirits, or otherworldly beings, or ghosts, or something. I might not do that after Rebels, though. It could be longer.

    Actually, if what you're saying is right, I might be the only person who's combining the "every kind of power" with the "any kind of power" thing. That's interesting. I'll need to look into that.

  2. Team Contract (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I prefer the all source kind of universe. To me it just lends to more original characters, where the power has to make sense and can have more varied limitations. My one caveat to the preference of all source power would be in the SciFi genre where the single source would be technology. In that kind of universe powers can be diverse but have more visible and explainable limitations, which is what I prefer and is sort of what I do with Once Giants. But other examples could be ghost in the shell, or Bubblegum crisis or Gun Grave. Hmm, those are all animes... go figure ^^

  3. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I have a middle ground between one source and all sources. There are actually... (*counts*) four and a half power sources in the Curveballverse (the "half" is related to one of the other sources).

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  4. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I like the "unknown source" option myself. Much like midichlorians, it's more fun when you DON'T explain where the magic comes from. How it works, sure, explain that, but don't try to pretend what you've got has any basis in logic and reality. It's magic, embrace it for what it is and be done with it.

    Author of Price.
  5. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 years ago

    As a reader, I don't read nearly as many comics as I do science fiction (with a strong but inconsistent interest in "hard" sf). Thus, one source. My answer as a writer is "whatever works best for the kind of story I want to tell."

    If you want a science fiction feel to superhero fiction, you're better off with one source of powers, specifically science. If you're going for an urban fantasy or horror feel to the story, you'll use one source, but it will probably be magic.

    "Kitchen sink" universes where all possible sources of superpowers exist have their own feel. Here's the thing though, it's my suspicion that even "Kitchen sink" universes that are created by one writer will almost always be closer to once source than Marvel or DC.

    The thing with Marvel and DC is that they're the product of multiple writers in multiple time periods. Thus, constantly changing origins due to changing aesthetics, and well, forgetting how it worked in previous comics. Even within the characters that have a scientific origin in comics, the earlier ones have different origins than the later ones. The difference is largely based on the science people don't currently understand.

    Thus early on you've got chemistry as an origin (original Blue Beetle had pills that increased his strength, the Flash got hit by lightning plus chemicals in his lab...). In the 50s and 60s, you have radiation (Fantastic Four: cosmic rays, Hulk: gamma radiation, Spider-man: radioactive spider, the X-Men: mutations...). Plus, somewhere in there, you have the revelation that the Inhumans were genetically engineered as warriors by the Kree (aliens). More recently there are characters whose origin is nanotechnology (Ultimate Spider-man: spiders affected by nanotech).

    I could probably do a similar chronology of magic origins.

    Unless you're really dedicated to creating a similar feel, you probably won't do that. Personally, even though the Legion of Nothing universe deliberately tries to reflect different periods in comic history, I still have one origin for magic and one origin for science based heroes.

  6. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    i like discreet sources, though im good with multiple, the whole, powers just exist, okay, thing bugs me. I do like the way Marvel touches on it, many of their supers are mutant. which becomes an assumed default, but not the only source. Spiderman constantly telling Beast, no really, im NOT a mutant, is amusing to me.

  7. Walter (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    My serial uses the "One-source" approach. Basically brains are more like phones receiving signals than they are like computers doing calculations. Thought is generated elsewhere (people say "souls" for convenience, but they have no idea), and beamed to people. Brain damage is damage to receiver, not damage to calculator. AI is impossible because it is just cargo-culting receivers, with no transmitters they don't do anything. etc.

    Super powers come from a process that basically 'tunes' the body to pull the 'soul' closer, letting it create more than just thought in the world. Physics defying magic is the result. The process kills most recipients, so the world is a bit of a mess, between the Ultras rampaging around (the person who got the strongest powers is pretty awful) and the people who have died from undergoing the Process.

    I like to think that the "physics + one exception" approach to fiction helps to ground the readers in the world. They know without you saying that aside from X, where X is your stories power source, the world looks generally like the one they are familiar with.

  8. Sharkerbob (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    That is actually pretty cool, Walter.

  9. CorpseMoney (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I am a fan of 'Kitchen sink' as jim call it, when all the powers come from one source is dims my interest. That type of one source approach don't make much sense to me, Like Worm, and Anathema. I quite enjoy those series, but the one source approach bores me. No sense of wonder, and there is like some being at the top of it.

    I like kitchen sink universes cause there is never one be all end all, even if there is some ultimate power. Some other power can counter it, or off set it. I feel like in source settings they escalate so quickly and hard because when big threats come they are so singular. I like the hope that comes with kitchen sink, if the ultimate evil is coming tomorrow we can find an ultimate good today to hold it off somewhere.

    My web serial is titled, 'The Remnants'. I wrote five chapters and decided I needed to restart.
    so bear with me.


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