When is it too dark?

I'm trying my hand at a superhero story with a twist, where superheroes go insane if they use their powers too much so a secret government agency masquerades as supervillains to kill them when they start to go over the edge. It opens with the main character blowing up a building full of innocent people in the hopes of killing his target hero. I'm aiming for this to be a young adult book. Do you think this will be too dark for that audience?

Opening a book with mass murder by the character we're supposed to want to follow for a whole story is definitely a questionable decision. Especially if you're going for a YA tone.

(Why would a government agency need to masquerade, and why would they be willing to blow up a building full of innocent people? Governments are extremely powerful (something forgotten by most superhero stories), particularly in the contemporary world, and they could very easily track down the target hero and terminate him another way which wouldn't result in the mother of all public debacles if the truth got out.)

Having the main character be a secret gov agent performing a terrorist act is certainly extremely off putting. (In your world the gov really DID do the 9/11 equivalent, and moreover was presumably correct to do so in utilitarian terms) It could work, anything could work (The Thomas Covenant books were published ten times, nine of them after the moral event horizon moment), but I think you will be putting a heavy demand upon your ability to draw in the readers quickly. I don't envy you this challenge.

If anyone's interested, I'm open to get some opinions on the first chapter: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1r7OMtfVRm6w9MUMvlSLWY3EybXSsmcB_GojW52pVIm0/edit

In my opinion, this is a very flawed premise. It makes no sense if superheroes in your story are regularly killed by supervillains and world order is still maintained. The public wouldn't be stupid enough not to figure it out if the supervillains conveniently disappeared after doing their job, and having them continually have to escalate their crimes against humanity isn't sustainable. On top of that, I fail to see how superheroes would be deeply engrained into a culture if they are regularly beaten and killed. People don't worship weak things.

Dark in itself is fine (though for YA, there is a limit). Dark plus illogical isn't dark anymore, just annoying.

It's not an instantaneous thing. The hero the MC is killing has been heroing for almost fifty years. Using your powers a lot can speed up the process, but it's still something that will take years and years. And they don't just appear out of nowhere, kill the hero, and vanish forever. The Legionaries always make a few appearances before the "main event" to get a feel for fighting their target, as well as letting people know who they are and what they're capable of. Each person in the Legion is handpicked for his or her capability in fighting a specific target. So they'll show up, fight their hero to a standstill, and then disappear. That way when they do actually go and kill the hero, nobody's that surprised because they've always known [hero] has never been able to beat [villain].

Besides that, there *are* regular supervillains out there, so the Legion aren't the only people trying to take out superheroes. Sometimes a hero dies in the process. Just like anytime violence is involved, sometimes the good guys win, sometimes they lose. So it isn't like they're "regularly killed by supervillains."

How long have Supers been around in your setting? Apparently it's been a while, if one of the heroes has fifty years of activity under his belt.

Implies there'd need to be *at least* another fifty to notice the pattern.

That is a century. A hundred years. 18 US presidents. 10 Republicans, 8 Democrats, a Moon Landing, Two World Wars, the Rise and Fall of Communism, Prohibition, Civil Rights movement, the extinction of Smallpox, the birth of HIV, the discovery of DNA.

That is a lot of shit going down in one country alone. Now factor in the rest of the world. There are 97 countries today that *did not exist* one hundred years ago.

And throughout all of that... you expect a reader to believe "superhumans go insane after a while" would be missed? I bet a good number of them wound up as "president for life" of whatever South American or African nation. And not a single fallen government's data would get into the hands of someone with a desire to talk?

Please, governments leak like an old sieve when it comes to this sort of thing. Maybe a handful of the best could keep their own secret ops a secret... not a lot of KGB, CIA or MI6 leaks out there... but then there's Nazi Germany, most of their "government secrets" can be read online these days.

So unless there's mind control erasing brains, or Supers only exist in Modern First World Nations... I'm sorry... that's just not going to fly...

Now, there are ways to make it work, but they take some doing and need to be explained.

First: Supers only happen in modern, first-world nations.

Second: Supers start losing power as they begin to go nuts. That would be noticed, and they "retire" because... yeah... that tends to happen when you get old.

Three: The deaths happen in secret. Not supervillain kills, but simple vanishing. Later, a super with similar powers and the same costume announces retirement. You can hide *that*. Sometimes.

Four: Going insane also results in massive mutations into something unrecognizable both in terms of biology and powers. It has to be fast, and isolated, and complete... a slow process with witnesses will be discovered, but if they vanish and go into "chrysalis" stage before bursting out as monsters, that might work. It might also be the plot of an Anime I once watched. Something to do with magical cancer that creates superpowers and spreads by blood.

And there'd need to be other issues to distract the world. Ones which make modern communication technology (by which I mean 'anything as or more advanced than the telephone') nonexistent.

That said, the "become a monster with power abuse" thing has been done before, and been done *awesome*, and been done with dozens of variations. As well as playing the "fight fire with fire" route using government involvement.

Witch Hunter Robin! THAT'S another Anime I was thinking of with a similar premise! I think. And in some ways a couple of the Metal Gear games do something similar with weird diseases that grant superpowers but also do horrible things when allowed to progress. I don't really follow the setting, so I may be a bit wrong about that one as well.

Maybe stick to the shadowy organisation controlling heroes/villains like professional wrestlers and cut down on the 9/11 truther stuff? It's not that it's dark, it's just, well, juvenile.

Villains don't need to commit mass murder to be seen as "evil".

I kinda lifted the "using your powers drives you insane" bit from the Wheel of Time series. The supers have been around for 100 years, meaning that this story takes place 100 years in our future. We already had a ton of awesome tech to let us spy on people. The idea behind the madness is that their eyes will start to go bloodshot. The more the red spreads, the more paranoid the heroes become, and the more paranoid they become the more violent they become. Which is a problem when Mr. Paranoid can fire tornadoes out of his nipples. And it happens gradually, so when the govt sees the hero acting a little out of character, they'll start watching news reports and focus on their eyes. If they're red, they'll send in the agents.

@Dary, does the fact that he's blowing up the building as a Plan B to kill Not-Superman change your opinion at all?

Yeah. You're going to need a damn good explanation for why the public hasn't figured this out. Maybe not the government-hit-squad part, but the supers-go-crazy part would take all of a month for it to be noticed.

Then again, Supers wouldn't be able to keep their identities secret for long in the modern world (or beyond), anyway. The shit 4chan pulls off makes the CIA look like rank amateurs at times. Which is both amazing, and disturbing.

So. Again. HOW do people not notice this?

Again, it takes decades to even begin, and when it does it's still a gradual process. Sure there might have been a couple instances where a hero went nuts, but they're so few and far between that nobody except the crazy tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists see any reason they're connected. Like I said, the Legion watches all the heroes very closely, and then they act the first time there's even a hint of danger. The agents are in retainer 90% of the time, I guess you could say.

But on the other hand... crazy tinfoil hat guys... yeah, I might be able to use that somewhere.

I think that anyone who commits mass murder - whatever the excuse - is either a raging sociopath, or is gonna suffer such severe PTSD it will drive them insane.

@Dary, he actually brings that up.

The argument and the worldbuilding feels somewhat convoluted. Why is the government buying into the masquerade as opposed to using their resources, manpower, technology, information and intelligence to find other ways of handling these heroes without risking home soil civilian casualties? If the President doesn't know about this, then who does, and how are they okay with all of this resting on their shoulders?

The other thing is, in the chapter you posted, he isn't just willing to clinically commit mass murder. He picks up an old woman, has the emotional awareness to reflect that she's someone's mother or grandmother, and then hurls her into the air 'probably killing her' after she begs for her life as a gambit to try and distract Paragon. I'm supposed to root for this guy?

Paragon might be a crazy monster, but that's all been told to me by someone who is willing to kill people as a battle tactic.

A character doing a bad thing, then saying to themselves (and the reader, primarily) something along the lines of 'I had to do it but it's not okay that I did it, and my acknowledgment of that means I'm not a bad person' never works. It doesn't paint the character as a tough utilitarian as much as it does a coward, refusing to take true ownership of their actions. A character like that doesn't even have conviction.

As far as the first chapter goes, however, here are a variety of thoughts. It's fine enough, if rough. I didn't really notice some of the usual suspects that I ding serials for.

Change Paragon in the first sentence to 'the world's best superhero' as the word/name Paragon means nothing to me. Cut as much of the exposition as possible because it slows everything down and there's better ways of introducing some of it. Introduce our protagonist before the tenth paragraph. For example, perhaps: "Everyone was watching the day when Paragon began to lose his mind, but I was the only one there when it was decided he had to die." Or: "...but no one was watching when it felt like I was losing mine." Something to make the writing more immediate. Then, next line, 'We're short handed. Can you cover...' As mentioned, it brings a sense of immediacy and juxtaposes what feels like deicide with the mundane SMS harbinger of it.

Watch for points where you're over-explaining things, such as 'when he applied more force to the shield than it could take, he would break through' -- the audience knows how shields and forcefields work, for example. If Technomancer is the only guy who can stop Paragon, consider a weakness more specific than 'energy weapons' -- maybe there's a particular type of weird comic book ray that he's vulnerable to. Additionally, this would help bolster the argument that you need very specific people to counter specific heroes.

Consider ending the chapter with Paragon getting stabbed in the eye, as that is a much more dramatic moment than anything that comes later. It's also a nice throughline for the chapter: open with the fact that Paragon went mad, and it ends with him being killed -- or so it's believed. Having him seemingly die and then get right back up feels cheap.

Consider making the protagonist less of a coward. It's a bit strange that he's part of this super hardcore group of super killers, but then immediately tries to shirk his duties even though he knows what is at stake, but then is also happy to kill people with his own hands. A true believer who comes to have doubts is more interesting than a doubter who just... continues to doubt.

Also watch out for elements of the first-person narration which it feels like the protagonist has no way of knowing what he's commenting on. For example, when he mentions Paragon 'trying to cry out, but he only gurgled'. Unless Technomancer can read intention, all he heard was Paragon gurgling. There's seven extraneous words there. For all he knows, Paragon is saying 'that was my favorite eye, you prick'.

>Do you think this will be too dark for that audience?


I, too, think it will be too dark. For all the reasons already mentioned: Starting out with a definite moral event horizon and then escalating is asking a bit much. Especially from YA novels. I find hard to buy to root for mass murderers and I write horror.

Getting back to the premise I'd back up TanaNari for the most part, with one exception:

Governments, particularly competent authoritarian ones, can keep a secret. You said yourself that *fallen* governments tend to be leaky. And the reason we can look up nazi secrets online is because that (luckily) fell 70 years ago and all the other secret agencies rummaged through the debris left behind. Even then some stuff didn't leak until the fall of the Soviet Union.

But I agree in that for this premise to work you'd need to go at this way smarter. False Flag Terrorism just doesn't look like the most efficient option for any regime to pull. Not when, you know, you could implant killswitches or just use plain old assassins. Have a government kill squad and every time a hero goes nuts he has an "accident" during a pretty normal "bank robbery".

If you really want to use the "powers make you go insane" twist you could also play around with the line between hero and villain. As far as I can gather you still adhere to the pretty traditional viewpoint in the story of there being good heroes and bad villains. Why not shake that up a bit to blur the lines and make it more acceptable for the government to off the superpowered parahumans, maybe without killing hundreds of it's own citizens as collateral damage?

I'd only resort to protagonists commiting mass murder that would get you on quite a few international "kill with extreme prejudice"-lists as a last option.

Thank guys. I'll give it some thought.

Is it too dark?

Yes and no at the same time. Yes the story could be dark if you write it in a way to be dark. However, I don't get the feeling of it being dark so much as your story needs work. You need more time to develop this because it really doesn't come off as dark as just poorly constructed. It seems like you wanted to write this concept and got a little too ahead of yourself to make it happen. Honestly, you need to flesh out your setting making sure that you have internal consistency. You don't have that as there are a lot of whys you still need to answer given how many are questioning you on certain points not only from the setting but from you protagonist to the motivations of the organizations in this world.

I mean you have a start, I just think you need to clean this story idea up a little. Hone it, sharpen it, and make it as tight as you can. Then it can be determined if this is too dark. Because this just sounds edgy to be edgy to be honest.

Edit it: And by that I mean, "let me think of the worse thing a bad person can do and let them do it without fleshing them out at all."

Dark is a bit relative, I think. When the Death Star was blown up, it was seen as a heroic move, even though thousands of engineers, doctors, janitors, cooks, and so on and so forth, were obliterated along with it. I think it's more of a x-y-z axis of scale-scope-focus.

If it's not simply a collateral damage, Death Star moment of people obviously dying, but the focus not being on them, then it's not too dark. However, what you are doing here is focusing on the lives lost, people sacrificed and killed wantonly, and the morality of it all...too dark by half.

Aside from all the great advice and insights given, there's just one question I have: this 'red thirst' (40K reference...hehe) that occurs...is there some fundamental reason for it? Is there some deep story and narrative or grand conspiracy at play? If not, then it will be very hard for you to write this story without most of the elements present seeming contrived. On the other hand, if there is some secret agency or entity in the background, then all of the elements present could possibly have arisen from it somehow, but you'd have to work very hard to get those connections to make sense.