Looking at Character: The Invincible Hero

As an author who writes superhero books, I have a long-held love of the comic book medium.  I’ve been reading them since I was a little kid and still keep up with them in various formats.  The other day, I came across a discussion of what people thought were the rights and wrongs of the latest Superman movie and what it boiled down to, in essence, was a talk about the difficulties of writing an interesting story for so powerful of a character.  I came away from that forum mulling it over myself and decided to take the musings here to my blog.  It’s time for another round of Looking at Character with today’s guest, the Invincible Hero.

At first blush, the Invincible Hero looks a lot like our other friend, the Ace, but there are some vital differences.  Like the Ace, the Invincible Hero is the best of the best, a seemingly unstoppable force.  Nothing seems to slow him down and even the rare setback is fleeting and temporary.  However, unlike the Ace, who is a supporting character and used in various ways to interact with the protagonists, the Invincible Hero *is* the protagonist.  Hercules, Achilles, Superman, Hulk Hogan … all of those characters in their prime certainly fit the bill.  So the question remains: How do you write an effective plot about a protagonist that, by definition, easily overcomes any direct conflict?

There are a few ways to go about it.  The first one is to go about deconstructing the myth of the Invincible Hero.  In a deconstruction-based story, the conflict is generally not the obvious external one, but conflicts generated by the flaws and foibles that are hidden behind the shining facade of the Hero.  Concepts such as alienation from the rest of humanity, hubris from his/her invincibility, loosing touch with one’s humanity, the burden of the expectations of the masses (realistic or not), and so on can be explored to shine light on the realistic problems of being put above the rest of the Hero’s peers and relations.  In such a way, the Invincible Hero becomes relatable; though his problems may still be on a different scale, they are simply larger versions of issues everyone faces, allowing the reader to connect to him/her.

Another way to spark conflict and plot is the approach of ‘the bigger fish’.  Yes, the Invincible Hero is unstoppable compared to his usual opposition, but that doesn’t preclude an even more awesome threat from existing, thus creating a new conflict where the normally triumphant Hero is faced with the prospect of being the underdog.  As with straight deconstruction, this makes the Invincible Hero relatable by injecting all-too human feelings such as fear and a sense of inadequacy into the equation.  The potential stumbling block, though, is the possible temptation to inject these feelings then quickly have them ‘overcome’.  This is usually meant by the author as a show of the Hero’s true courage or what-not but it usually comes off as just another problem the Invincible Hero can shrug off, unlike the reader, causing an even larger rift in relatability.

The last way that came to mind to give an Invincible Hero a good story is to approach the primary conflict in a way that is outside of the Hero’s element.  However unstoppable the Hero may be, there are undoubtedly areas and problems where his/her particular set of abilities and skills are not useful.  Making the conflict revolve around some problem that cannot simply be directly confronted once more brings the Hero down to the human level, allowing the writer to showcase and develop the Hero’s character as he/she struggles with a problem instead of running it over as per the norm.  Another facet of this that could be fascinating to explore is the Hero’s social and familial life.  Again, it’s a source of conflicts, vital ones, that build character but cannot simply be approached by kicking down doors and beating up bad guys.

It’s not hard to see that all of these approaches revolve around finding ways to interject a strong dose of relatability into the Invincible Hero.  As characterization is usually the heart of a good story, that ability to relate to the protagonist is vital.  If we have no way to connect, we usually cease to care about the character in a short period of time and no amount of finely crafted action or well-rendered description will fix that.

What do you think?  Have you ever had to write an Invincible Hero?  If so, how did you tackle their relatability?  Comment below!

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