The Superman Problem is a scenario where a character is so ridiculously powerful, no one can stop them not even the villains. Obviously, almost all of us would relish in being as powerful Superman, but when it comes to stories, Superman can be a little . . . boring.
As a child, Superman was my favorite superhero growing up. I wanted to be Superman so badly I would pray to God every night and wish he would put a Superman suit in my closet so I could become him. I wanted to be invincible, super strong, fly, and most importantly I wanted to save people.
For the longest time, I gobbled up as many stories about Superman as I could find (and afford). If I saw the comics at a store I would be sure to read them. I watched the movies religiously and made sure to catch every animated cartoon after school. It wasn’t until I hit my teenage years that I started to notice a big flaw with his stories.
No one could kill him.
This flaw spread like a virus. What other characters refused to die? Juggernaut, Apocalypse, Hulk, Spectre, Wolverine, etc. In every instance where these characters appeared, you knew, for the most part, they were not going to die. There was no risk to their well-being because they were invincible.
This led to an extreme distaste for invincible characters. I hated when the X-Men couldn’t kill Apocalypse or the Juggernaut. I hated when the movies acted like Captain America was going to die when you knew there was a sequel around the corner. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that invincible characters kind of suck.
So isn’t it ironic that when I created The Silver Ninja, I accidentally created the Superman problem in my own story.
Obviously, Cindy isn’t anywhere near omega levels of power. Her super strength and invincibility are all linked to the suit. Without the suit, Cindy is as fragile as you and I, except she can heal faster than a normal human.
However, in this alternate reality of New York City, the villains (currently) lack super powers. As a result, no one has the technology to even pierce the armor of Cindy’s suit. The world is still in its infantile stage. Therefore, the Silver Ninja is a myth. If the villains don’t know the hero exists, how can they develop weapons to counter her?
This is the quintessential Superman problem. It may sound cool in theory but the Superman problem causes huge issues in telling a good story. Cindy’s bulletproof trait has caused me endless headaches in writing Narco Hotel.
Cindy is the Superman problem, the same problem I sought to avoid when I created the character. Her main weakness is electricity and no one knows about it. Not even the Mexican cartels and their military grade weapons can put a dent in her. The Superman problem is great for power fantasies, terrible for storytelling.
Thus my biggest dilemma revolves around what the readers want to see.
Readers want Cindy to wear her suit and kick ass.
But if Cindy wears her suit, then the story will basically be over. You can’t kill someone who is bulletproof and resistant to explosives.
Imagine reading a Hulk comic without the Hulk and instead its just Bruce Banner. Remember how disappointing it was to not see Bruce Banner Hulk out in Infinity War?
Okay, before any comic readers criticize me. I am aware that there are some comics where Bruce and Hulk are separated. It’s just an example.
I honestly couldn’t figure out how to solve the Superman problem in my own story! Do I make it contrived and have the villains discover her weakness to electricity in every story? I couldn’t introduce a super villain, the story world isn’t ready for one. If she didn’t put on the suit, readers would be angry. If she put on the suit and wiped the floor with the cartel, readers would be disappointed.
There was no way to win. Oh, and I also decided that this would be the book where I would focus less on action and more on character development.
Luckily, I did come up with a solution to the Superman Problem.
If you can’t kill the hero, hurt their friends.
Game of Thrones succeeded (before the awful last season) because you did not know who was going to live and who was going to die. Breaking Bad worked because the fate of Walter White always hung in the balance.
Infinity War and End Game learned from their mistakes in Winter Soldier by making sure you did not know which heroes would return in the battle against Thanos. (Don’t try to tell me you’re going to kill cap and then have him appear in the freaking trailers for the next movie!)
Cindy’s Superman problem is not immune to emotional trauma.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter how ‘powerful’ a hero is. Power is the ability to accomplish something. Therefore, you can take away Superman’s power by putting him in a situation where he can’t save Lois Lane. Being bulletproof is pretty useless if he can’t block the bullet intended for Lois with his body.
Take away the hero’s power by taking away their self-confidence.
A man who can walk through fire and ignore bullets is worthless if they’re too sad to get out of bed.
Although the Injustice comic series is kind of trash, Joker killing Lois Lane was a moment of brilliance. He couldn’t kill the man of steel but he could kill the woman he loved and turn him evil. Curious? Here, have your damn link.
So I had to dig deep into Cindy’s troubled history. I explored aspects of her personality that she didn’t want to see. My hands clawed deep into the dirt, searching for buried skeletons that wounded her deeply. Insecurities, denial, and an awful truth, all gave me the elements I needed to solve the Superman problem.
I hated what I had to do to hurt her. But in the end, the story flourished from it.
Narco Hotel won’t be an action heavy book. A Bitter Winter will easily maintain that title. But what the book lacks in action it will more than make up for in character development. Cindy’s choices may frustrate and aggravate readers, but know that her decisions will come from a deep well of hurt. If I’ve gone too far, I’m sure the beta readers will let me know.
Cindy’s situation won’t be that bad . . . or will it?