Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Superheroes Without Comic Books

While I've been working out stats for various Villains & Vigilantes characters, I've been thinking about superhero games and worlds. There's an aspect of fantasy worldbuilding that isn't present in most modern-day games, in that the worldbuilder has to consider effects of fantastic powers on the setting, and personalities loom large in ways that they do not in the actual world.

But that's not what I'm going to talk about right now. What I was thinking about was what if we were to design a superhero (or metahuman, if we don't want to consider costumed crimefighters) world, but without the direct influence of any comic books at all. What if, instead of comic books, we design the setting so that movies provide the canonical source material. And, to make it a little bit tougher, let's avoid any movies that are based on comic books, or which present superheroes directly (so, no Zoom, no The Incredibles, and so on). To that end, here are the movies that I would want to use as source material, treating the events of each movie as if it occurred in the same setting as all of the others, just like Doctor Strange's weird astral journeys coexisted with Thor's Asgard, the Fantastic Four's journeys to strange dimensions, and so on. The fun part is trying to rationalize the stories that don't fit precisely:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (how could I not?)

Archer (superspies! plus comedy!)

Big Trouble in Little China (ancient Chinese curses and martial arts magic)

The Bourne Identity and sequels (superspies!)

Dead Like Me (the afterlife and times of a group of grim reapers)

Dog Soldiers (werewolf packs, compatible with The Howling)

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (an unusual hit man works for the mob; kinda like superspies)

The Ghost Whisperer (spirit communcations)

Hanna (superspies! With the implication of genetic engineering)

The Hellstrom Chronicle (OK, this is cheating a little; I'd actually use the book that Frank Herbert wrote, Hellstrom's Hive, which treats the movie as if it were the product of one of the characters in the book. Among the creepiest villains ever)

The Howling (werewolf packs)

Humanoids from the Deep (fishmen make good villains)

The Hunger (immortal blood drinkers)

Inception (dream bandits with technological access to the deepest secrets in a mind)

Insidious (astral journeying as a superpower and source of Doctor Strange-like stories, plus dangerous astral entities; it's approximately a reimagining of Poltergeist, so I could include that too)

Labyrinth (a strange creature tries to give a girl what she thinks she wants)

The Last Dragon (martial arts mayhem and mysticism in the inner city)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (superspies!)

Pan's Labyrinth (a different take on faery creatures)

Repo Man (punks and collections agents chase down a very special car, but what's in the trunk is the thing that matters)

The Secret of Roan Inish (a family with a special relationship to seals)

Simon, King of the Witches (magic!)

Time Bandits (a group of little people who are running through the cracks in creation to ransack the universe of its treasures)

In addition, I'd probably include the Indiana Jones movies as deep background, just so I could include that wonderful warehouse.

What these give me: superscience, aliens, superspies, super martial arts, an afterlife conception, werewolves, spirit mediums, genetically engineered supermen, a society of humans who aspire to be insects, fishmen, vampires, dream machines, astral travel, faeries, UFO/time machines, selkies, magic, cracks in the universe, and Indiana Jones's legacy. That's a good start, I think.

What movies or TV shows would you include?


  1. Scanners (psionics)
    Kolchack: The Night Stalker
    What about X-Files?

    1. Excellent choices! I have no idea why I didn't think of X-Files, since I love the show (and it's got plenty of mutant powers and whatnot), and I'm not sure why I skipped Scanners (I had thought about it when I was outlining this in my head last night, but apparently forgot about it while writing the actual entry). Kolchak is one I hadn't considered, but it would be perfect.

  2. There was also that briefly aired show Strange Luck, around the mid-90s, about the guy whose luck changed for the weird after a plane crash.

    If you're going to stick in Indiana Jones for deep background, you may as well add its illegitimate kin Tales of the Gold Monkey and High Road to China as well. ;-)

    Oh! And the cheesy early-80s new wave show Misfits of Science! At which point you may as well add Manimal.

    1. Hm, wasn't Misfits of Science pretty much like Heroes? That is, wasn't it pretty explicitly metahuman-y? I guess it's one of those edge cases that takes a judgment call, and it's yours to make, so we'll add it in!

    2. Ah, I didn't catch the "directly influenced by" caveat. Well, take the Human Investigation Team aspect from it at least, says I.:)

  3. Oh, and Misfits of Science bears connective DNA with the Val Kilmer film Real Genius...whiiiich gives one an in to Weird Science and My Science Project, all of which tie back in to Buckaroo Banzai.

    1. Oh, heck yeah Real Genius! Which reminds me (in the circuitous way that my brain works), also Limitless, which was another one I had intended when I was outlining the post in my head.

  4. '$6 Million Dollar Man' and 'The Bionic Woman'. That brings in the Office of Scientific Intelligence and, of course, bionic bigfoot.

    1. Plus Maskatron & the Original Fembots!

    2. Oh, yeah! The OSI would make a good sometime ally, sometime enemy.