#Fantasy Heroes & #Superheroes: All In the Setting and Goals

Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics

(This comes from a March question that took me a while to think about.  Sorry for the delay.)

It took me a while to find a good picture for this post and that search also lead me to a realization. Mostly because I remember Doctor Strange up there who is a Superhero that uses magic.  Now, you may say magic isn’t a defining factor of fantasy heroes and you would be right.  Yet, it still connects more to them than the comic-based guys.  There are more science, natural, and non-powered superheroes than those that function off magic or medieval weaponry.  Still, there’s a lot of crossing over, so you can’t go with weaponry and magic to show that there is a difference.  After all, Captain America uses a shield and Green Arrow uses . . . arrows.

So, what does make the difference between fantasy and superhero stories?  As usual this is my own opinion, but I’m going to go with the goals, length of adventure, and the overall setting.  Let’s hit them one at a time:

Overall Setting

I’m going to mention this one first because it’s a little shaky.  Going by Legends of Windemere, you can say that Nyx definitely fits into the power level of a comic-based superhero.  She is greater than your average Windemerian (that a word?) like those that live in more modern worlds.  Yet, Nyx and her friends live in a world that is more fantastical than others.  Monsters and magic are not a sudden surprise like it would be in most comic book worlds.  As you may notice, the majority of superheroes exist on Earth and that places them in a world where a dragon is met with a moment of disbelief.  We all think we’d run away from the dragon right away, but I think there would be that instant of not believing what we’re seeing.  The setting of Windemere has these creatures as a known entity, which means the locals and heroes are used to them.  Again, this one is shakier than the other two.

Goals of the Hero

By now you realize I mean comic book heroes when I say superhero, which tends to be the more common thought.  One thing with superheroes is that their goal is to fight crime, protect the world, or do something that doesn’t have an actual end.  Spider-Man and Batman will always be on the job until they die or give up.  There will always be a galactic threat that requires the Green Lantern Corps.  Meanwhile, the fantasy hero has a more focused goal. This can be overthrowing a warlord, finding a lost relic, or any number of quests.  That is the key word too.  A fantasy hero typically has ‘The Quest’ to drive them forward while superheroes might be better defined as having ‘The Mission’.

Length of Adventure

 As noted above, a comic book superhero may never have an end to their journeys.  Even if they die or retire, crime will continue and a new hero will step up to take on their surviving Rogue’s Gallery.  For example, when Batman ‘died’ a few years back, there was a ‘Battle for the Cowl’ or something.  Dick Grayson (first Robin) took over as the new Batman facing the same villains until Bruce Wayne revealed he was only sent to the past.  If you’re more of a Marvel fan then go with Captain America shot by a ‘time bullet’ and replaced by Winter Soldier until he got back.  My point here is that there will always be more villains and heroes taking up the mantles of the fallen.  This might be because they become more symbols in their world than the characters we see them as.

As far as fantasy heroes go, they end their quest and that is typically it.  Some may keep going, but they are more likely to kill their enemies and that changes all future adventures and threats.  It’s rare that a fantasy hero goes for longer than a series.  In fact, I can’t think of anyone besides Drizzt Do’Urden that has been adventuring for so long a time.  The point here is that fantasy heroes normally have an end while superheroes normally go on until they need a reboot.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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30 Responses to #Fantasy Heroes & #Superheroes: All In the Setting and Goals

  1. Interesting comparisons today. Something new to think about. Maybe fantasy needs its own superhero.

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    • So this post did go live. It wasn’t coming up on my computer for some reason. I’m going to try to have superhero types in Windemere at some point. It’ll take a bunch of work. It really is something that you can see a crossover for, so I’m surprised it doesn’t happen very often.

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      • It happens the other way. (Thor, Wonder Woman.) It might be cool to have it the other way for a change. Robin Hood and the Scarlet Pimpernel may have gotten close, but going all the way might be fun.

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      • Thor and Wonder Woman are interesting crosses, but they always seem to be eventually enveloped by the superhero system. They’re on Earth with a broad goal like Superman and Wolverine. They may have magic, but they still don’t really click (at least to me) as a fantasy hero. Especially when you see that Thor was made into an alien with science that doubles as magic.

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      • Hmmm – Fing Fang Foom?

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      • Think he was an alien too. Actually there’s Etrigan the Demon from DC. Marvel really hates magical characters it seems.

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      • I loved Etrigan, always spoke in rhyme it seems. I don’t think I’m going to come up with one that completely fits. Maybe Namor, Hercules, or Scarlet Witch?

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      • It’s hard because they’re still sitting in the superhero mentality. What about stepping out of the big companies? Maybe Conan counts.

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      • I believe he did have some comics at one time. Part of the problem has to be maintaining the longevity of the character. It’s different than dropping the ring in Mt. Doom and being done. Even Conan has that longevity going for him. I don’t think I’m going to find one that fits. Close, but no kewpie doll.

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      • Yeah. Conan has a leg up on superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man. He doesn’t have an exact goal and simply wanders from adventure to adventure. So he can do almost anything, including take a break for a bit. The sad thing is when you do have a superhero that has a main goal or even a side goal, you lose something when they go beyond achieving that. For example, Wolverine remembering his entire past (including his real name) felt like an ‘end’ for him. He kept going, but something didn’t feel the same.

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  2. I agree, you made some interesting comparisons. I’ve never really thought about these differences before. Now my head is a buzz with superheroes and fantasy heroes and the possibilities. I want to see a fantasy hero lasting longer than a series! Great post. Thanks for sharing 😀

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    • It’s hard to make them last that long. There are a few though. The problem is that it gets harder and harder to give them a reason to continue if you stick to quests and missions. The more symbolic or vague goal of a superhero is why they can go for so long. ‘I fight for justice’ is definitely a lengthier adventure than ‘I seek the Holy Grail . . . and whatever else I want later’.

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  3. Great post. I think you hit the nail on the head with that comment towards the end: “This might be because they become more symbols in their world than the characters we see them as.”

    To me, that’s the main difference: superheroes are more symbols than men.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    A fantastic post, Charles! I often wondered about the distinction between fantasy stories and superhero stories. Doctor Strange has always had an uneasy fit in the superhero genre. My brother and I were talking about that a couple of weeks ago. So, I really appreciate your explanation of the differing goals.

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    • Glad to be of help. Doctor Strange has always been pretty fringe. I think he works more often as a plot tool to bring magic in when the authors need it. With so much science-based stuff, he does tend to stand out.

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      • L. Marie says:

        I liked how the animated series dealt with him (like an episode in Batman: The Brave and the Bold and one in Young Justice). And I liked the direct to DVD movie of Doctor Strange, though I think some people hated it (and I can understand why). Do you think his uneasy fit lies with the friction of magic rubbing against science? My brother is not a fantasy fan at all. But he loves superheroes. He’s never quite liked Doctor Strange. I doubt he’ll race to see the movie when it debuts.

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      • I think since most superhero stores take place in modern Earth, a magic-based character has trouble fitting in. They aren’t science-based, so writers and readers tend to keep them away from any stories like that. If it does turn up then it’s usually science vs magic. They can work if you set up their part of the world and make sure it fits with the rest. That isn’t done very often.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    Sorry. That was Doctor Fate. Getting my doctors and my DC/Marvel mixed up. But the Doctor Strange movie was Doctor Strange.

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  6. Great point about super heroes never being finished with their mission. It’s like they are standing around and something pops up that requires their attention. Fantasy heroes have to actually go somewhere and seek out the adventure (broad generalization) . Nice job explaining.

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