The Experimental Hero: Brought to You By Science

Luke Cage and Captain America

I’ve touched on a lot of different heroes over the years, so I’m surprised I never thought about this one before.  I mean, they’ve slipped into a few categories at times, but I never really locked onto the ‘experiment’ origin.  It was when I was watching ‘The Defenders’ that it came to me.  You had heroes who got powers from training or accidents, but then there was Luke Cage.  He got his abilities from an experiment, which got me thinking about Captain America.  In the MCU, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are experiments as well.  You have robotic types like Robocop and Cyborg too.  So, what constitutes an experimental hero?

First of all, you need to have an experiment being done.  Now, I feel that this requires the intention of augmenting the subjects even if the results aren’t what was expected.  This means Hulk, The Flash, and Spider-Man don’t count.  They got their powers through science, but it was an accident with no intention of making a superhero.  Luke Cage and Captain America were intentional.  One got the results that were expected and the other, at least in the TV show, was accidental even though powers were the goal.  You don’t have to do a lot of jargon either because you’re pushing the idea that the creators are doing something never attempted before.

Now, once you establish that they got their powers from this experiment, you pretty much have the category locked down.  This is a fairly simplistic origin in terms of straightforwardness because it’s right to the point.  You get into a grey area when it comes to the willingness of the test subject.  That’s where a lot of the fun comes from when you work on characterization.  A willing participant will be happy to get the powers as long as they aren’t driven mad or ostracized from humanity.  Someone who is experimented on as a prisoner or unwitting participant will be much less excited.  You can get a lot of angst and bitterness here, which makes for a good anti-hero.  Maybe they don’t want to use their powers and go out of their way to avoid it, but events force their hand.  This means every use brings a small change in persona that can build up.

Oh yeah, Deadpool would be an experiment too.  This brings me to a subcategory of experiment heroes, which is augmenting those who already have abilities.  Deadpool isn’t one of these.  He was a human with cancer who joined the Weapon X program to be given an enhanced version of Wolverine’s healing factor.  At least, that’s what it was when I was reading comics in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  So, it’s actually Wolverine and Sabretooth who fall into this subcategory.  Both of them are mutants, but they were put into the Weapon X program for experimentation.  This is where Wolverine got the adamantium claws and skeleton.  It is an important aspect of the character and shows that you can use the experiment origin as a rebuilding/alteration of a hero too.  It can really throw a twist into a storyline if the hero is suddenly faced with having a new set of powers to learn and master.

I haven’t tried this type of her yet because it hasn’t worked for the story.  There are a few characters in War of Nytefall that gained powers through experimentation.  It’s self-inflicted so far, so I don’t know how to run with that.  They’re also supporting cast and vampires.  I can’t really call it an experiment either because the one I’m thinking of did it for survival more than alteration.  This is something I want to try down the road and probably will if I ever get to my superhero series.  At least for a hero because War of Nytefall may have an experiment-based villain turning up at some point.  That should be fun since those types can go over the top if you want.  They aren’t working with their original limits anymore, which is great.  Villains are more inclined than heroes to operate at their highest level.  Be nice to get to that book next year.  That would be another category under my belt.

So, what do you think of experiment heroes?  Ever write one before?  How much science should be put in there for it to work?

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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18 Responses to The Experimental Hero: Brought to You By Science

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great topic! Would you add the Fantastic Four or the Hulk to the mix?

    I’ve never written this kind of character before, but it would be interesting. It’s also interesting how in classic novels experiments led to the creation of creatures like Frankenstein and other monsters that ran amok. And I can’t help thinking of cloning experiments.

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  2. FF and Hulk are accidents. Experiments were involved, but superpowers weren’t the goals. Cloning always goes poorly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never thought of this kind of hero before either. Excellent.

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  4. Never gave it much thought, but I have. Lisa Burton is a concept model robot. They intended for her to have mechanical level strength and several other upgrades, like her vision. Jason Fogg doesn’t fit your parameters because his was an industrial accident.

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  5. jomz says:

    Experiments with the purpose of getting powers. Interesting. I haven’t tried this in my stories yet, but the possibilities are endless.

    You can go with:
    a. the protagonist getting exactly what they wanted
    b. the protagonist got a very different result
    c. the protagonist got an unexpected bonus feature

    Great post.

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  6. Renee says:

    I wouldn’t classify this as an experiment in the classical sense, but I’m working on a new serial called Emergence that is a prequel to my Shadow Stalker serial and is basically an origin story for the shadow stalkers. They are human at first, but it’s not a human that creates them or changes them. It’s the spirits of their ancestors. The reason for the change is because they require their abilities to save humanity from extinction. So I guess you can say it’s sort of an otherworldly spiritual experiment. 🙂

    As far as the science, I think there should be enough there to make it realistic, but not so much you make people feel ignorant because they have no clue what you’re talking about. In other words, there’s no need to get too technical. Simple explanations are enough (unless you write for a science fiction crowd who enjoys the technical stuff).

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  7. Didn’t Logan originally have some amnesia after getting his adamantium? It gave him a period of wandering around, confused and living like an animal, before he actually was recruited to be “heroic.” Even then, the blank spaces probably caused anxiety (even if he hid it) that contributed him to being gruff and anti-social. Seems like it took the X-Men quite a while to get him to open up and really think of himself as part of a team.

    Depending on who’s writing it, he still can behave in a feral and anti-social way.

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    • Wolverine is an odd one. They added the amnesia once he showed up in X-men. Originally, he was just a Canadian government superhero sent to fight the Hulk. I think they intended for the claws to come from his gloves too.

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  8. Pingback: Seven Links 6/29/19 Traci Kenworth – Where Genres Collide Traci Kenworth YA Author & Book Blogger

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