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?