So I have been debating writing a story idea I have had swimming in my head for a long time. I love superhero comics, and I love the more character driven aspects of the stories.

I have been tinkering in my mind with an idea for a story like this, a more character driven novel like story. It would be looking into the relationships, alliances, families and friendships that these people who are in a kind of social bubble have.

I know it's not a novel story in the sense of it being new, it has been done before and will be done after. My question is, not only because works like Watchmen and other deconstructionist super hero stories exist; but also because of the sheer level of influence well known heroes have in popular culture, how does one go about working with this without it sounding too obvious?

I know that in part I want to base it on the stories I grew up with so the influence of for example the DC properties is inevitable, so how does one navigate this? Or do I just write and when someone says "this sounds like Superman and Batman with other names" I go "Well it's based on superhero comics we know."

  • 6
    Writing genre fiction is like cooking comfort food or a traditional holiday dinner for the family. The goal is not to be 'original' with exotic spices and random ingredients to the point it is no longer recognizable, the goal is to provide the expected meal (as remembered from childhood) competently and with heart. All the favorite dishes in the right proportions, with plenty of tradition borrowed from grandma's recipes. Good luck, and remember to enjoy the meal too!
    – wetcircuit
    Mar 10, 2020 at 12:34
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    Step one: read Worm.
    – vsz
    Mar 10, 2020 at 20:11
  • @wetcircuit Yes that was part of the worry, I want to keep some aspects and conventions of the genre because in the end it's the love of this that inspired it. Really wishing I could choose more than one answer in this question.
    – Scott.Bell
    Mar 11, 2020 at 14:20
  • @vsz Once they're done with Worm they should add Watchmen, The Boys, The Authority, My Hero Academia, Spinnerette, and the like to that list. There is a lot of superhero pastiche out there. Those are the ones I think most heavily criticize and deconstruct the subgenre. Jan 7, 2021 at 0:02
  • @user2352714 funnily enough, I think those kind of work is becoming so common now, that it might be easier for OP to be compared to those derivative works rather than to the original work these new are trying to deconstruct
    – Josh Part
    Jun 3, 2022 at 20:12

8 Answers 8


You cannot stop people from drawing comparisons between your work and earlier, similar works. Readers are going to do it no matter how original you strive to be. You cannot cover up an influence that actually exists in your writing, because people familiar with the original ideas have a bias for recognition of those same ideas.

It sounds like what you're worried about is people paying more attention to the similarities between your work and existing works than to the important ways it is different. If you actually do have enough original ideas to tell a story substantially different from its inspiration, you should have faith in those ideas and emphasize them as much as possible, over the derivative ones.

Test readers are important for gauging this kind of audience reaction. Find people you trust to give you honest, usable feedback. If they tell you "this is basically just Batman" then you know you're not emphasizing your own ideas enough, or you don't have enough original ideas in the first place.

It's important to note you can be totally comfortable with being derivative, if that's the story you want to tell, but it doesn't sound like you're comfortable with it and want people to appreciate the original ideas in your stories, despite the derivative elements. In that case the only solution is more originality, which means either changing the derivative ideas or adding more original ones to crowd them out and make them less relevant to the story. In either case you aren't hiding your inspiration, you're actually changing the story.

The only way to "hide" ideas is to obfuscate them with deliberately vague language or obtuse symbolism and allegory. Nobody can accuse you of being derivative if they can't even figure out what you're writing about. I really wouldn't recommend that route though, unless you have an ambition for obscurantism.

  • I think I am mostly worried about what you mention of being totally comfortable with being derivative. Being used to the calls of "there can only be one"in a lot of writing spaces has made it difficult. So that might be what I do, just get comfortable with it.
    – Scott.Bell
    Mar 11, 2020 at 14:16
  • Whatever you choose, I do recommend finding test readers. It's invaluable for anybody seeking to improve, but in your case will really help you decide if you're comfortable with those kinds of comments and how to manage that perception of your work.
    – Dmann
    Mar 11, 2020 at 20:05
  • Test readers where already a must in my mind. I am conversing with both people who are also fans and thus more versed on it , and people who are not as involved. I want to see if those comments overshadow the rest of it. In the end, influences are everywhere. Like does someone being clearly influenced by Tolkien overshadow what they are working with? Well if the story is good it shouldn't matter right? But yes, test readers have always been in my mind, thanks for the feedback.
    – Scott.Bell
    Mar 11, 2020 at 20:15

While powers are important and defining to a character, think about what else makes a character - is Hancock "basically Superman"? They have similar powers, but the characters, personal issues and story is completely different. Is Vegeta "basically Goku"? Definitely not, the characters share a lot of powers but the difference is clearly in the character, motivations and the resulting conflicts and stories. They are not redundant. The Incredibles are basically the Fantastic Four, if we talk about powers - except they have completely different problems, conflicts and stories.

  • I don't know that those are good examples for someone trying to avoid even the perception of similarity. I've certainly seen Hancock compared to Superman. Vegeta/Goku is kind of cheating, since those characters are from the same work. And the Incredibles get away with being an obvious Fantastic Four homage at least partially by being in an animated comedy. Mar 10, 2020 at 16:50
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    you dont have to limit it to superheroes to draw comparisons either. Consider Hunger Games is almost identical to Battle Royale in every conceivable way. Very few noticed that, and when BS was called on it basically nobody cared.
    – Kai Qing
    Mar 10, 2020 at 21:20

Try changing their aesthetics and/or powers.

For example, you ask how to avoid getting people to call a character "that guy is basically Superman". So, if you want to avoid that, you have to ask what would cause people to do that. For superheroes, specifically, I think that would boil down to their superpowers and aesthetics. If they're a guy who wears tights and a cape, and is invulnerable, superstrong, and flies, they'll probably go "that's basically Superman".

For example, if you have your Superman-equivalent be a xianxia-style martial artist who wears an elaborate robe, and whose powers derive from his knowledge of ki manipulation and his cultivation of the Tao of the Fist, that's a lot less Superman-like even if he's still flying around while superstrong and invulnerable. Maybe your Batman-type might be a vampire who decided to use his vampire powers for good after his transformation, to the amusement of his vampiric sire.

You might get them compared to other characters with similar powersets and aesthetics, though (e.g. "that sounds like Goku from DBZ").

  • 1
    "That's basically Iron Fist". ;)
    – Ben R.
    Mar 10, 2020 at 14:51
  • This is something I have been working on now that I have been defining them more as originals. There is still some aspects that I am keeping more as callbacks to what inspired this, but there will be some changes there, thanks!
    – Scott.Bell
    Mar 11, 2020 at 14:18

Dmann's answer has already done a good job addressing some general points about writing genre fiction and getting test readers, and nick's answer covered changing aesthetics. But I wanted to mention one aspect of superhero fiction specifically (as well as fantasy hard magic systems) that can help avoid drawing undesired comparisons with prior art. Namely: don't underestimate the freedom you get by making powers weird.

If I tell you I have a character who can climb walls and trap opponents with spider webs—you are going to think "Spider-Man", even though Spider-Man has a bunch of other powers besides those. But what if I tell you I have a character who can make building materials sticky, so he can climb walls by making the wall adhesive, and throw bricks at his enemies to trap them? No one is going to think that character is Spider-Man.

If I tell you I have a character who can fly anywhere on Earth in seconds, is immune to bullets, and can punch you hard enough to turn you into red mist—you are going to think "Superman," even though Flying Brick is an entire trope. But what if I tell you I have a character who hovers constantly in midair and can teleport from place to place instantly, but can only move by teleporting and never touches the ground because any solid matter that touches his skin is instantly teleported into the Earth's core? Well, he can get anywhere on Earth in seconds, he's immune to bullets, and he can kill you with a touch… but no one is going to think "Superman." (This description also suggests some dramatically-convenient weaknesses that arise more naturally than Superman's kryptonite. He's immune to solid objects, but what about liquids/gases/plasma?)

Those are just some examples I made up on the spot. Rather than creating characters that have the same set of powers as some character you are already familiar with, consider whether it would work better in the context of your story to create a character whose powers fill a similar functional role to another character you are familiar with but that work very differently in the details.

If you are short on ideas for "weird powers," it might help to spend some time surfing around on sites such as r/whowouldwin and r/respectthreads, and to read some works that are known for off-the-wall superpowers such as Worm or JJBA. Or just take a handful of powers from DC and Marvel and try to figure out ways to twist them.


I also suggest just embracing it and using humour to take momentum out of the "Well you just reinvented superman"-arguments of possible nay-sayers.

You could have characters say something like

Man! That guy is just like superman! Except he doesn't have this weird curl and he can also do X / he can't do Y.

This way, the reader won't think he "caught" something but that you made it intentional this way.


I am a fellow writer. I am currently working on adapting a semi-original screenplay I've written last year into a wholly original novel for children. This screenplay was based off a popular animated series in my childhood about fifteen years ago. When I wrote the script, I only used the characters and was inspired by the plotlines in the source material. For the novel, I had to re-imagine the entire world to make my story wholly original. I had to change the character names and get rid of all direct references to the source material. Now, I have been re-imagining each plotline that I was inspired by. This takes work and I suggest that you do the same.


Something specific about superhero stories (that is, superheroes that specifically follow the mold set out by DC and Marvel, not general superpower stories that you might see in fantasy, manga, or folklore throughout history) that isn't present in other genres is that the same characters have been done over-and-over again so many times that there has practically become a "meta-superhero universe" composed of specific archetypes that have been ingrained in public consciousness to the point they have become universal.

Many of these are due to two factors:

  • Many early superhero comics were made by people trying to piggyback on the success of Superman, and many of these comics were later bought up by DC or Marvel. E.g., Captain Marvel (the DC one).
  • Many of the writers for Marvel and DC knew each other or left one company to be hired by the other. As a result there was a lot of cross-pollination. Writers who left one company often created lawyer-friendly versions of them at the other, or outright plagiarized each other. E.g., Darkseid was originally intended to be a Thor villain before Kirby left Marvel for DC, and Thanos was later created as a physical rip-off of Darkseid with Metron's motivation.

As a result, there are a large, large number of archetypes that have become universal through superhero fiction due to how incestuous the creative field tends to be. Examples include:

  • The Flying Brick. Can fly, is super-strong, super-fast, etc. Often has an impeccable moral compass, or the lack thereof is a plot point. More often than not the closest thing the narrative has to a central character - Superman, Thor, Hyperion, Omni-Man, Homelander, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel (the other one), All Might, the Sentry, the Plutonian, Dr. Manhattan...the list goes on. Captain America technically goes here but has no powers.
  • Non-powered superhero who fights crime with technology, brains, and money - Iron Man, Batman, Nite Owl
  • Super-Detective - Batman, The Question, Rorschach (who is a literal copy-paste of The Question), Luke Cage
  • The evil genius with an inferiority complex - Doctor Doom, Lex Luthor, Ozymandias (a bit)
  • The Sidekick - A young ward (TM) who pals around with an older hero and gives them someone to talk to. Robin (and the rest of the Batfamily), Bucky, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, Speedy, etc. Notably more of a DC thing than Marvel, because DC for the longest time didn't use thought balloons and Marvel always thought the sidekick thing was kind of dumb (Spider-Man was kind of their rebuttal to it). However, it's widespread in pastiches because Robin's just so popular.
  • Teen-esque hero with a down-to-earth narrative and strong moral compass - Spider-Man, Static, Invincible, Skitter, the Miraculous Ladybug, Spinnerette, Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes version), Danny Phantom, Batman Beyond (Terry McGinnis). Animal or more specifically insect powers help but are not required.
  • The Bully - This one's really weird. This one only appears in association with the previous archetype, but appears so regularly and stereotypically it's like clockwork. A teen hero will always have (at least) one bully character that pushes them around to gain audience sympathy. They will always, always be blond, and usually a jock. This comes from the authors copy-pasting Flash Thompson from Spider-Man into their story without giving the character Flash's long-term character arc where he learns to be less of a jerk and grows as a person. Dash Baxter, Nelson Nash, and the Trio from Worm (who are a little more diverse than usual, but not much) come to mind.
  • Displaced Mythical Figure - Wonder Woman, Thor, the Mighty Hercules
  • Alien Among Us - Silver Surfer, Martian Manhunter, Starfire
  • The Speedster - Quicksilver, Flash
  • May or May Not Be Literal Satan - Mephisto, Trigon, Neron, Satan, Darkseid (kind of, according to some interpretations he's the physical manifestation of the concept of tyranny)
  • Sorcerer Supreme - Dr. Strange, Constantine, Zatanna
  • The Arrow Guy - Hawkeye, Green Arrow
  • King of Atlantis - Namor, Aquaman
  • Axe-crazy vigilante who uses realistic firearms - Deadpool, Moon Knight, The Punisher, The Comedian
  • The Creepy Anti-Hero with Weird Powers - Venom, Spawn, Jackie from The Darkness, Witchblade kind of. There's a broader archetype encompassing what's known as "stereotypical 90's antiheroes" that encompasses a lot of these.
  • The Time Traveller - A villain who travels back in time fom the future to cause trouble. Like Kang the Conqueror, or Reverse Flash (it was me, Barry).
  • The Oppressed Group of Superhumans - Mutants and Inhumans in Marvel, Parahumans in Worm, EVOs in Generator Rex, Mutants in Whateley Universe. This tends to crop up in more "down to Earth" settings with allegories for real-world issues. DC doesn't really have one due to its more idealistic nature but they've tried with metahumans in more recent years (e.g., the recent Young Justice cartoon).
  • The small country ruled by a superhuman monarch and acts as a geopolitical wildcard - Wakanda, Latveria, Khandaq, Attilan, Atlantis (both DC and Marvel), Asgard was kind of this when they were in Oklahoma
  • The Guy Who Wants PICTURES. PICTURES OF SUPERHEROES - J. Jonah Jameson, Gordon Godfrey, Will Harangue. I.e., the normal human who is a media star and will do whatever it takes to slander superhumans. Ranges from "this guy has a point" to "clear bigot" to "literal god of treachery and misinformation in human form"
  • The Military - Is the military. Can take many forms, including Project Cadmus, Cauldron, General Thunderbolt Ross, general Sam Lane, or a more positive take like Captain America or Captain Atom. Too many subtropes to discuss here.
  • Mild-Mannered Scientist Whose Experiment Goes Horribly Wrong - Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Otto Octavius, Heather Brown (Spinnerette), Barry Allen, Michael Morbius, etc.
  • The Planet Eater - Galactus is the OG example, but there have been so many Galactus clones it's hard to point them out
  • Earth's Mightiest Heroes - Justice League, the Avengers, the Defenders, the Authority, The Seven, Squadron Supreme, the list goes on. May include one or more of the above archetypes.
  • Vague space dictator who acts as the Big Bad for their respective settings - Thanos, Darkseid
  • Space Cops - Nova Corps, Green Lantern
  • That One Villainess Who The Hero Has An On-Again, Off-Again Relationship With - Catwoman, Black Cat, Talia al Ghul, Star Sapphire. Can totally work in the opposite direction too, Patrick Andrews of Strong Female Protagonist is the male version of this trope.
  • The Supergod - Added per comments by @a4android. This one's an odd one. It started as a deliberate subversion of the "powerful, but highly moral flying brick" seen with Superman, but kind of evolved into its own trope. Usually involves one character with reality warping powers and some kind of mental, personal, or moral issue that prevents them from using them at will (and thus solving the plot). Doctor Manhattan comes to mind, but so does the Sentry, Legion, and technically Franklin Richards in the sense of "he's a child" more than "he's amoral and crazy".

As a result, there is a whole genre of superhero pastiche that is almost solely built around regurgitating, deconstructing, or reframing tropes and character ideas from superhero fiction. Notably, all of these works are heavily influenced and critical of the superhero works that came before them, to the point that one's reading experience is greatly enriched by knowing previous superhero material, unlike superhero works that try to do their own thing and be a fun romp like Ben 10, Big Hero 6 (the movie version, not the Marvel comic), Danny Phantom, or Generator Rex. Just to show how extensive this pastiche genre is, below are list of the ones I can think of off the top of my head...

  • Astro City
  • PS238
  • The Boys
  • The Authority
  • Watchmen (Published by DC, but put here as it was originally supposed to be unrelated to the main DC universe)
  • Worm
  • The Tick
  • My Hero Academia
  • Tiger and Bunny
  • Supreme Power
  • Irredeemable
  • The Non-Adventures of Wonderella
  • Invincible and its broader universe (unsure if all of the comics at Image comics are supposed to be part of the same universe, but Invincible definitely has sister comics like The Astounding Wolf-Man)
  • Whateley Universe
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
  • Strong Female Protagonist
  • Superfolks suggested by @a4android
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible suggested by @a4android

TL;DR: DC/Marvel-influenced superhero stories are so creatively repetitive it's almost impossible to intentionally plagiarise a specific comic unless you are really, really specific about it. For example, if you were to oversimplify things, Static is just African-American Spider-Man with electricity powers. Skitter is traumatized, female Spider-Man. Whateley is X-Men as a trans rights metaphor rather than a civil rights/gay rights metaphor. Dr. Manhattan is just Superman (or more specifically, Captain Atom) but amorally detached from humanity. Invincible is Superman + Spider-Man. Apollo and Midnighter are "Batman and Superman/Iron Man and Captain America, but with the shipping subtext replaced with text". Homelander, Omni-Man, Hyperion, and the Plutonian are all "Superman, but evil". The Authority are just an authoritarian Justice League. At this point the repetitiveness is part of the charm. Like kabuki. You probably don't need to worry that much.

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    An excellent answer. Love your anatomising of superhero comics archetypes. Displays a depth of knowledge & research. Any writer of superhero fiction should take note. One point of disagreement. Doctor Manhattan is closer to a reality warping force of nature in human form than a flying brick. His moral compass is also somewhat ambivalent. Though you are close to saying that about him in your last paragraph. Yes Captain Atom, but smarter than the original.
    – a4android
    May 29, 2022 at 13:09
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    I would have suggested superhero novels as suitable examples. Like Robert Mayer's Superfolks and Austin Grossman's Soon I Will be Invincible. For comics: Alan Moore's run on Supreme and Mark Millar's Superman: Red Son are worth a look. Kurt Busiek's Astro City is pure gold and I second the motion. These are minor additions to a good, solid answer.
    – a4android
    May 29, 2022 at 13:16
  • @a4android Agree with what you say about Doc Manhattan. Would almost suggest he spawned his own archetype (the "supergod", which has been...sparingly used), though when he was created his authors wrote him as a darker interpretation of "the superman among us", and his amorality was deliberate choice knowing the normal trappings of the archetype. I do agree the novels you listed are all good choices though. May 30, 2022 at 4:56

Sometimes the answer can be simple. You want to write a novel with character-focused superheroes. Focus on their characters.

For example, Bob Johnson is an orphan alien humanoid with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. This sounds like a carbon copy of Clark Kent/Superman. Sure that's an obvious influence. But if his alien humanoid nature is an extremely important of his character this is already a step away from Superman as he is usually depicted. If his powers and abilities are different from those of Superman, this is another degree of difference. Also, this is similar to what the Manhunter from Mars was originally like. He was a less powerful version of Superman, but with his alien nature emphasized, and with additional super-powers.

The important part is, as I said, the focus on their characters, the lives they live, the people they interact with, friends, work mates, partners and enemies. Take a good careful look at how your superheroes combine their working lives with teir heroic derring-do. I've always wondered why Clark Kent wasn't fired as reporter, because he was always off doing all his Superman stuff when he should have been reporting for the Daily Planet. When does Bruce Wayne sleep? Especially if he's always on Batman patrol night after night.

The super-powers are there for decoration. Concentrate on how your characters live, work and love. How they blend their roles as ordinary citizens and as super-powered vigilantes. Think about what their roles are in society. Keep doing that, tweak their powers, give them backgrounds and worlds they inhabit and soon enough typical comic book influences will be irrelevant. Either that or your readers we will be saying they never thought of Superman or Batman being like that. if so, you have succeeded.

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