The Cliffs of Insanity: 5 Superhero Plots That Need to Staked Through the Heart

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. It should be a great time to be a geek watching television. Arrow and The Flash crossed over. Gotham ended its initial one with a great episode. We have the Doctor Who Christmas special upcoming. The Walking Dead continues to be a juggernaut. And Preacher might be coming to AMC as a prestige series.

Except some of these show are using plot elements that are driving me away. And I’ll tell you why in a second.

But first, let me get my self-promotion out of the way. Ghosts of Christmas Past, a holiday novella highly influenced by my love of DC Comics holiday stories, particularly Batman stories, is out and available. There’s a terrific review here and on this post, I talk about why this Christmas is so full of hope for me, particularly since last year’s, quite frankly, sucked dead wharf rats at low tide.

So what’s driving me nuts, storywise?

Most of these are time-honored, er, cliched, superhero plots. Some of them might work now and again—but I’ve been reading superhero stories for forty years now and, dammit, show me something new, particularly something that uses women as three-dimensional characters, like Sleepy Hollow.

Five Plot Elements That Need to Die in a Fire:

1. We must keep the secret to protect the girlfriend.

One of the oldest and hoariest of cliches, back from the time when all superheroes were men. It’s currently being used on The Flash and used so extensively, it’s dragging the show down, which is a shame because it’s a fun show in other respects. See, Barry gets superpowers. But instead of telling his best friend, Iris, he tells, well, everyone else.

Okay, the guys at STAR Labs need to know. But his foster-father Joe knows. I guess it’s okay to endanger him because Joe’s a cop and all. And the entire Team Arrow knows now too.

But Iris must be kept in the dark because it would expose her to danger.

This despite the fact she’s been kidnapped once already by a meta-human and held hostage by the Clock King. I see not knowing the secret is keeping her perfectly safe, right? I’m reminded of Spider-Man 2, the one with Tobey Maguire, where Peter keeps his secret in order to keep his loved ones safe but, hell, Aunt May gets kidnapped like five seconds later.  Mary Jane gets grabbed too despite not knowing.

Know what would help? Maybe knowing who the superhero was so one could take precautions and be aware of what might be stalking you and why.

Psst..Barry, maybe if you told her about your secret ID, she might have been able to work with you to catch the bad guy *before* he kidnapped her. Image via CW.

2. The hero must not engage in any relationship with the woman he loves because she might be hurt/her life might suck.

A corollary to #1. Currently running on Arrow. Ollie loves Felicity but can’t be close to her because it would be bad because she’d be hurt or something. This despite the fact Felicity works for Team Arrow all the time. She’s in danger constantly. Heck, she nearly got killed by Captain Boomerang this week.

But it’s not just male heroes stuck in the plotline.

Kate Kane/Batwoman recently broke up with her fiancee, Gotham Police Detective Maggie Sawyer, because Maggie was involved in a custody battle with her ex-husband. Rather than use her considerable fortune to help the woman she loves fight for custody of her child, Kate goes behind Maggie’s back and makes a deal with the ex-husband: She’ll break up with Maggie if he’ll drop the custody suit.

Uh? Because suddenly Maggie will stop dating women once Kate breaks up with her? This didn’t make any sense at all. I guess Kate figured her superhero identity was too dangerous for Maggie and the child to be around except that Maggie’s already a police detective in Gotham, so her job is already extremely dangerous.

This plot element so infuriated my friend Jordan, a Batwoman reader since the beginning, that he quite literally burned the issue.

3. The hero refuses to confide in things because it’s all about the hidden secrets.

It’s better for people not to know else it could kill them. The only show making a good case for this currently is Person of Interest, where people who find out about the Machine die on a regular basis. Otherwise, it’s stuff like on Arrow last year when Ollie knew there might be a cure for the drug that is making Roy go insane but decided not to talk about it because he felt guilty about not killing Slade. Or secrets are good. Or something.

Meantime, Roy went nuts and killed a cop. Oops. Way to keep that secret, Ollie.

4. The hero pushes people away because, well, he’s too different. And sad. And lonely.

When DC comics rebooted a few years ago, we ended up with angsty, lonely Superman, who was also featured on the big screen in Man of Steel. Superman’s alien nature pushed him away from humanity, made him sad, isolated, and lonely. In other words, he became Peter Parker, whose personal life sucks on a regular basis.

Except Clark Kent isn’t Peter Parker. Clark Kent has a good job he loves, work friends, and friends from Smallville. Clark Kent likes people. He’s a well-adjusted guy. At heart, he’s a small town farmboy made good. Having the most powerful person on the planet mope around doesn’t work. And having the most powerful person on the planet mope around because he won’t tell Lois how he feels is ridiculous. At least Man of Steel avoided that last one. Not so the current comics.

The Court of Owls. Image via DC Comics

5. The incredibly powerful secret conspiracy.

Ugh. Everyone is corrupt and you can’t escape anywhere. Heck, if the real mob was as well run as all the fictional illegal enterprises that control everything, John Gotti would’ve been governor of New York State.

To have any organization so efficient and so well run that even a billionaire is deathly afraid of them (Gotham) is absolutely ridiculous. Conspiracies by hidden groups are just another form of bureaucracy. And bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient.

This is why I hope the murderer of the Waynes on Gotham is going to be a random street thug because it makes far more sense that a desperate man would kill a well-dressed man and woman for what little money they might have than have it be set up to somehow cause horrible chaos in Gotham. But I suspect we’re heading to a reveal about The Court of Owls instead. Sigh.

If you’re going to use one of these plots, make it count. Make it believable. Heck, Person of Interest is working on #5 this year and found a workaround. (Yes, bureaucracy is inefficient. Unless it’s run by Skynet.)

Or, better yet, show me something new.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.