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Animal superhero • Bugman (Comic Superhero) • Confessions of a Superhero • Dracula (superhero) • Fleur de Lys (superhero) • Isis (superhero) • Jesus Is My Superhero • List of American superhero films • List of superhero debuts • List of superhero film and television series by lengths • List of superhero teams and groups • Marvel Superhero's rpg • Mayor of Superhero City • Monkeyman superhero hoax • Rampage (superhero) • Real-life superhero • Superhero (Brian McKnight album) • Superhero (Stephen Lynch album) • Superhero (Stephen Lynch) • Superhero (band) • Superhero (disambiguation) • Superhero Brother • Superhero Hype! • Superhero League of Hoboken • Superhero Movie • Superhero Music • Superhero comics • Superhero fantasy • Superhero fiction • Superhero film • Superhero live-action television series • The Myth of the American Superhero • The Superhero League of Hoboken • The Thing (superhero) • Who Wants to Be a Superhero? • Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (Season 1) • Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (Season 2) • Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (UK TV series) • Wolverine (superhero)
A superhero is a type of stock character, dedicated to protecting the public. Since the debut of the prototypical superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes—ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas—have dominated comic books and crossed over into other media. The word itself dates to at least 1916. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine. "SUPER HEROES" was registered as a trademark jointly by DC Comics and Marvel Characters, Inc. on August 25, 2009.
Characters do not require actual superhuman powers to be deemed superheroes; the term has also been applied to costumed crime fighters, characters without superpowers who perform the same functions as superheroes, such as Batman and Green Arrow. However, broad interpretations of the superhero archetype included masked vigilantes, such as the Spirit, who fought crime with their wits, fists and guns rather than superhuman powers, while concealing their identities with only a mask, hat and coat.
In the traditional paradigm, superheroes supplement official law enforcement efforts to fight crime by using their extraordinary abilities to circumvent legal and physical limitations affecting the police. In addition to this basic function, superheroes also confront characters representing their polar opposites, known as supervillains, who employ comparable powers and abilities toward nefarious purposes. Generally, a superhero will regularly engage in physical and strategic combat with a collection of recurring idiosyncratic and iconic villains, often known as a rogues gallery, in attempting to thwart a number of schemes. It is also common for one of these characters to serve as a primary antagonist and archenemy of the superhero, with the others serving as secondary nemeses. Additionally, superheroes will combat threats against humanity, such as extraterrestrials and supernatural or mythological entities, or threats posed by supervillains.
Superheroes remain a staple of most illustrated serial fiction in Western culture, frequently drawing both acclaim and controversy for their perceived influence on social and political issues addressed in their story-lines. In the twentieth century, superheroes and comic books were occasionally attacked as proponents of subversive political and social ideologies; on other occasions, they served to support and idealize the dominant values of the national culture. They have, historically, also been used for commentary on political, social, sexual, and philosophical controversies.
Superhero powers vary widely. Superhuman strength, the ability to fly, enhanced senses, and the projection of energy bolts are common. Some superheroes rely upon special weapons or technology, such as Iron Man's powered armor suit and Green Lantern’s power ring. Many characters supplement their natural powers with a special weapon or device (e.g., Wonder Woman's lasso and bracelets, Green Arrow's trick arrows, Spider-Man's webbing, Wolverine's adamantium claws, Daredevil's billy club, or Thor's hammer).
A strong moral code, including a willingness to risk one's own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward (Spider-Man's "With great power there must also come great responsibility") can be an essential element of the superhero's basic character. Such as a code often includes a refusal or strong reluctance to kill or wield lethal weapons.
A secret identity protects the superhero's friends and family from becoming the targets of an enemy. The Clark Kent alias, for example, served this purpose for Superman. Many superheroes have a confidant (usually a friend or relative who has been sworn to secrecy). As one scholarly work analyzed in 1972,
...the rigid convention of giving super-heroes a secret identity…is part of their psychological defence mechanism. Each super-hero chooses in the beginning of his career a disguise and a battle name.… He dons a mask and in doing so reaches back to the age-old custom of exorcising demons and evil spirits by frightening them with a terrifying disguise. Today the villain stands in place of evil spirits. The super-hero's disguise has therefore become a mythical element.… The super-hero divides himself into two component parts, each part playing its role: the alter ego and the secret identity. The dream half (alter ego) expresses all that the author or designer—and with him the reader—would like to be; the other half, rooted in reality, is a symbol of the ordinary everyday man following the behaviour pattern ordained by society. It is a division of life into dream and reality…and serves to strengthen the individual's self-confidence and to justify his personal way of thinking.
An underlying motif or theme affects the hero's name, costume, personal effects, and other aspects of his or her character. Batman, for example, resembles a large bat, operates at night, and uses several devices given a "bat" prefix, such as his bat-like car, the "Batmobile". Spider-Man shoots webs from his hands, has a spiderweb pattern on his costume, and other spider-like abilities. Phoenix can create inextinguishable cosmic fire and, like the mythical bird of the same name, she always rises from death.
Often the hero's personal relationships are complicated by the dual life necessary to preserve a secret identity. This was a common theme in Spider-Man and Batman stories in particular. A supporting cast of recurring characters, includes the hero's friends, co-workers and/or love interests, some of whom may know the superhero's secret identity.
Generally, a superhero fights a rogues gallery of enemies on a recurring basis. In some cases the superhero fights run of the mill criminals before supervillains surface in their respective storylines. The hero may even be responsible for the appearance of the supervillains (the Scorpion was created as the perfect enemy to defeat Spider-Man, and characters in Batman's comics often accuse him of creating the villains he fights). Often superheroes have an archenemy who is more troublesome than the others, a nemesis who serves as the superhero's doppelganger or foil (e.g., Sabretooth embraces his instincts while Wolverine tries to control his; Batman is dark, quiet, and grim, while the Joker is colorful, loquacious, and flamboyant).
Independent wealth (e.g., Batman or the X-Men's benefactor Professor X) or an occupation that allows for minimal supervision (e.g., Superman's civilian job as a reporter) can be quite helpful in maintaining the superhero lifestyle.
Many superheroes (and supervillains) have headquarters or a base of operations. These locations are often equipped with state-of-the-art or even alien technologies, and may be disguised or in secret locations to avoid detection by enemies or the general public. Some, such as the Baxter Building, are known to the public, although in some other cases the precise location may remain secret. Many heroes and villains who do not have a permanent headquarters are said to have a mobile base of operations. A headquarters can provide the character with a secure area for storing equipment and costumes, such as Batman's Batcave. For Superman, the Fortress of Solitude served as a quiet location to relax and study.
The backstory explains the circumstances by which the character acquired his or her abilities as well as the motivation for becoming a superhero. Many origin stories involve tragic elements and/or freak accidents that result in the development of the hero's abilities.
A specific weakness or Achilles' heel can be an important plot device in a superhero story. The threat of Kryptonite provids Superman's enemies with a tool to restrict and challenge his powers. In the case of The Incredible Hulk, anger or injury triggers certain internal conditions necessary to release his powers.
A superhero's costume helps make him or her recognizable to both the reader, and the general public of the comic-book reality. Due to the serial nature of comics, the style and appearance of the title character often changes with the introduction of a new artist. To make the title character immediately distinguishable from other characters within the same title or from competing characters in other comic-book titles, it is practical to make the costumed character flamboyant and therefore more iconic. Costumes are often colorful to enhance the character's visual appeal and frequently incorporate the superhero's name and theme. For example, Daredevil resembles a red devil, Captain America's costume echoes the American flag, Batman resembles a large bat, and Spider-Man's costume features a spider web pattern. The convention of superheroes wearing masks, frequently without visible pupils, and skintight unitards originated with Lee Falk's comic strip hero The Phantom.
Most superheroes have a gadget or a weapon that is frequently associated with them. For example, Captain America has a shield, Batman has a utility belt, Thor his hammer, Daredevil his billy clubs and Wonder Woman her lasso of truth. Such an object often becomes the identifying feature which appears in most drawings so readers can identify the character by both the costume and this object. Some of these objects are the superheroes adopted symbols; some are incorporated into the main aspect of the character (Iron Man's repulsor rays which are a part of his main suit or Green Arrow's bow which is his key weapon).
Many features of superhero costumes recur frequently, including the following:
In RPGs such as Hero Games' Champions, Green Ronin Publishing's Mutants & Masterminds, Cryptic Studios' MMORPG City of Heroes DC Universe Online and Champions Online, superheroes are formally organized into categories or archetypes based on their skills and abilities.
Nevertheless, variations on the term "Super Hero" are jointly claimed by DC Comics and Marvel Comics as trademarks. Registrations of "Super Hero" marks have been maintained by DC and Marvel since the 1960s. (U.S. Trademark Serial Nos. 72243225 and 73222079, among others).
Joint trademarks shared by competitors are rare in the United States. They are supported by a non-precedential 2003 Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision upholding the "Swiss Army" knife trademark. Like the "Super Hero" marks, the "Swiss Army" mark was jointly registered by competitors. It was upheld on the basis that the registrants jointly "represent a single source" of the knives, due to their long-standing cooperation for quality control.
Critics in the legal community dispute whether the "Super Hero" marks meet the legal standard for trademark protection in the United States-distinctive designation of a single source of a product or service. Controversy exists over each element of that standard: whether "Super Hero" is distinctive rather than generic, whether "Super Hero" designates a source of products or services, and whether DC and Marvel jointly represent a single source. Some critics further characterize the marks as a misuse of trademark law to chill competition.
For the first two decades of their existence in comic books, superheroes largely conformed to the model of lead characters in popular fiction of the time, with the typical superhero a white, middle- to upper- class, tall, heterosexual, professional, 20-to-35-year-old male. A majority of superheroes still fit this description as of 2011, but many characters began to break out of the mold in the 1960s.
The first known female superhero is writer-artist Fletcher Hanks' minor character Fantomah, an ageless, ancient Egyptian woman in the modern day who could transform into a skull-faced creature with superpowers to fight evil; she debuted in Fiction House's Jungle Comics #2 (cover-dated Feb. 1940), credited to the pseudonymous "Barclay Flagg".
Another seminal superheroine is Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, a non-costumed character who fought crime and wartime saboteurs using the superpower of invisibility; she debuted in the eponymous syndicated newspaper comic strip by Russell Stamm on June 3, 1940. The first costumed, superpowered superhero character, the antihero the Black Widow—a costumed emissary of Satan who killed evildoers in order to send them to Hell—debuted in Mystic Comics #4 (Aug. 1940), from Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel Comics.
Though non-superpowered, like the Phantom and Batman, the earliest female costumed crimefighter is The Woman in Red, introduced in Standard Comics' Thrilling Comics #2 (March 1940); Other early examples, all non-superpowered, include Lady Luck, debuting in the Sunday-newspaper comic-book insert The Spirit Section June 2, 1940; the comedic character Red Tornado, debuting in All-American Publications All-American Comics #20 (Nov. 1940); Miss Fury, debuting in the eponymous comic strip by female cartoonist Tarpé Mills on April 6, 1941; the Phantom Lady, introduced in Quality Comics Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941); and the Black Cat, introduced in Harvey Comics' Pocket Comics #1 (also Aug. 1941). The superpowered Nelvana of the Northern Lights debuted in Canadian publisher Hillborough Studio's Triumph-Adventure Comics #1 (Aug. 1941), and Holyoke introduced the superhumanly strong Miss Victory the same month. The character was later adopted by A.C. Comics.
The first widely recognizable female superhero is Wonder Woman, from All-American Publications, one of two companies that would merge to form DC Comics. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston with help and inspiration from his wife Elizabeth and their mutual lover Olive Byrne. Wonder Woman debuted in All-American Publications' All Star Comics #8 (Jan. 1942).
Starting in the late 1950s, DC introduced Hawkgirl, Supergirl, Batwoman and later Batgirl, all female versions of prominent male superheroes. Batgirl would eventually shed her "bat" persona and become Oracle, the premiere information broker of the DC superhero community and leader of the superheroine team Birds of Prey In addition, the company introduced Zatanna and a second Black Canary and had several female supporting characters that were successful professionals, such as the Atom's love interest, attorney Jean Loring.
As with DC's superhero team the Justice League of America, which included Wonder Woman, the Marvel Comics teams of the early 1960s usually included at least one female, such as the Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl, the X-Men's Marvel Girl and the Avengers' Wasp and later Scarlet Witch. In the wake of second-wave feminism, the Invisible Girl became the more confident and assertive Invisible Woman, and Marvel Girl became the hugely powerful destructive force called Phoenix.
In subsequent decades, Elektra, Catwoman, Witchblade, and Spider-Girl became stars of popular series. The series Uncanny X-Men and its related superhero-team titles include many females in vital roles.
Initially superheroes were almost universally white. Superheroes of other racial groups began to appear in the late 1960s. They succeeded the non-superpowered stars of various features in the little-circulated All-Negro Comics #1 (1947); the feature "Waku, Prince of the Bantu", starring an African chieftain in Africa, in Atlas Comics' 1950s omnibus title Jungle Tales; and Dell Comics' 1965-1966 Western title Lobo, with the first African-American to star in his own series. First, in 1966, came Marvel Comics' the Black Panther, an African king who became the first black superhero. The first African-American superhero, the Falcon, followed in 1969, and three years later, Luke Cage, a self-styled "hero-for-hire", became the first black superhero to star in his own series. In 1971, following the appearances of such non-superpowed Native American protagonists as DC Comics' 1949 Pow Wow Smith and 1951 Strongbow, the non-superpowered but costumed Red Wolf became the first in the superheroic tradition to headline a series. In 1974, Shang Chi, a martial artist, became the first prominent Asian hero to star in an American comic book. (Asian-American FBI agent Jimmy Woo had starred in a short-lived 1950s series named after a "yellow peril" antagonist, Yellow Claw.)
Comic-book companies were in the early stages of cultural expansion and many of these characters played to specific stereotypes; Cage often employed lingo similar to that of blaxploitation films, Native Americans were often associated with wild animals and Asians were often portrayed as martial artists.
Subsequent minority heroes, such as the X-Men's Storm (the first black superheroine) and the Teen Titans' Cyborg avoided such conventions. Storm and Cyborg were both part of superhero teams, which became increasingly diverse in subsequent years. The X-Men, in the particular, were revived in 1975 with a line-up of characters culled from several nations, including the Kenyan Storm, German Nightcrawler, Russian Colossus, Irish Banshee and Canadian Wolverine. Diversity in both ethnicity and national origin would be an important part of subsequent superhero groups.
In 1989, the Monica Rambeau version of Marvel's Captain Marvel became the first female black superhero from a major publisher to get her own title, a one-shot issue. In 1991, Marvel's Epic Comics released Captain Confederacy, the first female black superhero to have her own ongoing series.
In 1993, Milestone Comics, an African-American owned imprint of DC, introduced a line of series that included characters of many ethnic minorities, including several black headliners. The imprint lasted four years, during which it introduced Static, a character adapted into the WB Network animated series Static Shock.
In addition to the creation of new minority heroes, publishers have filled the roles of once-Caucasian heroes with minorities. The African-American John Stewart debuted in 1971 as an alternate for Earth's Green Lantern Hal Jordan. In the 1980s, Stewart joined the Green Lantern Corps as a regular member. The creators of the 2000s-era Justice League animated series selected Stewart as the show's Green Lantern. Other such successor-heroes of color include DC's Firestorm (African-American) and Blue Beetle (Latino). Marvel Comics, in 2003 retroactive continuity, revealed that the "Supersoldier serum" that empowered Captain America was subsequently tested on an African American.
In 1992, Marvel revealed that Northstar, a member of the Canadian mutant superhero team Alpha Flight, was homosexual, after years of implication. This ended what one Marvel writer claimed was an mandate that there would be no LGBT characters in Marvel comics. Although some secondary characters in DC Comics' mature-audience miniseries Watchmen were gay, Northstar was the first openly gay mainstream superhero. Other gay and bisexual superheroes have since emerged, such as Pied Piper, Gen¹³'s Rainmaker, Freedom Ring, Tasmanian Devil (comics), and the gay couple Apollo and Midnighter of Wildstorm Comics' superhero team the Authority.
In the mid-2000s, some characters were revealed to be gay in two Marvel titles: Wiccan and Hulkling of the superhero group Young Avengers; and the X-Men's Colossus in the alternate universe Ultimate Marvel imprint. Xavin, from the Runaways is a shape-changing alien filling the part of a transgendered lesbian. In 2006, DC revealed in its Manhunter title that longtime character Obsidian was gay, and a new incarnation of Batwoman was introduced as a "lipstick lesbian" to some media attention.
On June 1, 2012, DC announced that the Green Lantern would appear as a gay man in the title "Earth 2", which will be released on June 6, 2012. 
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