One thing that has puzzled me is the definition of the term “Mary Sue” in terms of the Superhero Genre. It’s a hard one to nail down; a lot of what would be classically considered Mary Sue traits are stock part in parcel of the genre and either wouldn’t apply or, alternatively, could be just as readily applied to canon characters. However, after some thought, I felt that there were certainly traits that could be considered unquestionably Sue within the genre.
This list is based on the founding concepts of this community, but somewhat expanded. I certainly appreciate additional comments or feedbacks.
So what are Superhero Mary Sue traits? Five key points come to mind; many of these are considered to be “stock” Sue issues, however, I feel that some definition of them is appropriate with regards to the Genre.
1) The Character exists within an existing canon or world, but doesn’t fit within that world’s lore or “rules”. Weather they are from a race or group that the creator dreamed up that exists nowhere else in the world, or have some connection to previously existing characters or groups that makes no sense, then it is definitely a Mary Sue trait.
A character who shows up claiming to be, say, Wolverine’s long-lost sister would be a good start. It’s an attempt to tie the character into an existing bit of lore while not attempting to stick to the canon. Of course, if they have further traits that make no extent in context – for example, rather then being Canadian, they’re, say, Japanese (And a Catgirl) – then it gets even worse.
2) Grossly overpowered characters. Again, a hard one to define; most comics universes have their incredibly powerful characters, with Superman being probably the best example here. However, at the same time, there exists the possibility for going beyond that, with powers that would be considered “overpowered” even in such contexts. Alternatively, a powerful character with no weaknesses could fall into this category.
Looking at Superman; he has well-defined weaknesses. Kryptonite can kill him, and magic has “unpredictable” effects on him. Both are well known and well-documented, and can be used against him, Furthermore, his personality is an area that a canny foe can exploit; using his code against killing against him is probably the best example here.
Take away these weaknesses and you’d have a invincible hero who cannot be stopped by any means whatsoever, save for simply dropping a bigger still threat on them. And that would certainly count as Mary Sue.
Another example is finding those powers that are too extreme; for example. A character who has the power to instantly and permanently strip someone of their powers while adding it to their own. Such a character would be invincible; not only would they have an array of stolen abilities that they can use, but anyone who tried to face them would end up powerless for the deal. Again, very Mary Sue.
3) Lack of imagination or originality. Often seen in MMOs and other open RP settings, this comes about when somebody simply bulk steals an exiting character and files the numbers off to make their own completely unoriginal creation.
Obviously this is the point where one has to consider the line between “homage” and “shameless theft”. The best indication of such is to then take away all the deliberately copied elements of a character and see what is actually original or different. If, once stripped of the copied elements, there’s nothing left, then odds are, it’s theft.
4) Creators that are way too in love with their own characters. This is a hard one to call on in some fields, and easy to do so in others. Look at things like their backstory and their personality, as well as those characters attached to them for clear signs, especially in light of the character’s motivations and personalities.
One good example is the old Genre – and Mary Sue – standby of murdered parents. If, for example, the death of one’s parents is their main motivation, then that’s pretty genre; it certainly makes sense that someone would want to fight crime to avenge the loss of their loved ones. On the other hand, if their parents were murdered for no reason other then to give the character something to angst over, then that’s definitely sue.
In general, the more over-wrought the backstory, then the more Sue it’s going to be. Characters with tragedy after tragedy heaped upon them get very old very quickly, especially when the main point is to either garner sympathy or attention for the character, or to give them something to moan about in lieu of actual interaction.
There are other things to watch for, especially with regards to interaction with supporting characters. Enemies are a particular issue here; do they exist to provide tension or conflict, or do they simply serve to make the character look better by playing to their strengths or acting as little more then a punching bag. Likewise, look at the consequences they suffer form facing such enemies, if the hero kills his opponent on the spot in public and everyone around them applauds, then there’s definitely something wrong here.
A good measure for enemies, love interests and supporting characters is this; try to figure what they would do if they didn’t have the character in their lives; if they don’t really exist without them, then that’s unquestionably Sue.
5) General incoherence and loopiness – true, this isn’t a Mary Sue trait per se, but it is one worthy of some note. Nonsensical backstories can be a negative trait when the author is trying to play it straight; a grim, dark avenger is not going to stand up if his background makes no sense at all.
These are the traits that I most associate with “Superhero Sues”. Of course, they’re also very subjective; I’d be interested to see what others think on the subject.
Super Stues. We bring the kryptonite, You bring th
- On Super Sues