Doctor Venn’s circle strike
It’s true that a lot of Venning is nothing special, an unnecessary display of things that do just as well in a comparative table. It also risks reifying, thereby generating categories as “things” when none exist just because you depicted a circle or box.
But here I am working on a game system which lets people make their own superhero groups for their own creative purposes, rather than aping existing ones, and yet also which relies on inspiration from and appreciation for the comics. How does one describe and inspire superhero groups without just skinning existing ones? I started thinking about what superhero groups were and why they existed – not the in-fiction reasons, but reader and publication reasons.
Historically, superhero groups are a great way to sell one more comic without making up anything new, to keep IPs active when they can’t carry their economic weight by themselves, and to pad pages with lots more banter and dialogue and poses than you can get away with in a single-protagonist story. I am cynical enough to think that’s all the explanation we need for why they exist in the originalist/source version of that question.
But that did and does lead to a variety of engaging creative opportunities and questions which at least some comics creators picked up on, at least some of the time. I’m tentatively proceeding under a non-cynical, not-very-secure hat of hope that those efforts produced categories that might provoke creativity.
This is a first pass, anyway, and it’s certainly casual if not outright careless.
My choice of “handicapped” is probably getting glances, insofar as I think one of the strengths of the original Metal Men is that each hero was so strongly characterized as to be borderline-clinical, albeit written in a charming and “sometimes that’s what it takes” way.
The original Champions game (not the Marvel comic of that title) was profoundly inspired by comics from about 1965 through 1980, so I’ve focused on groups from that period or which came up a little bit later by the same creators or younger creators who were clearly working from those models of comics storytelling. I definitely think it’s a bad idea to dump in every imaginable group, e.g. from the Wikipedia superhero teams page.
I’m staying away from movie and recent franchise concepts, so a lot of the re-conceived versions of the Avengers or the Champions aren’t in there. I decided most spin-off groups aren’t really their own things, especially the plethora of X-titles which would do nothing but fill up the space occupied by the New X-Men. I also tried avoid blatant reboots and also deconstructive expys like the Hero Alliance or the Authority. Maybe some of those are worth including, I don’t know.
Even now, a couple of groups of groups occur to me which are conceivably interesting or would cause some circle-shifting. Strikeforce Morituri and several of the Wildstorm groups would be found in an overlap between “shared origin” and “government/law enforcement,” for example, which doesn’t ruin the overall arrangement but brings the two lower circles closer.
At the risk of that reification thing, one of the empty zones does strike me as begging for it: the “teens, feared and distrusted, but not shared-origin,” or its mirror, “teens, shared-origin, but not feared and distrusted.” I must just be missing
As with any multivariate method, this one benefits from holding back on some variables of interest and then assessing their distribution across the pattern you get from the numerous, concrete, and not very interesting ones. In this case, I was interested to see whether any characteristic villainy or politics arose in adjacent sectors, and it does strike me that betrayal, either by a rogue member or by an authority figure, seems concentrated over to the right, and antagonists with at least some right or reason on their side seem concentrated over to the left.
Another way to look at it is to treat the arrangement as entirely historical and contingent, thus indicative of nothing special, and permitting “violation” in order to think of something new with previously unmined story potential. I find myself resisting slightly when I try it, though. Teens under duress by law enforcement? Maybe, if a bit grim.
And finally, the variables strike me as awfully limited. There are probably plenty of founding concepts to work with which remain surprisingly untried. Maybe there’s lot of room for new superhero team creativity, rather than rebooting and deconstructing the few arrangements that happened to show up so far.