It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of both the tropes and the cheese often associated with superheroes. While I appreciate stories that flip things on their head, subvert expectation, and critically examine what we’ve come to expect from the genre, I also just love it purely for the spectacle, and the familiar beats that so many of our favorite superhero stories manage to hit again and again. So today, I’m bringing you five of my favorite superhero “moments”—pieces of a story that we’ll all recognize, but that I will never get tired of watching play out.
5) Learning to Fly
…or run, or morph, or punch, or whatever skills the hero has suddenly found themselves saddled with. I admit it, I love a good training montage—but what I love even more, is when the hero is running around with new powers they don’t quite understand, possibly screwing things up even more in the meantime. Let me see them fail a little, before they really learn to soar.
4) The Double-Identity Dance
While not strictly limited to superhero media, this is the genre I prefer it in. You all know the kind of scene: some elaborate setup has been established, which will require both the superhero persona and their mild-mannered alter ego to be in the same place at the same time. Quite possibly even interacting with the same people. The result is an increasingly awkward song and dance where the hero needs to keep finding excuses to run off, always “just missing” the other version of themselves, while every step has the potential for the whole thing to come crashing down around them. Sometimes, these scenes fall flat, a mess of embarrassing near-misses and a staggering lack of notice from their companions. But when it’s done well? Almost nothing else will make me laugh as hard as this.
3) Did You Hear?
This one could play into the kind of scene I just discussed above, or it can be placed in any context. A character who doesn’t know the superhero’s identity is talking to their mild-mannered alter ego, and discusses the actions of the superhero to their face. Sometimes it’s to praise, sometimes it’s to criticize, but it always ends up with the hero needing to skate across painfully thin ice in order to avoid revealing their secret. Bonus points if the hero learns information that is crucial to the plot they’re investigating as a superhero.
2) Save the Train!
Come on, who doesn’t love a good train rescue? It’s got even more speed than a car chase, plus the lives of innocent civilians hanging in the balance, plus this sense of unstoppable, almost inevitably failure looming over the hero. Physics alone make this a nearly impossible feat, and yet we manage to see our favorites do it over and over again. And while the iconic train rescue in Spider-man 2 will always hold a top spot in my heart, I will never tire of other stories jumping onboard (har har) and giving it their own go. In fact, I may have even attempted this trope myself.
1) The Dramatic Reveal
If I’m being honest, nothing in superhero fiction beats out on this moment for me. Yes, finally defeating the Big Bad is satisfying. Yes, watching the hero gain their powers is a wild ride. Yes, there’s all kind of joy to be had from superfights, and mistaken identities, and investigating evildoing. But this moment, right here, when the hero has been keeping their secret identity secret for a long time, and someone close to them finally learns the truth? Oh my god. This is the trope that made me truly fall head-over-heels in love with superheroes. To see all the infinite ways this moment can play out, to wonder when it’s going to happen, to see it coming, to not see it coming, to watch the reactions of their loved ones… This slays me every time, in all the best ways. This is one moment where even when it’s done badly, I will still whoop at the page/screen whenever it happens. Because after all, what’s the point of a secret identity if not to reveal that identity to the reader at the exact right time, in the exact right way?
Okay, so those are mine! What about you, what are your favorite superhero moments and tropes? Do they need to be done well, or are you a sucker for them no matter the context? Let me know!