A recent online discussion over what defines a "Superhero", inspired me to take those ideas and drag them out as a journal post here.
It started with me discussing that while the main character of my comic, "The Wellkeeper", has incredible powers that she uses in heroic ways, I don't think of her as a "superhero". If you simply that the word itself and break it down, it's definition should simply be that. A hero with "super" abilities. Andi it's implied in the term that these abilities should be beyond the scope of a normal human.
But that's not the cultural definition of a superhero, is it? Batman is called a "superhero" in spite of having zero powers. The only real thing that separates him from James Bond is the costume, (And the habit to recruit teenage sidekicks) but nobody would ever think to call Bond a superhero. Why not? His identity as an MI6 agent is not public knowledge, he uses intense fighting skills and gadgets to fight crime and stop evildoers. He just tends to wear nice suits rather then tights and a mask.
The more I think about what defines a "superhero", the more I realize that the defining traits are totally superficial and have nothing to do with what the word itself describes. The distinctions are largely subtle (an interesting word combo, to be sure) and often arbitrary. There are a ton of very popular heroes with fantastic powers that aren't considered "superheroes", mostly because of superficial tropes that have become permanently linked with the definition of a superhero.
By all accounts, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo and even characters like "The Wellkeeper's" Zoe are by every literal translation of the term, "Superheroes". But they don't have melodramatic costumes, secret identities or any of the other trappings that define the cultural idea of what is a superhero. It's strange and slightly disrespectful of the term to limit it like that.
Hell, by the most straight forward interpretation of the term "superhero", even the ever-so-hated Edward Cullen from "Twilight" is one. He has special powers that he uses in a variety of heroic ways. But it's interesting to note that if you used this criteria to define him as such, you'd probably raise the ire of both superhero fans AND Twilight fans as each tends to consider their interest as somehow better then the other, when they're really the same damn thing.
Are the superficial trappings of a silly costume and secret identity THAT essential? Or is it more tied to the medium of comics? Most people don't define characters like the Power Rangers as "Super heroes" when they meet ALL the criteria, both literal and cultural. Except that that was a TV show and not a comic book first and foremost. (I admit that unlike most of the other examples I've made, there are far more people that DO include the Power Rangers as "superheroes" then, say, Bond or Harry Potter) It seems to me, that for American superhero fans, a superhero is defined as someone who wears a costume to fight crime/evil as created and seen first and foremost in an American comic book.
Now, sometimes, the media will cover something like a comic book movie and get it right, but still infuriate comic fans because of the arbitrary definitions. I recall news stories about "Hellboy II: The Golder Army" that defined Mike Mignola's iconic character as a superhero. And damn it, he TOTALLY is. But some comic fans I know cried foul because... well... I don't quite get why. Because heroing is actually his job? Because he doesn't wear tights? Why are these distinctions so dang arbitrary?
It's like some kind of infinity loop of nonsense designed to BE purposefully difficult to understand.