Superhero Archetypes

In this article, you will learn all about the different character personality archetypes found in the world of superheroes (aka Superhero archetypes).

14 Superhero Archetypes

Psychoanalyst Dr Carl Jung identified a whole range of archetypes passed down through cultures from ancient times and which are instantly familiar in modern society as a result.

Initially it is easy to assume that all superheroes would fit the same character archetype, sharing many similar qualities as they do.

Such archetypes can fit a number of superhero characters.

But equally a number of specific archetypes which fit the superhero genre have been identified by those interested in the field over recent decades which such characters more accurately conform to.

It is these which shall be explored here through the lens of some character examples.

Many of the superheroes identified actually fit multiple character archetypes, something which is not unusual in literature or film making, and so the example identified are not taken to be exhaustive.

1. The Hulk – The Brick

The Hulk is an example of the superhero archetype known as the brick.

These characters have strength, endurance and physical power as the primary basis of their powers.

What they often lack in intelligence and guile they make up for in brute force and intimidating physical presence.

Sometimes this physical strength is even given a temporary but decisive boost via some form of power boost or, as in the case of the Hulk himself, growth.

They may also possess particular physical skill sets, such as martial arts abilities, which they use to back up their innate strength and power.

Other examples of the brick archetype include:

  • Superman
  • The Thing
  • She-Thing
  • Colossus
  • Thor

2. Green Lantern – Energy Projector (or Blaster)

The Green Lantern is an example of the superhero archetype known as the energy projector, or sometimes the blaster.

These characters’ primary power comes from their ability to project some form of energy blast at a long range.

Such energy blasts may take many forms, such as radiation, fire, ice, gas or similar.

The energy may also be telekinetic or in the form of an energy field rather than something physical such as ice or fire.

Whatever the nature of it, this energy blast is what gives the superhero their winning edge.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Havoc
  • Cyclops
  • Wildfire

3. Flash – Speedster

Flash is an example of the superhero archetype known as the speedster.

These character’s primary source of power comes from their superhuman speed and reflexes.

This speed can take a number of forms – sometimes they are able to run extremely quickly, for example.

However, sometimes the speed takes a less traditional form and they are able to fly or teleport in an extremely quick manner from one place to another.

Whatever the nature of the way they employ their speed, it is this which gives them a unique edge over others around them and can be particularly useful for saving others from disasters such as fires and wrecks where speed is of the essence.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Quicksilver
  • Northstar
  • Velocity

4. Spiderman – The Gymnast

Spiderman is an example of the superhero archetype known as the gymnast.

For this type of character their primary source of power comes from their agility and flexibility, as it would for any gymnast in the real world.

This agility and flexibility gives the superhero the ability to outmanoeuvre their foe, using acrobatic skills combined with strength and guile in order to give them an advantage.

Sometimes their gymnastic abilities are purely technical and physical, whilst for others they are supplemented by some form of superpower, such as the ability to cling to vertical surfaces as in the case of Spiderman.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Daredevil
  • Nightcrawler

5. Batman – Gadgeteer

Batman is an example of the superhero archetype known as the gadgeteer.

Gadgeteers rely on gadgets, machines and weapons to give them the edge over their enemies.

They are usually combat experts who are able to employ such weaponry and gadgetery expertly in order to gain an advantage.

Many of them are also archetypal inventors, creating and making the gadgets which they then go on to use in order to defeat their foe.

They may also use their inventing skills to develop powerful armour for themselves in order to successfully defend from attack. Other examples of their inventions and gadgets include cars, lairs and poisons.

Their gadgets and weapons often imitate superpowers but the heroes themselves do not in fact possess any superpowers as other characters in the genre often do.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Ant Man
  • Iron Man
  • Green Arrow

6. Professor X – The Mentalist (or The Psionicist)

Professor X is an example of the superhero archetype known as the mentalist, or sometimes as the psionicist.

These superheroes possess psionic abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy, extra-sensory perception, mind control, precognition/ESP or similar and are able to use these powers in order to achieve their heroic ends.

They sometimes also possess other powers which they are able to use in combination with their psychic powers in order to employ them to greater effect e.g. energy projection.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Jean Grey
  • Emma Frost
  • Psylock
  • Raven
  • Martian Mindhunter

7. Lady Shiva – Martial Artist

Lady Shiva is an example of the superhero archetype known as the martial artist.

These superheroes possess physical abilities related to some sort of martial art e.g. judo, taekwondo, karate etc.

Rather than possessing superpowers they possess exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills.

Sometimes the character is superhuman or empowered by some form of external source whilst possessing these skills, as in the case of Iron Fist and Captain America.

Other times, the characters are perfectly normal humans but just very skilled in the martial arts, such as Black Canary.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Iron Fist
  • Captain America
  • Black Canary
  • Shang Chi
  • Wildcat

8. Mr Fantastic – Metamorph (or Transformative)

Mr Fantastic is an example of the superhero archetype known as the metamorph, or sometimes as the transformative.

These superheroes are marked out by their ability to transform, or change, their physical manifestation from one form to another.

In other words, they metamorphosize from one thing to something else.

In many ways this also makes them an archetypal shapeshifter, a master of disguise who can hide in plain sight and thus has the advantage of surprise over their enemy.

They may sometimes be multiform, with more than one superpower or skill set hidden within the same body.

Sometimes they may also be able to duplicate themselves, creating copies identical or unique from each other with which they can also gain an advantage.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Plastic Man
  • Wasp
  • Sandman
  • Mystique

9. Dr Strange – Mystic (or Mystical)

Dr Strange is an example of the superhero archetype known as the mystic (or mystical).

These superheroes primary power comes from their mystical and/or magical powers which are set in nature.

Such heroes are trained in the use of magic or similar mystic powers and are able to use these to gain an advantage over their enemy, who often does not possess such mystical abilities.

Their background is often linked to magic and mythology across the ages.

Other examples of the archetype include:

10. Captain America – Patriot

Captain America is an example of the superhero archetype known as the patriot.

These superheroes come in a variety of shapes and sizes but the common feature that unites them is their overt patriotism, usually towards the United States of America.

Even their clothing often exemplifies this patriotism, usually featuring the red, white and blue colouring of the US flag.

The characters are dedicated to fighting for the causes or values espoused by the US nation, using a whole range of skills and powers to do so.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Liberty Belle
  • The Shield
  • American Eagle
  • Uncle Sam

11. Wolverine – Feral

Wolverine is an example of the superhero archetype known as the feral.

The feral superhero is known for abilities which appear more like a beast in nature than those of others in the genre.

However, the superhero need not always be entirely beastly in nature.

They may present partially as a beast, as with Wolverine himself, fully as in the case of the Beast, or through therianthropic dual natures, for example as in the case of werewolves.

Feral superheroes usually possess some degree of superhuman quality e.g. strength, speed, reflexes, healing, heightened physical senses or beast-like features such as fangs and claws.

They usually also display self-hatred of the feral aspects of their nature.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Beast
  • Jack Russell
  • Wolfsbane

12. Red Tornado – Android/Robot

Red Tornado is an example of the superhero archetype known as the android, or the robot.

These characters are in reality a robot or android rather than a human being and as such their powers derive from technology which has been used in their creation.

This can give them a distinct advantage over their human counterparts in terms of knowledge retention and other key features, but it can also prove to be their downfall if their technology can be tampered with.

The archetype can also contain three distinct forms of character – the remote controlled robot, cyborgs and androids.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Bozo the Iron Man
  • XJ-9
  • Box
  • Vic Stone
  • RoboCop
  • The original Human Torch
  • The Vision

13. Iron Man – Mastermind/Super Genius

Iron Man is an example of the superhero archetype known as the mastermind, or super genius.

These characters possess seemingly superhuman, but certainly superior, levels of intelligence which they are able to put to good use when it comes to defeating their foe.

Their intelligence allows them to effectively problem solve and strategise where others would struggle, making them natural leaders.

Indeed they often take on the leadership role where groups of superheroes work together in teams.

They do this by coordinating the actions of the others in order to ensure the most effective result for all and using their ability to identify the key skills and abilities of others for the greater good.

Other examples of the archetype include:

  • Professor X
  • Batman
  • The Question
  • L
  • Brainiac 5
  • Mr Fantastic
  • John Constantine

14. Deadpool – The Jester and The Outlaw

Deadpool is a more unusual example of the superhero, personifying two more traditionally Jungian archetypes of the jester and the outlaw, although of course he does also exemplify some superhero archetypes too.

However, it is these Jungian archetypes which set him apart from the rest of the genre.

Like the archetypal outlaw, Deadpool has an innate desire for revenge motivating him and seeks to bring disruption rather than resolution to chaos as other superheroes do.

Just like the jester, he also seeks fulfillment in life by living for the moment, spreading joy and humour wherever he goes rather than taking life, or himself, too seriously as is the want of other superheroes.

In these qualities he stands apart from almost anyone else in the genre.

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