One of the things I love about romance fiction – and I think it’s true for most genre fiction – is that the protagonists are superheroes. That includes the women, by the way, I just thought that “every romantic hero/ine is a superhero/ine; every superhero/in has his/her kryptonite” didn’t make for a catchy title.
Each character is absolute in their own specific way and it makes them infinitely powerful. Take Edward Cullen, the hugely popular romantic hero: his vampire nature is as unchanging as the granite his body resembles, so when he makes the great shift of falling in love with Bella it is absolute and forever. And, not only will his love for her never abate, he also has the superhuman capacity to feel things with extraordinary intensity and depth.
In old-school romance, I think the superpower is quite often the characters’ incredible beauty, which is a kind of lame superpower, really.
My favourite one, I think, is Leo from Lisa Kleypas’s Married by Morning. He’s explaining to Catherine why he was destroyed by the death of his first love and he says: “I love like a madman.”
Leo’s superpower is the way he can love. Pretty seductive, no?
Now to the kryptonite…
Lady Jacinda Knight meets Billy Blade when she gets lost in the London rookeries, where he’s king of the local gang. She meets him in his element, at his full, wild power. He is physically and psychologically potent.
There is an incredibly touching/powerful scene when he follows her back into her London, all the way to Hyde Park, and she has no choice but to socially cut him before the society lads with her take him on. Then Blade re-takes his rightful position as an earl and braves the public humiliation of wearing purple when it is not the done thing, just to see her again.
What makes this plot work so very well is the vulnerability Jacinda creates in Blade. He follows her to a place where he loses all his power, because his longing for her works against all his instincts, to the core of who he is.
Then there’s the quite literal example of this more metaphorical idea. In the film Hancock (spoiler alert) two superheroes/gods are destined to love each other for all eternity, but whenever they come physically near each other they begin to lose their powers. That is always when they are most vulnerable.
Cryptonite takes away the alien superman and puts a human in his place. Someone flawed. Someone fearful. Someone immensely lovable.