For characters, I was thinking that they can fall into one of three groups, to give some more diversity (and group complexity). Something to think about when finalizing a character’s bio.
White Hats: Somebody with a crime-fighting background whose actions or methods have placed them on the wrong side of the law… but whose ideals and loyalty are trustworthy. In other words, somebody who’s broken the law either accidentally, or in was approved of by leadership. Most often, as long as they perform well and don’t try anything fishy, they’re allowed more freedom… small comfort when you’re stuck trusting villains. Someone like the Punisher would fall here: a character with a code of honor, who only goes after criminals, but whose morals (and methods) are more than questionable. The DC Suicide Squad included Rick Flagg, a hotheaded and depressive government agent, and Bronze Tiger, a hero who’d been brainwashed by the Guild of Assassins and didn’t fully trust himself to do good yet.
Grey Hats: A character who’s committed real crimes, lacks strong ties to law enforcement or the government, who has psychological issues, maybe a split supers/normal personality, and is a moderate security risk. Perhaps the character is less selfish in their crimes, working towards a noble cause in all the wrong ways; maybe they have a desire for redemption, or want to have their psychological issue “fixed” by professionals. In any case, there’s something keeping this character in line and working: fear of punishment, a code of ethics, hope for the future, what have you. Maybe even a death-wish. In some cases, they might be trusted enough not to be restrained or contained in the field.
A few examples include Magneto, a man trying to defend mutantkind but going too far in the process, who later undergoes redemption; also the Hulk, a brilliant scientist sharing a life with a childlike force of nature, who might want either freedom from the Hulk’s bestial body, or to merge their two minds. DC’s Black Adam comes to mind, someone with the potential for good, benevolent ideals, and strict moral boundaries, but who does things most heroes consider reprehensible.
Black Hats: More of an out-and-out criminal. Someone who’s committed serious felonies, are deemed of low moral character, who have serious psychological/criminal pathologies, or who fit into the above. In general, their desires are personal: power, world domination, wealth beyond measure, the ruin of an adversary. (Dr. Doom covers three of those four.) Some are run-of-the-mill criminals, gangland Kingpins or everyday thugs. Most Batman villains, like Joker, Scarecrow, and Two-Face, fill the “seriously twisted pathology” holes; to a lesser extent, so does Lex Luthor. Others might be extra-terrestrial/extra-dimensional characters who view humans as slaves or sheep, like Loki, Darkseid, and Apocalypse.
In any event, they lack the moral code or ethics of a Grey or White Hat. While their… expertise is invaluable in certain situations, the strong preference is to restrict a Black Hat’s power in some way: a nanite-bomb in the head, an ancient mystical ritual limiting their powers, a post-mission memory wipe. Moreso than the others, Black Hats are considered expendable: nobody cries when a true bastard bites it, and there’s always more to fill their shoes. More often then not, they’re powerful enough to survive against any odds, much to their handlers’ disappointment.
I realize there’s baggage that comes with both “supers” and “villains,” so a little clarification. I don’t want this to be the Superfriends or ‘60s Batman. Not only in that we’re dealing with the bad guys, but this isn’t the campy, four-color heroes you usually see. That was intentional. The idea is to have something dark, gritty, and mature, but on the other hand, there’s a difference between “mature, adult gaming” and going too far, either into sick stuff or frat-boy humor. And even in a serious game, there’s still a place for lighthearted moments, or pretty much any kind of character, even a more “comical” one (thinking of pretty much any Batman villain).
Given the dark tone and content matter, I don’t want anyone to get the idea I’m looking to kill off characters. I think that’s counter-productive to having players invested in developed characters. However, if you’re getting bored or want to try something new or whatever, there’s a way to get something new built into the concept. (Give me some hint of some sort, I’m not psychic.) Termination isn’t the only way, given the number of ways a character could be replaced: a loose cannon could overstep one too many boundaries in a mission and get jailed again; someone’s gadgets could fail, taking them out of action for a while; over-using powers could “burn out” a character temporarily; someone from another planet or dimension could give up and just go home.
Note that all of these options have something in common: they’re reversible (or to stick within the comics genre, can undergo a retcon), they have meaning for the characters (and hopefully players) as obstacles to overcome, even fulfill personal quests and involve heroic sacrifice. Even a temporary character can provide a dramatic gesture or leave an impact on the campaign. And as many characters have proven—-Superman, Captain America, Batman—-death is not finality.