Comic book fans use different methods when they breakdown superheroes. Wikipedia, under their superheroes entry, has a pretty good summary of the types of superheroes. They break it down to thirteen types from armored hero (Iron Man) and brick (the Hulk) to slasher (Wolverine) and speedster (the Flash). This list, while informative, only covers powers at the basic level. This isn't the only way to categorize superheroes.
Another way to do it is by origin. While this method says little about powers and abilities, it does offer the would-be superhero creator basic superhero beginnings. Origin archetypes include alien (Superman), mutant (the X-Men), non-human (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and training (Batman), among others. I have found there are about nine basic (superhero) origin archetypes found in comic books.
You can also divvy heroes up by personality (arrogant, comedic, disciplined, etc.). But I find all three methods insufficient. When I create superheroes (I'm an artist), I want bold, iconic archetypes. Brick and blaster, martial artist and mutant are not sufficient.
I want big, bold superheroes. So I look at the big, bold superhero archetypes.
Some types of heroes will be left off my list. I'm only focusing on the iconic (or somewhat iconic) superhero archetypes:
- The God - Thor, Hercules, Wonder Woman (in one of her incarnations) and the iconic-like New Gods. This is a bold superhero archetype and the God is usually a protector of humanity, not just a city or a nation or a group of outcasts. They are typically among the strongest superheroes so, at a basic level, they are bricks/tankers. But brick doesn't go nearly far enough to describe their wide range of powers. A sub-type of the God is the God-like archetype ala DC's Captain Marvel and (in most of her incarnations) Wonder Woman. While these heroes are not properly gods, their powers were given to them by the gods.
- The Alien - Like the God, the Alien archetype covers some of the most powerful heroes in comic books: Superman, the Silver Surfer, the Martian Manhunter. Typically, these heroes can go toe-to-toe with the Gods in a contest of sheer power. And in some ways, they even one-up the Gods in that many Aliens have even a wider range of powers. Aliens are often mysterious and aloof.
- The Super Soldier (aka the Patriot) - A hero that is created by the government and serves as that government's living national symbol. Captain America is the best example of this but others include the Canadian super team Alpha Flight and the UK's Captain Britain. Often, this archetype is clad head to toe in the colors and symbols of the nation he serves which gives the hero a striking appearance. The Super Soldier is often a leader. And while Super Soldiers exhibit a range powers from hero to hero, many are super-athletes who rely on their fighting skills,
- The Armored Hero - This powerful archetype is a hero (usually an engineer or scientist) clad in a hi-tech suit of armor. The Armored Hero usually displays a fairly wide range of powers (Iron Man is a superhumanly strong James Bond with every gadget OO7 has ever used at his disposal). Visually, most Armored Heroes remind us of another armor-clad icon, the Knight in Shining Armor from movies and novels.
- The Sorcerer - Though there are many common magician superheroes in comics who wield low power levels of magic, the Sorcerer is the master of the magical arts; the Gandalf or the Merlin of the spandex set. With arguably the most varied arsenal at his fingertips, the Sorcerer is one of the most powerful iconic superhero archetypes: Dr. Strange, Dr. Fate, Zatanna, the Scarlet Witch.
- The Street Crusader - This archetype includes heroes that are either (a) more concerned with mundane crime and criminals (street crime) than the big, cosmic crises and/or (b) heroes who either don't have powers and rely heavily on their training (Batman, Robin) and heroes who may have some powers but nothing on a grand scale (Daredevil, Spider-Man) and/or (c) heroes who are anti-heroes and work outside the law (i.e. those who use brutal methods to achieve their goals) . The Punisher is the best (worst?) example of this latter sub-type. The Martial Artist and the Scrapper are sub-types of the Street Crusader archetype.
- The Monster - This is usually (a) a hero who is noble at heart but has a hard time being accepted because of his monstrous appearance (the Thing, Nightcrawler, the Beast) or (b) a Dr. Jekyl/Mr.Hyde-type hero like the Hulk. Many Monsters are scientists like Sasquatch, the Beast, and the Hulk.
- The Weapon Master - Whether they use melee weapons like swords (the Black Knight, the Swordsman) or ranged weapons like bows and guns (Hawkeye, Red Arrow), the Weapons expert is one of the most recognizable heroic archetypes in comic books. Weapon Masters tend to be free-spirits and are often the "crap-stirrers" on their teams.
- The Mentalist - The Mentalist isn't just a hero with a psychic power or two, the Mentalist is usually a powerful telepath, telekinetic, or clairvoyant. Professor X, Jean Grey, the White Queen--were talking powerful. They tend to be analytical and many are mentors.
- The Atlantean - While this is a rare archetype, it an iconic one because of the mythology surrounding Atlantis. Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner are the archetypical Atlanteans. Atlanteans are arrogant.
- The Bodychanger - This is either a hero who can alter his body's molecular structure (Metamorpho), a hero with plasticity and/or elongation (Plastic Man, Mister Fantastic), sizechangers (the Atom, Giant-Man) or shapeshifters who can alter their appearance to mimic other people (Mystique).
- The Elemental - This is a hero who controls a type of energy, force or substance to an extremely high degree. Some can even become the "element" they control (the Human Torch, Living Lightning). Magneto (electromagnetism) and Graviton (gravity) control two of the fundamental forces of the universe.
- The Speedster - He run fast. Very fast. Flash and Quicksilver are Speedsters. Speedsters tend to be lighthearted and fun-loving or arrogant snots.