Settings: one of the critical things that constitutes yet another "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenarios for Supers RPGs is the question of settings.
If your setting is something like the Legion (supers, but in the far future or not on earth), or the "first supers of the world", or something along those lines, then you have a built-in cop-out. But otherwise, as a supers DM you'd have three options:
1. Use an existing "comic" universe: DC, Marvel, etc.
2. Create your own generic "comic" universe, that is basically anything between inspired-by all the way to "blatant rip-off of" the DC/Marvel type universe.
3. Create your own comic universe but one that is radically different from the existing ones.
If you choose number 1; you have the problem that your heroes will always feel like second stringers compared to the big hitters (Superman, Batman, Thor, Wolverine); there's simply no way that they'll be as cool, as interesting, as central to the universe itself, because those niches are all filled. Of course, you can have your players actually get to play the setting-supers themselves, but then you get a whole other bag of worms: everything from two different players fighting over who gets to be Green Lantern, to players claiming that the stats for the heroes as you/the game presented them is wrong because there's no way that Killowog could be a better Green Lantern than Guy Gardner because episode #883 of "Green Lantern Comics" said so, to the guy playing Batman deciding that it would be "really cool" if Batman went nuts and started killing people or the guy playing Superman decides that he's going to take over the world or dump Lois Lane and start going after Black Canary because the player always thought Black Canary was totally hotter.. etc etc ad nauseum. Its a recipe for disaster.
If you choose number 2: your game world can't possibly be as cool as the DC or the Marvel Universe. Those universes have the appeal that they are the familiar worlds of the heroes we know from our infancy. A good example of this is in some of the "worlds" created for the Supers RPGs themselves; M&M's "Freedom City" for example. I've been passed a copy of the new Freedom City sourcebook, and it is intense. Its great. Its got all the classic memes of hero settings, and they did a bang up job of writing it up.
And you know what? I spent the whole fucking time reading the thing saying: "yea, that's obviously Wonder Woman, that's Green Arrow, that's the Skrull, those are the Kree, that's the X-men; they're all here, only less cool". They're cheap knock-offs. So Freedom City, for all its brilliant design, comes out to be a world of cheap knock-offs of all the heroes and themes we already know.
As for number 3: well, how far can you go from the standard themes and still really be playing a Superhero game? What's more, which of these variations can you think of that will be both cool, playable and not be done before? I mean, ripping off Watchmen, or ripping off Rising Stars, or ripping off Mohammed Ali's Anti-Tooth-Decay Champions is no better than ripping off DC or Marvel.
I don't really have a good solution to all this. My own Legion game has the advantage of being the Legion: its set IN the DC universe, tied absolutely to the DC universe, but the setting is a 1000 years divorced from most of the DC universe, so that players and the DM both have a lot more freedom without having to try to jam square pegs in round holes. I decided that the players would basically play their own interpretations of Legion characters (ie. player x is "lightning lad", with lightning lad's same powers, origins, and basic traits but the player will get to decide what LL acts like or does from then on, bound only by the conventions of the Legion Constitution and heroic memes), which is far easier to do than letting your players try to handle their own interpretations of, say, Avengers or the Justice League.
There is one thing that I could advise people if they set out to create their own "supers" universe: one of the things that is often overlooked in trying to emulate the genre is the question of consistency. Most DMs will by default try to create the most consistent world setting possible, but in Supers games this is actually counter-productive. In the universe of DC or Marvel, the world is a big sloshing mess where lots of inconsistencies, multiple origin stories, overlapping metaphysics, altered history, etc. all exist. Trying to make your setting perfectly consistent is actually going to make it feel LESS like the comics.
(Originally posted July 25, 2006)