I’ve always been a big fan of comic books and comic book-based (or inspired) movies and TV series. This love goes back to even the cheesy movies and television shows of my childhood and young adult years when the special effects weren’t special at all (unless you’re a lover of “cheese”).
One thing I’ve never liked in any of these superhero/supervillain venues, though, is the uber-powered hero. Now, I can deal with uber-powered villains here and there, because the heroes need special challenges at times and in my opinion, if you have the powers of, essentially, a god…well, you’re likely to behave badly or to misuse your powers for what you think is the “greater good,” no matter what anyone else thinks or whose rights you trample in the process.
But I can think of few things more boring than heroes with vast, vast powers and few vulnerabilities.
So, Superman (the classic example of this) is not among my favorites (though the upcoming film rebooting him for the cinematic world looks promising). Nor Captain Marvel/Shazam or Icon. Nor, on the Marvel side, such clones of those DC characters as Sentry or Blue Marvel.
I don’t want a hero with the “power of a million exploding suns.” I just don’t.
Green Lantern has vast power, but his body itself is vulnerable and if you get in a good cheap shot, he’s toast. Wonder Woman has vast strength and can take a major hit, but she’s not bulletproof. A sniper who shoots her from behind so that she can’t deflect the bullets with her bracelets could take her down. Even the Hulk, whose strength and invulnerability are legendary, has (usually) been limited by the fact it is anger that unleashes him, his mind is easily messed with, he can return to human form if you quell his rage, and his feral nature makes him as much a threat to innocents as he is a potential hero. Plus, the Hulk doesn’t have flight, heat vision, X-ray vision, freezing breath or other weird extras—he’s simply raw physical power.
I could go on, but why subject you to a case of extreme geekery? It might be contagious.
My point is that if you have a hero who can hardly ever be hurt and has a vast array of powers, you end up with boring storylines. You have to keep bringing in enemies on a regular basis who are so powerful that it seems ridiculous that the Earth wouldn’t already have been utterly stripped of life or that civilization, at the very least, would crumble. How can a hero with a vast panoply of powers be truly challenged without resorting to anti-deus-ex-machina devices frequently? He or she cannot.
This is one of the reasons I shy away godlike powers in the stories at my Tales of the Whethermen blog. Some heroes and villains are very powerful in my fictional world, but they’re all, ultimately, human and while they may be less vulnerable than normal folks, they can all be hurt or killed in a number of ways. The closest thing I have to a “Superman” is the very troubled and ethically changeable Doctor Holiday, and even though he has access to a limitless selection of powers, he can only express a few of them in any given appearance.
We need to stop with the godlike superheroes. We just need to. Fans of Superman, Sentry, Icon and all the rest may not like what I’m saying, but it needs to be said. These characters present such daunting challenges to making them be challenged that storytelling suffers. At the very least, if we’re going to have heroes who can level mountains with ease, can we at least confine them to cosmic adventures where there is a vast landscape they can tear up, instead of pretending that the Earth would still be livable after a few similarly powered enemies showed up to take out our godlike hero?
Not all heroes need to be a Batman or Punisher, for example. Spider-Man has lots of power but still gets loopy if you knock him in the head or limps if you break a few of his ribs. Iron Man may be kick-ass, but if you hack his armor’s systems, he’s in trouble. These are the kinds of heroes who can amaze us and still we can relate to them.
How can I relate to Superman? In my opinion, he’s less mortally understandable than Jesus Christ. And Jesus brought people back from the dead and rose from death himself.
When I can identify less personally with the Son of Krypton than I can with the Son of God, we have a problem.