The 5 Best Superpowers
You know what’s weird? I’ve been doing this blog thing for about two years now and despite writing a series about superheros and while I’ve talked about writing conventions, fights, and romance more often than anyone might expect, but I basically haven’t said a peep about superpowers.
Seriously, not word one about super powers in over one hundred blog posts! What the hell is wrong with me?
Therefore, I’m taking time this week to remedy that and talk about my favorite superpowers. Now, note that this isn’t about the most useful powers or powers I wish I had myself, but powers which I think are the most fun and interesting to read about and see.
I’m sure that everyone reading this has their own favorites and I encourage you to share them in the comments or on the forum because that’s always fun to talk about. And for the record, the one power I would want myself would be safe blind teleportation (i.e., I can teleport to places I can’t see directly without danger of ending up in the same space as a solid object).
Anyway, let’s get down to business with the best five super powers.
Number the First: Tactile Telekinesis
I’m not sure when this power first showed up, but the most famous instance came about when DC writers were trying to give Superboy a slightly less physics-ignoring version of super-strength.
See, there’s are several scientific problem inherent to characters with super-strength. The relevant one here is that when, for example, Superman catches a falling airliner with his hands, the structural integrity of the plane, not being super-strong, should crumple around the relatively small points of contact of his hands, or snap off if he’s got a grip on it.
Unless he knows super acupressure…
Normally, it’s best for writers in the superhero genre to ignore this. Yes, it can be interesting to see it addressed and it’s always cool to see people who actually know their science to analyze and explain superpowers (like the awesome book The Physics of Superheroes), but most writers… are not good at it. Explaining away the unexplainable when you don’t know enough to BS it just makes things even more dumb and awkward. Besides, things like super-strength are as much an acceptable break from reality as faster-than-light travel is in sci-fi and audiences will give such things a pass unless you insist on pointing it out.
However, in the case of Superboy, the writers actually arrived at something cooler (but somehow even more nonsensical if you really think about it) in the course of trying to find a way around that problem. That solution was to make Superboy a telekinetic.
For those not in the know, telekinesis (TK) is the ability to move things with your mind. It is generally portrayed as exerting invisible, intangible and more or less even force on a target. Jean Grey of the X-men is telekinetic on top of having telepathy (mind reading/control). Tactile telekinesis (TTK) is like that, but only effects things the character physically touches. In its most basic form, it works pretty much like super-strength, but with the TTK serving to explain why things don’t collapse under their own weight when lifted.
That’s not why TTK is here though. It’s here because some other writers noticed that you can go farther with the concept than just picking up heavy things. For example, when you’re using the power on a flexible item like cloth or a rope, and your control is fine enough, you can make that object move however you desire.
What makes that cool? Well consider this: the problem with chains, nunchaku, nets and flails being used is weapon is the high level of mastery needed not to hurt yourself and to hit a target consistently. Now if you could exert complete mental control of one of those and even make it move against things like gravity and momentum, you would be totally badass.
Actually, in writing this, I did a little digging. I originally thought that this was an explicit power of several chain/ribbon wielders in comics, but my search turned up nothing of the sort; just a specific ability to ‘manipulate’ that thing instead of a general telekinetic ability inducted via touch. I’m not quite vain enough to suggest that I might have invented this method for the villain Manriki (from the Siege two-parter), so I’m going to have to ask you the reader to let me know if you know of any specific example from prior to 2007 when Manriki appeared.
Anyway, I love the potential and visuals that come along with this power, especially the idea that the target(s) of this power don’t have to be whole, contiguous objects as long as they are in physical contact. This means that someone with TTK can put their hand on a lock and force it open if they think of it as well as do either wonderful or terrible things to a person they touch.
Because of the way powers manifest in The Descendants, however, it is unlikely that Manriki specifically even knows he can do things other than chains and might have a somatic block using it on other things. Now a future character I have in mind though…
Yes, I count gadgetry as superpowers. And why shouldn’t I? Green Hornet’s gas gun or Iron Man’s repulsor tech (that link is a video of a dude that made his own fake ones) are awesome. Besides, further down the list I list what is basically a type of hyper-competent sidekick, so if you want to complain here, just wait.
In fact, I just plain love super-science in general come to think of it. I’ve already talked about why I love SCIENCE!, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself. Rest assured though that whether it’s powered armor, jet packs, or giant robots, I’ve got mad love for the mad science. It was just how I was raised (correctly).
My absolute favorite piece of gadgetry isn’t actually all that high-tech. In fact, most people probably think you could buy one at a military surplus store if they searched hard enough and, in fact, there are big-ass versions that you can buy, just not the cool utility-belt ready versions. (Though the Mythbusters came incredibly close)
Yes my friends, I am speaking of the noble grappling hook pistol.
They’re almost ubiquitous, not just in superhero stories, but in lots of general action/adventure stories as well. Yes, Batman has one and even Daredevil’s billy club is occasionally shown to incorporate one, but hell, Kim Possible has one shaped like a hair drier! And James freakin’ Bond had one in his belt in Goldeneye! Over in Warehouse 13, HG Wells busts out a steampunk version. Oh, and in the View Askewniverse, none other than Silent Bob rocks one. Not Bluntman, his superhero alter ego that exists in his friend’s comic, but the actual dude Silent Bob.
The coolest grappling hook pistol, however is one you probably never considered to be one:
Yes, Spider-man’s webshooters really just line throwers with extra capabilities when you think about it. Even better, he never has to worry about reeling in lines or finding space for extra cables. The web fluid is apparently super-dense and can contain dozens (hundreds?) of weblines worth of fluid in every cartridge.
Adding in things like impact webbing, web-parachutes, and the fact that webbing is both elastic and adhesive and you’ve got the most kick-ass grappling hook launcher and possibly the coolest heroic conveyance ever!
Sadly, since the movies, where the writers wanted to avoid showing Peter being smart and instead just had Kurt Connors and Doc Ock call him smart, they gave our boy organic webbing so he didn’t have to build the shooters and create the web fluid. They’re still webs and still shoot lines, I guess, but I personally loved that his webs were mechanical (see once again my thoughts on mixing power sources from a recent article).
Speaking of awesome powers Peter Parker is not cool enough to keep…
Get this: Venom was not my first experience with symbiont (or symbiote. I see that one most often, but Word says it isn’t a word) even though I watched the 90’s Spider-man animated series religiously. Nope, my first experience with symbiont suits as K7-Leetha. That’s right: the nercoplasmic demon suit from Spawn.
Considering my attitude toward the 90’s, you might be wondering how the hell that happened. Well, back before things like American Idol or So You Think You Can Beat Up A First Grader (or something, I don’t know), Fox (the broadcast network, not the hilariously skewed cable news network) filled its prime-time slots on Tuesdays and sometimes Mondays with Fox Studios movies and others that were cheap to license. The Spawn film played at least three times in one year at one point and of course I saw (and was traumatized by) it. That’s also how I saw (and was even more traumatized by) Howard the Duck’s movie, by the way.
Anyway, k7-Leetha K7 is a shapeshifting demon that is assigned to work for Spawn… as his cape. I’m not really well-versed in Spawn lore and can’t tell you if she (?) is just his cape or his entire costume, but she acts as his primary melee weapon and armor, which is the basic shtick of all symbiont costumes.
I’m not sure what Leetha’s characterization or relationship with Spawn was, and given the 90’s and 90’s ere Image Comics (they’re significantly better now), I’m not sure if I should expect any at all. Therefore, I’ll talk about my favorite symbiont costume: Khaji Da, the partner and power source of Blue Beetle III, Jaime Reyes.
The cool thing about Khaji Da is that it actually has a character arc all its own. It was originally a machine intelligence in the form of a scarab-like device that bonds with a host and forms a suit around them. It was charged by the alien conquerors, The Reach to take over someone on Earth to act as their agent as they played the long game of taking over the world by secretly infusing our food with chemicals to make us docile (In the New 52, their plan was just to have the infiltrator kick everyone’s asses. Because subtlety isn’t a thing in the New 52).
However, it was damaged and its programming scrambled when it arrived on Earth. When it finally bonded with Jaime, it learned from him, in particular, it learned about freedom, friendship and heroism, choosing to work with Jaime to put a blue boot up The Reach’s collective asses and even trying to teach these things to the other infiltrators.
That right there is why I love symbiont costumes. Yes, they’re a power suit, but they’re also a thinking being unto themselves that the hero needs to learn to cooperate with in order to get things done. In short, it makes the hero’s actual super powers dependent on a personal relationship.
Of course, back when I was twelve and watching Spider-man, my main selling point was that the thing could extrude weapons and shapes like the Carnage symbiote’s axes.
And the sweet shapechanging duds.
Variants of the symbiont suit include empathic weapons and external characters who grant you powers like Flabber fro Big, Bad Beetleborgs, and more mainstream, the wizard Shamoz.
Wait I meant SHAZAM!
Just call me Captain Mar-Vaal
That second point is also the reason I like…
In brightest day, in darkest night / No evil shall escape might sight / Those who worship evil’s might, behold my power – Green Lantern’s light!
I’ve only gotten into Green Lantern relatively recently, only to be chased off by the movie (Ryan Reynolds = yes, who or whatever the hell the villain was (and don’t say Parallax because even I know that wasn’t Parallax = no) and the Blackest Night event featuring a dude’s girlfriend being turned to salt to torment him. Still, this is why comics Jesus made back issues (that is how Jesuses work right?).
Anyway, all those words and sacrilege are there basically to say that Green Lantern is the most famous construct generator of all time. The power ring, in addition to being a comm, homing beacon, legacy character detector, and sweet bling, has the power to create anything to wielder can imagine out of their own will power. Naturally, it usually takes the form of a huge fist to punch people.
I first became aware of this power from a far, far strange source than even Spawn. Nope, I learned it from the Magic: the Gathering franchise novel, Planeswalker by Lynn Abbey in it, the character Xantcha is given a device disgustingly called a ‘cyst’, which she swallows and can then call upon to exude a protective armor over her body. She soon starts figuring out how to manipulate the cyst into other shapes. While Xantcha is highly limited in what she can make with the cyst, the power interested me greatly.
You’ll notice that how creative you can get with them is a running theme across all these powers and no one exemplifies that idea better than Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman. She started out with the chumpful power of turning invisible and making Reed sandwiches on demand, but someone eventually threw her a bone and gave her the incredibly nebulous power of ‘forcefields’.
Since then, Sue has abuse the hell out of the fact that ‘forcefields’ basically means that she can assemble planes of pure force wherever and however she wants with almost no limitations. Thanks to the character’s (and by extension, the writers’) ingenuity, it is widely accepted that Sue is now one of the most powerful humans in the marvel universe. She has told (clone) Thor’s lighting to get stuffed, she has split huge objects in half with an infinitely narrow plane of force, and she can kill your ass by expanding a tiny force bubble in your brain until your head explodes like that dude in Scanners. And as if to hang a lantern on the fact that her powers used to be useless, she’s constantly flirting with her universe’s version of Aquaman.
Just like everyone says about the Green Lantern Ring, the ability to make constructs in general is limited only by your imagination, but locking in the form of the construct can in turn force a character to become even more creative with the limited power. Yes, that could be true with other powers, but most of those don’t create something for nothing to make it happen.
By the way, my best friend alleges that my real favorite superpower is reality warping. She’s right in terms of writing. I like writing about flawed and limited reality warpers (There is one in Descendants Universe who has not been said to be. Can you guess who it is? Hint: Their powers don’t work like anyone else’s in the DU). However, I tend to be cold toward other people’s reality warpers (except Haruhi Suzumiya) because they are often done badly and in one case, were used to totally ruin the X-men franchise [Nope. Still not over it].
So what is my absolute favorite superpower? You really should have guessed:
What else could one really expect given my body of work? My very first fan fic centered on Beast Boy, and in my original work I’ve created Cyn and a certain shapeshifting master..
Not that one.
So yeah, shapeshifting. I love shapeshifting in all its forms (heh) and on all its levels. From a werewolf who can only shift to crinos, to the bog standard like Mystique who can just copy other humans and ‘class’ shifters who can only take on the shapes of a given class like Beast Boy and Animal Man, to outliers who change their shape but rarely get called shapeshifters like Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic.
Hell, it’s even snuck into my webcomics selection with quite a number of Transformation comics (which isn’t really the same thing) comics like El Goonish Shive and The Wotch. Misfile doesn’t really count, but it’s still a good story about people taking on a different form, so I’m adding it, damnit.
Again, a big part of it is the creativity that comes with these powers, especially the ‘rubber man’ style Plastic Man powers and full shifting like Cyn has. They just make everything more dynamic and exciting, plus they shift the audience’s thoughts from ‘will they overcome this problem (which most of the time is ‘yes’ anyway) to ‘how will they solve this problem, which I find more interesting.
This is best exemplified by Mystique in the Second X-men movie. Now, Mystique is usually the least creative shapeshifter. Her whole deal is infiltration and the occasional mind game and she usually just switches to her default form and kung-fu’s her problems away when that fails, not even taking on a stronger or more agile form.
In X-2, however, she is stealing some files using her usual infiltration shtick when suddenly the person she was impersonating shows up! Given that the person in question is Lady Deathstrike, whose name is really all you need to know about her combat prowess (er… outside the movie where she sucks and dies at least…), so kung-fu is a bad choice. Mystique might have been able to hide, but nope—she takes the form of the janitor, tosses the files in the trash can and gets Deathstrike to totally dismiss her.
That might not sound too awesome, but in context, it took fast thinking on her part and was a good use of her powers. And that’s all I ask of any superpower.
This is probably old news, seeing as it released in 2012, but its new to me and as a nerd and nostalgia fan, I would be remiss in spreading the news, especially given how influential the franchise has been for me. Last year was the 20th anniversary of the Power Rangers franchise and to commemorate it, the man who did the iconic songs from the original series remastered them into a digital album called Power Rangers Redux. If you’re like me and not only enjoyed the original series, but thought the music was awesome, you can pick up the album here.
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