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Comic Characters Abusing Superpower as an Easy Way Out

Some characters have cool & unique powers but overusing them can cheapen who the character is.

When you were a kid and you used to pretend to be a superhero (you did, don’t even bother denying it), what powers did you give yourself? Energy blasts? Super strength? Flight? Let’s face it: when you were a kid, you wanted to be the strongest, fastest, bestest there was, so you tried to make the most powerful hero you could. It seems like some writers haven’t gotten past that mentality, but they’re certainly using more creative powers to relive those days with. They just stretch them to insane extremes.

I really, really like Fantomex. I promise.

Let’s look at Fantomex: when he was first introduced in Grant Morrison’s X-Men run, he was simply a super-agile gun expert with his central-nervous system contained in a spaceship. He showed the ability to intitiate auto-hypnosis, but that wasn’t necessarily a mutation. He was also apropos of nothing in particular, a massive, walking reference to the French super-spy Diabolik, but ultimately he was portrayed as a trickster, but that was his personality, not a superpower.

When he was reintroduced, his trickster persona had manifested itself as the ability to misdirect people. But this was no magician's sleight of hand, he could actually make them hallucinate. This is a perfectly fine, even somewhat original, power on the surface, but the extent that it was overused in Rick Remender’s otherwise spectacular X-Force arc “Apocalypse Solution” bordered on the inane. Almost every issue featured one member of X-Force being gruesomely killed only to pull back and realize it was an illusion. This could’ve been effective, but this repetitious use reminded me of the terrible movie “Next,” in which the protagonist is repeatedly killed, only to rewind the clock with the revelation that he was merely seeing two minutes in the future. It kills any suspense that the book builds by the third time because any bad situation they wind up in can simply be sidestepped, and worse yet it opens the door wide for potential retconning in the same vein as a Life Model Decoy.

== TEASER ==

But I don’t want to pick on my favorite French mutant, so let’s examine a powerset that SHOULD have been the one every powertripping kid chose: probability manipulation. While it may not seem like it lags behind the big hitters of invulnerability or flight, if you think about it: it’s the perfect power because of how ill-defined it is. Even setting aside Scarlet Witch disassembling the Avengers, if you look at heroes like Domino or Longshot, there’s really no way even someone like Superman should be able to even touch them. The root of this issue is, as I mentioned, the powers are ill-defined. Affecting luck, which itself is an undefined quantity, is essentially a blank check that says “This hero can do exactly what I need them to.” This CAN be very freeing, and it’s great to give writers a lot of creative freedom to tell the stories they want to tell, but the side effect of that is, once again, the cessation of suspense. Whenever Domino is in a bad situation, it’s difficult to feel suspense because she can dance between gunshots even without superhuman senses or agility.

To be fair, Black Cat is my solution to almost every comic book problem.

There are solutions to this, one of which has already been put into action and it’s the oldest trick in the book: give the power a weakness. Black Cat, one of my absolute favorite characters in comics, has a similar power to Domino’s in that she projects a sort of “bad luck field” that hinders anyone around her, but keeps her safe from harm. The problem is that she can’t control it, and when I said anyone, I meant anyone.

When Spider-Man somewhat recently teamed up with her, he found that he could barely jump from one building to the next without his web-shooters misfiring, or the building crumbling beneath his feet. This put pressure on their professional relationship and, if not endangering Cat, at least endangered her allies and created suspense that way.

My simple plea here is for responsibility. I know the perils of writing yourself into a corner and wanting an easy out, but if the out is too easy or too unearned, you’ll lose audience interest and that, of course, leads to dwindling book sales, and nobody wants that. It’s a good exercise in creativity to have limitations on what your characters can do rather than simply allowing them to pull out insane, one-in-a-million shots that work every time. We want to feel the same rush that the character feels, we want to frantically turn to the next page to see how our favorite character will get out of THIS one, not roll our eyes as we turn the page and learn it was all an illusion.

74 Comments
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Posted by cyberninja

When I was a kid I wanted to be a dinosaur.............I was 4, give me a break. 

Posted by cattlebattle

Superman.....and multiple DC characters.......enough said

Posted by umbrafeline
@cyberninja: theres nothing wrong with wanting to be a dinosaur 
 
when i was a kid i use to pretend i could fly
Edited by NightFang
@cattlebattle: The same thing can be said about Mravel characters also, just look at the Hulk.
Posted by Kairan1979

When I was young, I dreamed of the ability to kill by will. Then I wisened up and realised that I can't handle this power, I don't have enought willpower to kill only bad guys.

Posted by CapFanboy

When I was a kid?....better get rid of that trampoline then.... 
 
I used to have cyclops' optic blasts, superman's durability and peak human everything else. You guys make me feel so old when I'm only 17. -.-

Posted by Renchamp

Great, well thought-out article. But, I must defend my lady Domino. It's true that she can hot-foot her way around many situations, so much so that her surviving a fight may seem like a given. Where's the suspense? There have been times, however, in which she has been captured or countered and it's the use of her powers that makes those stories enjoyable (like when Nimrod took her out). When she's in those most unlikely of situations, her power is able to be fully used to get her out of them (or get her more entrenched).
 
That said, I do like the idea of a flaw with power. Then, most fight situations wouldn't be a cake walk. Then again, Domino is a mercenary, so any fight she's in is mostly an all out brawl, of which she has much experience in and needs less luck. But then luck supplements...
 
See what you've done? I'm conflicted. Regardless, nice job once again.

Moderator Online
Posted by sesquipedalophobe

As a child, I pretended I had the power to settle conflicts with simple gestures. I was five, I guess.

Edited by MrUnknown

Nice article and picture selection. I agree with you but these powers also make these characters interesting to read because it is different and you don't really know what's coming next.

Posted by The_Peter_Cosmic

I didn't pretend, I was convinced that Jedi powers were real and I tried damned hard to get mine to work. One time my mom caught me just reaching for something that was a good five feet away (I was trying to to draw it to me like a lightsaber) and she just looked at me like I was stupid and said "you do realize your arm can't reach that far, don't you?" 
Very good topic, I think writer's need to keep that in mind especially when they are writing stories with characters that are physically vulnerable. We like those characters because they aren't supposed to have an easy way out of precarious situations.

Posted by AsMadAsAHatter

From ages 5 to about 7, I thought the coolest character alive was Tarzan. So I would run around the house shirtless doing the whole ape thing until my mom started telling me I needed put my shirt on because I was going through 'changes'. :/
Posted by djames216

Coincedentally, shortly before reading this article, I attempted to watch a Manga Entertainment Animated Film called "Sword For Truth".  The reason why it's a coincedence is that the main character is one of those peerless, emotionless, Ninja/Samurai type guys that I find so boring to watch. You just know before every fight starts that he isn't even gonna get one scratch on him much less be in mortal danger, and he knows it.  This was one of many reasons why I couldn't bring myself to watching it to the end, and it's only 50 minutes long and free in Youtube's Movies section.
 
This ties in with what undeadpool is stating above.  A hero (of any kind, super or not) that can neatly sidestep any peril thrust upon him/her with minimal effort is boring and simply unwatchable/unreadable.

Posted by leokearon

Another power being abused is a Healing Factor, 
 
Wolverine had one, then Sabretooth, then Deadpool even Norman osborn got one just to explain how come he wasn't dead. It is not a big a cop-out as clones and LMDs
Posted by ecm1285

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Power Ranger...

Posted by dorsk188

Great article.  My favorite example of a "limited-power used right" comes from manga.  While many of his classmates could breath fire, summon demons, or move so fast they became a blur, Shikamaru's only ability was to move his shadow around and (if someone stepped in it) make them copy his movements.  Every early fight he had centered on whether or not he could get his opponent to step into his shadow, and the tension of those fights was amazing.  Once he'd taken control of them, there wasn't much he could with them.  He could hold them for a short while, but lacked anything with which to finish them off.  Even so, they were the most interesting fights in the series, even without massive energy blasts, illusions, and so on.

Posted by Tempest55

I was incredibly annoyed when he kept doing that in the x-force too. Really lazy writing in my opinion when they do that.

Posted by B'Town

I was of course Supergirl!  I could even fly from tree limbs, only breaking a wrist or ankle now and again.  What a little dork I was.   
 
You are absolutely correct, we all have to have our weakness, our kryptonite.  Without it our villains and heroes certainly are too predictable.  I would say even in our real lives it is our weakness's and how we compensate or overcome them that makes us interesting.   
 
Thank you for this article, a little reminiscent childhood flying, (tree jumping)  has made for a pleasant morning with my coffee.  And I do hope some of our writers take note. 

Posted by Decept-O

Very good article, nicely written and a great topic.  Yes, this is one of the many reasons why I have a hard time with Black Cat in particular.  She's OK,  I think her powers are appropriate for her name but she, like a few other characters, have had their stories tweaked beyond what should be set for their abilities.  
 
Probability manipulation, to me, is analogous to magic, whether anyone will like that statement or not.   

Posted by fitchy101

I understand that it was a bit overused in X-Force, but it is like Fantomex's only power. Aside from being really good at shooting stuff. In hindsight if they had used it less a couple of the twists or really clever bits in the story would have been more surprising.

Posted by Soldier zero

Not to be a nitpicker, but Diabolik is an itallian character. Perhaps you were refering to Phantomas.

Posted by Deadcool

When I was kid, I wated to create fear, I loved Batman, currently I don't like Batman that much, but the Idea of fear is interesting, I would love to have that superpower... 
 

Deadcool you have great skills creating fear welcome to Sinestro corps 

 
MWAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAWAWAWAHHGAGAGAGFGAGAG 
FEAR
Posted by MrCipher
@Undeadpool:
I would say there are lots of super powers that have been abused over the years and others that have been escalated to ridiculous heights of capability. I think this should be sent as a petition to Marvel and DC to get them to calm down on their treatment of certain characters.
Solid article though - glad to see other people think this way about comics and their writers.
Posted by Mr.Hulk_Smashin'!

I'm 14, so....
If I was going to have powers I'd want hulk or Spider-man powers, but on a lower level. Like Super-Strength of like 10 tons, and super-human agility, durability (but not as high as Spider-man that way I'd have a challenge), Wall-crawling (or just do what hulk does and smash my fingers through the wall), and webs. Okay, maybe I wanted low-level healing factor like Spidey's and Claws, but that might be too much.

Posted by AlKusanagi

Some powers aren't abused enough, like Cat (formerly Kitty Pryde) in the Magik limited series phasing people into the ground and then letting go.

Other powers seem to have "evolved" to ridiculous levels, like Magneto being able to control virtually every type of energy now, or Cypher becoming a super-ninja since he can "read" body language and the ebb and flow of battles.

Edited by dewboy01

great power comes great responsibility, but is it responsibility, or is it survival? 
for example: 
How much could peter parker cheat off jameson with them spiderman pictures? 
does superman enjoy shaving himself with this heat vision? 
why whould johnny storm like to sell his powers for celebrity, money, women and fame? cause' thats a' waste.
 
outside people with powers that commit crimes, only to survive, but with better help, they get free access to anything only at the superhero headquarters: free food, warm clothing, and proper respect.
Edited by Jim Halpert
@Undeadpool: 

Comic Characters Abusing Superpower as an Easy Way Out


Have you seen the "GREEN LANTERN" movie that comes out next week?  I have since I work for Regal. 
 
But if you really stand by your statement, you should check the movie out and write a follow-up, because talk about "Characters Abusing their Superpowers", you ain't seen nothing yet my friend.
Posted by B'Town
@umbrafeline said:
@cyberninja: theres nothing wrong with wanting to be a dinosaur  when i was a kid i use to pretend i could fly
I flew too, only I busted bones doing it.  hahah.  I didn't fly so well..  And I agree there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with aspiring to be a dinosaur!
Posted by mark5
@Jim Halpert said:
@Undeadpool: 

Comic Characters Abusing Superpower as an Easy Way Out


Have you seen the "GREEN LANTERN" movie that comes out next week?  I have since I work for Regal.   But if you really stand by your statement, you should check the movie out and write a follow-up, because talk about "Characters Abusing their Superpowers", you ain't seen nothing yet my friend.
lMAO 
Green Lantern is the ultimate epitome of this trope. 
Posted by Gerhabio

YES! Longshot got a mention! He's probably my favorite superhero and when I was a kid I always imagined myself having similar powers to his. I also love the sparkling eye.

Posted by Supachicken

I loved the movie Next, anyone else..... anyone?

Edited by Jordanstine
@mark5 said:

@Jim Halpert said:

@Undeadpool: 

Comic Characters Abusing Superpower as an Easy Way Out


Have you seen the "GREEN LANTERN" movie that comes out next week?  I have since I work for Regal.   But if you really stand by your statement, you should check the movie out and write a follow-up, because talk about "Characters Abusing their Superpowers", you ain't seen nothing yet my friend.
lMAO Green Lantern is the ultimate epitome of this trope. 
I thought it was Batman!
 
For someone with NO superpowers, he sure has the luck of Domino, Black Cat, Longshot, and Calamity King combined and then some!
 
But yeah, the founding 7 members of JLA are basically gods.
Posted by mark5
@dorsk188 said:
Great article.  My favorite example of a "limited-power used right" comes from manga.  While many of his classmates could breath fire, summon demons, or move so fast they became a blur, Shikamaru's only ability was to move his shadow around and (if someone stepped in it) make them copy his movements.  Every early fight he had centered on whether or not he could get his opponent to step into his shadow, and the tension of those fights was amazing.  Once he'd taken control of them, there wasn't much he could with them.  He could hold them for a short while, but lacked anything with which to finish them off.  Even so, they were the most interesting fights in the series, even without massive energy blasts, illusions, and so on.
Interesting stuff.  
 
@Jordanstine said:
@mark5 said:
@Jim Halpert said:
@Undeadpool: 

Comic Characters Abusing Superpower as an Easy Way Out


Have you seen the "GREEN LANTERN" movie that comes out next week?  I have since I work for Regal.   But if you really stand by your statement, you should check the movie out and write a follow-up, because talk about "Characters Abusing their Superpowers", you ain't seen nothing yet my friend.
lMAO Green Lantern is the ultimate epitome of this trope. 
I thought it was Batman!
 
For someone with NO superpowers, he sure has the luck of Domino, Black Cat, and Longshot combined and some!  
Batman is another thing entirely. I don't know if he sold his soul or has the editors and writers always protecting him but he seems to be able to get out of ANY situation. 
Posted by Baal1986

I don't mean to be THAT guy but... Fantomex had that misdirection power all along. He created a faux explosion with it and made Xavier and Jean think that he had a mother. Otherwise, you are right in everything you said. Scarlet Witch for example, is a walking plot device/deux ex machina.

Posted by Golden Cod
@Jim Halpert said:
@Undeadpool: 

Comic Characters Abusing Superpower as an Easy Way Out


Have you seen the "GREEN LANTERN" movie that comes out next week?  I have since I work for Regal.   But if you really stand by your statement, you should check the movie out and write a follow-up, because talk about "Characters Abusing their Superpowers", you ain't seen nothing yet my friend.
 
In which way?   Power level or creativity?   A ring that can construct anything from your imagination is begging to be abused by the ingenious.   
Posted by goldenkey

I never looked at it this way.  I guess that's why I see Booster Gold on the rise a bit.  He has limitations not just in ability but his character as well.  Wanting to be noticed and successful enough to placed in history books that he would sell himself to ads.  It's also one of the reasons that countdown to Infinite Cirsis was such a damn good back, and so good it's a classic and is now being called the BEST one shot written.  It showed Ted Kord from his perspective on how he thought the other hero's looked at him and Booster Gold.  It's only now we know that Max Lord held them back and screwed things up to the point that a lot of hero's looked at them like second tier help or even jokes to an extent.  That's why, even when I never read Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, or JLI back in the day, I felt absolutely horrible when he died.  He was human
Posted by mark5
@goldenkey said:
I never looked at it this way.  I guess that's why I see Booster Gold on the rise a bit.  He has limitations not just in ability but his character as well.  Wanting to be noticed and successful enough to placed in history books that he would sell himself to ads.  It's also one of the reasons that countdown to Infinite Cirsis was such a damn good back, and so good it's a classic and is now being called the BEST one shot written.  It showed Ted Kord from his perspective on how he thought the other hero's looked at him and Booster Gold.  It's only now we know that Max Lord held them back and screwed things up to the point that a lot of hero's looked at them like second tier help or even jokes to an extent.  That's why, even when I never read Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, or JLI back in the day, I felt absolutely horrible when he died.  He was human
I also see the JLA not treating plastic man right. If he dies the same way thats two counts on them. 
Posted by cmaprice

Reading the first arc of the Uncanny X-Force, I found myself rolling my eyes every few pages for how often Fantomex was used as a cheap way out (and how poorly Deadpool was written)-- in what could have and should have been an otherwise very interesting story.

Posted by maxicere

In my 33 age, I'm still dreaming to be Superman

Posted by Grandmaster_Fro

When i was a kid, I wanted fire powers. When i say fire powers, I mean complete and total manipulation over heat 

Posted by They Killed Cap!
@NightFang
When I was a kid I could fly...but then I would fall and usually hurt myself.
Posted by OmegaTheDestroyer

When I was a little kid I would be Green Arrow and my best friend would be Flash. then with another one of my friends he would be Blade and I'd be Slade (a made up character similar to Blade).

Posted by Emperormeister734

Sentry was one of the ppl who i can think of who abused his power, along with Iron Man  one of his armor  gave him cancer

Posted by GothamBat

I'm 24 and I still like to pretend I'm Batman.
Or if I'm at work by myself and I'm wearing my Green Lantern ring, I pretend I'm Hal Jordan.

Posted by sa5m

I could fly and had the super strength he he ^^

Posted by davidkenneth

bestest?
Posted by Nerx

Abuse your powers and be a villain , duh

Posted by The_Tree

I always wanted to be Batman Beyond when I was younger, now I'd love to have the powers of Flash or Professor X.

Posted by Cherry Bomb

 
I would so abuse my superpower if I had one.

Posted by bigpicnic

@Undeadpool: When I read the article title, I thought it was going to be about Superheroes using their powers in inappropriate or lazy ways.

Like, Magneto magnetically pulling beers from the fridge and stealing cable; Wolverine going carnivals and entering the "guess my age" competitions; Quicksilver asks Fantomex to trick everyone into thinking he's a horse, then they enter the Kentucky-derby, and they both bet huge amounts of money on horse-quicksilver; Professor X entering the Special Olympics and cheating. That kind of thing.

What you actually wrote about was much better though.

Posted by GoonFan_12

there is no hero more guilty of this crime than Superman.  pretty much every power he has is some super-human deus ex machina to make his character more versatile.  man, I wish I could see what was going on in there...oh, wait.  I have x-ray vision.  explain to me, please, how enhanced physical traits thanks to Earth's yellow sun could produce laser vision.  it's super powers for super powers sake.  
 
ps - dreams of a super-power? super speed. every time. no contest.

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