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.
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.
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.