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Superpowers That Wouldn't Work on Television

With Smallville headed for a new season and Wonder Woman showing us her action face, Matt takes a look at some powers that just don't work on the small screen.

With Blue Beetle and Booster Gold headed to the live-action streets of Smallville , it got me thinking about how well they would translate. I mean, Booster's powers, while extremely budget-heavy, aren't that complicated: throw some force fields up and give him lasers beams - that isn't too tough. Jaime (or Ted, which remains to be seen) could be a little tougher, considering that they will need to show that fancy armor moving at some point.

However, some powers just plain don't work in a live-action setting. They can be too complicated to explain in the limited confines of a weekly TV show, or too effects-heavy to do consistently. They also run the risk of only being useful is very specific situations; ones that seem a bit more forced in a live-action setting.

An even better example of this print-to-live-action transition has sprung up as a result of the new Wonder Woman costume; some people just refuse to take it seriously. I happen to be one of those people, and came up with a list of other powers that just wouldn't work on a week-to-week TV series. == TEASER ==

Straight Super Strength

"But Matt!" you cry. "How can you say that super strength doesn't translate well onto the live-action screen? How many movies have there been made about super-strong characters?"

You would be correct. But think about something for a second: how many of those characters have just super-strength as their power, and are still interesting? Not many.

The fact is, characters who are just strong (or strong and durable, as its often paired) are very boring in a live-action setting. Hell, they're barely tolerable in comics unless they're part of a larger team: writers tend to have a very hard time defining their strength while making them seem like credible threats to the antagonists that they're facing. One minute they can barely stop a car from running them over, while a week later they're lifting a building to save some orphans: they're very inconsistent, and that's not something a TV series needs on a week-to-week basis. 

Anything That Relies on a Gadget

I'm not sure how many of you actually sat through the prequel Star Wars films, but there was a disturbing trend among the Jedi that were featured: they just couldn't hold onto their lightsabers to save their lives!

In a similar vein, the butterfingers syndrome affects many heroes who rely too much on a specific gadget or weapon as their gimmick. This includes Green Arrow, Katana, Elongated Man's Gingold, and (to a certain extent) Spider-Man's web shooters. In a situation where the writers want the character to feel threatened without actually having to do any real work, they just separate the character from their claim to fame.

Green Arrow's bow breaks, Ralph Dibney doesn't have any of that potion that makes him stretchy, or Peter Parker discovers that he's run out of web fluid just at that critical moment. The Spider-Man cartoon of the 1990's was a chief exploiter of this last example: too many episodes left you on that cliffhanger where Spider-Man was falling through the New York skyline, seemingly doomed by gravity.

And you know what? It's lazy.

It's a way for a writer to reduce a hero to he or she's lowest common denominator: the gear that they wear on their back. Instead of actually coming up with a creative threat for them to overcome, they revert to the "oh, it's like they never had powers!" situation, which seems to happen way too often. In a weekly TV series, what keeps audiences interested in character; when you remove the person from the success/failure formula and say "This person is nothing without their gadgets," it makes them look weak and disposable.

Onomatopoeia

Kevin Smith fans will remember Onomatopoeia as one of the most memorable characters to come out of his run on green Arrow in the early 2000’s. An assassin that plagued the Arrow family for a number of issues, Ono used an impressive mimetic ability to replicate sounds that he experienced in the world. This might not seem particularly useful, but he managed to get the jump on Connor Hawke and seriously injure him. He then made another appearance in Smith’s Batman: Cacophony and Batman: The Widening Gyre series, again as a highly skilled assassin.

Ono’s gimmick is that he is able to perfectly imitate sound effects that happen in the pages of a comic book. This works because, as readers, we see a lot of the sound effects as they’re happening: they’re written on the page. Writers and letterers are able to dictate what we hear through their use of labelling. In a live-action scene that might involve a lot of different sounds happening at once, this ability is a lot functional than we’d like to think. I mean, imagine a building collapsing: you have girders collapsing, bricks falling, people screaming and two people fighting amongst the chaos. Having to script one sound to come from a masked villain just doesn’t seem to work.

Also, the fact that he wears a full-faced, black mask just complicates things. Sometimes we take those tails on word balloons for granted.

The nice thing about comics, however, is that a large amount of powers do work on film; I had a genuinely hard time thinking up examples for this article. It isn't a matter of these powers being ill-defined or non-functional; it's the way the audience perceives these powers on a regular basis. If A character with super-strength is just going to be doing the same thing with those powers every week, the audience is going to get bored and move their attention elsewhere. Conversely, if someone has too many powers, there's a risk that episodes will lack any type of base standard - a valuable asset in establishing viewer loyalty and continued audience.

Do you guys have any others powers you could add to this list? Any specific characters? Be sure to comment and throw me a message on Twitter if you're so inclined.

58 Comments
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Posted by yeopop

Good article.
Posted by TheCheeseStabber

i wanna see  clayface's power in real life shows be cool to watch him transform

Online
Posted by Doctor!!!!!

These powers are really really reaally hard to pull off... sometimes but most of the time.
Edited by CrimsonAvenger

Telepathy is another one, doesn't work well in live-action. In fact ESP in general is next to impossible to represent in live-action.

Posted by SUPER-MAN 23

Good article Matt

Posted by MrCipher
@CrimsonAvenger: 
 I agree Avenger, in fact most types of ESP would be hard to pull off. Telekinesis has an outward physical effect but clairvoyance, telepathy, psychometry, those are all in the head of the person using them.
Posted by MrCipher

Great article by the way Matt. Good thoughts.

Edited by InnerVenom123
@CrimsonAvenger said:

" Telepathy is another one, doesn't work well in live-action.

What's wrong with the star Wars prequels? They were amazing movies, as good as the original trilogy if not better.

"


Posted by iloverobots

With Smallville headed for a new season and Wonder Woman showing us her action face, Matt takes a look at some powers that just don't work on the small screen.


The summary of that article on the main page. Smallville is gonna have an 11th season?! When did that happen?   
Posted by Tainted-Cell

Can't agree here.
As far as gadget gimmicks go, let's cite Showtime's favorite series, Dexter.
Of course, everyone loves it when Dexter pulls off his ritualistic killing with very little difficulty, as seen at the start and throughout season 1. The producers then wanted to mix things up a bit... you know he has to screw up eventually, and that is, indeed, what he started doing. Take away his tools. His blood slides. His plastic wrapping. His Slice of Life body disposal. Better yet, try exposing it. You then have to see how someone who has relied on such devices, a certain modus operandi... overcome those overwhelming odds. I think that's what makes the character more interesting.
 
Super-strength and durability...
Did we miss the Hulk? Or how about Arnold's Terminators? How cool was it when you saw him in T2, grab Sarah Connor, throw her out of harm's way, and shoot a wall with a grenade launcher at close-range to blow open an exit? Or when he walks through a lobby full of policemen, withstanding their bullets even as they slice a good portion of his face, to commandeer a SWAT van?  I thought he was cooler than the shape-shifting T-1000.

I also never heard anyone complain about Rorschach.

Posted by Outside_85

In a live-action tv-series...I'd say anything that would be special effects heavy=expencive to make in numerous episodes, I'd say something like Green Lantern because his gimmick will rely on CGI. Same with characters like Beastboy and Mr. Fantastic for the same reasons. 
 
On the big screen however, anything can be done good.  
 

Posted by Mr.Hulk_Smashin'!

power inconsistencies don't work either.

Posted by A-Strondinaire

I don't know Beast, Gladiator and Juggernaut were powerhouses and each one's been taken down a peg (hilariously Gladiator) granted it was the animated series but you were talking about team books so I was assuming strong guys in general. but Hancock's super strength was pretty cool yet he was still able to get injured sometimes. However Ono would make an excellent arc for a series if they actually show him using his ability again it was used in animation (Tarzan) but its such a clever device to scare the crap out of someone. Good article though, My thoughts exactly. it makes you think how will they threaten Wonder Woman each long story arc.
Posted by kadeem

I could see Jamie Braddock's powers being a challenge to put on the screen.

Posted by ILuvMsMarvel

Really there's a whole slew of characters who have powers that would not do well on the small screen, be it from a practicality or from a budget stand point.
 
Kitty Pryde, Ghost, Moonstone (without current nanites from Thunderbolts) with intangible. For small stuff like just a hand or arm it can be done with some faked stuff, but full body would be a no-go.
 
Any Kree based character such as Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Protector, Moonstone. Again, scale plays a factor: Small bits of energy absorbing and subsequent blasts back would be doable, but to go full power would be to CG intensive and high budget.
 
Most mental abilities aside from TK won't go over well on TV because there's no little wavy psi-lines on TV... ok, not the real reason, but you get the point.
 
Shape shifting has been done on TV, but in my opinion it has never been done well, TV lacks the fluidity that good shifting should have. It's always been either distorting one frame set to the next or just done off camera.
 
I could go on, but I'm sure someone else would like to list some.

Edited by Golden Cod
@MattDemers  said:

The fact is, characters who are just strong (or strong and durable, as its often paired) are very boring in a live-action setting. Hell, they're barely tolerable in comics unless they're part of a larger team: writers tend to have a very hard time defining their strength while making them seem like credible threats to the antagonists that they're facing.   


 


 
This guy.   I haven't read FF in a while but I feel like a lot of authors fail to capitalize on his character potential.   All we ever see him do is punch stuff, take punches, and make comments about family.
Posted by GTG12

good article man
Posted by haydenclaireheroes
@yeopop said:
" Good article. "
Posted by Gambit1024

Deadpool  talking to the little yellow boxes wouldn't work

Posted by Jotham

Flying. Flying always looks ridiculous.

Posted by wingster

Hawkman and/or X-Men's Angel... feathered wings look really stupid in real life.

Posted by J1ml33

this brave new world of Television and so many limitations in it .

Posted by fred9101

You wrote: ' how many of those characters have just super-strength as their power, and are still interesting". Well its depends on what interesting mean for you.  
 
For me a character who has this power can  be interesting if it has an unconventional personnality, an eventful life , a diverse environment . In fact the interest is not only focused on power as such . For example , I liked the 6M$ man and the bionic woman in the 70s ...
Posted by MOONGREY
@iloverobots said:
"

With Smallville headed for a new season and Wonder Woman showing us her action face, Matt takes a look at some powers that just don't work on the small screen.

The summary of that article on the main page. Smallville is gonna have an 11th season?! When did that happen?    "
this..
Posted by JonesDeini
@ILuvMsMarvel:  
Bingo all depends on budget and scale. Movies can pull off damn near anything TV...well yeah, smallville, have yet to see any powers truly displayed well on that show.  
 
@Golden Cod:  
Read Hickman's run...
Posted by sladewilson30

dude, they showed a father and daughter who could control glass, booster and beetle's powers shouldn't be that difficult to show, they just don't want to

Posted by johnnie619
@Gambit1024 said:
" Deadpool  talking to the little yellow boxes wouldn't work "
if they do it right it might. like how S/P vs the world sort of did it. but i dont think they are going to be putting it in the deadpool movie. he breaks the 4th wall and everything but think thats all 
Posted by ILuvMsMarvel
@sladewilson30:  Um, yeah, that would be TK... remote manipulation of objects is one of the easiest powers to show. In that episode... shattering glass: explosive or compressed air, glass flying/hovering in air: wires or very simple CGI that you can do on any budget.
Edited by NexusOfLight

I disagree about the super strength and psi-based powers. I mean, I know it's not all that popular, but No Ordinary Family does a good job with their power displays. All telepathy really needs is a voice over, and you're good, and that show makes it work. As for super strength, I don't really see how it--as a power--would come off boring. I mean, if that's all there is to the character then yeah, the character would come off boring in the same way as a character who's strictly defined by any other super power would be boring. Hulk worked well, Thing translated well too. In fact, I'd say super strength would be one of the easiest print to film powers to pull off working well. Not so heavy on special effects, just pretty straight forward. As for characters who rely on gadgets suddenly loosing them, I don't think the issue is with the translation on screen. That's more of a story writing thing. Now if the gadget is extremely complex--like the Witchblade for instance--then I would agree that a transition would be weird and awkward.

Posted by danhimself

I hate the flying affects on Smallville...that ripple affect and their lack of grace in flight just upsets me for some reason...it's like they can only fly at one speed and that's super fast

Posted by PrinceIMC

I remember an episode of Super Friends where the big three were immobilized. Superman's weakness was kryptonite of course, Wonder Woman was tied up with her own lasso, Batman's weakness was that his utility belt and he was locked in a room.....not tied to a chair or even handcuffed just take his belt away and he's useless. Poor Batman.
Edited by Gambit1024
@johnnie619 said:

" @Gambit1024 said:

" Deadpool  talking to the little yellow boxes wouldn't work "
if they do it right it might. like how S/P vs the world sort of did it. but i dont think they are going to be putting it in the deadpool movie. he breaks the 4th wall and everything but think thats all  "
Would the captions talk or would the audience read them, and then Deadpool talks back to it? 
 
I also think that flying will never be perfected. Every time I see it on both the big screen and small screen, it just doesn't look right. It's usually the take-off that looks the worst. 
Posted by Whitley
@NexusOfLight said:
"I disagree about the super strength and psi-based powers. I mean, I know it's not all that popular, but No Ordinary Family does a good job with their power displays. All telepathy really needs is a voice over, and you're good, and that show makes it work. As for super strength, I don't really see how it--as a power--would come off boring. I mean, if that's all there is to the character then yeah, the character would come off boring in the same way as a character who's strictly defined by any other super power would be boring. Hulk worked well, Thing translated well too. In fact, I'd say super strength would be one of the easiest print to film powers to pull off working well. Not so heavy on special effects, just pretty straight forward. As for characters who rely on gadgets suddenly loosing them, I don't think the issue is with the translation on screen. That's more of a story writing thing. Now if the gadget is extremely complex--like the Witchblade for instance--then I would agree that a transition would be weird and awkward. "

 
No Ordinary Family is a show that just keeps getting better and better. Very good writing there on nearly every episode. The reason that NOF works and a show like Heroes fell down in later seasons is because NOF doesn't try to do too much. In fact, if Wonder Woman follows a path like NOF then it could be a really good show.
Edited by Osiris1428

Healing Factor. Is it ever even defined well in the comics? Wolverine in the movies just healed so quick, who cares if he gets hurt? You couldn't get involved in his character, because he never was relatively in danger.

Posted by DEADPOOL_616
@Gambit1024 said:
" Deadpool  talking to the little yellow boxes wouldn't work "
:(
Posted by MattDemers
@Whitley: You forget that NOF is a team show; the reason their powers don't get boring is because they can shift between each character when things start to drag. An episode only devoted to the husband? Please. 
Posted by NexusOfLight
@mattdemers: An episode devoted to a cop who's so devoted to his family that he'd do practically anything to protect, yeah I could see that playing out well. I doubt the quality of it would be any different than the other episodes that weren't entirely based on him. It certainly wouldn't be any different than if they devoted an entire episode to any of the other characters. Either way, I don't really think boredom with a specific super power is the same thing as poor translation from print to movie/silver screen. That's really more of a "what type of super power do you not care for" kinda deal. I'd also like to add on that characters with powers shouldn't really be defined by their powers to begin with.
Posted by LP

Blue Beetle's screen time should be easy as any other armored character's in the past 45+ years of sci-fi television.  Doomsday and Power Rangers anyone?
 
That said however, the hardest powers to create on TV and movie MUST be Flying and Telekinesis.
The BEST and only good ones I've seen are from Superman's movies (especially the first, still blows my mind whenever I see it) and The Matrix series.

Posted by Dark_Phoenix00x
@MOONGREY said:
" @iloverobots said:
"

With Smallville headed for a new season and Wonder Woman showing us her action face, Matt takes a look at some powers that just don't work on the small screen.

The summary of that article on the main page. Smallville is gonna have an 11th season?! When did that happen?    "
this.. "
Anyone???
Posted by weaponmaster

The article seemed much more proselytyzing than is usually found in CV articles.
Posted by Frobin

While I agree with Onomatopoeia (I mean even the name didn't work - too sophisticated, just works for knowledge posers), I don't agree for most of the rest ... it's just nonsense (like many stuff here seems to be written just to fill some empty space) ... it totally depends on the way the film is made on the story ... for example I could pretty easy imagine a weekly show with a hero just with super-strength and invulnerable ... like for instance Luke Cage ... see no problem for creative writers nor to put it in action on the screen. 
 
Same for the gadgets ... 
 
I liked this page on Facebook ... that's the way I come back tot his site ... recently always to disagree (because what's said/written is just so unsubstantial) ... so may you try not to put every half-baked thought online ... could notice it as spam in the long run ... just my two cents ...

Posted by NightFang
@yeopop said:
" Good article. "
Posted by Eyz
@CrimsonAvenger said:
" Telepathy is another one, doesn't work well in live-action. In fact ESP in general is next to impossible to represent in live-action. "
Yup. True!
It always comes out cheesy or too much CGified for not much impact..
Posted by 672253
@TheCheeseStabber:  Clayface had an appearance in the episode Feats of Clay at the end of the Birds of Prey series in 2003... Can't remember if he transformed though.
Posted by Whitley
@mattdemers said:
" @Whitley: You forget that NOF is a team show; the reason their powers don't get boring is because they can shift between each character when things start to drag. An episode only devoted to the husband? Please.  "

Actually, a recent episode showcased him when a hunter takes down his wife. JJ is in the background and Daphne really is subplot for the husband  to meet the villan and give him a beatdown. In the end, he makes the call to give bring her to Dr. King so she can be saved. 
 
He definitely stars in the episode and is the one that is moving the action throughout that storyline. 
 
But the hardest thing to do probably would be to showcase super intelligence, especially if you are talking a Brainac 5 or so level.
Posted by BoOMbOoMpOw

I think the Witchblade ,Darkness and the Angelus would be very tough to translate in a live action show because of all the moving and shape shifting armor O.o

Posted by Lukewaffe

i feel that all the powers could easily be there, it just needs good writing. you are really only complaining about this comic book writers do, its the style of the comic book, not the powers that bug you

Posted by MattDemers
@weaponmaster: I'm clearly special like that.
Posted by MattDemers
@Dark_Phoenix00x:  http://tinyurl.com/42ttma2
The answers that you seek.
Posted by Wolverine0628

I think Invisible Woman's powers would be hard to accurately represent.  In the movies, she wasn't actually invisible; you could easily see her outline and her force fields.
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