Aug 15, 2016

Enough With Powerless Heroes

Enough With Powerless Heroes
Ben Smith

I don’t normally write things like this. The internet can be a negative enough place as it is, so I usually prefer to keeps things positive. But with my beloved Spider-Gwen stuck in a bit of a rut lately, it really highlighted a storytelling tool that I’d be more than happy to never have to see again. Stripping the hero of their powers to highlight that true heroism comes from the person, not the abilities. Or, in other words, here’s a comic about a person doing nothing spectacular. It's navel-gazing. I'd rather read a comic that was nothing but a superhero literally gazing down at their navel for 20 pages. At least that's something I haven't seen before.

I know that for Spider-Gwen in particular, Spider-Man basically invented the conceit of the superhero struggling with the cost of being a hero. I understand why they’re exploring Gwen struggling with if she should even continue as Spider-Woman while she’s faced with the prospect of losing her powers for good. I just don’t find it that entertaining. I want to watch her kick ass and wisecrack, like her web-slinging predecessor. When this book launched, she was such a fresh and fun character. I loved the comic. I still love the comic, but I sure hope they wrap this up quick.

The important thing to remember about Stan Lee and John Romita’s famous story of Spider-Man quitting in Amazing Spider-Man #50, is that it only lasted one issue! Modern comics have the capability to explore every facet of a story much more than comics of years past, to really go in-depth. This may be great in most cases, providing a deeper level of characterization, but for a story device like this, there’s only so much whining that I can take. And that’s essentially what it becomes at a certain point, whining. Spider-Man himself has suffered from this more than enough times, with subsequent creators trying to tell their own version of Lee and Ditko/Romita classics. Spider-Man has his fair share of tried and true classics, but quitting isn't one that I'm fond of. (I guess it could be worse. "I am the spider" worse.) If a creator is burning to tell their own version of this cliché, at least make it as short as possible.

The best execution of the depowered hero I can remember from recent memory, was Superman’s crossover with the Legion of Super-Heroes, during Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s run. In that case, Superman lost his powers under the rays of a red sun, but the rest of the Legion was still there to make it not boring (as most Superman stories tend to be). Yet, if there’s one exception to the depowered hero rule, it’s probably Superman, because he’s so powerful that sometimes it’s good to see him play the role of the hero without those powers. (Now that I think of it, one of the best episodes of Justice League Unlimited had a powerless Superman as well.)

However, the most perplexing medium to utilize the powerless hero approach has to be movies. I, like many others, praised Spider-Man 2 as the greatest superhero movie ever created when it was released. But if you look at it now, beyond its antiquated effects and storytelling, the most confusing thing is why they decided to spend (at the very least) 50% of the movie with Peter Parker whining about, or having quit, being Spider-Man. Not the most dynamic storytelling choice for your big budget action spectacle that fans waited 3 years to see. (Personal anecdote, I remember telling a co-worker that Spider-Man 2 was my favorite movie at the time, and he responded with “but he spends the whole movie complaining and quitting.” My only response was, that is kind of part of Spider-Man’s whole deal, which isn’t really a great rebuttal.) The Wolverine made this idiotic decision also. Wolverine, arguably the most badass of all the superheroes (certainly in the eyes of the casual fan) spends the entire movie powerless and getting his butt kicked. Fan-tastic.

Look, I know how ridiculous it is to try and place a rule on storytelling. There’s always an example that will prove me wrong, or a creator that will come along with a great story to tell. All I’m saying, is that I’ve seen it before, and I can’t imagine anyone improving all that much on what’s been done before. I’m not a very complex person. I buy a Spider-Man comic to see Spider-Man with the proportional strength of a spider (whatever that means). If I want to read something depressing featuring a character riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, I’ll read Charlie Brown.

Or Starman.

Just kidding, I’d never read Starman*.

*That's because Ben is an idiot. -Cranky Editor Man

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