Thursday, February 17, 2011

We're Not Worthy!!

(Dear readers: as so often happens, great minds think alike, and our pal Steve over at Steve Does Comics just ran a feature very similar to this one! But we decided to go ahead and run it, at the very least to get your comments. -- Karen)

(Verily, yon maiden doth speak the truth. At our last editorial board meeting in January, Karen suggested this topic. She placed it in the queue on Sunday, and I added artwork, with her approval, to it on Tuesday. And then, "Doh!" if our brother Steve didn't ask the same question yesterday. The Bronze Age blogosphere is a small world... --Doug)

Karen: Comic fans love to ridicule Aquaman, to discuss how worthless his powers are. But in the grand scheme of things, the old King of the Seas really isn't that bad. He at least has some useful abilities: he can live underwater, control sea life, and has some level of super-human strength and toughness. Sure, he's specialized, but he's not really worthless.

You want worthless? How about Duo Damsel, aka Triplicate Girl? This Legionnaire has the amazing ability to create duplicate, non-super-powered versions of herself. That's right, instead of facing down one petite 16-year old girl, guys like Mordru or the Persuader have to contend with two, or even three, such threats!

The Legion was home to a number of semi-worthless characters. Matter-Eater Lad? Dream Girl?

Over at Marvel, I always thought the Angel seemed somewhat useless. He could fly, but then again, so could 50% of the super-hero community. At least DC's winged avenger, Hawkman, had a bunch of cool weapons, as well as a manly costume showing off his bare chest. Even the Wasp had her stingers.

Water-based heroes and shrinking heroes have specialized niches but some are more lame than others. I love Triton, but the guy isn't worth a darn outside of water. Even Stingray is a little more useful. As far as the shrinkers go, I liked the Atom's outfit, but other than hitching rides on electrons, he seems pretty worthless. I'd rather have Wildcat around, even old, washed-up Wildcat. Ant Man at least could order ants around, which is amusing if not valuable. No wonder the guy invented a growth formula.

Who is most worthless? Name the names, we won't hold it against you.


Edo Bosnar said...

Sticking with the Legion, I'd also add Princess Projectra - although creating illusions can be useful power if used properly, she never seemed to do anything useful in the LoSH issues I read except be Karate Kid's girlfriend.
On the Marvel side, there's a few New Mutants who never made sense to me when introduced: Danielle Moonstar (again with the illusions!) and Doug Ramsey/Cypher - I mean, come on: being a genius computer geek who learns languages really fast is awesomely cool, but it's hardly a super-power.

Anonymous said...

OK, D & K, I’m going to take you on at meta-level and defend my buddy Warren (although with a zillion dollars in the bank and Candy Southern lounging on his couch, I doubt he’s paying much attention to any of us).

First, I know squat about DC. Most of their super heroes seemed rubbish to me when I was seven, and more so when I read names like Triplicate Girl (did she have powers of super-administration, maybe?). Matter Eater Lad? Please tell me you made that up? I hate to point out the obvious, but all ANYONE eats is matter. He might as well be called Breakfast Boy, Lunch Lad or Main Course Man.

I actually get more peeved at super heroes who are far too super than those whose powers are a bit rubbish. OK, some kind of limited power of telepathy, telekinesis, or power of suggestion might be a bit weak, but at least it’s kind of credible and developed from abilities we all have or can imagine.

Superman was so bloody super they had to invent Kryptonite just to get any sort of story going, and even then it never made sense. He gained his powers from our SUN, so how did rock from Krypton block his powers? (OK, if you had a piece big enough to block the sun out, maybe). His vision alone is x-ray, heat- ray, telescopic, microscopic, infra-red, ultra-violet, and in one story I read, the fact that no-one recognises Clark Kent is because he has powers of super-hypnotism that operate all the time in the background causing people to see him differently (apparently, it even works via photographs!). He can withstand a nuclear explosion and fly into the sun without breaking a sweat and yet we’re supposed to believe he is genuinely endangered by the likes of Feather Duster Man.

The Angel may only be able to fly, but I see that as a plus, not a minus. The trick is then to write interesting and complex stories that don’t depend on a maguffin to create artificial peril which is then resolved by some newly-minted variation on his powers that were never mentioned in the last 20 years, thereby amassing ridiculous levels of powers which then have to be retconned out of existence and ret-ret-conned back into existence later.

Don’t be dissing the low-powered heroes, guys. Character development is character-under-pressure, and the super-untouchable aren’t pressured by anything.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Not too long ago I saw a BBC documentary about Steve Ditko in which Alan Moore noted that Dikto's the Creeper had only one superpower: the ability to laugh at criminals. Moore being Moore, he thought this was ingenious. For me, it kind of explained why that particular character never rose above the C-list.

In the same vein, I have never, never understood the usefulness of characters with stretching powers, especially Elongated Man. Plastic Man could at least form different shapes and Mr. Fantastic's real asset was his brain. But what did Elongated Man bring to the table other than ugly costumes and allowing the artists a chance to draw him in goofy-looking stetched-out poses? His presence in an issue of Justice League was emough to keep me looking elsewhere.

Doug said...

Richard --

I've re-read the post a couple of times, and I don't see where Karen said these were bad characters. I'm seeing her posit as they are characters with bad powers.

For me, I would not dispute some of the arguments you made, but I'm not sure that was the basis of the post. I'll defer to Karen, since it's her ideas.

Wretch -- I guess I always thought the stretching heroes must be able to generate some torque behind their punches. The ability to stretch as a means to better vision in a given situation, the thinning of the body for escape purposes, etc. could be useful. But as to Reed -- there's not a doubt that his brain is his best weapon.

Good conversation brewing here!


Steve Does Comics said...

Hello, the pair of you, thanks for the plug. The post in question's already, after just two days, my third most viewed post of all time and set to take over second place in the next few hours. So, clearly there's an irresistible appeal to lame super-powers.

I would nominate Bouncing Boy but I'm always insulting his powers so I'll be diplomatic and not mention him.

Doug said...

Steve --

Did you (or anyone else out there for that matter) ever wonder why Bouncing Boy didn't put on some get-up like Lobo or Marvel's Machizmo wears? I'm thinking you slam into somebody with spikes, chains, and all manner of dastardly accessories, it's gonna leave a mark...


Steve Does Comics said...

Somehow I really can't see Bouncing Boy wanting to inflict that sort of damage on people. I always saw him as DC's answer to the very early Foggy Nelson. Sort of nice, and ineffectual.

Terence Stewart said...

Gotta disagree about The Atom - as far as I remember he kept his full size weight - or could adjust it - while shrunken; imagine being hit by a full grown man shrunk to the size of a flea?
The Legion works specifically because many of the members had/have very minor powers, which meant they had to work as a team. The more powerful members, hence, were the more boring.
Poor Warren suffered for the perception that his power was minor league - he got a make over and kewl metal wings; and now I understand he's some psychotic killer.
Hank, however, was completely useless in his Ant Man identity - oh my gawd, there are some ants on me!

Anonymous said...

This is not directly relevant to the current conversation, but I was thinking the other day that Ant Man is, in a very strange way, the best Avenger to collect. If you collected every appearance of Ant Man (HP) in the first 200 Avengers, all you'd have is no#1 (classic by any standards), no#93 (Adams fantastic voyage inside the Vision) no#100 (Barry Smith goes to Olympus) and no's # 161-162 (Perez, the Bride of Ultron story where Ant Man trashes the Avengers). Five issues, five home runs. Am I wrong? Does he crop up anywhere else? If not, his career average for superb issues must be unbeatable.


J.A. Morris said...

I agree about the Angel, not just because of the powers,but he's just never been an interesting character to me.
I never cared much for Robin/Nightwing(Grayson,Todd or Drake) either. When I was a kid, I was in the camp that wanted to be Batman,not Robin. I don't mind him as a sidekick, but solo stories or even putting him in New Teen Titans always made me roll my eyes a bit.
Edo, you're right about Mirage and Cypher, they were two reasons I quit subscribing to 'New Mutants'. I didn't shed any tears when Cypher was comic book killed.

Like Wretch,I'm not crazy about Elongated man either. But I enjoyed a couple of the stories where he and Sue teamed up to solve a crime. That made him unique among most DC heroes, but that's about it.

Karen said...

I hoped this post would stir up some comment and thankfully it has! Firstly let me clarify: I am only talking about the character's powers, not their personality or anything else. And I'm only looking at characters who have powers. The non-powered heroes were not considered, because the whole point is that these characters have stupid powers.

Bouncing Boy is another great candidate. While I understand that most of the Legion have only one, limited ability, there are still those on the team who seem pointless. Certainly there are some members of the Substitute Legion that seem more useful than Duo Damsel, for example. I'd rather have Chlorophyll Kid than her.

Stretching heroes are also in that same dubious area as aquatic and shrinking heroes. Some stretchy guys use their powers quite amazingly -Reed Richards has always made himself useful, and the fact that his body is essentially indestructible probably isn't played up enough. I agree, Elastic Man always seemed pretty lame though.

I also agree with the comments about the New Mutants. There are some characters whose powers would make them good members of a support team, but not a combat team.

My husband tells me that the reason Dream Girl, Shadow Lass, Princess Projectra, and Duo Damsel are in the Legion has nothing to do with their powers. I guess I never considered the value of eye candy.


Fred W. Hill said...

Hmm, speaking of eye candy, there was the Invisible Girl as portrayed in most of the 1st 21 issues of FF -- eye candy you weren't supposed to see, and more of a professional hostage than a superheroine. Oh, and a source of tension, initially between Reed & Ben, then between a smitten Subby and the FF. At least Stan & Jack did eventually give her more substantial powers and finally established that Sue really loved Reed and wasn't about to get hitched up with the not-so-charming Prince Namor!

Jonathan Stover said...

@terrence: yep, he kept his full mass if he wanted to. I'd assume he shed mass in situations where not doing so would have turned him into a miniature black hole. Though that would be a hell of an emergency, one-off suicide power -- the Atom collapses into a mini-black hole, the black hole immediately evaporates due to Hawking radiation and explodes with the full released energy of whatever Ray Palmer weighs.

Matter-Eater Lad was a weird one -- he ate a Miracle Machine once, and he was regularly shown eating metals, which suggested that besides super-digestion he also had limited super-strength and invulnerability, BUT ONLY AROUND HIS JAW AREA!!!

Heroes who had the strength of two men (Nighthawk) or 3 (3-D Man) always seemed pretty lame. Unless it was the strength of two Captain Americas or two Batmen. Otherwise, though, you're still going to get pummelled by any supervillain with the strength of one really strong supervillain.

Duo Damsel's two moments in the sun came when she stopped being Triplicate Girl because Computo destroyed one of her triplets, and when she knocked out the mostly unbeatable Nemesis Kid because his Nemesis powers couldn't cope with someone who could twin herself. Seriously. I'm taking this as a forerunner for Projectra's ability to kill Nemesis Kid by getting him to counteract her crappy illusion powers just prior to breaking his neck the old-fashioned way.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, your husband makes a good point, but after those costume redesigns in the early 1970s, the eye-candy description could pretty much apply to every single female Legionnaire (...and Cosmic Boy, if you swing that way...)

Terence Stewart said...

I swing that way, and Cosmic Boy's corset did nada for me! :)

Jonathan: I never realised Nighthawk had the strength of 2 men - I thought he just wore a costume with a flying contraption!

Paul Levitz managed to overhaul Princess Projectra by taking the logical route - if an adversary doesn't realise you're casting illusions, then your illusions are going to be a lot more potent. And those illusions don't have to be limited to casting images of some badly drawn alien/monster.As Sensor Girl, Jeckie was one of the more formidable Legionnaires.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terence – you’re not alone being confused by Nighthawk. Even though he was around from the late 60’s until the early 80’s (which I suppose makes him Mr. Bronze Age, when you think about it), Marvel never got clear who he was or where he came from.

Roy Thomas created The Squadron Sinister ....well, actually the Grandmaster created them from thin fight the Avengers, seemingly in our universe, but since the Grandmaster controlled time and was fighting Kang, they might have been from a different time in our universe.

Later, the Avengers get warped into an alternate universe, where they meet the Squadron SUPREME, who are HEROES here (effectively the Avengers of their dimension) and they all fight Brainchild together. The Squadron Supreme are uncannily like the Squadron Sinister. In fact, identical.

Later, the Squadron SINISTER (baddies from our reality) return in the Defenders, with Nebula’s plan to destroy the world, but Nighthawk rebels, joins the Defenders to fight them and stays on.

Gerber then ret conned his origin, so that the Grandmaster influenced his fate rather than created him from nothing. This is where he drinks a potion which gives him the strength of 2 men at night. Later he gets some really lame wing-lasers or some such crap.

The Squadron Supreme rock up again in Avengers during the Serpent Crown affair, where, although they oppose the Avengers, they are not really baddies, they are just fighting their corner and obeying their President ( a Serpent Crown controlled, alternate-reality, Nelson Rockefeller).

So 2 Nighthawk’s, presumably 2 origins...but here’s the kicker....even Marvel couldn’t work out the difference and, in both Squadron Supreme stories, they are referred to as the Squadron Sinister.

Also...just to ‘clear things up’ further....I think the original SS were supposed to be a parody of the actually....he’s Batman!


MisterTeatime said...

What people don't notice most of the time about Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel is that when she splits or recombines, at least one of her selves moves- in Duo Damsel's case, both of them do, even. It's limited teleportation in addition to having three of yourself at once.

Also I love Cypher's most recent reinterpretation, in which he instinctively understands non-written or spoken languages, such as body language, meaning he can pretty much take anybody hand-to-hand, as well as serve as a human lie detector.

Oh, and Matter-Eater Lad has acid spit. ;-)

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