Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Discuss: Dumb Weaknesses


J.A. Morris said...

"Yellow" was a big reason I could never embrace DC the way I embraced Marvel. The 60 second rule was a bit silly, but I think Stan Lee and/or Jack Kirby knew that a literal god needed to have some vulnerability.
This was wiped out by Walt Simonson when Thor became "Sigurd Jarlson."

Humanbelly said...

Well, and for the Golden Age Green Lantern, wasn't it "anything made of wood"-? Although, yeah-- "The Color Yellow" out of context sounds like a ridiculous spoof of a superhero weakness. Over the years, I actually give DC a lot of credit for working hard to justify it and give it credibility-- and for using it to dramatic effect.

But, sorry-- "Kryptonite" as first used (which, in fact, was in the Superman radio program, wasn't it?) just never passed any kind of muster at all for me, even as a kid. If the color of the sun, for some inexplicable reason, is the catalyst for Supe's abilities-- then how on "earth" (as it were) could the color of a mineral from his home planet have an effect on it? There's not a shred of a logical connection between the two. SMALLVILLE, of all things, managed to make it. . . sort of. . . plausible by seeming to link it to radiation. But it was just a stupid, lame weakness to me even as a small, gullible tyke.

Also, Tony Stark's heart problems seemed to defy reasonable medical scrutiny. When I was a kid, I thought he just had, y'know, a bad heart-- prone to heart attacks and such. It was a couple of years before I picked up that he had a piece of dangerously-lodged shrapnel in there, which was the source of his trouble. So all of his "my heart, my heart-- so weak, need to charge my armor" stuff didn't make sense to me at all. There should never have been any intermediate symptoms for him, 'cause his heart was innately fine. If the armor failed, then he'd just,well, die from the shrapnel. 'Zat quibble make sense to anyone?

Wanda's stupid, unpredictable, "one-hex-and-I-faint" nonsense was a tooth-gnashing aggravation, of course. And I'm not sure was ever explained at the time. Just a "mysterious" failing. . .

For a few months in TtA, the Hulk had Banner's mind, but was forced to stay in the Hulk's form because of a (you guessed it) piece of shrapnel in his head! Bet no one remembers that!


William said...

Humanbelly, Kryptonite was always supposed to be radioactive. That didn't start with Smallville. Kryptonite is actual pieces of Krypton that became radioactive when the planet exploded. It's this radiation that can override Superman's powers and kill him. It has nothing to do with it being 'green'.

That said, the stupidest weaknesses IMO, were the original Green Lantern's weakness to wood, which meant he was pretty much powerless against a thug with a baseball bat. Also Martian Manhunter's weakness to fire. One of the most powerful beings in the world can be rendered helpless by a Zippo. Pretty stupid. But, the silver-age GL's weakness to yellow has got to be the lamest weakness ever. His arch enemy could have been "Banana Man" and he would have been screwed. That has to be one of (if not the) most contrived weakness in comics history.

david_b said...

I liked the 60-second rule for Thor, especially in the Bronze Era, it gave him a good vulnerability as a team member.

Remember the Zodiac 'stuck in an orbiting barn' schtick in ish 122..? Silly, but I loved it.

I always thought the yellow defect was a tad 'too overbearing' of a weakness, but agreeing with HB on how DC's tried to flesh it out and make GL a cool hero despite it.

Didn't they throw Hank McCoy a curve in the '80s by the notion that he got dumber everytime he used his massive strength..? My college roomie told me that a while back.

I did like how Doc Strange kept a spell on Hulk while in the Defenders, so as not to have him revert to Banner, that was clever.

Most insipid Marvel weaknesses..?

1) Captain America turning into a total basket-case whenever someone hit his gal Sharon. She's a SHIELD agent, Cap, get a grip. (Hank Pym fell under this category every so often too..)

2) Someone in a crowd with a hose bringing down Johnny Storm. For a guy who can flame up to supposed super-nova status, to be taken out by a firehose..?

3) Ditto on Wanda's 'done-in-one' hexes.

Humanbelly said...

Well heck, William, glad to know I can go back to enjoying classic Supes stories again, and not be too disdainful of the ol' Kryptonian mineral, eh? Nice-!

The Beast's problem was in the early-ish issues of X-Factor, when he'd re-mutated back to human form. And you had to wonder what editor gave that plot twist the okay in the first place, 'cause it simply can't be resolved w/out either a) Hank's death from profound dementia, or b) a ridiculous, un-surprising deus ex machina to set the situation right. It was the latter in Hank's case-- although I can't for the life of me remember what it was. I do remember him eventually wandering around, literally drooling, completely mindless near the end of that arc.

Refresh my memory with Superman-- during his sort-of re-launch in the early 70's w/ the "Sandman" Superman, didn't something happen where all the Kryptonite dissolved in the ocean, and thus Supes became vulnerable to seawater? Does that ring a bell?


david_b said...

As for Avenger weaknesses, I would have liked Vish's then-unknown weakness to water to have played out for another 20some issues. That seemed a bit coyish on Steve Englehart's part to have it played into the Vish-origin story arc so quickly.

'Keep somethings as an unknown', nothing wrong with that.

(It would all get explained, explained again, and 'Oh, let's explain it THIS WAY' 20some years later anyway...)

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, J.A. pretty much sums up my own thoughts on this matter: the color yellow. Not just a specific shade of yellow, not some yellow substance, but yellow in general. Sorry, man, but that has to be the dumbest weakness ever.

Humanbelly said...

The aural equivalent would be a vulnerability to, like, a B-flat note/pitch. It's really that arbitrary and poorly-conceived.

"And now, Major Chord, I sing you your song of DOOOOOM! LalalaLAAAAAAA!!!!"

["Great Sainted Sousa-- Professor Pentatonic has transposed Bach's fugue for Well-tempered Clavier down a full fifth, and is singing it in- *gasp*- B-FLAT! The ONE key that I cannot overcome! If I don't do something quick, this could be my final formata-!"]


Martinex1 said...

Ha. I am waiting to see the crossover when the Bananas in Pajamas take on Hal Jordan. The thing that I always thought was strange about the yellow is that yellow is a part of green. Every grammar schooler knows that. If they were going to pick a primary color - how about Red?
On another weakness that I struggled with was Hank Pym's headaches or illnesses associated with growing or shrinking too fast. I actually think it is a reasonable weakness (vertigo, stress), and I love the character - it just seemed convenient sometimes as an issue at a critical point. "I cannot grow huge and squish you villain because I am so weak and dizzy when I grow too fast" Well then grow a little slower and then smash him! I'd like to see Roy Thomas write a story where Tony Stark suggests Hank use Pym particles to create a giant aspirin. I think Hank also got stuck at a certain size. I also think he outgrew those problems at some point - no pun intended - and I don't know if Jan or Scott Lang ever had those issues.

William Preston said...


I read that first "Sandman" issue of Supes in the beauty parlor, waiting for my mother to get her hair colored. As I recall, aside from the creation of the sandy Superman (and then some strange twist in which he gave his powers--kind of--to some kid who had to think of the word "lynx"), there was no downside to the end of kryptonite. But Supes also wasn't nearly as powerful as he'd sometimes been in the '60s.

Teresa said...

Captain Marvel JR couldn't say his own name.

Golden Age Green Lantern: Wood.

The Martian Manhunter (as mentioned above: Fire. But the writers were beyond silly about it. If someone lit a match he would start sweating. Didn't he have super breath as a weapon? Maybe it didn't work against fire...

Marvel really did away with most of that nonsense.
Although I did like Thor's Hammer separation anxiety.
I liked that they addressed the Giant Man problem of physiological stress of growing.

Tony Stark had to manage resources to fight and keep living. That was good drama.

Did Spiderman's web shooters run dry at a critical moment?

Pat Henry said...

Superman's vulnerability to Kryptonite was on a different order than his vulnerability to a red sun. The one caused him pain and weakness; the other switched off his powers like a light.

His other "vulnerability" to magic really annoyed me. He's not any more vulnerable to magic than anyone else... you know, he's not a sissy in its presence. He's just not *invulnerable* to it. This got messed up by a number of idiot writers, who wrote him extra-weak in its presence... sort of like the shorthand that Luther is angry 'cause he lost his hair. No, that''s not at all how it went. At all.

Humanbelly, I think you might be thinking of "the Superman of 2965," a descendent of Superman who really was vulnerable to seawater. That's a pretty stupid weakness. The concept of S-2965 was worthy of Bob Haney.

Anonymous said...

Hmm I'm probably one of the minority who thinks GL's ineffectiveness against yellow wasn't too hard to believe. Of course, when Sinestro came along with his (gasp) yellow power ring, I immediately thought 'hey waitamminit if this dude can get around that weakness by having a yellow power ring, then why don't all the Lanterns switch to yellow?'. Actually, the Silver Age GL with his weakness against wood felt more contrived to me. He can fly across space but watch out for any trees! :)

Thor's 60 second weakness was always a hoot whenever Stan wrote his stories. You never knew when ol' Goldilocks had the upper hand in battle yet would come crashing down to Earth by reverting to Donald Blake. Personally, I loved when Walt Simonson did away with that; I've always believed Thor was more than just his hammer. Yes, it enables him to fly, control weather and channel the Odinforce but to me the essence of Thor as a hero (and I think Simonson thought along these lines too) was that he was a superhero who happened to possess a powerful mystical weapon, not some poor sap who gained superpowers by touching a magical object as was the case in Cain Marko aka Juggernaut. Simonson wrote Thor as a hero even without his hammer, and I like to think of him this way too. He was never defined by the hammer and I've always been irked by people who say that the character of Thor is nothing without Mjolnir.

By the way, does anyone remember the Thing had a major weakness in the very early issues of the FF - he had the habit of changing back into his human form usually right in the middle of battling supervillains, such as when he was tussling with Namor!

- Mike 'major weakness for KFC' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Fred W. Hill said...

Thor's 60 second rule got overused quickly in the early years of his strip, but then Stan & Jack tended to re-use several plot elements in their mags. Ditko didn't re-use plots so much, but then he was only on Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and the Hulk each for a little over or under 3 years, rather than the 8 to 9 years Kirby was on Thor and the FF, as well as working on so many other mags at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Wanda's "done in one" rule (sometimes "done in two") was sort of an elaboration of something Stan Lee had suggested, that her hex power is limited and she has to "recharge" after a big hex. In Stan's defense, he actually used this idea to show Captain America taking charge as a good leader, teaching her to hold her powers in reserve for when they were really needed, as if mutant power = ammunition.

Steve Englehart really codified the "exhausted after one hex" rule, partly for the purpose of breaking it when he gave her a power upgrade in mid-run.

William said...

Stan (and company) was pretty good about giving all their heroes limitations (and/or weaknesses) in the early days. For example, Mr. Fantastic could only stretch so far and for so long before he became weakened and had to rest up before using his power again. Same with the Human Torch. In the very early issues of the FF, he could only stay flamed on for about 30 minutes at a time, and could only fly a distance of 50 miles under his own power. And Ironman's armor was constantly needing to be recharged, (usually right in the middle of a battle).

It was these kinds of human limitations that set Marvel's characters apart from the God-like beings over at DC who seemed to have unlimited powers of flight, strength, and speed, etc.

WardHillTerry said...

I've been thinking this over, and I can't think of too many defined weaknesses. Time limits, particular colors or elements may seem arbitrary, but at least they are defined. With the heroes who can do almost ANYthing (Superman, Green Lantern, J'onn J'onzz), there must be something to give them a kind of challenge. Then we can see how clever they (and their writers) are. If the power ring doesn't work against Banana Man directly, then use it to scoop up a pile of dirt and rocks and make a cage out of it!

Stan Lee twisted the idea by making the heroes themselves flawed. Their weaknesses were internal. "I can stop Banana Man...OH my heart!" or "...my aunt is sick!" or "...it's my fault he's a monster!" or "...the strain may make me pass out!"

Having something as innocuous as a color be a weakness may seem silly, but it was consistent. Running out of web-fluid or flame or electric charge at inopportune times only happened as the plot needed it to happen.

Who would you rather have on your super-team? A character who, when she uses her power cannot say what will happen, if something happens, then she collapses and her brother rushes to her aid and abandons the fight. If she USES her power, you're down two members! Or a girl who has super-powers only at night?

Pat Henry said...

Good points that, over at Marvel at least, the weaknesses gave the heroes opportunity to be even MORE heroic, struggling against all odds, stakes heightened, etc.

Then there are the weaknesses that are, in fact, strengths—of which Daredevil is the most prominent example. I also think of Bruce Banner, and his epic struggle with anger management. And perhaps its most poignant expression, Spidey trapped in a flooding sewer by debris he cannot possibly lift... until he thinks of his ailing aunt and the medicine she needs.

Fred W. Hill said...

One of the best stories involving a hero's weaknesses was late in Ditko's run on Dr. Strange when his foes have put a metal clasp on his face to blind him and keep him from utterig spells and metal mitts on his hands to keep him from making magical gestures. Dr. Strange was thus severely limited in what he could do but he still persevered with what powers he could still muster, including use of his astral projection and control of his levitating cape as well as martial arts, and managed to prevail. Really great story & art.

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