Thursday, March 17, 2016

Who's the Worst... Amazing Doohickey?

Martinex1: Deus ex Machina anybody?   It was recently mentioned that characters that can change reality at will were annoying.   How about the all-powerful objects?   What gadgets made you gag?   What devices divide you?   What utensils make you tense?  We've got Ultimate Nullifiers, Nega-Bands, Cosmic Cubes, Gauntlets, Lanterns, Rings, Keys, and Crowns.   What turns your comic enjoyment upside down?


Redartz said...

Not any particular device, but it was amusing how Reed Richards could knock together just about any device or weapon that was needed for any situation, generally within a couple of panels.

Okay, Green Lantern's power ring. It's very cool looking, and as a kid I wore a ring dispensed from some gumball machine and pretended it was a power ring. But seriously, vulnerability to yellow? You'd think the Guardians would have worked this out for such a major piece of weaponry for their Corps.

Speaking of rings, did anyone catch the appearance of a Legion Flight Ring a couple weeks ago on "Supergirl"? It was the same episode in which she faced Braniac. Makes me wonder if it might foreshadow an appearance by Braniac 5. I'm trying to think if any Legion members have ever appeared on one of the DC shows (excluding animated), and can't think of any...

Anonymous said...

The first thing that came to mind was King Solomon's Frog from the cover of Jack Kirby's Black Panther #1. Despite owning that particular issue I couldn't remember what the frog actually did...luckily we have Wikipedia these days...and there were two frogs, one could warp space and one could warp time enabling the Black Panther to instantly travel hundreds of light years.

Doug said...

Redartz --

I never watched Smallville, don't really know much about it. But -- I do know that some iteration of the original Legionnaires appeared on that show:


Martinex1 said...

Redartz, what is so funny about the ring's weakness to yellow is that green is a mixture of blue and yellow; every 7 year old knows that green isn't a primary color. I remember that bugging me in grade school.

Colin, I don't think I ever read those Kirby issues. Why a frog?

I haven't watched much Supergirl, but on a complete tangent... When flipping through channels earlier this week I saw Marian Manhuntwr on the show.

Anonymous said...

Before I get to the gadgets, can I start by saying that part of the reason I always preferred Marvel to DC was that Marvel heroes were predominantly ordinary people (if super-achievers in their fields) who gained super powers, whereas DC heroes seemed to be God like aliens, immortal Amazonian princesses, undersea princes, interstellar policemen and whatever Hawkman is this week.

Superman obviously epitomised this, with his powers of super-everything. When I read the story where the explanation of why no one recognises that Clark is Supes is because Superman has powers of super-hypnotism which work all the time, making everyone see him differently, I quietly closed the comic book and never went back.

Having said that, I adore Doctor Strange, but he does seem problematic to me. I always found myself wondering why he didn’t, for example, zap Galactus into Dormammu’s realm and let them duke it out. Civilian casualties, sure, but far less than if we continue to let the Big G chomp his way through the galaxy.

I think the magical heroes generally sit uncomfortably alongside the ones who obey the laws of physics.

Gadgets like the cosmic cube do seem to reduce the tension by being too unbeatable. There always has to be some silly contrivance to enable the hero to defeat it. Whilst I love Starlin’s first Thanos epic, if I remember rightly, Captain Marvel ended the whole thing with a single karate chop. Hmmmm. Seems like the cosmic cube would be more robust than that. Design flaw?

I also thought that thing that the Watcher sent the Torch for back in FF 50 was pretty deus ex machina. Although he did have to fly through a hoop to get it, so, you know…

Good things that aren’t too super:
Cap’s shield
Some of Hawkeye’s arrows.
Thor’s hammer (come on, he is a God).
I would put in a good word for Wonder Woman’s golden girdle, which seems bloody ridiculous until you read that Charles Moulton’s prototype polygraph was almost literally that.

I was going to mention the level of contrivance with which Batman always seem to have just the right bit of kit, but let me summarise in 4 words:

Shark repellent Bat spray.


Anonymous said...

Martinex 1, - I don't have a clue why it was a frog. That Martian Manhunter character is played by black British actor David Harewood. A lot of black British actors say they can't find work on UK TV so they have to go to America to get work.

Anonymous said...

I don't really like any dues ex machina device, but they have their place. Using a feud ex kachina once can be ok. There was literally no other way to beat Galactus, so an Ultimate Nullifier that will never be seen again isn't he worst solution. Bringing back the Ultimate Nullifier makes it less special. Of course, the same principal applies to all-powerful villains- Galactus should have come to Earth once, been repelled, then never entered our solar system again. Dormamu can almost invade once, then never again. Etc. These cosmic/ magic villains can exist out in space or another dimension, but being continuously thwarted by humans makes them less threatening.

- Mike Loughlin

dbutler16 said...

I immediately thought of Green Lantern's ring, because it served as a dues ex machina in so many Silver Age Justice League of America stories. It could pretty much do anything the writer wanted, when it served his purpose.

And yes, anything that makes a character all powerful, such as the Cosmic Cube, Miracle Machine, Infinity Gauntlet, whatever, is terrible beyond words.

William said...

The biggest problem with devices that make the wielder all-powerful (like the Infinity Gauntlet and the Cosmic Cube) is that they would be unbeatable. They could just win any fight and make anything happen with a thought. So, when they stand around talking about their plans, and thus give the heroes a chance to get the upper hand, it just seems kind of ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Martinex - Why not a frog? Those Black Panther issues are great (although I believe some readers have been known to be less keen on Kirby's later work)
On the subject of Kirby tech, how fantastic is this -

Superman's Plastimold was an odd one. That was the device that made Lois Lane black so she could investigate after discovering there might be racism in Metropolis (Lois was always the one with the hot scoop!)
I did wonder why Superman had a device for changing appearance like that. Maybe he's been passing since his arrival on earth?


Anonymous said...

Erm... actually, you can see that image a lot better at


J.A. Morris said...

I'll go with the Power Ring. I generally don't like heroes whose "superpower" is "person with weapon." I also agree that weakness to yellow is silly. And while I somewhat enjoyed some stories that featured the Green Lantern Corps, the fact that there are tons of "people with weapons" which makes the Earth's GL even that less special.

Pat Henry said...

Since comicbook superheroes are themselves a form of vicarious wish fulfillment, I’m not bothered by Green Lantern’s ring. It struck me as a little kid that it would be great to have a ring that did all kinds of crazy things. I also had a ring fetched out of a gum machine that fueled my seven-year-old imagination. Jumped off a roof with it, but the ground must have been yellow.

In general, the vulnerabilities DC gave to people and objects were pretty dumb. I mean, Martian Manhunter is all powerful but to flame; Superman can blow out entire stars with one sneeze but is rendered helpless by various colored rocks; the original Green Lantern could be clobbered by a wooden bat. It all got to be pretty silly.

I view the outlandish objects like the Infinity Gauntlet, etc, as a way the Marvel crew could emulate some of the cosmic goodies of the Distinguished Competition, share in some of that wild storytelling, without throwing Marvel’s comparatively streetwise milieu on the trash heap.

Anonymous said...

I dunno...the Zodiac Key turned out to be a big bunch of nothing, didn't it? I always Wonder Woman's invisible plane was kind of goofy.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

We should surely spare a thought for all those giant doomsday machines that were going to destroy the world and the cheery chappies gagging to pull the lever. Here are some of my favourites, mostly for the names alone:

The Overkill Horn. One of the many in Hydra’s toybox.

The Null Life Bomb. I was very moved by Silver Surfer #5 when I was little.

Destructo Ray - Half Face shot Iron Man with this in TOS 92. There was also a ‘cobalt device’; a couple of issues later which could defeat an entire army, but Iron Man took the fuse out (or similar) before the Grey Gargoyle could fire it.

Betatron Bomb – this one is a real two-for-one, because this the Hydra Bomb that Tony Stark created the Brainosaur to defuse.

The Solar Chute - Mordillo’s weapon for destroying the ozone layer in my favourite Shang Chi story.

Madbomb. I remember this Kirby Cap story fondly. For that reason, I have never re-read it!

The Omegatron – Yandroth’s inexplicably voice-activated doomsday device which gave us the Defenders.

There must be at least a hundred more of these.


Martinex1 said...

Colin and Sean, I am going to have to read those Black Panther issues. Add it to my reading list. I just think it is great that there are time and space warping frog statues. I was kind of hoping for a megalomaniac Frogman or Dr. Frog (or even just a Mr. Toad) behind the scenes!

Richard that is a great list. I'd forgotten about most of those. Between AIM and HYDRA, they have a few warehouses full of world ending devices. Somebody picking up used equipment on the cheap could really be a contender. The Overkill Horn is one of my earliest Nick Fury memories.

Pat Henry said...

On that topic, perhaps their greatest deus ex machina blockbuster was HIM: Adam Warlock.

“This planet of humans is not for me—not yet—not until another millennium has passed! Thus, I shall take my leave—“
“Wait! if you harness enough energy to depart — you’ll destroy us all!”
“Does the tiger concern itself— about the flea?...proving in one cataclysmic moment that the child is father to the man!”

Loved that.

Anonymous said...

Richard - The Omegatron! That's it! Thanks - I was trying to remember what that was called earlier. Commenting about "that thing which counted down REALLY SLOW in the back of early issue of the Defenders" seemed a bit ridiculous. Yeah, you can't get much more deus ex machine than a doomsday device.

Have to disagree with you about the mix of magic and science though. I loved that in Marvel - particularly the Kirby/Lee Thor. And Doctor Doom - if he was just a scientist he'd be a fairly average villain. But being into magic too...

Martinex - On Black Panther and the Frog -


Anonymous said...

Hi Martinex – I suspect the reason you remember the Overkill Horn is that ST 151 was Steranko’s very first work at Marvel, supposedly inking Kirby’s layouts, but actually embellishing them to the point where they became his own. Suddenly, there is a level of detail that makes Mike Golden or Art Adams look like Vinnie Colletta.

Hi Sean – I absolutely adore the mix of magic and science in Marvel. I’m just not sure it adds up. Daredevil, Spidey et al fought alongside Doc Strange, and then went back to their own mags for decades of bone-crunching punch ups, which never resolved anything and which Doc Strange could have resolved in the blink of an eye. Literally. Surely once you’re aware that there is a much better way to combat evil, you might ask the Doc to teach you a few tricks, or at least intervene. I suspect if the baddies got teleported into the middle of the Kalahari desert every time they knocked over a savings and loan, they’d soon have a career re-think.

Agree about Doc Doom. Top 5 baddie, but with a very rich back story. I love the Midsummer’s eve ritual where he fights for his mother’s soul every year. Now, that is dark. No Doom, no Darth, right?


Anonymous said...

Indeed, Richard (no Source, no Force eiher. That George Lucas, eh?)

I take your point, but I'd probably frame the Spidey/Strange problem more as one of continuity. Either way, superhero comics can unravel on any number of points, and I reckon the people who do them well perform quite the balancing act.
Yeah, Doom's mum - that's a great story. The Triumph and the Torment - the Stern/Mignola Doc Strange/Doom team up - is a real cracker too.


Anonymous said...

Hmm dunno about GL's power ring, I've never compared it like that with objects like the Cosmic Cube or any other reality altering device. The Green Lantern Power Ring (now why did I use all caps there?) always seemed to me to be an extension of the user, and the light constructs mirrored the personality of the wielder. The Cosmic Cube on the other hand, literally warped reality, enabling the user to manipulate time, matter and any kind of energy you could think of, so yeah weapons of this sort to me would be a deux ex machina in a story.

- Mike 'my reality is being warped by psychaedelic mushrooms' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Hey, the Evil Eye from the original Avengers/Defenders War? Does. . . does anyone even remember what the heck it was supposed to do? And didn't the fact that it was designed like a Russian Nesting Doll Set sort of lessen its gravitas-?

And-- the device that enabled Ultron to fabricate his new body out of Adamantium in Avengers #65 or 66 (thus rendering him forever unbeatable)-- wasn't that the Molecular Arranger (or Re-arranger)? IIRC, he stole the device and buried it inside his own body so's it could never be used against him. The OBVIOUS question, of course, has always been--- why can't the SHIELD scientist who made the first one simply make ANOTHER one, eh? And use THAT one on Ulty next time he shows up at a family reunion-? Who's runnin' this asylum, anyhow--?

Hmm-- and what was the Wand of the Watomb? A Dr Strange thingy? The only reason I remember it at all is because it's head was engraved with a truly comical little cartoon frowny-face-- and so every panel where it was visible, ya had to see that little grumpus-wumpus. . . which really took a toll on its shock & awe, I have to tell ya--

HB (and his Lunch-Box o' Gastrogeddon!)

Anonymous said...

HB, That's a good point about the SHIELD scientist. Its like AIM making the Cosmic Cube - if they could do that, why not just make another one?
In fact, why not mass manufacture the things? Personal Cosmic Cubes for everyone... that seems a much better route to world domination than the super-villain thing.


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