Thursday, September 15, 2016

Who's The Best... Class of Powers?

Martinex1:   The heroes and villains from Marvel and DC can be classified fairly easily according to their primary power sets.   I am sure there are more categories than I have listed below, but I find that most characters can be catalogued in nine groups.  Even if a character has multiple powers they will continue to rely on their core capability.  So which group is the best?   Do you gravitate to a type of hero with certain abilities?  Does one set have better intrinsic value or interest? How about costumes and visual depiction - is one group generally better than others?   Or is there a classification that I have not mentioned that you consider superior?

Outlined below are my broad categories and some pictorial examples to get the conversation going:

  • The Blasters:   These are characters who use energy as a weapon.  Whether utilizing fire, heat, ions, sonic waves, or light rays - they have some method of hurling or sending energy forces at their opponent. More often than not technology and science play a role in their powers.
  • The Flyers:   These characters rely on their wings, whether feathery or mechanical, to take to the air.  Many characters can fly, but for these flight is their primary power
  • The Runners:   This group relies on speed, speed, and more speed.    They can run, hit, and even vibrate faster than the human eye.  
  • The Athletes: Not always super-powered, this group consists of the fighters, martial artists, acrobats, gymnasts, and sportsmen.   Typically they are honed to the peak of human perfection.  They work hard to stay in shape but often take a beating.  These are the gold medalists of the spandex set.
  • The Brains: This set sometimes has supernatural abilities like telekinesis and telepathy.   They may be manipulators of the mind.   Or they may simply be extraordinarily smart - they are the genius class and the thinkers.   It is the grey matter that matters here.
  • The Muscle:  The characters in this group are super-enhanced.   Their strength goes beyond the norm.   They can bench-press a mack-truck if needed.   Typically their brute strength is their primary attribute.
  • The Magicians:  Here are the sorcerers, wizards, warlocks, and witches.   They have abilities that don't adhere to the laws of science and physics.   These are the other-worldly, pan-dimensional masters of the weird.
  • The Robots: Call them androids, synthezoids, droids, or robots - these artificial creations with human emotions are a science fiction trope.
  • The Size-Changers:   Whether enlarging to 30 feet or shrinking to the molecular level, this group of giants and insects have a "growing" population in our comic kingdoms.

The Energy Blasters!

The Brain-trust!
The Winged Warriors!
The Speedsters!
The Mighty and the Muscled!
The Magicians!
The Athletes and Acrobats!
The Size Shifters!
The Artificials!

So is it mind over matter?  Or brawn over brains?   Is it the fleet-footed or those that take flight?  Is it the energy fiends or those that need energy drinks?   Size over substance?  The witches or the whip smart?  From you comic book lovers out there - who's the best in this power struggle?  

Share your own classifications, considerations, examples, thoughts, and opinions,


Edo Bosnar said...

Honestly, I can't think of a power set I like better than another. They all have their advantages, and I guess I just like it when creative teams makes good use of them in their stories.
Anyway, you seem to have overlooked a few categories.
First, I think I would put guys like Iron Man (because he does so much more than just shoot repulsor rays) in a separate category: characters who wear armor or otherwise wield/use some kind of technology or weapon that gives them their powers. Besides IM, you could include Green Lantern, Cyborg, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, Steel, Rom, etc. Although I guess Cyborg and Rom could also be put into yet another category, cyborgs, together with Deathlok (and then I think that would be a better place to put Robot Man).
Second, there's the whole category of shapeshifters for characters like Mystique, Wolfsbane, Changling/Beast Boy, Chameleon Boy, etc.
Third, sort of related to the above are the stretchy guys and gals, i.e., Plastic Man, Elongated Man, etc.
By the way, Spider-man actually has super-powers, so he doesn't really seem to belong in a category with a bunch of guys who have to work out and train all the time...

Also, not sure if you compiled those images yourself or took them from other sources, but I was really struck by the non-representation of women, in some cases really obvious ones, like Wonder Woman in the Mighty and Muscled category, or Monica Rambeau (Capt. Marvel/Photon) in the Blaster category, or, say, Hawkgirl and Dawnstar in the Flyer category, or sheesh, Black Canary, Black Cat, Black Widow, Catwoman, Huntress, Mockingbird, Shanna, etc., etc., etc. in the Athletes and Acrobats category.

Redartz said...

I don't think I've a particular preference for one category of power over another, although very generally I prefer natural powers to those provided through technology. Cool as Iron Man is, give me a Captain America or a Spider-Man.

Also, as many characters have powers culled from multiple categories, I lean towards those with more limited ranges. Say, Batman over Superman.

Edo- good call on the stretchers. One of the most entertaining power groups. On the other hand, it seems to me that simple flight ability, although useful, is not really that big an advantage towards a heroic (or villainous) career. Blasters too seem rather limited. Perhaps overall I'd give the advantage to the 'brains', who could figure out a solution if no other power could get them out of a situation...

Interesting topic, Martinex...must ponder this further...

William said...

My personal favorite characters to read about are definitely the "Athletes and Acrobats" (my top three favorite characters are Spider-Man, Batman, and Daredevil) so I guess that would be my preferred category.

However, if I had super powers myself I'd like to be one of the Magic Users (because they can pretty much do anything, including flying, energy blasting, and etc.) So, why not have it all?

Doug said...

I love how thought-provoking this topic is.

I've always been partial to the size-changers, particularly the giants (Goliath and Colossal Boy were early favorites for me). The "shrinkers", such as Yellowjacket or the Atom, were OK, but I preferred the big guys.

A category of which I am not fond at all is the magical heroes/villains. William stated that he'd love to have that superpower because anything goes... that sums up why I don't care for them as characters. The unpredictability and the sort of deus ex machina aspect don't appeal to me.

But as William also said, characters like Batman and Daredevil have been among my lifelong faves.

Man, do we really have to choose? ;)

One more thought -- it's interesting to look at the samples and to see how varied the powersets may be within a given category. And what's more, the additional powers that might be a part of a given character. For example, Phoenix is among the "minds", but she could head the class as an energy projector.

We really need to be hanging out at a comic shop to do this right, ya think?


Pat Henry said...

Another bifurcation could be those who arrive at their powers naturally versus those who have no power other than what their gift provides them. An example of the former would be Superman, who spends much of his day pretending to be a weak coward to disguise his natural born abilities. An example of the latter would be Green Lantern, who has no powers other than those bestowed by his ring. The latter category strikes me as the ultimate in wish fulfillment as far as readers go—anyone can be a hero!—but also risks that the gadget is the real protagonist.

The character who perhaps stands most firmly with feet in both camps is the Hulk— Get mad, get even.

William said...

When they were young my nephews used to ask me, "If I could be any superhero, who would I choose?" And I always immediately answered Superman. Because he can do it all. He can fly, he's super strong, invulnerable, super fast, has x-ray and heat vision, and etc. So, why choose just one or two powers when you can be the guy who has it all?

Ironically it's that same fact that makes Supes not that interesting, IMO. (Just like Doug pointed out with the Magic Users). When a character has too much power, they become a bit dull because it's hard to come up with interesting challenges for them.

For example the only way to really challenge Superman is to come up with a deus ex machina like Kryptonite. Which is also pretty boring, as it's become a much overused plot device. (But how else are you going to put Superman in danger?)

However in the real world there is no such thing as Kryptonite, so if you did have all the powers of Superman you'd be pretty much omnipotent. Bwa ha ha ha!!!

J.A. Morris said...

I'm going with Athletes and Acrobats, because I've read more solo stories that feature those characters than any other Power Class.

Redartz said...

William- I totally agree with you regarding Superman. So much power and so many abilities to choose from. It's like Space Ghost; if you watch his show you'll see he has a power beam for any eventuality. A bit less than dramatic...even characters with several abilities maintain the reader's interest as they still must 'make do with what they have'.

However (to risk the notorious thread stray) if I were choosing powers, I'd go with Spider-Man. Certainly less powerful than Kal-El, but just appealingly cool. To swing around on a website and then stick to the wall for a rest...Oh yeahhhh...

Doug said...

Ha! Redartz got auto-corrected! "Website"...


Anonymous said...

I'm in full agreement with William; my favourites are usually the athletes/acrobats (Spidey, DD, Shang Chi, Batman, Batgirl, Moon Knight), but the Magical powers would probably be the best to have, since you could do (theoretically, at least) almost anything you could imagine.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the comments all. It is interesting you mention Superman and the magicians as being over-powered. As I was setting up this post, I too was thinking that I didn't particularly lean toward characters who could do "anything." There has to be a certain amount of vulnerability and cleverness in their attributes to make a character likeable. However, on the other end of the spectrum, heroes with singular powers (i.e. flight, speed, or growth) can become too one-note and repetitive. I gravitate to those with varied powers or those who can use powers in multiple applications. A counter-argument though is that it seems to me that the heroes that I like visually tend to have one key power. Visually I really like the flyers and the giants.

I know that I narrowed this down to nine categories and that there are probably countless permutations and power sets that I ignore. For example I could break out the "Intangibles" like Vision, Kitty Pride, and the Ghost. Or the "Cosmic" but I felt really a lot of those characters are "Blasters"...I found myself thinking, "What is the Silver Surfer's power anyway?" There are also those that control animals like Aquaman and Ant-Man. As mentioned there are shape-shifters like Skrulls and Dire Wraiths but I may include the stretchers and even Sandman in that category. And there are also characters who I could argue their true power is "leadership" like Captain America, Nick Fury, Commander Rann, and Wonder Woman who act with an eye toward guidance.

One anomaly for me is I really like the characters with the big heads like the Leader and the Wizard. You just don't see that much outside of comics!

I apologize for the lack of female characters. There definitely should be more attention to those characters and the examples Edo shared are great examples. No excuses ...but a lot of it was simply dictated by my tools and how I was trying to arrange the images. In retrospect I could have done that better. Let's just say the Invisible Woman is in the Blasters section!

Anonymous said...

My absolute favorite dreams are of flying, so obviously my subconscious has already chosen a category. My conscious self knows that there might be nothing more horrific than losing my power while in flight, though, and would choose either telekinesis (not telepathy, because I already despise oversharing!) or magic, because I am innately lazy.

Redartz said...

Doug- yep, I wouldn't be swinging on websites, you get nasty viruses that way...

Rip Jagger said...

I read somewhere a long time ago that the difference between a Roy Thomas story and a Stan Lee story was that to create inner conflict, Roy would give a character new powers and Stan would have them lose some ability or power they already had. I'm sure as a generality it falls short but it does suggest that Roy loves "superheroes" and Stan was of a different generation reared on more ground-level types from the pulps and such.

After a youth spent dazzled by the cosmically powered types like Captain Marvel and Firestorm and Nova and such, I've switched up in more recent decades to prefer the the low-power types. I've always been a Hawkeye fan, but when I first clapped onto him he was doing his Goliath thing (see my point about Roy) and later he seemed to slip around without any direction at all.

One of the reasons I'm such an "Action Heroes" fan (Charlton's brand) is Dick Giordano's desire that they all (for the most part and Captain Atom notwithstanding) were not world beaters but rather had powers within the scope of humans, nearly. A regular guy with a gimmick (Ditko heroes by and large) were the order of the day.

I've gotten fascinated with The Phantom these days and his template as seen on Batman and his ilk seems to be important. But likewise we have the whole Superman thing and there's no denying seeing superpowers on the big screen is a thrill ride.

So I prefer ground-level types, crimefighters. But it ain't always been that way.

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