Archive for February 28th, 2012
What is the purpose of the superpower we all know and love as “Flight”?
Since it tends to be a fast-moving power, at least at car speeds, it’s a power of mobility. And that, in comic book stories, is really about either the tale of the race (can you stop Lex Luthor in time!) or a way to go from one set piece to a radically different one.
And since often flight-enabled supers have flight-enabled foes, it allows for badass aerial fights, which is yet another great set piece.
So, if flight’s really about the ability for a comic writer & artist to vary set pieces, let’s look at who tends to have flight. Superman, of course. Wonder Woman in various forms. Green Lantern. Storm. So on and so forth.
These are high-status characters. To have flight is to say “I am free of gravity when others aren’t”, and puts you in an arena of physical conflict that few can reach. And it’s majestic & awe-inspiring; by being literally above mankind, you are figuratively above them. These characters are capital-H Heros, superbeings that do not hide from the world.
That leads me to think of the golden age-old question: Would you pick Flight or Invisibility?
Heads up, I always pick invisibility. I have practical thoughts about that. And of course, there are the “what about clothes?” or “how much can you carry when flying?” sub-questions, but I now realize those are irrelevant.
Invisibility is a much more street-level power. It’s a power to alter a situation in the moment, and in an underhanded way. Thus, invisibility is a low-status power. It’s the effect that muggers have in dark alleys, or that horrors have in other fiction. Unlike those with flight, these are superbeings whose very power is that of hiding.
So, the question really is: “If you were a superhero, would you be a high-status or low-status one?” Or “Would you be global or local?”, which is maybe how one would define high & low status in a comic world. And another way: “Would you be a source of inspiration & majesty or fear & dread?” (Note: the question isn’t about supervillains, who when they’re done right always produce fear & dread.)
Suddenly, I’m rethinking other powers in the light of status. There are probably some status-neutral ones, but man, now I’m seriously thinking about what it means to pick a power beyond what effects it has.
Because really, no one *needs* to fly in a comic book story. The writers can just have closer set pieces and make races against time local in scale. And no one *needs* invisibility to solve impossible situations, as the writers can change how that impossible situation is solved with a different power–ones that don’t tap into primal fears of the unseen. Powers don’t enable comic characters, they define them. So those powers really are, from a writing standpoint, about status in the world at large.