Being the mother of three boys, I have the pleasure of discussing super heroes and villains on a regular basis. We all have our favorites, mine being Spiderman and Magneto. A nerdy smart ass with spider powers and a magnetic villain who has a valid point about prejudice. Good stuff.
What my children have a hard time understanding, though, is my distaste for Superman. To start with, he’s an alien. Hard to trust an alien after that ‘How to Serve Man’ episode of Twilight Zone. Secondly, he’s a goody-two-shoes. I like my heroes flawed, something to relate to, a little bad boy to muddy the waters a bit. And last, but not least, he’s got super strength, x-ray vision, freezer breath, he can fly… he can even turn back time.
Bad guy lights some dynamite, no problem, Superman can just exhale on the fuse. Something fishy going on in that warehouse? No problem, Superman just takes a look with those x-ray peepers. Missile aimed at the White House? No problem, Superman flies up to meet it and uses his super muscles to punch it out of the atmosphere. And if he happens to be running late, no problem, he can just fly around the world really fast and turn back time. Bored yet?
To my kids, having lots of powers seems like a good thing, but if his only weakness is Kryptonite, wouldn’t every storyline have to revolve around the green rock? I have no idea how they managed to write issue after issue of comic books for that guy.
I gave the characters in my fantasy novel one, maybe two magic powers, tops. For one thing, my wee brain can only keep track of so much, so keeping it simple kept me sane. For another, limiting their powers meant problems and conflict that could not be solved quickly and easily. And isn’t that what makes for compelling reading? Conflict and problems?
She can only transform into the trees if she’s naked, it’s difficult for him to sort through the onslaught of thoughts that bombards him in public, and he needs lots of food and rest after becoming a hawk. Problems galore. Plenty of plot-filling fodder.
Even with all of my magical limitations, however, I sometimes find I have written myself into a corner. If he can fly, why is he sticking around to get caught? If he can read minds, wouldn’t he know that already? If she can manipulate his will, why not make him turn all his power over first thing?
With great power comes great difficulty in keeping the conflict going. But in the end, I find it easier to deal with the difficulties associated with magic powers than the difficulties associated with modern conveniences. Cell phones, the Internet, and endless modes of transportation make novels with contemporary settings as challenging to write as a new Superman storyline. It can be done, but it takes a lot of creativity and is often a bit of a stretch.