August 16, 2012

Capes, Cowls, and Credibility: a round table discussion with the authors of Corrupts Absolutely

Here's our second round table discussion with the boys and girls behind Corrupts Absolutely? I already offered a brief roll call of our contributors, so there's no need to be redundant. Just go have a look at yesterday's round table, where you'll find out a little bit about each author, as well as links to their websites and blogs. Now, onto the topics.

Considering how people behave with mundane power, do you believe the old adage, with great power comes great responsibility, translates well to superheroes? Do you think there is more accurate axiom that could be said of superheroes?

Cat Rambo: I think it absolutely translates well. Because if they're not doing that, then they're supervillains, not heroes.

Jeff Strand: The best axion would be: "It's not always necessary to destroy so much stuff while you're battling supervillains. It's not like the economy is in fantastic shape right now, so if you could avoid throwing Doctor Destructorium into the side of an expensive building, it would be appreciated."

Lee Mather: Yes, I think it translates well. If they weren't responsible then we would be in serious trouble. In essence, they're the older brother, the policemen, the government. Because they're so much stronger than us, we have to trust in them. Whether I believe in the reality of the axiom though is another story… plus the adage "with great power comes an opportunity to oppress the little guy," doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Karian Fabian: How about results may vary? Each person reacts differently. Consider winning the lottery: Some will use the money responsibly and benefit themselves and others; others will blow it in an orgy of spending and end up back where they started—or worse. Some people handle fame with grace and are an inspiration—others seem to live to be tabloid fodder. If you enhance a person, you still have the basic person, and that will determine what they do with their enhancements.

Wayne Helge: I think it all depends on how the hero comes into the powers. If you have Spider-man growing strong and agile overnight, he's going to abuse it because he doesn't know how to handle it. If you have Bruce Wayne training for years and years, adapting his life, his mental process, his behaviors; he's going to adjust as he goes and be ready to manage his abilities once he realizes he could wipe the floor with a room full of tough guys. What's the axiom? Jack White probably said it best (albeit in an entirely different context) when he said, "steady as she goes."

Tim Marquitz: I think the adage presumes a morality that is rare in modern times. I believe super-beings in the current age would be far more selfish, far more mercenary in the use of their power than those of the 20’s, 50’s. There would be exceptions, of course, but I think real super powered beings would imitate the comics where more and more are becoming anti-heroes.

A more appropriate adage would be the one Corrupts Absolutely? asks. Does power corrupt? I believe so.

Kris Ashton: I think Stan Lee nailed the essence of superheroes with that line. It even applies to The Punisher and Batman, who aren’t meta-humans as such. When you have a power others don’t, how you use that power defines you.

William Rose: I believe that adage is a good guiding principal. It's an ideal which should be strove for, but usually isn't.

Ed Erdelac: I think Lincoln hit the nail on the head using the absolute power quote for this book. But in the ideal world of superheroes as it has been established, I like 'Power has only one duty -- to secure the social welfare of the People.' - Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil. That's the kind of quote Captain Ameria could get behind, I think.

Jason M. Tucker: Uncle Ben was right. With great power comes great responsibility for damned sure, but even Spiderman had trouble with that in the beginning. He let the thief who ended up killing Uncle Ben slip past him. Talk about instant karma. Even though the adage is apt, it’s not something that I believe would enter the mind of most who developed superpowers. Unfortunately, I think the world would become a might is right kind of place. More than it already is. Power would very likely breed more corruption.

Wayne Ligon: I think that phrase, "with great power comes great responsibility," should be carved on every courthouse and statehouse in the land. If Stan Lee could be considered to have done anything truly great, it was distilling that phrase out of the human consciousness. I do believe in it. It is, like most high ideals, a goal to strive for instead of an everyday reality. You can tell tons of interesting stories about heroes that reach for it and fail AND heroes that reach for it and succeed, if only for a brief time.

Which superhero do you find to be the most implausible in terms of their behavior with relation to their abilities?

Cat Rambo: Superman. I think he'd be a much much colder fish than he's ever portrayed, and much more like Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore's Watchmen than anyone might think.

Jeff Strand: I always felt that Underdog should have been angrier at the injustice suffered by house pets. He never seemed to care that much that dogs were on humiliating leashes and forced to eat the same gross food every day. I'm not sure this completely addresses the question you asked, but everybody else took the good answers.

Lee Mather: There are two – (ironically, two of my favourites) that don't stand up well in terms of plausibility. The first is Batman. Surely with so much wealth you would just invest in an army of vigilantes and get them to do all the dirty work while you sit back with a beer? Secondly, it has to be the Hulk. The whole point of him is that he is rage / the ID personified, so there should be no morality sneaking into his actions. I'd like to see him pull the legs off someone who cut him up in traffic, for example.

Karina Fabian: I have to go with William and Wayne—the comic book industry has reinvented our heroes so often that it’s hard to say which is implausible. You’d have to pick an iteration. I will say this, however: I’m disappointed in the trend of remaking superheroes into something against their original writing just to fit a political or social agenda. Make a new hero if you want to do that, and have him or her fit in smoothly. Save the slash for fan fiction, in particular.

Wayne Helge: Sad to say, but Spider-man's history of peer torture at the hands of Flash Thompson should have left him scarred and ready to abuse his new-found powers . It's sort of like winning the lottery. On the day after Uncle Ben's murder, I think he would have kicked the shit out of a lot of bullies. And it would have ruined him. But, on the up-side, it would have saved us from the dance scene in Spider-Man 3. I think.

Tim Marquitz: I always found Superman to be unbelievable. Maybe I’m just a horribly flawed person, but being more powerful than damn near everybody is a temptation I couldn’t pass up. There are way too many opportunities for personal satisfaction that I just can’t see Superman passing them up and always fighting the good fight.

I kind of see Hancock as a more realistic version of Superman. It’s easy to be flawed when everything comes to you so easily.

Kris Ashton: Wonder Woman would have to be up there: I’ve never bought the premise of her character on any level. Plausibility was something comic book writers had to tackle as their audiences became more sophisticated in the 1980s. They now have it down to a fine art.

William Rose: That's a tough question to answer, mainly because we now have so many different variations of the same hero from which to choose. And there are some heroes I dislike so much that when I consider them I really have to wonder if I'm being fair and balanced. Is this really implausible? Or do I just think that hero is kind of lame? So I think I'll have to take a pass on this question.

Ed Erdelac: I hate to say Superman, as it seems easy. To be raised by humans and yet inherit none of their prejudices, to be all-powerful and a total humanitarian. That would be great if there was such a person, wouldn't it? I love Superman. But I'm a Catholic, so I was raised to believe that's possible. Batman is pretty implausible too, though if you think about it. He's a 1 percent-er, and how many mega-rich folks would take the time to leave a note if they knocked off your rearview with their Maserati, let alone spend their nights protecting single mothers taking ill-advised shortcuts through back alleys? These are the two most popular guys DC has though for a reason. Because that's the kind of hero people would like to be out there....a guy from humble beginnings who is empowered and does the right thing, or a privileged guy who looks out for his fellow man. Batman is Jesus for atheists.

Jason M. Tucker: As much as I love the character of Superman, someone who has that much power would be very dangerous. How could one man be that good, standing for Truth, Justice, and the American Way all the time? Perhaps aliens don’t have the same strata of emotions that humans do, because you would imagine that all it would take was one little meltdown for Superman and the entire world would be screwed. With all that power, the folks in the DC Universe best thank their lucky stars that Supes was found by the Kent family rather than, say, the Manson Family. Now, there’s a story idea.

Wayne Ligon: None, really. Most superheroes we know are a product of multiple writers over a long period of time and not all writers are created equal. Any superhero can be written well and any superhero can be written poorly or mishandled.
Usually when people raise this question, Superman is the first character that comes to mind. So, I'll use him as an example.

Some have risen to the challenge of writing interesting stories for Superman while others have let themselves get blindsided by minutia. They look at, say, the vast array of abilities Superman has and think ‘there’s no way I can create any real tension here; he can solve any problem I could possibly pose’. That writer isn’t looking at the character of Superman, he’s looking at a laundry list of abilities, which is the wrong way to approach any character. It’s reminiscent of people thinking that, for instance, rich people have no problems. Of course they do. They have different types and kinds of problems than most, and they still have all the problems that come from being a human being. Writers that think Superman is not a very human being are completely missing the point.

If there was a time that really brought this home, it was the end of the Silver Age. You had writers artificially shackled by The Comics Code who had little choice near the end but to continually resort to self-parody or nonsense stories in order to create any hope of tension, because the Code prevented them from portraying superheroes and the world they lived in with anything approaching reality. I’m not a big proponent for superheroes being totally realistic; but a healthy dash of reality and a good helping of verisimilitude help to add enough of a grounding that it once more becomes possible to tell good stories and still keep almost all of the ‘tropes’ intact at the same time.

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