A Comic Book Entry: Meta-Powers

So I started thinking about superpowers many characters exhibit that are so underrated they are hardly recognized as superpowers (“Underrated Superpowers“).  I thought of just a few at that time, but my brain spins like a hamster in a wheel and I came up with some more.  I realized some underrated powers are powers within the context of the world, but some underrated powers are actually meta-powers.  By meta-powers I mean that the way such characters are written endows them with the semblance of a superpower even if they have absolutely no powers within the world.

1) Meta-Power – Irreplaceable Plot-Device

This is a power possessed by generally ordinary people within the hero’s circle of family/friends/loved ones that is always there, sometimes ignored, and has featured in more than a few story arcs, usually as a hostage.  In such situations, the character is utterly (or nearly) useless to save themselves in any way.  And yet a character with this power is virtually immortal.  Neither villains nor writers seem to have the ability to kill a character with this power permanently.  Remember, these characters are in all other respects entirely (or nearly entirely) ordinary people.  Prime examples include Aunt May and Jimmy Olsen.

2) Meta-Power – Writer’s Favorite

I was going to call this “Fan Favorite” but I realized most writers are fans so it’s the same thing.  This is a fleeting power, however, and is gained and lost at a whim of the editors.  Basically a character with this power is somehow the center of every story arc, even if the story is supposed to feature a team.  In extreme examples, a character ends up the center of story arcs they aren’t really a part of.  And despite all limitations on a character as established by past history, the character will always always save the day.  Poster children for this power are, of course, Batman and Wolverine.

3) Meta-Power – Cult Following

The toned down version of “Writer’s Favorite” because usually only more obscure characters have this power.  That’s not to say, however, that a character with this power can’t acquire the Writer’s Favorite power.  Characters with this power tend to have powers within the world that are not very flashy or sometimes even useful, if they are lucky enough to have powers at all.  But despite these limitations, when a character is pitted against a villain who quite honestly should defeat them without half-trying, the character manages to not only survive, but defeat the villain.  An example would be Squirrel Girl.

4) Meta-Power – Drama Points

I’m taking the title of this one from a RPG called “Exalted.”  The idea of Exalted was to create a table-top game that imitated the feel of the “Dynasty Warriors” video game series or movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  Characters had skills, powers, talents, and all the usual RPG statistics but also had drama points.  Drama points were spent in order for a character to perform a stunt.  This stunt was an action that the character may not technically according to their stats be able to succeed at but would be totally awesome if they could pull it off.  So the player spent the drama point and described the action in as much detail as possible then rolled the dice to check for success.  The character can’t match the stunt unless they have more drama points.  The same principle holds for comic characters.  An example of this power is when Cyclops can suddenly perform complex geometric calculations in his head in order to shoot a bad guy on the far side of the room.  Or when Batman has to bounce his batarang off of several objects while blindfolded to hit the target based solely on his mental picture of the room before they blinded him.  Batman is a very common recipient of this power.

5) Meta-power – Deus ex Machina

Characters with this meta-power tend to have rather poorly defined powers/skills/talents/knowledge to begin with.  When the character or character’s team is in dire straits and there is no way out, suddenly the character has the power/skill/talent/knowledge to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  This is not the same as drama points.  Unlike the stunts pulled off during the use of drama points, characters may be able to use their new powers/skills/talents/knowledge in the future.  Or they may not, but it is generally acknowledged they always have this potential.  The other difference between this and the drama points power is that the power/skill/talent/knowledge is completely out of their reach based on the normal powers/skills/talents/knowledge they exhibit.  If this happens once, the character does not have this power (i.e, Emma Frost and her diamond armor).  For this to truly be a power, it has to be a defining feature of the character.  Anyone whose powers are the result of tapping into some kind of energy made up by the writers (Speedforce, Darkforce) or regularly utilizes magic may have this power as well.  DC examples are Wonder Woman and the Flash.  Marvel examples are Phoenix, Cable, Nate Grey, Hope Summers, the Scarlet Witch, Layla Miller, the Incredible Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Franklin Richards…actually I’d better just stop here.  I didn’t even get into any of the bad guys in Marvel.

I’m sure more meta-powers will come to mind the more I think about this.  And I’ll blog about it when they do.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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