Metaphorically speaking, anyway. I wrote how, after a long hiatus with comics, I got my hands on a copy of the Squirrel Girl Volume 1 tradeback (“Squirrel Power”) and how much I enjoyed it. So I decided to see what else was out there. In fact, I got so many tradebacks my friend D suggested I just get a subscription because it would be cheaper. I countered that a subscription would let Marvel Comics think I wanted to partake of all their offerings, whereas tradebacks show Marvel Comics what I actually want. Sure, it’s more expensive, but sometimes the extra expense is worth it. Anyway, I’m on a bit of a female superhero kick lately, so here’s what I decided to get:
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.
Ambush Bug: Hello! I am your official DC Universe meta-observer, but my powers are such I can see other universes, like the Marvel Universe. And my debate partner for the evening is the official Marvel Universe meta-observer, Deadpool!
Ambush Bug: What are you doing? We have a thing to do.
Deadpool: Just finishing up my latest “Golden Girls” slash fic masterpiece. Oh, Blanche, you are soooo naughty.
Ambush Bug: Urg. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little at the thought.
Deadpool: Right, so why are we risking copyright violation again?
Ambush Bug: Well, the whole A vs X storyline we were brought in to comment on originally has finished up. At least the main storyline.
Deadpool: You mean in the May blog, “A Comic Book Entry – A vs X: A Meta-Perspective?”
Ambush Bug: Yes, and the blogger thanks you for plugging the full title.
Deadpool: Why doesn’t the pronoun-avoiding blogger give their own darn perspective on this and leave me to my fantasies… Oh, Blanche…
Ambush Bug: Urg. Well, the blogger figured that yet another sarcastic rant on this storyline might come across as whiny and unfunny for readers, so we’ve been brought on to deliver the essence of that same rant in a format that will hopefully be actually funny for readers, or at least more palatable.
Deadpool: So we’re doing the blogger’s dirty work? Well, I can get behind that. It’s kind of what I do. If by ‘dirty work’ you mean killing people. That’s what you mean, right?
Ambush Bug: No! I mean making snarky remarks.
Deadpool: That’s the other thing I do! Usually while killing people!
Ambush Bug: Wade, focus.
Deadpool: Right Bug! We’re going to deliver bad news in a good way.
Ambush Bug: Yes, exactly. You’re referencing Mel Brooks again, aren’t you?
Deadpool: The guy said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into a sewer and die.” What’s not to love?
Ambush Bug: Fair point. So, let’s deliver bad news in a good way.
Deadpool: You go first.
Ambush Bug: You have no idea how the storyline ended, do you?
Deadpool: Not a clue. Didn’t really concern me, you know.
Deadpool: Or you could tell me.
Ambush Bug: I will explain. No, that will take too long; I will sum up.
Deadpool: Happy belated birthday, The Princess Bride!
Ambush Bug: The Avengers tried to kill the force of life in the universe which didn’t work…
Deadpool: Well, that’s a shocking revelation. Life is hard to kill. Who knew? Also, Death is like totally hot.
Ambush Bug: …and it possessed the nearest five X-men…
Deadpool: Does that include Namor? When did he turn into a mutant? He’s a freak in a bikini but that doesn’t mean he was always a mutant. I mean, if he’s a mutant why can’t I be a mutant? I’ve already got an X costume and it’s way better than his stupid bikini.
Ambush Bug: Wade, this isn’t about you.
Deadpool: Fine. Oh, and did Emma Frost start taking over people’s minds and stuff?
Ambush Bug: That’s really beside the main plot, but yes, why?
Ambush Bug: Um, she’s a hero.
Deadpool: Riiiight. And I’m an Avenger.
Ambush Bug: Anyway, as I was saying, the Phoenix possessed the nearest five X-men who the Avengers picked off one by one consolidating the Phoenix Force in Cyclops who turned into Dark Phoenix and was ultimately stopped by the combination of the Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers, who ended up temporarily possessed by Phoenix, who basically wished the Phoenix away but not before Hope restored the mutant population.
Deadpool: They just wished away the Phoenix? Like, “I wish you’d go away now?”
Ambush Bug: Well, there was more to it, but yeah, basically that.
Deadpool: That seems kind of lame.
Ambush Bug: Agreed.
Deadpool: Hey, wait a minute. They undid that whole “House of M” no more mutants thing?
Ambush Bug: Yep.
Deadpool: Do you know what that means?!
Ambush Bug: I find myself curiously reluctant to say no, but no.
Deadpool: I called it! I called it! I called it! I called it!
Ambush Bug: Um, what?
Deadpool: Back in our original blog entry. Look it up! I called it I called it! Go me! I’m awesome!
Ambush Bug: That is a really disturbing victory dance.
Deadpool: Thanks! I called it I called it!
Ambush Bug: Ok, I just re-read that entry but technically I called the ending. I said it was just going to be an out for the no more mutants thing. You agreed, but I called it.
Deadpool: …We called it! We called it! We’re awesome! The story was lame!
Ambush Bug: Ok, fine, we’ll go from there. So, yes, way back in May when this storyline started I predicted and Wade agreed this was nothing more than a negation of the “House of M” storyline that reduced the mutant population to less than 200 and that by the end of the story the mutant population would be restored, and it was. Here’s the question – was this storyline specifically written to negate that, or was it really the result of “wouldn’t it be cool if the Avengers and X-men fought?”
Deadpool: Clearly because it would be cool. Especially when good guys fight and Wolverine gets hit in the face a lot!
Ambush Bug: Wolverine didn’t get hit in the face a lot.
Deadpool: Well that’s lame. But good guys got punched and that’s fun too.
Ambush Bug: And I argue it was a plot to negate the no more mutants sticking point when it became clear that wasn’t working out.
Deadpool: Wouldn’t it be cool!
Ambush Bug: Plot negation!
Deadpool: Wouldn’t it be cool!
Ambush Bug: Plot negation!
Deadpool: Tastes great!
Ambush Bug: Er, what?
Deadpool: Now you say, ‘Less filling!’
Ambush Bug: …No one is going to get that reference.
Squirrel Girl: Gentleman, and I use that term loosely with Wade here, may I interject?
Deadpool: No you may not!
Ambush Bug: Please, be our guest.
Deadpool: Aren’t you babysitting a baby Avenger or something?
Squirrel Girl: While my current incarnation is not nearly as much fun or meta-aware as previous incarnations, it does not prevent me from being fun and meta-aware in other venues. So, in short, shut up!
Ambush Bug: Please, what’s your theory?
Squirrel Girl: Hope Summers was a ringer to negate the no more mutants condition from the moment she was introduced at the end of the fall-out of the very storyline that created the no more mutants condition.
Ambush Bug: That’s astoundingly cynical.
Deadpool: And crazy.
Squirrel Girl: Hear me out. Hope Summers was introduced as the first mutant born after the House of M. Her powers have always been ill-defined although if she is truly a Summers, her potential is off the power scale. Unlike previous storylines that state all Summers’ will be power batteries, she seems to be a power imitator and what’s more can active latent mutations in others. So, her power is to essentially undo the no more mutants thing one mutant at a time.
Ambush Bug: Yes, but that doesn’t mean she was always going to negate the whole storyline.
Squirrel Girl: No, not necessarily. But because her powers were never very well defined, and because she was a Summers, that possibility was always there.
Deadpool: Oh, the Claremont Clause. Always leave dangling plot threads in case you need them to re-write the universe. So you’re saying cool didn’t come into it?
Squirrel Girl: Oh, no, I think “wouldn’t it be cool if” is how the Phoenix aspect got involved. Considering the Scarlet Witch re-wrote reality on her own during the House of M, they didn’t need the Phoenix to give her and Hope a power boost to do the same. Using the Phoenix also goes against almost all the existing of the history, especially considering Rachel Grey/Summers was on the X-men the whole damn time, so why else would they bring in the Phoenix except they thought it was cool to do another quasi-Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Saga?
Ambush Bug: And the whole bit with Kun’lun and the ancient Phoenix?
Squirrel Girl: Kung fu is cool? They wanted to make Iron Fist seem more relevant? I really don’t have an answer to that.
Ambush Bug: That’s fair.
Deadpool: I really hate to admit it, but she makes a good point. A really, really cynical point.
Squirrel Girl: Right. It means that nothing we do ever really matters because the minute the world-shattering plot touted as “changing everything” becomes narratively inconvenient, the creative team just negates the plot or retcons it.
Ambush Bug: Or reboots the whole universe.
Deadpool: That seems like overkill. And usually I’m a big fan of overkill. Ask anyone!
Squirrel Girl: Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you about those reboots. Why do they keep bringing up events that aren’t supposed to have happened? Do you even exist anymore?
Deadpool: I had a thought…
Ambush Bug: DC’s idea of a reboot is for another rant. This seems like kind of a downer way to end the blog. It’s all so cynical.
Deadpool: So here’s my thought… If nothing ever changes, ever, doesn’t that mean I can do anything I want with no consequences?
Squirrel Girl: NO!
Ambush Bug: NO!
Deadpool: Aw, yeah, this is going to be awesome! Laters!
Ambush Bug: You should go stop him or something.
Squirrel Girl: Hey, what about you?
Ambush Bug: Um, not my universe.
Squirrel Girl: Typical. Tippy Toe, Monkey Joe, let’s go stop Wade.
Tippy Toe: Squeak squeak squeaker squeaken.
Squirrel Girl: You’re right. We’ll take his guitar hostage first. So I guess that wraps up this blog. Later, all!
This is one of those shows that I watched when I was younger (I realize I may be showing my age) without realizing how terrible it really was. Later, in re-runs, I came to that realization in spades. “Saved by the Bell” actually started as a show called, “Good Morning Miss Bliss,” which focused on a middle school teacher in the Midwest and the wacky kids she was teaching. The characters of Zack Morris and Samuel “Screech” Powers were part of the cast. For whatever reason, the show was re-tooled in the next season to star a bunch of high school kids at a trendy California high school called Bayside. Zack and Screech made the jump to the next series, which is what most people remember. There was also a short run in college which didn’t last very long for various reasons (mostly that it was even worse than the high school series).
The show featured mainly the following characters:
Zack Morris– he’s the preppie kid who could do the work required of him if he applied himself to it but prefers to think of crazy schemes to get out of the work, which of course end up more work than just doing the work straight out.
Albert Clifford “AC” Slater – a token hispanic minority and dumb jock wrestler. In the beginning he did not like Zack and even after they become friends he often competes with Zack (even disparagingly calling him “preppie” [which, in fairness, he was]).
Samuel “Screech” Powers – the spastic scapegoat of the group whom one assumes is allowed to hang out with the obviously cooler kids for reasons that are never actually explained.
Jessica “Jesse” Spano– the tall, gangly smart girl who is in fact Zack’s longtime friend.
Lisa Tuttle – the cool, token black minority girly-girl more concerned with popularity than grades.
Kelly Kapowski – the new, peppy girl that Zach and AC spend a lot of time competing over.
Mr. Belding – the hapless, clueless but well-meaning principal.
Most of the adventures start with the trite plot hooks that almost all high school sitcoms have – interschool contests or intraschool contests being the biggest. The wacky hijacks start when Zack (who is the main character among main characters) comes up with a crazy scheme to get the prize/girl/whatever. Zack is even allowed to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Screech is either the willing but incompetent or the easily manipulated minion who can be counted on in both cases to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong moment and jeopardize Zack’s plan. AC and the girls, especially Jesse, are either in on the plan or trying to foil Zack’s plan. Mr. Belding was almost always being bypassed or otherwise manipulated in these schemes. As the series went on, Zack’s crazy schemes became a little less about what he wanted and a little more about his misguided attempts to help out his friends. The writers also started putting in more obvious moral messages (don’t do drugs, stay in school, etc.). Eventually Zack starts dating Kelly, AC starts dating Jesse although it’s obviously a bad match and they do nothing but fight, and Screech pines for Lisa, who is well aware of Screech’s feelings but won’t go out with a spastic moron.
Good points – Zack and Jesse have an established history as childhood friends. And this is one of the few shows I’ve seen in which a pair with this history does not end up dating. There is an episode in which they land lead roles in the school play that has a kissing scene, leading them to reconsider the standing of their friendship and of course leading to dramatic misunderstandings with AC and Kelly, whom they are dating at the time. But ultimately they decide they are just good friends, and all is resolved happily. Screech obviously pines for Lisa and ineptly tries to win her over, and Lisa does take advantage of his affection while berating him for his futile efforts, but she does not ever go out with him. She occasionally is nice to him, but again this is one of the few shows I’ve seen where this pair of stereotypes (beauty and the geek) do not end up dating.
Bad points – pretty much all the rest, but this is a discussion of those bad points beyond what is typical of this kind of sitcom (not stellar acting, shallow stories, heavy-handed morals, etc.). Most of the extra bad points are due to the character of Zack. He is the main character and is supposed to come across as a loveable scamp or dashing rogue. He’s the boy who’s just bad enough for all the girls to want him but not bad enough to be overtly dangerous. Except he’s not loveable. He came across to me as a selfish, spoiled kid who expertly manipulated his friends and enemies alike to get what he wanted. Even his misguided attempts to help his friends still involved manipulating them. Often he had to apologize in those cases, but he didn’t change his behavior. He was a jerk. A charming jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. There was also an episode in which the gang is discussing their SAT scores and Zack had a 1500, while Jesse (the established brain) had only a 1250. SAT scores are their own rant, but the point is that the SAT isn’t an IQ test, it’s a test of what students have learned in school. I don’t care how intelligent Zack may be, if he wasn’t paying attention in classes, he would not have done well on the SAT. His behavior in the college years is even worse and he mostly uses his charming scheming to get girls, although he has no interest in long-term relationships. One of his recent conquests laments to him, “You collect girls like baseball cards.” Normally I like meta-characters, and in theory Zack’s pausing time and breaking the fourth wall should have been enduring, but usually he only paused time to make smug comments about his own awesomeness. In updated slang terms, he was kind of a douche-bag.
Screech also wasn’t a great character. I don’t remember if Zack and Screech were longtime friends (although Screech was present in the junior high episodes) but it came out in one episode that Screech isn’t even that good in school. In that same episode of SAT scores, Screech had maybe an 1100, which is barely above average. I never really understood why kids so obviously cooler than Screech allowed him to stay in their group unless he provided some use to them, such as Zack copying his homework from Screech (if not tricking him into doing it outright). Screech may have had value as a minion, but it becomes clear that he’ll screw up the plan which reduces his value as a minion. As the show went on, the writers made Screech more and more spastic and stupid until he was almost nothing more than a walking excuse for slapstick.
Other bad points – AC and Jesse’s dating was also not good. She came off as a shrew, and he came off as a bumbling chaveanistic he-man. They fought nearly every episode and finally broke up before the “summer break” season. Mr. Belding was perhaps the worst principal in the history of schools. He was personally manipulated by Zack several times and never disciplined him in any way. He never even gave any of the kids detention. Some of the crazy schemes were borderline illegal and yet these acts are clearly never reported to the parents.
Mostly though the problem was Zack. He was not likeable. He was a manipulative jerk who was always forgiven by his friends when his plans went wrong and rewarded when his plans went well. I’m not sure what that says about the attitude of the 1980s that portrayed such a preppie jerk as a hero. Or maybe that perfectly incapsulates a LOT about the ’80s.