Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Superpowers Don't Make The Man

Ape Entertainment's Bizarre New World: Population Explosion is a continuation of Skipper Martin and Christopher Provencher's intriguing comic book series exploring what would happen if people had superpowers in real life. And by the last page, the verdict seems to be: "superpowers alone don't make the man."

This brought me to the bigger question of what happens when superpowers are granted to an underachiever. I have heard this argument about Peter Parker: that he was very flawed when he received his powers, these flaws resulted in his uncle's death, and it was only after confronting tragedy that he really changed into something resembling a hero. But the powers themselves did not make him a hero, didn't magically transform his mind into something noble.

I think the most interesting superheroes are those who are so flawed -- whose own foibles and neuroses, selfishness or conflicts, are bigger adversaries to them than the super-villains they have to face.

What do you think? Who is your favorite flawed superhero?


  1. My favorite flawed hero is probably Booster Gold. I wanted to say Deadpool at first, but he's not exactly a hero.

  2. Hands down, Lew Martin from DC's Major Bummer book. It lasted only fifteen issues, and it remains one of my absolute favorites. It's protagonist is granted superpowers, which he uses primarily to scam free cable. It's the best.

  3. Adrian Monk was my favorite deeply flawed superhero until he fell into self-parody.

  4. Tie between Daredevil and Batman, Batman is probably more flawed, but Daredevil is more likable.

    P.S. The incredibly awesome Daredevil: Yellow mini-series probably contributes to my "more likable" viewpoint than anything else

  5. Was Peter really an underachiever, though? He was the consensus Smart Kid in the class, and he went on to college, not to mention a career in photojournalism. He was relatable, sure, but not exactly a layabout.

  6. Don't know if John Constantine counts.

    But Orion, as he constantly tries to prove he is not simply his father's son, yet always acts like his father's son. And I am sure he feels he is constantly being compared to Mister Miracle.

    Yeah, Orion is my favorite flawed hero.

  7. I'm gonna vote Deadpool. He did, after all, save the Earth once or twice. Also dig Tommy Monhagan, Garth Ennis' Hitman.

  8. Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil.

    Exactly as you said - it is the flaws that make the character so interesting.

    I really am enjoying Brubaker's take on the character. He is not only putting poor Matt through the wringer, but he is also showing us that Double-D, atty-at-law, is more than a little bit of an egoist who really does expect the world to bend to suit him.

    For all that, he is still a hero.

    That complexity of character keeps us turning the pages.

  9. I always thought Spidey was a jerk. Sure, he fights crime the day after his uncle dies in a botched burglery, but what about those babies that burned to death in a tenement fire the day before?
    Sometimes, flaws tend to highlight how big a jerk certain heroes really are.
    Also, the way Batman's been written these last few years, he comes across as a real dick. Does that count as a character flaw?

  10. Ashes beat me to it, but Booster Gold tops the list. Batman is a very close second.

  11. Orion. Easily the most messed up character in DC Comics. Son of the devil, raised in heaven, doomed to die in battle against his father and he's looking forward to it. He was definitely a hero in the classic sense of the word, as much feared for his battle prowess as revered for it. His story and his relationship with the other New Gods and his father was definitely the stuff of epic fantasy.

    Kirby is king.


  12. I think I'd have to say Rorschach from The Watchmen. Although it seems to me that the really interesting ones who do face those inner demons, end up as villains, more often than not.

  13. Is Jack Knight flawed enough for the purposes of this list? He's definitely not "heroic" in the Superman mold.

  14. Ussop from One Piece
    he`s a coward, he`s spirit is broken, lies a lot.
    But he makes up his lack of strength and powers (he`s weak even compared with a normal pirate) with cunning and determination.

  15. Anonymous6:52 AM

    I think Spider-Man is the archetype of the flawed hero and probably the purest example of it. (Batman's flaws didn't really surface until the 1970s.) I like that Peter was the kid who was always mocked, but when got powers, he started acting like a jerk too. When done right, Spidey is the most human of all superheroes. That's why I think the character is really so popular in the mainstream.

    I also think the Jack Knight Starman is a great flawed hero. When I reread the early issues, I was amazed by just how big of a jerk he was, and how much that character did change.

    Green Arrow (once Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams got ahold of him) is another great flawed character. Not so much that post-Grell womanizing. (Which I find is so overdone.) I like that his justifiable outrage at things is sabotaged by his anger. He blows up and people understandably ignore what he has to say. I like that they show he has a great social conscience, but is lousy at personal relationships. (Like how he handled Speedy's drug addiction.)


  16. I'm rather fond of the Irredeemable Ant-Man. If you can call him a hero.

    Manhunter is another flawed hero that I really enjoy.

  17. Well the "what would REALLY happen if a regular guy got superpowers" meme has been going for quite a while in no particular order my favorites:

    Samaritan from Astro City: He's basically the "real" superman, he's saving the world because he is constantly guilty and homesick for his real world, usually leaving no time for him to think about himself.

    Dr Manhattan from Watchmen: Even though he is a Captain Atom counterpart, he is clearly modeled after Super Man, as being the most powerful superhuman in the planet, helping out the "american way".

    It's my favorite, because it really shows how a real and inmortal super-man would rapidly feel disconnected from our reality and what we feel is important. Ends up becoming a god.

    Alan Moore's Miracleman: This one ends up recreating the entire world, and this is the kicker, for the better. Using his mind and powers to actually end the concept of money or countries. Thanks to McFarlane we'll never know how that arch ended.

    Special mentions goes to Kurt Busiek for his current run on Superman which has humanized him the most, making him more like a thoughtful demi-god.

  18. As much as everyone craps on the original New Universe, the pre-Byrne issues of Star Brand were the most "real-feeling" examples of "what if a regular joe got super-powers" that I can recall. He uses them to make his job easier, tries to impress some girls, and kind of half-assedly attempts to do "super-hero" stuff but can barely pull it off because he doesn't think it through.

    Brave New World is pretty damn awesome, too. (full disclosure: I'm also working on a book for Ape, but I'd say this even if I weren't).

  19. My favorite flawed superheroes are Jessica Jones and Kate Spencer Manhunter. If Jack Knight fits, as some people above think he does, then put him on my bill as well.

  20. I'm pissed someone mentioned Star Brand before me because yeah, that was some rock solid flawed hero writing.

  21. Anonymous8:10 PM

    I didn't mind some of those New Universe titles too. Wasn't Star Brand a bit of a Jim Shooter Mary-Sue -- the Legends parody implied that.

    Oh, and Matt Shepherd - are you formerly of the Eyeopener?