Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Power Levels

During the Silver Age of Comics, DC heroes strode the earth like demigods. Their powers were limitless and existed beyond mortal physics. Superman epitomized this. He was invulnerable to everything except kryptonite and magic. Nothing was beyond his strength (except the metal "inertron" which was not invented until the 30th century). He could melt anything (except lead) with a glance or freeze it with a puff of his super breath. He could see anything anywhere (unless lead was in the way). Using super hearing and super ventriloquism, he could hold conversations with people anywhere on the planet. He could fly faster than light and, if he spun at the same time, could go into the past or future. What's more, he was a genius inventor who built advanced robots that could pass for human.

The other DC heroes were not far behind. Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter had many of Superman's abilities. Green Lantern's ring could do anything as long as yellow was not involved. The Flash had to work a little harder but could do things like vibrate through solid objects.

Even non-powered heroes like Batman never met anyone they could not beat with their bare hands. The only trick was following some obvious clues to find the villain.

Contrast this with the Marvel heroes, especially the first few years. They were much weaker. The most powerful heroes, Thor and the Hulk, could not even fly. Thor needed his hammer and the Hulk jumped. There were things that even the Hulk could not break.

The Thing could only lift a few tons. The Human Torch's flame lasted around a half hour, less if he pushed it, then he had to rest. Cyclopes, the most powerful member of the X-Men, could move a few tons with his power beam but the effort left him weak or even unconscious. The same was true for Marvel Girl who collapsed after lifting a few hundred pounds. At 12 feet tall, Giant Man wasn't all that strong and was clumsy. He could grow larger but only for short times. His partner, the Wasp, was more of an irritant than a threat.

The most powerful heroes had built-in weaknesses. Thor lost his powers if he didn't hold his hammer. The Hulk changed back to a puny human. Iron Man constantly had to recharge his batteries. The Sub-Mariner grew weaker when he was out of water.

Even Daredevil had constant problems. He was a blind, costumed athlete with radar sense but power lines and other things confused his hypersenses. A guy dressed as a matador, or someone on stilts, or someone in a frog suit was enough to give him a challenge.

Then there is Spider-Man. He had superhuman strength but he usually fought people who were even stronger. Just a group of regular people was enough to give him a work-out. The trio, The Enforcers, fought him to a standstill more than once. They consisted of a cowboy with a lasso, a guy who knew martial arts, and a big strong guy.

While most of the Marvel heroes grew stronger during the late 1960s and 70s, Spider-Man grew weaker. Regular guys with a gimmick were enough to give Spider-Man a challenge.

The funny thing is that the Marvel heroes were a lot more interesting. There was never any question that Superman or Batman would win a fight. The plots were often structured so that they had to out think their foe. While admirable, it did not induce page-turning excitement like hand-to-hand combat with someone who is stronger.

Over the years the Marvel characters have gotten stronger and the DC characters a lot weaker. When they finally fought, the Marvel heroes came out on top.

At the same time the Marvel villains have gotten stronger so that the fights are still a challenge. Still, they do not seem as grounded as they used to.

No comments: