“The Superman Effect” Part 2
Last week we talked about the challenge of making god-powered characters interesting, and the mistaken assumption they are boring because nothing for them is challenging. I argued that’s only true in a one-dimensional story where all conflicts are resolved through violence. The second dimension I want to look at in regards to godlike characters is the interpersonal dimension it sets up with other characters: power isolates.
The case study I want to look at is an episode of Smallville. (Unfortunately I can’t remember which season or episode, but that’s not important). In the story, Clark Kent’s friend Pete has his mother threatened by criminals. Pete wants Clark to use his super powers to go after the guy who made the threat, possibly using preemptive violent force. Seeing how the bad guys haven’t actually done anything yet, and they don’t know Clark’s powers so that when Clark tells them to behave they don’t take him seriously, Pete is upset. Clark can’t be everywhere at all times, and he’s worried if Clark doesn’t do something preemptively, then they’ll get his mother first when Clark’s not around, and it will be too late.
And if that happens, then Pete will forever blame Clark for his mother’s death.
This story comes in the midst of the recurring Smallville theme of whether Clark should be keeping his powers secret from his friends or being honest with them. They all know something’s different, and they all sense he’s hiding something about himself. This continually sets up barriers to their friendship and disappointments as he’s obviously not honest with them. As each of the storylines leans towards the “should” of Clark being honest with his friends, this Pete storyline with the threatened mother ends up being an argument for “should” of keeping the secret. The bottom line with Pete’s character is that in this (and other episodes), he can’t handle knowing Clark’s secret. All he sees is the power, and a person who can just magically “solve anything” (which echo’s last week’s post). But, Clark isn’t a villain, and can’t just throw his strength around and force the people in his life (friend and foe) to behave the way he wants them so.
From a certain point of view, Clark’s powers isolate him from Pete once Pete learns about them. Pete treats him completely differently than before. In a way, considering wealth as a kind of power, this would be like winning the lotto. You’re an average Joe or Jane, and then one day your a multi-gajillionaire. Everyone wants something from you now. They can’t just see you as the person you still are; now they are always mindful that with a casual expenditure of funds that you wouldn’t miss, you could just solve all their problems. Right then and there. The wealth disparity is a form of power disparity, and power disparity isolates.
Ultimately, Clark Kent has to have a secret identity in order to have normal, human relationships and friendship. Superman just can’t, because Superman is a god.
While the characters in When Dragons Die are powerful, there are enough heroines and heroes that they do form a peer group of such, and are never quite faced with this question of isolation. However, I’m working on the prequel right now, Myth and Incarnation, about the rise of Aaron the God-King. Aaron ends up being the single most powerful living being in Ahmbren’s history, and I’ll definitely be looking at the concepts of how power can isolate a person from stabilizing friendships and social relationships.
And on that note, hope you all are having a great summer. Until next week,