First of all, I can’t help but wonder what has got Bulletman and Bulletgirl so spooked.  Probably something involving wire hangers or some such…  Either way, a recent viewing of the Batman: Brave & The Bold episode entitled “Joker: Vile & The Villainous” got me to thinking about the nature of what I call “The Conceptual Hero.”  For example, Spider-Man’s combo platter of powers don’t really make sense unless you’re trying to roughly emulate the abilities of a spider who happens to be a low-grade psychic.  Most of Superman’s power-set makes sense as an extrapolation of the physical abilities of a human being, but why does he also have eyebeams?  (Answer: Because it looks cool.)  One would expect that a character named Bulletman would  fly at high speeds and crash through barriers and stuff, but you can’t immediately leap to that conclusion for some named Blue Beetle or Mister Fantastic.

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) is entertaining offers to join the Civic-Minded Five, asking: When discussing superhero powers, do you mind when a character has an inexplicable ability (spider-sense, heat vision, bat-shark repellant) or is it perfectly fine that, for instance, The Hulk has the completely inexplicable ability to see astral forms?


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Are you really asking if we want the completely unrealistic power sets of pretend hero character to make sense? Isn’t that a bit like asking if you want your illogic to be logical? :P Taken as a whole, I do prefer to have my fictional character to have abilities that make sense in the light of the narrative. Spider sense has never made sense (it that makes sense) because spiders don’t have psychic abilities – what they do have is eight eyes that enable them to leap out of the way as if they could sense danger. Powers granted by radiation don’t make sense because radiation doesn’t grant powers. If it’s strong enough to effect you it generally kills you outright. Superman’s heat vision and x-ray vision don’t make sense because eyeballs don’t radiate energy, no matter what planet you’re from. On the other hand, I appreciate Gandalf’s powers because they’re consistent with the character and the lore (Tolkien didn’t suddenly give him the ability to fly or shoot lasers from his eyes in order to get past a plot hole in the story). And in Game of Thrones, the priests that are raising people from the dead are eerie, and though this power isn’t yet explained in the novels, it’s consistent with the rules of the world they occupy. If Arya suddenly started pooping unicorns I would probably be most vexed and stop reading. One of the best comic books I’ve read for a plausible development of power sets is Courtney Crumrin, where she begins experimenting with magic and messes up badly, but gradually gains both skill and confidence. Thank you for recommending the Courtney Crumrin books. Alas, poor Courtney. She must smell awfully bad – because she has no nose!

  2. I don’t mind most of the time. The only thing that I’m not fond of is giving someone an ability for two seconds. They get the power just so they can beat that arc and then it goes away. seems like a cheat.

  3. I’ll flat out admit I’m a hypocrite when it comes to this sort of thing. Sometimes I’m willing to accept it because the power seems almost logical in some way, others I can’t stand it just because it seems too ridiculous to me. For instance, I’m perfectly willing to accept that a vampire can continue to exist when turned in to a puppet (an actual felt and stuffing puppet), but I have trouble accepting other vampires have glitter skin.

  4. It’s funny what will break my suspension of disbelief, flying alien guy-I’m in, works for a profitable newspaper-seems a bit unlikely.

  5. It all relates to the narrative. If it fits with the world thats created its all good. If not, then it takes me out of the story. Bat Shark Repellent might have been fine in the Batusirific 60’s, but if Batman whipped out a can of it in the new 52 it would throw off the story.

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