Around the turn of the century (a phrase that I dearly love to say), I found myself engaged in “e-fedding,” a collective writing process where wrestling fans would create shared narratives of their own self-created wrestlers.  Thanks to the revolutionary computing power of the N64 (SIXTY-FOUR BITS OF IMAGE-MAKING POWER!) we could even trade the specific builds and movesets of our guys back and forth over the nascent intarwebz, all the better to simulate character combat and “prove” that our guys were the best.  And, of course, EVERYONE wanted to run the character with the unbeaten streak, an unstoppable force like the legendary Undertaker, but nobody wanted to actually lay the groundwork to make such a character work.  (Moreover, nobody wanted to be the guy who LOST to the unstoppable force, causing for some issues in match formulation for the writing staff.)  I am always reminded of this when I read late-90s-era Batman comics, where it seems that the expectation is that Batman should always be one-step ahead of everyone, but it’s a characterization problem that plagues everyone from Dilton Doily to Brainiac Five to Morgan Freeman’s character in the Nolan Batman movies: An infallible character can easily become a dull character, or worse, a strident jackwagon whose entire raison d’être is “I told you so!”

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always “misquoted”) doesn’t think Marvel fans should get a ‘bye’ on this either, as Captain America often falls into the same character trap, asking:  CAN an unstoppable/infallible character be interesting?  (Examples, please!)

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

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.

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11 Comments

  1. SmarkingOut Adam
    March 27, 2013 at 11:50 am — Reply

    I ran an e-Fed for 10 years! I loved it! We used the unstoppable character numerous times, but my group knew that each time it would be limited and was building to something. The unstoppable guy was eventually going to be stopped and in some cool way. In wrestling that is still scripted but actually acted out on television, characters that go on unstoppable streaks grab attention if done well. Goldberg is the obvious reference, but the one I tend to think of is a few different times they have done this with Kane, both as a face and as a heel. I have liked him in either capacity. It’s harder in comics. The reason Kane could be interesting as an unstoppable face was he wasn’t the highest on the card. You could send him out for an exciting 3 minutes of destruction. You could laugh at some joker getting wiped out, then move on. Not since the Ultimate Warrior could you do that in the main event regularly. In comics, you can’t sell a book on “this guy/girl never loses and they destroy everyone really fast.” There are no stakes. This has been my problem with much of the DC universe and why I have gravitated to Marvel. Not that they don’t have characters with the same issues–just when I was getting into comics, the iconic characters from each universe pointed me to Marvel. Superman was a god-being that was completely unstoppable. Spider-Man struggled to get home on time and hide his costume from his aunt and got beat up a lot.

    • alvarlux
      March 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm — Reply

      My brother ran an E-fed that I’d regularly join in.

      Those were good days… back when “free time” was still a thing I had

  2. March 27, 2013 at 12:01 pm — Reply

    Ah….the days when wrestling was fun to watch. Oh…right, the question: Now, are we talking unstoppable or infallible? Because “Irredeemable” certainly had an “Unstoppable” character but he was far from infallible. Superman? Poor Kal-el has turned into the most woeful emo boy I’ve ever seen and I haven’t picked up a Superman comic other than Action Comics 1 in the entire 52 series. Even the Phantom Stranger who was great as a “deus ex machna” in stories is now Judas Iscariot and one of the most CONFUSING characters EVER. Batman’s just a raging schmuck that keeps having sidekicks and relatives die…then come back…then die…then etc..

    So based on what I call the “John Cena Syndrome” (can’t be booked to lose or turn) my answer would be “NO”.

    • SmarkingOut Adam
      March 27, 2013 at 12:12 pm — Reply

      John Cena is the perfect example of why an unstoppable face is super troublesome.

  3. March 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm — Reply

    No. If it’s a major character, the writer is stuck with an inability to create dramatic tension. Worse, and more likely, you wind up with a “mostly unstoppable” and either create weird weaknesses (a la Superman) or even MORE unstoppable foes who create future problems.

  4. Allen
    March 27, 2013 at 3:13 pm — Reply

    I’ve always thought Sherlock Holmes was this type of character and I found him interesting. I remember Larry Niven discussing how difficult it was to write a character that was smarter than the writer.

  5. AllenBT
    March 27, 2013 at 5:11 pm — Reply

    Since you brought up the late 90’s era Batman in your preamble, I feel compelled to try to use him as an example of the unstoppable/infallible character and how he can be made interesting through the creation of dramatic tension. The secret to making him interesting was challenging him outside his comfort zone.

    If you recall that era’s best stories, that Batman used preparation, deductive reasoning and logical analysis to great effect. But when confronted with illogical situations, he was deeply challenged. That made for great stories.

    Its no accident that that era begat Gotham’s reputation in story and out, as a congregating place for the criminally insane. In story, Batman simple eliminated all the logical bank robbers, or made them so afraid/cowardly and superstitious as to serious depress the conventional crime level. On the meta level, writers quickly gravitated to a rogues gallery of increasing insane, if innovative foils for the Batman.

    In fact even beginning earlier in the mid-80’s and early 90’s you some terrific villains including Victor Zsasz, The Ventriloquist, Anarky, and Harley Quinn all debuting. And you had a revitalized Joker that was truly frightening when writers ampted up the his insanity quotient.

    Even the challenges other heroes presented hinged on an illogical or emotional component. Think of the most entertaining hero v. hero relationship Batman had in that era…Guy Gardner, the most emotional and emotionally immature member of the JLI. Those stories were both perfectly in character and side splittingly funny.

    As long as you can challenge your infallible character with an oblique attack, you can keep his story interesting. Even if your hero ends up being the most boring part of the tale.

  6. March 27, 2013 at 7:31 pm — Reply

    Yes, see Doctor Manhattan.

    • gary
      March 28, 2013 at 8:18 am — Reply

      I would argue that he was definitely flawed… Not in terms of power but in terms of character

  7. March 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm — Reply

    The problem is that the more unstoppable the heroes, the more you have to escalte the threat, until just about every storyline has them saving the universe or the timeline or reality itself.

  8. gary
    March 28, 2013 at 8:21 am — Reply

    The recent media phenomenon around the Miami Heat is a good example… People get infatuated by a long streak of greatness, but there has to be a real threat of failure there for it to really matter. If the Heat were playing against the D league then no one would care. So if it’s done well it can be very intriguing, but getting that balance between greatness and infallibility is very difficult.

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