Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #32, and this week’s question is again about comic books and superheroes:
What are some of the most unique, creative uses of super powers that I’ve seen in comics or film?
There are lots of times when we see super-powers being used in a way that’s awesome, like when Spider-Man is stopping that train in Spider-Man 2 or when Captain America is sneaking onto that boat at the beginning of Winter Soldier. This post is not just about those times.
There are also lots of times when heroes are shown using powers in ways that are unique, but bizarre, like when Superman repairs the Great Wall of China with his vision in Superman IV. This post is not about that either.
Instead, I’m meant to be writing about times when heroes used their powers in ways that were unique and creative…in other words, not just random, but well thought out and interesting.
But I’m writing rapidly. My friend Rod gave me this question quite at the 11th hour, so it’s going to be very much an “off the top of my head” sort of thing, sharing some examples that fit the criteria, even if the actual comic or movie (or television show, I’m going to add) wasn’t all that great.
And speaking of “not all that great”:
Green Lantern (2011)
First up is the Green Lantern from from a few years ago. It was a pretty bad movie, but it had some nice moments of Hal Jordan making imaginative use of his ring. One of the big moments comes when Hal must save a crashing helicopter, and he does so by catching it in a giant Hot Wheels racing car, complete with play track to give the copter room to decelerate and eventually come to a halt. The moment was clearly set up earlier when Hal was seen briefly playing with a similar, but ordinary, racing car in his nephew’s bedroom. The movie is proof that it takes more than a good moment here or there to make a good movie.
Superman Returns (2006)
Another subpar superhero film is Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. It is nobody’s favorite superman film, but it does feature a few semi-majestic moments of the Man of Steel using his superpowers. One of the best comes when Superman faces off with a gunman armed with heavy artillery, shrugging off the ordinance with barely a hesitation. In desperation, the villain pulls out a handgun and shoots Superman point blank in the face…only for the bullet to crumple in slow motion against his eye. It was a great way to showcase the last son of Krypton’s familiar vulnerability.
Superman III (1984)
Speaking of Superman, there is also this groovy moment for the decidedly unspectacular Superman III, where Superman is dealing with a chemical fire that threatens the entire area. To quickly put it out, he flies to a lake, freezes it with his super-breath, and then picks up the entire thing and drops it on the fire! I know, it doesn’t really make sense, but it was creative, unique, and just kind of awesome.
The Incredibles (2004)
This movie is full of lots of cool feats of super-powered derring-do, but one of the cleverest in my mind is having Dash and Violet team up to make a kind of super-powered force-field hamster ball–created by Violet and powered by Dash’s running, to allow them to make their way across a dangerous jungle while being shot at by bad guys.
The Flash (1990-1991)
Not the modern TV series, which is full of lots of awesome super-speed moments. Here, we are talking about the one season show from over 25 years ago, starring John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen. I don’t remember what episode this was, but there was a bit that always stuck in my mind, where some criminals broke into Barry Allen’s apartment and threw a live hand grenade, determined to prove that Barry is the Flash. They countdown the three seconds until the grenade is going to explode, while Barry stares at them helplessly. And then it goes to a commercial break.
When it comes back, the show repeat’s the last few seconds, with the criminal starting his countdown. Only then do we see that in between the ticks of the second, Barry moved with super speed to disarm the bomb! Returning to where he was standing before without anyone being aware that he’d done anything, he is able to feign ignorance when the bomb doesn’t go off, resulting in everyone assuming it was a dud! It was one of the cleverer uses of Barry’s super-speed in that old show.
JLA: Rock of Ages (1997-1998)
Turning our attention to comics, we get to one of the best Justice League stories ever, Rock of Ages by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter. In it, we get to see an alternate future where the surviving heroes of a dystopian earth mount a desperate resistance against their overlord, Darkseid. Amongst the heroes are the Atom (Ray Palmer) and Green Arrow (Connor Hawke), and at a critical point in the story, it is these two who take down Darkseid! In an amazingly satisfying sequence, Ray Palmer realizes that Darkseid’s impenetrable force shield does allow for one thing to pass through–light. He shrinks to the size of photon and is able to ride through on one of Connpr’s arrows. He sacrifices himself in the process, but is able to destroy Darkseid’s head from the inside, ending his reign of tyranny.
Speaking of the Atom, I have to say that the idea of him traveling to places through telephone lines is a perfect example of what this list is about.
Sticking with comics for a bit, I have to say that there are a number of very good uses of J’onn J’onzz’s shapeshifting and telepathy that I’ve seen over the years. In JLA: Year One (1998) by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, we eventually learned that several previously unconnected characters were actually all guises of J’onn’s, adopted in his efforts to find spy out information on his fellow heroes, to determine if they were truly trustworthy.
Around the same time, in his own series, Martian Manhunter (starting in 1998) originally by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake, we learned J’onn maintained multiple secret identities all over the world, including one as a low level criminal, all in his efforts to find and stop criminals.
All-Star Superman (2005-2008)
Another great comic example of smart use of powers comes in the classic All-Star Superman series, where Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely basically decided that every time Clark Kent was seen acting clumsy or awkward, he was really performing a heroic act. One of the best examples of this comes in the first issue, where Clark apparently collides into a pedestrian accidentally, but in reality he’s using his powers to push the man out of the way falling debris, saving his life in a way the man never realizes. And for good measure, Clark even straightens up the man’s dropped papers and places them in a neat pile for him to pick up later.
I’m sorry there are so many DC references here, and no Marvel ones. I’m sure there are plenty, they just don’t come to mind at the moment. And like I said, the whole thing was a bit on the quick side this week.