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This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

Robert: Item Of Power is intended to include everything from Batman's gadgets to the Green Lantern's ring. They can all be separated from the hero, setting up various plots.

Random Selection includes both cases like the X-men, where the mutation is said to be random, and those where no explanation is given. Either way, the door is open for a non-random explanation to be given when the writers think of one.

Robert: (The bits I forgot earlier). Knight Rider doesn't quite qualify as a Super Hero show, but the kind of benign conspiracy that created Kitt is another candidate for appointing The Chosen One, though at the weaker end of the spectrum.

Since there was some debate about the classifications, I'll wait a bit before adding pages for them, giving this page time enough to settle down. I couldn't decide on which index to put this page in.
Copied from Single Line Of Descent Discussion: Gus: Hmm. Let me see if I can enumerate the ways that superpowers are bestowed.

  1. by genetic inheritance or mutation
  2. by scientific/industrial accident or design
  3. by magical token (The Mask, for example, or other potent magical object)
  4. by magical/religious Decree
  5. by magical/religious possession (demonic or angelic)

Surely that's not it? There must be at least a sixth way.

Ununnilium: By scientific invention (Iron Man, etc.), by Touched by Vorlons (similar to those last two, but more Sci-Fi), um... I suppose "being an alien" would count under "genetic inheritance"... hm.

Gus: I think I can fit Iron Man into "by scientific/industrial accident or design". Touched by Vorlons can be incorporated via a small edit. Also, I think #3 above is weak, as it is just a conveyance for one or both of the last two. So, my revised list is:

  1. by genetic inheritance or mutation
  2. by scientific/industrial accident or design
  3. by magical/religious/alien Decree
  4. by magical/religious/alien possession

Surely there must be a fifth?

Ununnilium: I disagree (but then, I'm more a splitter). I'd split "scientific/industrial accident" and "scientific design/discovery". And I'd put "magical token" into the wider category of "got an item of power".

Looney Toons: I like "item of power" — it covers things like the Green Lantern ring and Dr. Fate's helmet. Just as a reference, City of Heroes has five basic origins: Natural, Scientific, Magic, Mutation, and Technological. The difference between "Scientific" and "Technological" is the latter is gadgetry, while the former is the result of an experiment or operation or the like.

Gus:Robert's got stomped, somehow... here it is again:

Robert:Scientific invention falls under the second heading. I'd lump thr magical and scientific explanations together, since the difference rarelt matters, and list them, on the superhero page, as

  1. The Chosen One? - chosen by a god/merlin/alien as their champion.
  2. Not Human? - anyone who gets their powers not being human, whether alien or demon.
  3. Family traditon - mostly magical, but can be given an SF gloss.
  4. Lucky Accident? - can be scientific or magical, akin to Just-add-water AI's and related tropes.
  5. Its The Suit? (or Item Of Power) - any hero who relies on external gadgets/enchanted devices -Batman, The Mask, Iron Man
  6. Random Chance? - i.e the writers haven't retconned an explanation yet.

There can be some overlap - Spiderman's lab accident can get blamed on divine intervention, but overall these are distinct. Conversely, it doesn't matter whether the hero gets powers from a gadget or a magical weapon - either way they get put through the same plots, such as separating them from their power item.

Gus: I kinda like that Co H thing, with revision and the addition of Robert's last:
  1. Natural
  2. Scientific
  3. Magic
  4. Mutation
  5. Power Object
  6. Unexplained

... for the Lumps. It seems like all the Splits would naturally fall under each of them.

Ununnilium: So "natural" is things like, say, Superman? Makes sense.

Robert: How you should categorise them depends on what you are categorising them ''for'. Since we're talking about tropes, we should together put the one ones to whom the same tropes apply while splitting apart those which lead to different tropes.

Given this, I don't think distinguishing between science and magic is useful, for us. It does make sense within the fictional world, where it affects what they can do, but we're looking at the world from outside. Our criteria are different.

It doesn't matter whether the hero is empowered by Zeus or a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, they get put through essentially the same plots. Hero with an Item of Power get a different set of plots (in addition to those common to all heroes) but it barely affects the tropes possible if their Item is magical or technological, self-built or a gift from above. Etc.

There are hundreds of possible ways of classifying heroes, and virtually everything else. Lets try to pick the one most useful for discussing tropes.

Ununnilium: Well, that brings up the question of why Gus brought this up in the first place. <<

Gus: I was thinking in terms of power bestowment — playing with the idea of the power itself as a sort of character that is visted upon a protagonist for a while, then moves to another — and was wondering what methods have been used to transfer powers.

More specifically, still, the power would be fairly immutable — say the ability to be invisible for 10 minutes (off the top of my head). It would stay with a protagonist for (maybe) two days, then move to the next person. The transfer would be the framing device for vignettes/stories about how the protagonist meets the challenge of having this new power.

Robert: Using my classification, that trope would be standard for Item Of Power, rare for the others. Using the Co H classification, it would be fairly common for every heading except Mutant, which illustrates why some classifications are more useful than others.

The actual trope, call it Power Transfer, occurs for all categories - freak events have switched Superman's powers to Lois Lane - but behaves differently for the different types.

With a Item Of Power, the possibility follows naturally from the premise, and may be used to replace the lead actor. With a Chosen One, power transfers are known to happen under certain conditions, such as the hero's death; at other times it requires a freak event. In the other cases, it always takes a freak event.

If a freak event, like being hit by lightning, is the cause, it's always temporary. Let the side-kick walk a mile in the hero's shoes, learn the Aesop, then back to normal - quite different from the permanent transfer with a Item Of Power.


Ununnilium: I futzed with the classifications. Notably, Item Of Power wasn't really an origin type, and any origin with that could be folded into another - Green Lantern's ring is The Chosen One, the Mask's mask is Lucky Accident, etc. I created My Own Creation for instances like Iron Man's armor.

Robert: Looking around the site, an Empathic Weapon is a common type of Item of Power. If we have a page for that, it should probably go under narrative devices too, gathering together the various types of Items of Power.

I'm not sure about the Mayfair list of motivations. There's not much difference between good and justice, and the there's also quite a lot of overlap with Responsibilities of Power. Also, that list doesn't include some of the motives previously quoted, such as family tradition.


Morgan Wick: I thought you might be interested in this, a column from a larger series (long since discontinued, though I heartily recommend the entire series) that, in this installment, deals with pretty much both of the things we're talking about here. However, it kind of glosses over motivation a little. I'll summarize the main points: The author summarizes most SuperHeroOrigins into seven basic types (the article says six, but look at the discussion below it - he added one later):

  • Radiation, including most cases of the Lucky Accident.
  • "Biological tampering", which include, to use his examples, "Cyborgs. Clones. Genetic engineering". Basically, becoming a superhero through Applied Phlebotinum. Includes all the cases of Lucky Accident not covered by radiation.
  • Aliens. Basically, the Non-Human Hero. (Incidentially, ever notice how many aliens that become superheroes are Human Aliens, or Rubber-Forehead Aliens at most-removed-from-humanity?)
  • "Magic and Mythology." This actually seems to be two types in some sense: those that are actually magical/mythical beings (like Thor or Wonder Woman; all those cases of Non-Human Hero that aren't aliens) and those that merely receive their powers from magical/mythical sources (like Captain Marvel (DC) or any "superhero" that's really a magician, like Dr. Strange or Zatanna), which are usually The Chosen One. (Zatanna is actually a combination of both, since she's half-homo magi, making her a Non-Human Hero of sorts.)
  • Not having powers at all (a la Batman), which arguably doesn't count.
  • Mutants. Almost all cases of Random Selection fall here.
  • The one added later was receiving powers from technology, a la Iron Man; the distinction between it and "Biological Tampering" is that "technology" does not actually change the person (or, as in the case of most androids, the difference is that the "hero" is not really "alive" but a (usually sentient) computer). Most cases of My Own Creation fall here, as well as any Humongous Mecha.

Note that he glosses over The Chosen One, seemingly shoving all cases of such into "Magic and Mythology", and still not really accounting for Green Lantern's origin, in either incarnation, whether it's the Golden Age version of Random Selection with hints of The Chosen One, or the later version of all-The Chosen One with Imported Alien Phlebotinum thrown in. That's arguably Magic and Mythology, but the Silver Age Flash is nigh-impossible to fit in this scheme.

Then he only gets into four motivations, although one can arguably be split: destiny, duty (mostly Responsibility of Power, lumped with destiny), "vengeance" (like Batman seeing his parents killed in a dark alley, not really like the big-time example here), "guilt" (vengeance if the hero actually could have stopped it, like the death of Uncle Ben, although the effects tend to be different, weaker, and morph into duty), and "redemption" (a Heel-Face Turn, or just an ordinary criminal seeking to redeem himself for his criminal past), and then gets into those that don't seem to have motivations at all. Although he doesn't even touch on a number of the motivations we have, like Thrill of Adventure, Family Tradition, and the one I just added, Fame and Fortune. Though I do have to admit there does seem to be a significant number of heroes who become heroes "just because", though most of these seem to be the Chosen One.

The point of the essay itself is to decry the limited possibilities, but the listing of possibilities is a good resource in its own right, though this entry made me realize how deficient it can be in some ways. </Morgan Wick>

Ununnilium: That one, though, seems more like the "power source" version we started off with than the "narrative function" version the entry actually became.

Morgan Wick: Yeah, but I thought it was interesting, relevant, provided a good contrast, and thought it was fun to match up the ones in there with the ones in here.

Ununnilium: Ahhhhhh. True enough! ^-^

ack_sed: So where would you put David Dunn from the film Unbreakable? 'Cause it's implied that he's always had the power(s).

Ununnilium: Good question. It doesn't really explain it, so I'd go with Random Selection.