Super-Ventriloquism > Heat Vision

I’ll come right out and say it: I think super-ventriloquism is a better Superman Power than heat vision.

I'm sure all this nonsense here makes sense in the story, but I ain't puttin' the effort in to explain it right now.

This goes against the majority opinion, I’d wager. I know that, on the internet at least, super-ventriloquism is routinely mocked as silly, and as a sign that Superman has too many powers. Meanwhile, the heat vision is cool. It allows Clark to get into big laser fights and, more recently, to threaten people with glowing eyes when he gets angry. And I don’t deny that laser fights are cool. I may not care for threatening glowy eyes, but overall I don’t have too much problem with the zappy eyes. But once you start mocking the super-ventriloquism, well then I have to disagree. If you think that Superman has too many powers, I say you cut the lasers before the voice.

For posterity I should explain: Super-ventriloquism is a power that Superman had in the olden days allowing him to throw his voice to anywhere in the world (and imitate people as well) without needing to move his lips. It was used more often than you’d think, not a one-time deal. If he needed to get a message to someone across town, he could do it. If he wanted to make it seem like something inanimate was talking, he could do it. These were the days when superhero comics were about finding innovative uses for super powers, not about who can do the punching the best way to win all the fights.

For the most part, Superman’s powers are just things that regular people can do, turned up to Super levels. Superspeed is basically just running, but Super, right? And flying (an outgrowth of the “leap over tall buildings” thing) is just jumping, but Super. Telescopic and X-Ray vision are just looking, but Super. And so on*. But then look: Super-ventriloquism is speaking, but Super. Heat vision is starting fires, but Super? That one doesn’t fit the pattern.

There’s a logic to how the heat vision came to be one of his powers, though. In the early days they gave him the ability to see through solid things and they called it X-Ray vision. Superman’s powers didn’t actually function exactly like X-Rays, but that’s the name they gave it, after an invention that was at that point younger than many of the people in the world. The connection to X-Rays was there, and they knew that real X-Rays gave off heat. They carried that over into the stories, Superman using his X-Ray vision to heat things up. Over time, it drifted to became a totally separate ability.

The fact that superhero stories have grown to be more about combat than anything is a big part of why heat vision is beloved, but I don’t think it is the whole reason that super-ventriloquism is reviled. I genuinely think it is the name. I feel like if it were called “voice projection” or something similarly bland but more accurate, it would be accepted.

I do think that if we brought super-ventriloquism back, we’d probably need some manner of limitations on there. Instant communication to anywhere being something hard to write around is why so many horror movies have to write out cellphones right away. Here’s a couple ideas:

  • Firstly, I’ve seen him use it to talk to people in space. I don’t think I need that. Let him need to find other ways to solve that problem.
  • He should need to know where he projecting his voice to. It isn’t telepathy so he can’t magically reach a person by thought. I envision super-ventriloquism as a physical ability of sending sound waves to a location, so he’d need to know where the target is to send them there. Given his vision powers, this wouldn’t be too hard, but it is something.
  • Maybe he has to put more effort in to not be drown out by other sources of noise at the target location? If the target (let’s say Lois) is in an abandoned warehouse with not a lot of noise, Clark can be heard easily. But if she’s standing on a busy Metropolitan street, he needs to put some more effort in. We know Superman can be loud (after all, one of his other powers is shouting, but Super), but putting that effort in might make it a little harder to look like he’s not speaking to people around his real location.

What I’ve got here is not a significant limitation of his powers, I could probably come up with more if I were doing it as more than a mere thought experiment, but those limitations weren’t the important part of this whole post anyway. The take-away message here is that heat vision is a sillier super power than super-ventriloquism and anyone who disagrees is incorrect.

* Freeze breath is basically just blowing on stuff to cool it down turned up to Super levels, but it is a dumber example than the others I gave there.

They Missed The Chance To Have A Good Superman Game

I’ve occasionally put thought into how I’d want a Superman video game to be made. I’ve been doing so publicly on this site since at least 2018, when I declared that with today’s technology the best option would be to actually do a Jimmy Olsen game. And, indeed, I still think that a Jimmy game would be an excellent way to go, but this week I read this post about a real undeveloped Superman game, working under the code name Blue Steel. Seeing the admirable effort they put into the project, I think that they could have actually had a decent game on their hands a full decade before I started weighing in.

Impressed though I am with what they show us, there are, as always, nits I can pick. It saddens me at how quickly they became excited about character-based ideas and using investigative journalism as an aspect of gameplay. That would’ve been exactly what I wanted! That could have been the start of something beautiful. But their game, they were told, have to be an action-filled super brawl game. It’s exactly the kind of decision I consider a major problem with the superhero genre, but I can understand. Video games, especially back then, are more limited than other media, so focus on the fighting and maybe we can do the fighting well, right?

But even within the superhuman brawling concept there are things I don’t want here. Mostly, it’s the focus on Darkseid. I’ve beaten this one in repeatedly, but I don’t want Darkseid in my Superman, nor general DC Universe characters like Solomon Grundy. My ideal Superman game would be chock full of Superman characters and not have to rely on other franchises. This can easily be done!

I’ve already discussed the kinds of mook enemies Superman would be able to beat up in a game like this. But what matters here is the bosses and the other superheroes. Blue Steel was intended to have a multiplayer mode in which players would choose their character and have superhuman brawls. It sounds neat. Note that Livewire is prominently featured as an opponent in the game, but is not on the list of playable characters, so I assume the “Brawlers” were intended to be of a certain level and not have powers like hers, which are perhaps too complex to easily put into a game like this.

By my count there are thirteen playable Brawlers listed on the page about Blue Steel that I would choose to excise from the game (most of them Darkseid-related, of course). To prove there are still enough Superman characters to work with, I will now offer up a list of twice that many options for replacements.

  1. STEEL: This one feels like a no-brainer. If you’re going to have Lex Luthor around in his power suit, why not have the superhero with the power suit and cool hammer. And, Bonus, there’s John Henry Irons and Natasha Irons. That’s two more characters and you’d really only have to design the moves for one.
  2. MALA: Okay, the game already has Clark, Kara, Zod, Ursa, and Non. There are easily a dozen more Kryptonians who could be added, but I don’t want to rely on that as a crutch. I have picked Mala to represent this group because I like her and she isn’t necessarily aligned to Zod, so it would offer more nuance in the story.
  3. TOYMAN: Toyman is a classic Superman villain even though many people don’t seem to like him. He’s not often seen as a “powerhouse” kind of villain on the level of the other Brawlers on this list, but y’know, he’s been seen in mechs. Why not just make the mech smaller and come up with a cobbled-together toy-themed power suit? It may not be the direction I’d take the character in stories or television, but for the sake of this game, I’d love it.
  4. MONGUL: He’s a popular Superman enemy and basically brawling is his whole deal. He may not do much for me, but he’s even been in Superman games before, so it’s pretty much a given for him to be there. Bonus: Recent comics have fleshed out his Warworld with a lot more characters who could be brought in as well, though I’m limiting myself to characters who would have been available when Blue Steel was being developed.
  5. MASTER JAILER: An underutilized classic Superman foe, the Master Jailer could easily be given moves that focus on either immobilizing opponents, or grabbing them with a chain and pulling them closer like Scorpion. Bonus: His daughter has taken up the name Snare to do pretty much the same thing, so let’s get her in there too.
  6. CLAWSTER: The big tough mutant who, I have said, is a necessary addition to Superman games could shine in this field. Brawl, Clawster, brawl.
  7. DRAAGA: Draaga, like Mongul, is basically an alien gladiator. I don’t know that he offers anything especially unique, but he’s another prominent Brawler from the franchise who seems like an easy inclusion.
  8. ATOMIC SKULL: The Atomic Skull has one of the best names in comics and we’d be pretty stupid not to let him into the game.
  9. MAXIMA: Alien warrior woman. Perfect for this game. Bonus: There’s more than one technically, if we wanted more than one.
  10. ROCK: He’s a big guy made out of stone who hates Lex Luthor. Works for me.
  11. NEUTRON: An energy based Superman foe who can fight on the level of the Brawlers in this game.
  12. REACTRON: Just another villain who can fight on this level.
  13. RAMPAGE: She’s like the Hulk, but she’s a scientist who Superman knows.
  14. TIMEBOMB: I’ve already said this guy needs to get used more. With the destructible environments of the game, he’d cause a lot of damage.
  15. SILVER BANSHEE: Flies, has sonic and/or magic attacks, cool skull design. Keep it coming.
  16. AMALAK: An alien who hates Kryptonians with a passion and devotes himself to killing them. Decent for the Brawling, but could be a focal point for the story (could even come with an army of alien soldiers).
  17. ANNIHILATOR: Another supervillain I’ve discussed before. He can hold his own against Superman, so he’s clearly able to Brawl on this level. Bonus: Annihilator Jr.
  18. WHIRLICANE: A personal favourite, Whirlicane has the power of both the whirlwind and the hurricane! He may not traditionally be the type to take punches from the likes of Superman, but just say he can cushion himself with a field of wind around him or something. And let him shoot lightning. Easy.
  19. HI-TECH: Another supervillain I have mentioned before, she has a robot body that could easily put her on par with the Brawlers in the game.
  20. METALLO: I get that the Blue Steel designers probably avoided Metallo because they were avoiding using kryptonite and Metallo is a kryptonite-powered cyborg. But he’s also one of Superman’s most recognizable foes who also just happens to be perfect for fights like those this game offers. If you don’t want to bother programming it so some characters are more weak to kryptonite attacks than others, just make sure his chest beam shoots out with enough force and energy that it would clearly hurt anyone.
  21. MR. MCTAVISH: If we’re working in Metallo, we could basically the same powerset to make Mr. McTavish, the kryptonite-powered robot from the ’50s show. This should only be done if you’re willing to have him look like a boxy ’50s robot. If you’re too cowardly to do that, you don’t deserve Mr. McTavish.
  22. TERRA-MAN: Superman awesome space cowboy foe. He’s less of the Brawler type and more a gunslinger, but I’d love for him to be included nonetheless. Within the game, his weapons aren’t really that functionally different than heat vision or whatever. There’s no reason to assume he can’t hold his own in a super-fight. We’ll just assume he left the horse at home.
  23. BLACKROCK: There have actually been a lot of different takes on Blackrock, as it is not an individual but an identity that has been used multiple ways over the years. No matter what, it’s a supervillain design that could be worked into the story and provide another Brawler for the game. If anything, the lack of existing specific lore means it is a more malleable concept to work within the context of the game.
  24. THE GALACTIC GOLEM: It may actually be above the level of the rest of the Brawlers in the game, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an interesting design and could be used as a final boss or something in the story.
  25. BIZARROS: The real Blue Steel game was going to include the Bizarro Superman, but it’s important to remember that there can be more Bizarros as well. Bizarro Supergirl, Bizarro Steel, Bizarro Clawster. Some would have different powers, but some could really just be palette swaps for other Brawlers.
  26. KRYPTO: Yes, the Super-Dog himself. I recognize that there would probably have to be a few changes to gameplay if you’re playing as a dog, but honestly I can’t see it being that many if the mechanics of the game are just brawling and fighting. A dog can do as well as any humanoid man, surely. Bonus: You could use those same mechanics and include Lex Luthor’s super-powered dog Destructo as well.

So there we go, twenty-six options for playable characters who would be fun to play in a Superman game and I didn’t even have to be exhaustive, let alone dip into the well of the New Gods. Somebody send this list back in time to Blue Steel people, and while you’re there make it so that game didn’t get cancelled, I guess.

What Is Superman About

If I were to ask someone to describe Superman’s mission, by which I mean what he fights for or what he represents, that sort of thing, I expect the answers would come in two main flavours:

The first answer I’d expect is: Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Now, the American Way part of that gets controversial at times, mostly because it fluctuates so much more than the other two. But even as a Canadian I’ll say that if you show me an America that represents the other two, I’d have no real problem tacking that descriptor to Superman (I’m not seeing enough of that America these days). Truth and Justice, though. Those are exactly what I want in my Superman stories.

Clark Kent is a journalist. It’s often been said that he does that job so he is among the first to learn about disasters and stuff that may need Superman’s attention. That’s fine, but it ignores the fact that journalism is a vital force in the fight for truth and justice. More than being a vigilante, I’d say.

The other answer I’d expect is that Superman represents Hope. This is propagated as text pretty often in more recent stories (the recent Justice League movie is a big example of this). I think that a lot of fans buy into this one. I sure don’t.

At a basic level it sounds good. “The world is bleak and full of bad things and it is easy to lose hope, but don’t! Superman is proof that things can change!” but I don’t care for that. It very much places Superman in a space above those he is saving, like some god or a force of nature. One of the big complaints about Superman from people who dislike the character is that Superman can just sweep in and solve everything, and this take on the character caters to exactly that.

But I don’t like seeing Superman above those he is saving. Clark is a part of humanity (if not literally human), so when he fights to save the world, he isn’t a benevolent god reaching down to help, he’s a person standing up to help. Clark isn’t hoping for a better world. He’s acting to create a better world. If he is an inspirational figure (and I admit he should be), I don’t want him just to inspire people to sit around hoping Superman shows up. I want him to make humanity rise to action alongside him.

If I had to sum up Superman in one word like that, rather than Hope, I’d choose Action. It works on multiple levels. It implies that Clark represents the antithesis of that “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” scenario, he acts to do good. It implies the exciting scenarios that the franchise should provide in its stories about Clark doing that. And also, Superman first appeared in and continues to appear in Action Comics. I don’t know what Hope Comics is doing, but Action is doing Superman. And vice-versa.

So those are the basic answers I’d expect for the What Is Superman About question. A third thing that would come up, though not as quickly I don’t think, is a discussion of power. Superman is undeniably a powerful character. That’s why people are always so quick to treat him like a god. I think his power is mostly overstated by those who see it as a bad thing, but I’ll get to that in some later article. But I think it is an important part of the character. Now, I don’t want to move into space that is now considered Spider-Man’s turf, but look at this exchange from the Superman serials decades before Uncle Ben came along:

Pa Kent: “You’re different from other people. Your unique abilities make you a kind of superman. Because of these great powers, your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and super-sensitive hearing, you have a great responsibility.

Clark: “I know what you’re going to say, Dad. I must use my powers wisely and justly.”

Pa: “Yes, you must use them always in the interests of truth, tolerance, and justice. The world needs a man of such extraordinary capabilities.”

I think Pa’s words speak for me. Now that I have presented my evidence, I shall sum up what the concept behind Superman stories ought to be in a single paragraph:

“What if there were a person with great power and the desire to improve the world? They would seek out the untruths and injustices in society, and act to change them.”

It’s a pretty simple sci-fi scenario and allows for a lot of social commentary and so on. And that’s the ideal I will be building toward in my future Superman Thoughts. Hopefully they won’t all be as long as this one.

Are Wishing Chairs Real?

I just had a dream where there was a Wishing Chair and whoever sat in it could basically wish for anything they wanted and it would come true. It was basically a chair of omnipotence and it was open to the public. Anyone could use it. Naturally, this caused problems. The world was in flux. Time was constantly being rewritten so that people could correct mistakes from their past. The weather changed to match the mood of whoever was in the chair. It was chaotic. Anyway, eventually I got my turn in the chair and, naturally, I wished for Superman Powers. Things did not go well.

Now I don’t know if even my dreams are against me having Superman Powers or, as I kinda assumed at the time, someone had sabotaged it, but anyway, I didn’t get my wish. Instead, for some reason, I became a balding Asian child. I have nothing against balding Asian children, but I don’t consider them Superman. What’s the deal Chair?

(I do have to admit that I am happy to say that even in a dream state I use the term “Superman Powers” without hesitation)

So anyway, if anyone knows where there’s a real Wishing Chair around, give me a heads up.

What’s more, in the course of dreaming I also found a novel just lying on the ground (the details of which now escape me) that looked really cool. I looked forward to reading it and now that I am awake, I never can. Awake and asleep. Both states of extreme disappointment. Go figure.