Weaknesses are Superman’s Kryptonite

Let’s say you’re writing a Superman story and you want to make it seem like Superman is in danger. One of the most persistent complaints about the character is that “He’s too powerful!” and “He can do anything!” Basically, the idea here is that he has no weaknesses, so it’s unbelievable that he could be threatened. The thing is though, Superman has weaknesses. Hell, everybody knows he has at least one weakness. His most famous weakness is so well known that we actually use it as a term for weaknesses that anyone has. Next to saying that something is your “Achilles Heel”, saying something is your “kryptonite” is probably the most well known way of describing a weakness without just using the word “weakness”.

But if you have to work kryptonite into every story, you end up repeating yourself every month, which means things grow stale. It’s good then that kryptonite isn’t actually Superman’s only weakness. The second most often cited weakness of Superman, by those in the know anyway, would be “magic”. Now, if a stage magician were to walk up to Superman and pop a flash paper thing in his face, that wouldn’t hurt him. No, it’s “real” magic that can hurt Superman. Essentially, if something can defy the laws of physics, nobody is going to deny that that could hurt Superman. That’s handy for characters like Mr. Mxyzptlk to befuddle our hero. So that’s another weakness, but still, he’s pretty overpowered, though, right?

Well, it turns out that if someone, or something, is strong enough, they can just beat the heck out of Superman. Really. That happens a lot for such an “overpowered” character. Look at the whole Doomsday thing. You know, that time Superman was beat so badly by some alien monster that he was declared dead. That was just some alien that happened to be strong enough to take on Superman. No magic or kryptonite involved. Other such monsters can and do exist in Superman’s world. You want Superman to feel threatened in a story? Throw some monster in there. Bam, he’s threatened.

But apart from that Superman is still overpowered, right? He can fly, he can shoot lasers from his eyes, he can see through walls, and more. What kind of villains are supposed to compete with that? Well, here is where I will remind you that Superman’s gallery of villains includes about a dozen people with the exact same set of powers that he has. The Phantom Zone is full of other Kryptonians who’d just so happen to love to kill the guy. Some, like General Zod, have Superman’s powers plus the tactical skills of a military leader. Some, like Faora, have Superman’s powers plus extensive training in martial arts. Some, like Nam-Ek, have Superman’s powers plus other mutations that actually make them more powerful. Some, like Jax-Ur, have Superman’s powers plus a scientific mind that could probably come up with clever ways to use those powers like Clark regularly does. They are at least Clark’s equal in powers and they outnumber him on top of that.

Furthermore! There’s all the other supervillains with powers. Bizarro has as many powers as Superman, but with bizarre twists. Parasite can drain Superman’s own powers at a touch, weakening the hero while buffing himself. The Cyborg Superman can whip up whatever technological nonsense you want to use that week. Toyman or Prankster can design any kind of wacky scenario in which Superman is threatened by some weird doomsday device. The list goes on.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think every Superman story should be about villains. I prefer to see him in stories that aren’t about who wins fights. But let’s suppose you want to tell such a story. And you don’t want it to be one where Lois or Jimmy or Ron or even Metropolis as a whole is in danger. You want to make it seem like Superman himself is threatened by a supervillain. But you don’t want the villain to have Kryptonite, or magic, or to be particularly strong, or have any interesting powers or to create an interesting scenario. In that case, I would suggest you just make Superman say “Man, it’s strange, but I’m feeling really weak right now.”

Yeah, that would be bad writing, but it sounds to me like you’re aiming for a bad story, y’know?

Loophole: Yet Another Supercrook

Loophole, aka Deacon Dickson, is similar to my take on Stasis, in that he is an aging guy who seems like he is turning to villainy as a way to feel young and powerful (and, of course, “show them all”). But where I decided that Stasis is pathetic and kind of sympathetic, Loophole is a slimy asshole.

Probably having the most appearances of any of the crooks I am analyzing lately, Loophole invented a device that allows him to slip through solid matter. Using this for crimes, he would often bring along young women as his “sidekick” and if that doesn’t sound like the behaviour of a man trying desperately to deny his aging, I don’t know what does.

Instinctively, I feel like Loophole would hate being part of a team. He’s got something to prove. He uses henchmen. Unless he is the leader, he would be unhappy. With that in mind, I’d cast him not as a member of the supervillain team I’ve been building up, but as a rival.

Blindspot: An Invisible Loser

Blindspot, in his two appearances, was kind of a comically inept hitman with a suit that allowed him to turn invisible. I would alter that just a little, making him a comically inept robber with the ability to turn invisible. It is easier to be sympathetic for the guy if he isn’t actively trying to kill people.

And I would want him to be at least a bit sympathetic. If I could again draw on a criminal’s powers to infer their personality, I would cast Blindspot in the role of the ignored and unrespected crook who feels as invisible as he can turn. He would probably overreach himself trying to prove his value to the team and would fail a lot of the time. He gives the rest of these losers someone they can mock to feel good about themselves.

It is worth noting that Blindspot was of Chinese descent (or at least he was Asian and capable of hiding out unnoticed in Chinatown). He was never given a civilian name, so if I were given my druthers he would be Henry Wong, after a Chinese crook who appeared in an episode of the 50s Adventures of Superman show. I can see no reason not to do it, and it works as to remind that diversity in superhero stories isn’t as strange as certain complainers think it is. There was also a Wong family who appeared in issue Superman #54 in the 40s. They were not criminals, though. But maybe they’re Henry’s family. Why not?

Stasis: A Go-Nowhere Supervillain

Stasis is probably the least justifiable of the villains whose return I am calling for in this batch. He appeared only once, in a minor Superboy story and there isn’t much to say about him. He had invented a helmet that allowed him to put people into stasis (basically a non-ice freeze ray). He was beaten when he was tricked into freezing too many people and he was unable to maintain his concentration.

Everything else I see in the character is something I am putting there on my own. But I will make my case.

I see Stasis as the most pathetic of the supercrook group I am building. I picture him as a middle-aged guy whose turn to supervillainy is probably part of a mid-life crisis. I assume I got that because he was an adult fighting teenaged Clark in that Superboy story.

After that, I look to his powers as an indicator of his personality. Would he be someone who holds people back when they want to change or improve their lives? Nah. I already have Toxus for that. Instead, let’s take a method that works with the mid-life crisis idea and say he is the one who wants to change his circumstances, but he’s unable. Oh, sweet irony. Probably, when he got into villainy, he paid his helmet with money borrowed from the Laugher. Now every unsuccessful heist digs him in deeper. And he probably has substance abuse problems too. He would sign up every time Toxus convinces him they will have a big score, but showy crimes never get him anything but trouble. And one can only make so much by freezing convenience store clerks and robbing cash registers while you know Superman is busy fighting the Galactic Golem uptown.