Speculative Fiction Tropes: The X-Factor
Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on the X-Factor. No, it's not about a reality-tv singing competition. I'm talking about superpowers.
Unfortunately, this meant I wasn't able to keep up with any of the long running story arcs at the time. I would begin in the middle, rarely ever finding out how the big bad gets put down. But it didn't matter. Because I knew that with every issue, I was guaranteed larger-than-life characters kicking ass with awesome superpowers.
While superhero fiction is usually traced back to early pulp heroes like Zorro and John Carter of Mars, one could conceivably look much further back for the genre's origins, to the superhuman figures present in the mythologies of ancient civilizations. Many of these heroes and demigods had powers comparable to any modern day superhero. The Greeks had Heracles (Hercules, if you prefer), the Sumerians had Gilgamesh (Gil, if you prefer), the Chinese had Sun Wukong (Goku, if you prefer).
Throughout our history, we've never stopped telling tales of extraordinary people with extraordinary abilities. They may look just like us on the surface, but they have something extra that makes them far above you or I. They have the X-factor, and thus are called to the path of heroism.
One of the main characters is Dr. Manhattan, who is practically made of X-factor. After surviving an accidental disintegration, he perceives reality at the quantum level, manipulating matter at will. Moore used him to convey a more realistic vision of what might happen when a good man is granted omnipotent power. At first he embraces his new role as superhero, but ultimately he wallows into existential crisis as he loses touch with his humanity.
One of the first "real" stories I ever wrote featured a pair of superpowered warriors grown in a lab, duking it out in a post-apocalyptic world after repelling a lone alien invader who comes to Earth looking to establish his own religion. Hey, don't make that face. I was sixteen! The point is, I've always had a thing for that X-factor.
I don't really have the time to do much comic reading these days, though I do make the effort once in a blue moon. I remain intrigued by the superhero archetype. What is it that has driven us to invent characters like these throughout our history? What's so appealing about fictional men and women with superhuman abilities? Perhaps it stems from an awareness, or even insecurity, of our own frailty. After all, bullets don't bounce off of the real heroes of this world. It would be very nice if their duties didn't tend to come with short expiration dates. Maybe that's why Superman and his ilk are endearing to so many. With him watching out for you, there's no need to recruit anyone else.
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Wildcards series (shared universe)
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman