Monday, May 30, 2016

The Persistent Problem of Fate

I found DC’s 1940s’ superhero Dr. Fate fascinating when I met him crossing from a parallel world in Justice League of America 21 and 22 (1963) and then teaming with his Justice Society comrade Hourman in Showcase 55 and 56 (1965). The beautiful blue and yellow costume, that mysterious helmet masking his features, those vast magical powers — evocative stuff that dreams are made of.
But that last point suggests a problem that Dr. Fate shares with Dr. Strange and other superhero magicians going back at least to Chandu on radio in 1931. Ill-defined powers can seem to be unlimited, and your story has no suspense if the hero can always pull some deus ex machina spell out of his ass to save the day.
Lee Falk’s superhero magician Mandrake had that problem when the newspaper comic strip began in 1934 — he could, with a gesture, teleport himself anywhere or halt a man plunging to his death. But Falk spotted the problem, and limited Mandrake’s powers to super-hypnotism. His gestures could now instantly control what people believed they saw, but not physical reality.

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