Unique Power Sets and Superhuman “Copyright”.

Anyone want to listen to me complain more about super heroes? No? Bah, too bad.

Part of the draw of super heroes involves their uniqueness, e.g. they’re the only ones who can do these things, and it can’t be replicated. Well, usually. You’ve got plenty of exceptions, like the Green Lantern Corp, but they all have their own self-selecting criteria for inclusion; ranging from the Corp/Guardians selection process, hereditary powers, inherited mantle, etc. (The Dial Wielders from Dial H for Hero/ Hero/ Dial H, where the only limitation is possessing a dial, are a ton of fun, and a great example of how to do it.) So: in order to maintain the hero’s status as special/ unique, you need to have some way to limit the imitation of their powers.

Writers have a lot of ways to do this. One of my favorites is Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor. Though Thor has plenty of power on his own, he gains even more from Mjolnir, which bears the inscription: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” It’s an utterly unique magical artifact, so that’s the fundamental limiting factor on mimicking Thor. Certain other characters are able to pick up the hammer, though, including Captain America and Beta Ray Bill. (And Hulk, but he wasn’t really wielding it, just lifting it). Another of my favorites right now? Hummingbird, from Scarlet Spider and New Warriors. She’s the reincarnation of a Mesoamerican goddess. Pretty singular origin. The X-Men have a fun one: The X-Gene results in a random mutation, so the only way to copy someone’s power is to clone them outright. (Forgot about mutates, let’s blame that on… Deadpool. Yeah.) Let’s call this sort of thing a superhuman copyright mechanism. They have varying degrees of efficacy, but they do help patch up plot holes.

However, many other characters lack a… copyright mechanism. Some, notably Spiderman, fully embrace that. There are TONS of Spiderman mimics. Clones (Kaine Parker, Ben Reilly, etc.), mimics (Scarlet Spider Red Team, who are themselves clones of MVP, who is the grandson of Abraham Erskine, who created the super soldier serum that created Captain America… comics do get convoluted), tributes (Spider-Woman), etc. Batman also embraces it, with a large Bat-Family and Batman, Inc. Admittedly, he’s powerless, so all that’s needed to recreate him is a supergenius intellect, a body at the peak of human ability, and a ridiculously huge fortune.

Unfortunately, though, many characters who lack a logical superhuman copyright mechanism still rigidly enforce the uniqueness of their character. Captain America is one of the worst offenders. Despite more than a half century of attempts in-universe, no one has been able to replicate the serum (and Vita-Rays! Don’t forget them!) that created him. I find this… well, pretty damn absurd. One of the biggest tenets of science is that for something to actually BE science, the results have to be replicable. Even the US government, which should have access to at least some of Erskine’s notes/ assistants/ colleagues, Cap’s blood/tissue samples, and some of Erskine’s material and personnel requisition forms, if not some of his equipment, is COMPLETELY unable to replicate it. They can easily clone MVP, but they can’t copy Cap. The shield being irreplaceable… that makes sense. It’s made of an extremely rare metal. (Vibranium). Another annoying offender? Iron Man. There are plenty of people with more than enough money to replicate Iron Man’s gear, and super scientists are a dime a dozen in the Marvel universe. Plus, he’s left the scattered chunks of his suits all over the place, from Latveria to the Negative Zone to New York. He does use actual patent law and felony assault to protect his copyright to an extent, but…

So: What makes for a good superhuman copyright mechanism, then? Well, it can’t rely on knowledge or learning limitations or losses. Those can always be gotten around eventually. There is an exception for Clarkian “Sufficiently Advanced Technology”, like Blue Beetle’s alien suit, however. A good superhuman copyright mechanism does require some sort of defense, whether active or passive. The various Lantern Corps have both, in that access to their power batteries are required to use their powers, and their power batteries are protected by their users. Various “locking” mechanisms are also a viable solution. They can fit into either active or passive defense categories. Mjolnir has a passive defense, in that it simply cannot be wielded by someone who does not meet a certain Asgardian moral, ethical, behavioral, and emotional standard. Iron Man suits have an active defense/ locking mechanism, in that they can actually attack/ damage someone other than Stark who is attempting to use them. (Though as mentioned before, they’re still not a good example. There are much better examples out there, especially in SF/F lit, but I’m keeping this in comic book territory). Another good superhuman copyright mechanism would be resource limitations, like the limited access to vibranium making Cap’s shield unique.

Here’s a sample made up superhero that works as a good example of a good superhuman copyright mechanism. Their powers are granted to them by having their own utility fog cloud. They can generate any simple tool or mechanism, though not one that relies on chemical reactions or other complex processes. (Swords, bows, grappling hooks, shields, parachutes/glider, maybe some basic tentacles, but no guns or lasers.) Their superhuman copyright mechanism is the cloud’s power source: a unique alien exotic matter core that runs the extremely power-hungry nanites. The technology to replicate the nanites is easy in the setting, but the power source? Not so easily replicable. You could also put a genetic lock on the device, so that only the protagonist can use it. There are fundamental limitations on the power, though. The nanites have to be generated by the implanted device, which draw from bodymass, so you have to eat more to produce them. They’re also vulnerable to overheating, which destroys them, so overusing them can run down nanites quickly. That’s perhaps a little too much extraneous detail, but I had fun with this. You get the point, right?