Photo by John Fowler, some rights reserved
Mastery over light is one of the hardest powers for a comic book writer to do well. With theoretically vast potential, but a fairly gentle and benign appearance, it always appears to be a struggle to balance the overpowered and the feeble.
From the mighty Cyclops to the existing Dazzler, here I take a look at where light-based super characters succeed and where they fail, and how to design your own archetypal light-based super character.
Dazzler was a comic book character based on an out-of-date fad (disco) and designed by committee. Her power was the ability to transform sound into light, and she was ten years late to a party that she was never invited to.
She is now fairly infamous, being the poster girl for the tvtropes article “Fad Super”. That said, she redeemed herself a little later in her career, switching her focus from disco to techno/trance. Some versions of her character even had the ability to make objects out of “hard light”... somehow.
Make Your Own – Light Comedy:
Take one part light show and two parts desperate committee blunders. Desperately flail at the mixture for two hours until the whole mess is lightly confused. Upon tasting, realise that the whole thing was a terrible idea from the start. Quickly, dust the entire concoction lightly with irony, and serve.
Edward Lansky was a mild-mannered academic physicist who dressed up in a spectacularly silly bodysuit.
Actually, that’s not quite fair. Edward Lansky created a body suit that could convert light into solid matter, and then solved world hunger.
Oh, he didn’t solve world hunger?
Did he solve the energy crisis?
Uh, did he at least solve the budgetary problems that drove him to a life of crime in the first place (seriously)?
Nope, he just crimed all the crime until he crimed. Because crime you guys.
Then Spiderman solved the problem in that unique way superheroes have, by turning him into an unstable god-like creature of pure light, which requires light to survive. I’m not saying Spiderman is dumb, but he then enlisted the help of Dazzler, the superhero whose only ability is to create light, to help him defeat Lansky.
Make Your Own – Generic Light Villain:
Blend together the ability to manipulate a large part of the very fabric of reality, and a slight grudge against society. Gently extract the faculty of reason, and discard. Zap with electricity and store in a large box.
The comic book industry may not always be the most sensitive, but dammit, it tries. And in many cases, it does succeed.
Introducing their first major African-American superhero “Black Lightning” in the late ‘70s, DC Comics gave him the power to create, well, lightning. Black Lightning was interesting, powerful, and had his own series.
Defined by a paraphrased quote from Milo Sweetman, treasurer of Ossory in 1360 (but of course!), Black Lightning tapped into popular perceptions of sections of the civil rights movement, stating “justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear".
Make Your Own – Civil Lights Activist:
Using the scales of justice from the Statue of Liberty, whisk together a potent blend of equality and righteous powers until frothy and delicious. Refrigerate, and serve while light and cool.
Among the X-Men introduced in X-Men 1, Cyclops is an all-American classic superhero. His light-based power, the optic blast, is symbolic of his status as an emblem of true heroism, rather than of the more psychologically complex antiheroes who popped up later.
Unable to fully control his immense powers, his immense capability is itself a weakness. Cyclops is a perfect example of how to create a light-themed super-character that isn’t as much of a joke as Dazzler, or as overpowered as Green Lantern and Lightmaster.
Make Your Own – Beacon Of Hope
Take one all-American hero, and pare off any unsightly nationalism left on the stem. Chop finely and spread over several successful decades. Balance the flavours out with excellent leadership qualities, love interests and a touch of cinnamon.