Superheroes: people with powers

Feb 18th, 2015 | By | Category: Current Issue

By Luke Moy

“‘The little worm found a nugget of self-worth, she just doesn’t want to look too closely at what that nugget is made of.’”

John McCrae’s “Worm,” a web serial that wrapped in 2013, is about an adolescent girl, Taylor, who wishes to become a superhero in a world where superheroes and villains (deemed “capes”) are the norm. However, Taylor befriends a group of villains, and throughout the story she is pushed further and further down the path of villainy, struggling with issues of morality and good and evil.

While fantastical powers exist along with a wholly unique power system, the engines of the work are the characters and how powers and superhero concepts change them as people.

Taylor’s power does grow and develop throughout the work, but this is in keeping with her developing mind, the destabilization of her worldview, and how her intent to do good becomes more self-serving, morally ambiguous and her measures more extreme. Seeing Taylor evolve from a quiet, bookish girl to a methodical and intimidating villain while having her morals tested is part of the reason this work is representative to me of the superhero genre at its strongest.

Whenever I think about what makes a particular work of the superhero genre a success or a failure, I ask myself if the work is telling a “powers with people” (action-based) or “people with powers” (character-based) story. “Worm” is clearly the latter, engaging readers on a level that transcends simple action and instead settles for exploration of character, morality and the human condition.

With the post-”Batman” influx of superhero films taking the world by storm, it seems to me that the studio suits are focusing wholly on the less-interesting “powers with people” aspect of the genre. While exciting, it just isn’t as compelling as the “people with powers” approach.

Taylor and her cohorts often struggle between doing terrible things for the right reasons and doing things that might be for the greater good but otherwise don’t sit well with their moral code. These choices prove “Worm” as a definitive example of how the superhero genre can be so much more than just the Avengers tearing through downtown Manhattan or Superman duking it out with a guy who yells for no reason.

Taking a page from Allan Moore’s “Watchmen” (1986), Matt Fraction’s “Invincible Iron Man” (2009-13) and other superhero masterworks, Worm joins the top-tier works of superhero fiction as yet another example in not only how to craft good superhero stories, but also in how to engage audiences on a deeper level than just run-of-the-mill super-heroics.

What the suits just don’t seem to realize is that the superhero genre is something meaningful, but with the current trend of pre-packaged “comic book movies,” that’s getting stifled.

lmoy@willamette.edu

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