Heroes Never Rust #95 by Sean Ironman
Terror Inc.: Superpowers
After so many decades of superheroes, new superpowers are difficult to come by. We have our heroes that represent normal human abilities at an extreme: Captain America, Superman, The Flash, etc. We have our heroes mixed with animal motifs: Spider-man, Hawkman, Ant-Man, etc. We have our mystical heroes: Doctor Strange, Daimon Hellstrom, John Constantine, etc. There are thousands of superheroes, each with their own power, many of which are similar. Now, though, it has become difficult to make a hero with unique superpowers. There are a few aspects that go into deciding on a character’s powers. First, powers must be useful in some way, especially in a fight. A superhero having the ability to make a villain sneeze wouldn’t be too helpful. Second, powers must be visually interesting. Comics is a visual medium after all. Even powers like telepathy are shown in a visual manner. Third, and perhaps most importantly, powers have to relate to some aspect of humanity, are a kind of wish fulfillment.. Superman’s powers are a wish fulfillment. The super soldier serum injected into Steve Rogers that makes him Captain America lets people see what humanity is capable of. It’s been a long time since I have seen an interesting new power in a superhero.
Until I read Terror Inc. by David Lapham and Patrick Zircher.
The main character, Terror, is fifteen-and-a-half centuries old. Originally a member of the Vandals who sacked Rome, Terror was cursed by the Romans. The curse decomposes Terror’s body, but the curse also keeps him alive. He trades his rotting body parts with fresh parts. For example, he can rip his leg off and replace it with someone else’s leg. Or, at one point in the first issue, he rips his head off and replaces it with another’s head so that he can go undercover. He can replace his body with animals as well.
Terror’s superpowers are interesting because they are unique. Even when it comes to darker superheroes, I can’t think of one who acts as a kind of cannibal, consuming body parts to get the job done. Going back to the superpower guidelines listed earlier, Terror’s powers are useful. First, he can’t be killed—unless, of course, he finds a way to rid himself of the curse. And, when he needs to overpower a foe, he can take body parts off a larger, stronger person, or perhaps even a bear or other powerful animal. He can change his body to fit the need for the mission. In a later issue, he’s in the body of a frog. His powers allow for unique storytelling. Some times in superhero comics, the situation the hero finds himself in is similar to the situation of another superhero. How many times has Daredevil or Captain America comics been similar to Batman, and vice versa? But, with Terror, writers can create suicide missions with the suicide. His powers are also visually interesting. Artists are not confined to true anatomy with Terror. Different size arms and legs fit—even animal body parts on a human body part. Readers are easily able to keep track of Terror using his powers. Finally, his powers relate to a basic human need—survival. Terror’s powers are based in immortality. Who hasn’t thought of living forever? Yet, his powers are also his curse—he cannot die and will forever be damned with a body that rots and must be replaced.
The cost of magic is necessary, which is a reason why I find most fantasy stories lacking. A character who lives forever must have some kind of conflict. Magic cannot just give power—it must take, as well. Superpowers cost heroes something—they do not just grant enormous strength, or the power of flight, or the ability to wall crawl. Spider-man must give up his personal life, must lie to his aunt, must let down those who love Peter Parker because he has superpowers. Superman must live beside human beings without ever truly being a part of them. He is a permanent outsider. Captain America’s powers allowed him to live following the war frozen in ice, but now he must continue on after everyone he knew and loved has died. There must be a downside to superpowers. If not, the character will no longer be relatable. We readers need our heroes down to Earth.
Also, Terror’s powers are grotesque. Some readers may be put off by him severing a limb and fusing it to his own body, but it has an instant emotional reaction. The uniqueness of Terror’s situation is memorable, whether one finds it gross or awesome.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.