The Trouble with Omnipotent Characters

 

Graphic novels often feature protagonists and other characters capable of performing godlike feats beyond human comprehension. While these characters are certainly impressive to behold, they can also cause a graphic novel to succumb to certain narrative pitfalls. After all, if a character is all-powerful and cannot be defeated how can there be any sense of urgency to the story? How can there be any reasonable conflict involving a character who will always win? Here’s a couple of examples and analyses of successful approaches to the omnipotent character:

 

Doctor Manhattan:

Doctor

Moore’s approach to the problem of the omnipotent character in Watchmen is very much a philosophical one. Dr. Manhattan is unique in Watchmen in that he is the only character with superhuman abilities. Dr. Manhattan is on an entirely different level of power compared to the other heroes, even being capable of perceiving reality at an atomic level. Since it would be unrealistic to have him be challenged physically by any of the other characters, Moore focuses on the internal conflict within Dr. Manhattan. In Watchmen we see Dr. Manhattan become progressively more disconnected to humanity. He takes a deterministic view of life since he is capable of perceiving his entire life simultaneously. Dr. Manhattan’s biggest conflict is one of words and not of a physical nature. Dr. Manhattan and Laurie AKA Silk Spectre II get into an argument on Mars as to whether or not Dr. Manhattan should help save humanity. Ultimately, Dr. Manhattan decides to help humanity after it is revealed that Laurie’s father is The Comedian. Dr. Manhattan views her unlikely birth by two diametrically opposite people as a form of “miracle.” This restores his interest in humanity and inspires him to consider creating life of his own.

 

 

Superman:

sman

 

Perhaps the most well-known example of the omnipotent protagonist, Superman’s enduring popularity shows that all-powerful characters can still be interesting. An interesting decision made by Siegel and Shuster was to have Superman’s archrival be a mere mortal man. A very wealthy and intelligent mortal man albeit, but certainly not someone capable of posing a credible physical threat to Superman. Lex Luthor relies mainly on tricks and underhanded strategies to put Superman in compromising situations. This can create interesting scenarios wherein Luthor will create schemes in order to turn Superman’s own unshakeable morality against him.

 

Goku:   ssggoku

 

The final and most direct approach to creating interesting conflicts and scenarios involving omnipotent characters is fairly straightforward: raise the stakes by introducing an even more overpowered opponent or villain. This is pretty much the formula for every saga of Dragon Ball Z and more recently Dragon Ball Super. While not as subtle as the approaches previously discussed, it can still be extremely effective when executed correctly. In the most recent chapters of Dragon Ball Super Goku becomes a God through an ancient Saiyan ritual and does battle with the God of Destruction Beerus. During their battle the universe itself begins to collapse under their might. The scale and stakes in graphic novels don’t get much higher than that.

 

 

dragonballsuperscan

 

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