Why Superpowers in Worm Feel Different

[This won’t make sense if you haven’t at least started Worm, but doesn’t contain spoilers.]

In the hands of most superhero writers, any Tinker from Worm would be a “super-genius” rather than having specific limits on their specialty mentioned (even if in practice the things they make are the same). Any Alexandria package would be an identical flying brick with maybe one other power. Velocity would be “a speedster”.

And so on.

Any writer could take a superhero like Superman, Captain America or Scarlet Witch and give them firmly-defined limits that actually impact the story.

Superman feeds on sunlight; does that mean he has to ration his power, or that he takes steps to make sure he’s exposed to more sunlight during his everyday life, or that standing in sunlight feels different to him than a human? Captain America has “enhanced skill” that lets him bounce his shield around like a boomerang and dodge bullets and so on; how does that change how he sees the world, and what skills doesn’t it cover (he clearly can’t make Iron Man armour), and how does that alter his training; why doesn’t he use it to bounce bullets around corners instead of a shield? What is Scarlet Witch’s power, exactly, and what can’t she do?

This even applies to non-superhumans, the Black Widows and Nick Furys of the world. Wildbow puts real thoughts into what gadgets the PRT have available, what tactics they use, what political pressures there are on them.

I strongly suspect that Wildbow could take pretty much any mainstream superhero and make a Worm-tier story about them.

Consider the flying bricks in the Justice League: Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, Hawkman & Hawkwoman, and Icon. (Specifically, that’s the Young Justice lineup; the list in the comics varies.)

These characters are all very different! Superman is powered by sunlight, his durability and strength come from either a forcefield or hyper-density depending on the version, he has super-senses none of the others do, his flight is sometimes stated to come from personal telekinesis or gravity-manipulation. Captain Marvel’s powers come from magic, and he has “the Wisdom of Solomon” and “the speed of Mercury”. Hawkman and Hawkwoman are relatively squishy aliens(?) who fly using wings, and only hit as hard as they do using magic/hypertech weapons. And so on.

Naively, one might expect these things to make them very different in a fight – Superman is an alien with a protective forcefield and telescopic vision, Captain Marvel is a super-genius with the speed of a god, the Hawks are presumably flying much slower than the others.

And yet they feel generic, because their powers are largely treated as identical by the narrative and fight choreography, bar the occasional energy blast.