Power Games (article).

an article by: GF Willmetts

Something that comicbook fans have often debated over the decades is just who is the most powerful in their particular favoured universe. It becomes complicated when mixing across realities, mostly because the criteria for abilities varies. I mean, if you had to match Doctor Strange against Doctor Fate, the latter is formidable simply because he doesn’t have to recite spells to evoke his mystical energies. Then again, Doctor Fate is the embodiment of an Egyptian god, Nabu, and probably, energy wise, has more in common with Dormammu of the Dark Dimension than the mortal Doctor Strange. Like to like does not have a basis in whether they are good or evil, let alone the definition as to whether magic isn’t just advanced energy science or inter-dimensional alien scientific technology. If it was just a matter of deciding by who has beaten who, successfully over the years, things would be a lot simpler but no one, good or evil, has stayed beaten or dead for long.

Rather than complicate things by mixing comicbook companies, at least for this article, I’m going to stick to one reality. The choice being the DC Universe, home of some of the most powerful beings in comicbook reality as it contains mythical gods, very powerful aliens and super-human mortals.

In many respects, many of these beings in their later carnations had to have weaknesses added if for no other reason than to give their opponents a chance. Without a weakness to kryptonite and magic, Superman could clobber any opponent and a quick end to his story of the month. In more recent years, with Superman’s power limits better defined, it was easier to bring in opponents of equal or even the more powerful Doomsday who killed him for a time, so he had to rely on his wits as much as his strength or invulnerability.

From that example, it’s not difficult to say that Superman isn’t the most powerful character, not when the likes of Doctor Fate, Zatanna or other Magi could stop him with a spell had they chose to cross his path. Whether or not the spell would last long enough for the Kryptonian to beat them later would remain to be seen or what they did to him. It does make me wonder why the likes of Lex Luthor or Brainiac have never thought to take my mysticism or at least employ someone who can. Mind you, anyone who can acquire a piece of kryptonite would have him at a disadvantage, although strangely, it’s not in proportion to the size of the rock itself. You could make a small fortune selling kryptonite dust if you had any. Likewise, if someone can strand Superman on a planet under a red star would certainly do that as well. Maybe we should be grateful that the DC Magi have some limits in either their imagination, range of scale of their magical abilities.

The same could be said for the inhabitants of Daxam, who share a common ancestry with Kryptonians. Something in their bio-chemistry has them react fatally with lead. Quite how they get around shielding nuclear piles or other radioactive sources on their home planet is never really investigated but maybe it’s only when they are off-world and develop super-powers that lead poisoning develops. I would speculate that once charged up, lead messes up their ability to store energy and their own energies destroy them. This would at least explain how the anti-lead serum created by Legionnaire Brainiac 5 could protect Lar Gand aka Mon-el aka Valor, especially as its key ingredient is kryptonite.

DC writers in the past were notorious for creating unrealistic weaknesses that their modern counter-parts have felt they had to explain better. Take the Green Lantern Corps’ power rings that have no effect on anything coated in yellow, irrespective of the material. You wouldn’t even have to use something like gold but yellow paint to give yourself some protection against them. That still applies today, although the explanation that the main power battery contains a yellow-based fear inducing creature Parallax gives some reasoning but not the vulnerability, although this has since been altered somewhat and only affects new power ring holders who have yet to face their greatest fears If you have a weakness, the last thing you should do is tell people about it. Members of any of the various coloured Lantern Corps out there might possess a power ring that gives unlimited power limited only by their imagination but their energy manifestations don’t last and that are vulnerable for ten seconds each day when it is recharged. The Guardians of OA have less limited power rings but prefer to work through their organisation than directly against any opponent.

This is also important. Having the greatest powers in the cosmos doesn’t mean you’re going to use them. The DC Universe has many beings who have god-like powers but few of them choose to get involved in any dispute or battle. Even the Spectre, who is probably the nearest to being the most powerful god-like being restricts himself to one-on-one vengeance acts. Down from him is Darkseid, whose primary source, like that of the New Gods, comes from The Source and whose power is somewhat diminished without its proximity. Is it any wonder that he sought the anti-life equation?

However, this study isn’t to assert the right or wrong use of any super-ability or power but the necessity to it to stop all on-comers and woe betide anyone if it’s also that person. Said power cannot depend on any temporary fix or else any sleep, if required, would make the person vulnerable to reprisial.

Although it would be easy to pick one of the gods or god-like beings like Darkseid, my candidate could probably stop him as well. When I picked up on the Legionnaire Jan Arrah of Trom aka Element Lad it was because a being that can change atomic matter into any other element has to be truly formidable. In Adventure Comics # 331, he was up there with Superboy and Mon-el as the most powerful Legionnaires against Cosmic King, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen and did something none of them could do by making the asteroid they were on unstable and likely to blow up by the activity of their three opponents. Laevar Bolto of Venus aka Cosmic King himself can transform elements but it appears only in a limited fashion and certainly not the speed that Element Lad can do so.


Quite how Element Land manipulates and stores any energy that the process involves in never explained but any being who can do what he does must surely have a means to do so and might well use it to manipulate other element changes. Although his powers hasn’t been demonstrated, as far as I know, against beings possessing magical abilities, anyone with a physical body could be stopped by him, making only the likes of the the immaterial Spectre above his class.

As a being who lives in the 30th or 31st century, most super-beings in the 20th or 21st century are probably unlikely to ever encounter Element Lad. I did have a look around for any super-beings with transformation abilities in current times and there is limited choice. Metamorpho can do so, but only to his own body. Firestorm in all of his carnations can manipulate matter but with limits, especially without Profession Martin Stein’s help, the Ronnie Raymond aspect is lousy at chemistry. Certain of the Magi can do material transmutation, but it is assumed that this is limited to the duration of the spell or magical energy and I’ve never been quite sure that that is anyway. If we apply Clarke’s Law, then magical energy is just some form of advanced super-energy anyway which might explain how people on the DC Earth accept some of the more exotic powered beings that occasionally pop up there.

The only other contenders from the 30th century might but don’t have the range. Arlik of Phlon aka Chemical King is inappropriate named because his ability is to primarily speed up or slow down chemical reactions. It’s a specific type of ability that doesn’t appear to show much differentiation as to what he affects and LSH writers have commented in the past that they didn’t really know what to do with his abilities so was seriously under-used. One only has to look at Element Lad’s first appearance in Adventure Comics # 307, that his writer Edmond Hamilton didn’t realise that he could affect compounds as they contained elements to realise that his chemistry knowledge was somewhat lacking.

Ulu Vakk of Lupra aka Color Kid aka Color King is an unusual case as back in Adventure Comics # 351, he altered the composition of a green kryptonite cloud and the green kryptonite capsules in Superboy and Supergirl’s brains from green to blue kryptonite, effectively neutralising it. Element Lad’s earlier attempt to turn the cloud into helium gas began to create a chain-reaction instead on his only attempt might have been more to do with the energies released than the gas itself. With the knowledge of what Color Kid did later, one could only speculate that had Element Lad followed suit, then a similar solution would have sorted things out and short-cut the two-part story.

Although this is very much the only recorded instance, it does suggest that Color Kid’s ability is more than change the colour of something but also change its isotope composition as well. Whether it could or is being done to other materials is unknown but the ability to affect the stability of radioactive elements could be devastating. Color Kid might not be a world-beater but he’s far from weak but still not in Element Lad’s class.

Given the right reason, I’m sure Element Lad could take on all-comers, especially if he had to throw aside his pacifist tendencies. Even so, he doesn’t have to kill. Just turning a key element in the atmosphere into a sedative would be pretty potent. That would reduce the one-on-one encounters which tends to stop many a super-villain anyway close up.

With the changes in the DC Universe post-Crisis, there has only been one Element Lad [see ‘Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds’] who was not this powerful in that his any element change was temporary before reverting back to its original composition, although writer Geoff Johns involved did not explain if this was a gas how it could be collected back at its source point. As it has been explained that there are at least fifty-two realities and we’ve only seen a couple of them, it is probably that the other Element Lads out there have similar capacities.

Always remember, this choice is based off a total win. Those who can manipulate the elements, viruses or have psionic abilities cannot take on everyone in a sustainable way. There will always be someone who can resist. With Element Lad, how can you beat someone who can transmutate the oxygen you breathe into something toxic so quickly? No wonder Jan Arrah acts with restraint. He’s simply too powerful to do otherwise.

© GF Willmetts 2012

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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