The slacker superhero and the deus ex machina problem

[WARNING: Contains references to violence against women]

BOB X — the black, bisexual super-hero and former slacker with Kryptonian powers, no apparent weaknesses, and an adoptive daughter with kids of her own — is commonly called the greatest hero of his world, but he doesn’t agree. He’d say that title properly belongs to WILLOW SPIRIT, who possesses a genius intellect, MMA-champion fighting skills, and a fortune she has dedicated to fighting crime, but no actual superpowers — only an collection of NON-science fiction, NON-magical gadgets, gear. & weapons . Even Bob’s 8-year-old granddaughter tells him that, Spirit is her favorite superhero because little girls can actually grow up to be like her.

About a year ago, various prominent women (athletes, scientists, activists, and so forth) began disappearing. Bob has not been investigating this because he doesn’t have the skills to solve mysteries, so he left it to Ms. Spirit, letting her know he is available if she needs any assistance on the case. Which is why, an hour ago, he got a call from Ms. Spirit, telling him to meet her at a set of map coordinates — oh, and to pick up her yacht on the way.

Following Ms. Spirit’s instructions, Bob soon found himself on a small Pacific island where the missing women were being held. This Island belong to one ANTHONY BRUCE, one of the richest men in the world and the villain of this story, a raging misogynist who had decided to rid the world of its most prominent feminist icons by means of “re-education” when possible, murder when not. It was Bruce who had abducted all the missing women, and Ms. Spirit has tracked them all here. Being no fool, she called on Bob to help her evacuate the 50 or so surviving captives — about half the number Bruce had kidnapped.

Working together, Ms. Spirit & Bob load the rescuees onto the yacht. Unfortunately, Bruce comes upon the scene before they can make good their exit. With him are a couple dozen guys in Gundam-type mechas. While there is no question that Bob can curb-stomp the mooks, he won’t be able to do so without any collateral damage; it’s likely that some of the women he was helping rescue would get hurt or killed.

But it won’t necessarily come down to a super-fight — not one between Bob and the minions, anyway. Bruce has a serious hate-on for Ms. Spirit, as well as a suit of powered armor. After mocking her for calling Bob for assistance, he challenges her to a one-on-one battle to be live-streamed over the Internet immediately. If she wins, his minions will have orders to allow her to leave with Bob and the captives unmolested. If she dies… well, clearly there is no stopping Bob from leaving with at least some of the women, but Bruce will have accomplished his biggest victory to date.

Bob has seen armor of this type before. Making the user strong enough to bench press about 10 tons and armed with miniguns, lasers, and buzzsaws, it might as well be shooting soap bubbles as far as Bob is concerned. But he can’t see how Willow Spirit — clad in kevlar and armed with a pair of handguns and various ninja weapons — can last more than a minute against somebody wearing it. Nonetheless, his non-powered associate wants to take the villain on solo.

“This asshole hates accomplished women,” Ms. Spirit tells Bob. “He’s been spewing misogynistic shit over the airwaves and Internet for 20 years and has a huge following. He’s murdered dozens of us for offending his needle-dicked sensibilities. It needs to be a human woman who takes him down, and I am the only female hero available. It won’t prove anything if YOU do it. You’re the unbegotten son of Athena or Ishtar or whatever — and you’re a DUDE. It has to be me”

Now let’s be clear. This is a superhero universe, but not a comic book one. Bob is perpetually 30, but everybody else ages, there is no revolving door of death. Nobody comes back from the dead — not villains, not heroes, not Bob’s dead girlfriends and boyfriends. The only deus ex machina around is Bob himself. Moreover, he isn’t
Superman. He doesn’t have the technical skill to x-ray the armor and disable it from a distance with his flash vision, and even if he did, his optic blasts are not invisible to the human eye. He cannot act in an undetectable fashion.

Should Bob let Ms. Spirit do her badass normal best to put Bruce in his place or put his own gotley foot down?

Does Ms Spirit get a suit of power armour?

Assuming not, I’ll ask her to trust me, take down Bruce in his power armour, then leave an unarmoured Bruce to face Ms Spirit, saying, “That’s made things a little more even, don’t you think?” while I tackled the mechs.

OTOH if I were Ms Spirit, I would respond to Bruce by smiling sweetly and saying that I hadn’t called Bob for help because he was a man but because he’s a good person and the best person for the job. “Now Bob, could you please help Bruce out of his penis-enhancer?”

Of course she won’t be allowed her own suit of powered armor. For one thing, surely any suit Bruce has is customized designed to be worn by men. For another, he’s a goddamn super villain. Bad guys don’t play fair.

The problem with your plan is the captives, who are now hostages. If not for fear of them being hurt in the crossfire of a battle between Bob and the mechas, there would be no problem to resolve.

Also, part of Ms Spirit’s opposition to Bob settling the matter with a super-punch is that Bob is a DEMIGOD. (The only one around, incidentally.) If he were Barbara, daughter of Apollo, the situation about proving the point wouldn’t be much different.

If Bob had actual kryptonian superpowers, he’d have super-speed sufficient to move faster than sight, x-ray vision that could locate any secret tricks or armaments, and laser vision that could damage things with pinpoint precision. There would be no collateral damage; no mortal mook regardless of their armament can even so much as inconvenience a kryptonian-level hero (unless they’re packing some kind of kryptonite).

Don’t screw with Superman.

Anyway, enough fighting the hypothetical - Bob isn’t anywhere near fast enough to extract everyone from their armor and tie them up in steel girders before they can blink, so there will be casualties if the Bruce and his mooks attack.

I’ll further presume that Ms Spirit’s fight won’t be sufficiently distracting to allow Bob the time to slip around the back and remove all the rivets from the mook mechas.

I’ll further presume that Bob is so slow that he wouldn’t be able to interfere with Ms Spirit’s fight once it got started - no jumping in and catching the killing stomp. Bob is tough, but he’s a tortoise. (If he’s not a tortoise, he should let her fight, allow her to possibly lose, but prevent her from being killed.)

Presuming Bob’s a tortoise, and that he really really really cares about not shaming Ms Spirit, Bob should stand back, let Ms Spirit fight, while fully prepared to beat trash if/when she loses.

Skald, in the spirit of the mod instructions given to you previously, please include a warning at the beginning of your OPs if your hypotheticals are going to get into graphic and/or targeted violence against women. Thank you.

Spirit’s gonna lose, so Bob X might as well start rescuing while Bruce stomps her.

Of course, being a superhero universe, the kidnapped women would bond together and then Spirit would defeat Bruce thru sheer pluck and determination with their assistance. But she would be embittered by the experience, and then the mechas would accept her as their Leader and then she would replace Bruce and turn her attention to ridding the universe of misogynistic men (including Bob X) and that would start a whole new cycle of conflict between Spirit and Bob, but with a strong undercurrent of sexual tension.

Or else just kill the hostages.


Something has occurred to me.

I was tempted to suggest that prior to sending Ms. Spirit to her death, Bob should first ask her some gentle probing question on the order of “Are you out of your freaking mind???” while making subtle hand signals like pointing at the giant enemy mech with a wildly shaking hand.

And then it occurred to me that, too, was fighting the hypothetical.

Willow Spirit is explicitly described as having a genius level intellect. She’s not a moron, and she’s not some kind of wild-eyed fanatic who would moronically defeat her own purpose by giving the villain the opportunity to prove that men always beat women. I mean, look at it - the only reason she’s insisting that she’s going to fight is because a woman needs to take Bruce down. Not fight and lose to him, take him down. If she fights and loses that’s worse than not fighting at all.

Which means she wouldn’t do it.

This means that Ms Spirit has a plan. Bob doesn’t know what it is - but then he’s not a genius. Ms. Spirit is one, and she has a plan, and she’s going to clean Bruce’s clock.

The hypothetical requires it.
(In other words: Don’t screw with Batman either.)

Following up on that, 2 against 1 sounds more sensible.

You mean the two heroes against Bruce? That’s not the hypothetical. You get either Ms. Spirit alone against Bruce alone, or you get Ms. Spirit and Bob vs. Bruce and his army of evil Gundam pilots in a battle that we’re informed will result in collateral damage and an annoyed Ms. Spirit.

The mod instructions don’t say anything about TARGETED violence against women. On the graphic. There is nothing graphic in the story. There is the clear implication of possible future violence, but that is not the same thing.

I am not wolves lawyering. I am pointing out that you seem to be moving the goalposts. Next I will get mod-noted for talking about the movies PSYCHO or PRECIOUS.

Jesus, if you tried split those hairs any further, we’d have to send them to a forensics lab.

Well, Ms Spirit alone isn’t going to get you anywhere, except dead Ms. Spirit.

Ms. Spirit disagrees with you, and she’s no moron.

I’m sticking with the conclusion that the hypothetical requires us to accept that Batman can beat Luthor singlehanded.

What the crap?

For the record, all we have asked is that you put a head’s up in any hypotheticals that involve unexpected violence and degradation of women. The original instructions apparently weren’t broad enough that any unexpected violence (sexual or otherwise) targeted against women needed such an alert.

So now you know. No one is telling you to stop or warning you, just put a disclaimer.

Any further discussion should be taken to ATMB or PM.

Were I Bob, I’d ask Ms. Spirit “You sure you can take him?”. And then I’d respect her answer. She knows what she’s doing. And even if her plan is to graphically die at the armor-enhanced hands of Bruce in order to become a martyr and spearhead a massive publicity campaign, or the like, well, that’s her choice to make.

edit: forget it