ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the March 18, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] janetmiles. It also fills the "wishing" square on my 11-26-13 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by LiveJournal user Lb_lee. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

WARNING: This poem mentions some weird forms of self-harm and gruesome situations, inspired by superhero origin stories.


"Hercules Complex"


There are those who are not
satisfied with being ordinary,
who seek to gain superpowers
by any means conceivable.

They push themselves to the limits,
attempting to replicate freak accidents
that have transformed others into superhumans.

They jump into vats of toxic chemicals,
expose themselves to radiation,
and leap into dangerous situations
hoping that the intensity of the stimulation
will somehow trigger a change.

For the most part, it does not;
a majority of the seekers simply die.
Most of the survivors suffer horrible injuries,
some permanent, even crippling.

The latent potential is spread far and wide
throughout the throng of humanity,
and nobody knows exactly what it is
or how it might manifest,
only that certain things sometimes
seem to bring it to the surface.

The few people who have it
often gain their gifts under extreme duress,
and there is a sort of pattern to it.

This is what the seekers pursue
with such desperate ardor,
and the few who succeed
only spur on those who follow.

It is a peculiar kind of self-harm
in which the intent is not injury but increase,
and yet it lessens more often than it improves,
the mental flaw creating a weak point
regardless of outer strength.

It's called the Hercules Complex,
after the demigod who yearned
to prove himself a true hero
through the quest of twelve labors.

It can even happen by proxy,
as the old gladatorial arenas exposed,
for throwing people into extraordinary situations
sometimes makes them extraordinary,
and so the legends begin.

Yet it cannot truly be controlled;
it is a matter of chance or fate
or something more ephemeral still.

For all their wishing,
they remain terribly ignorant.

What they do not understand --
what nobody with the Hercules Complex
could ever begin to grasp --

what is nevertheless known
to every supernary hero in the world --

is that it isn't power
which makes a hero,
but heart.

* * *

Notes:

Hercules is a classic figure known for his twelve labors, variously described as being expiation for wrongs done or a means of proving himself a true hero.

A "complex" is a mess of feelings about something that can cause psychological trouble.

The psychology behind superhero origin stories is complicated. Here are some sample origins.

People like to tell stories about characters with amazing abilities. We talk about demigods, heroes, superheroes, legends, and so forth. Superheroes are often describes as modern gods, and they can tell us a lot about ourselves.

Gladiators were historic fighters who underwent stupendous danger and sometimes manifested amazing survival ability.

Self-harm involves damaging one's body for emotional release or other reasons. While cutting is the most common example, there are many others -- and some people hurt themselves with extreme fitness routines or other things that can resemble self-improvement. There are ways to stop injuring yourself, or to support someone who self-harms.

Supernaries are ordinary people who use intense training to compete on a level with those who have superpowers. Some readers prefer heroes without superpowers. There are also supernary villains. The whole point is that you don't need special powers to become a superhero. You can be a hero in real life. The catch is, it's more work than most people want to do.

Shudder.

Date: 2014-04-21 07:00 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Still creeped out by this one, m'dear.

Which was, of course, part of the intention. EX-TREME-LY effective.

If someone flipped a switch and I lost the least important and possibly most annoying disability in my particular "universe", it wouldn't make me "normal". Neither would suddenly being able to bend steel make me a "hero", let alone a "super" one. Both situations might be a lot of fun, or they might be a horrible disaster all the way around; my attitude will probably tip the scales one way or the other.

The bad thing about baggage, especially the metaphysical kind, is that it tends to be right behind you, when you've worn yourself out trying to run away from it.

Re: Shudder.

Date: 2014-04-21 08:41 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
>> What would I do with super-strength? You'll probably laugh, but ... yardwork. I actually have my local ecosystem at epic level on a few markers; the detritus food chain is three days to apex. I could do a lot more if I had the physique to go with my knowhow. <<

Oh, I'm not laughing. I'd completely understand the urge to actually get past a current limitation to do what you're burning from the inside out to accomplish, and whatever's standing in the way is just. Not. Changeable.

If I ever gained a "superpower" (not to be confused with Mother Russia) I think I'd have an even worse time with my own ethics than I do now. I mean, it's hard enough hearing the social script that reads the same way as, "wasn't a witch or wizard who went dark tha' weren't in Slytherin." The social expectation from the world around me is, "You're not in jail? A prostitute or an addict?" all in tones ranging from surprise to complete shock-- while I haven't let that become internalized, mostly through sheer pigheadedness, my REACTION to this crap is far more dangerous.

Striking back at the direct causes of harm like that is so tempting. If they're not around, indirect targets would probably do in a pinch. Gee, that seems to happen a lot in world history...

If I *knew* i could keep a lid on the darker aspects of my personality, I'd really love to have a small superpower. "Small", not because I think making plants grow is "less" useful than an adamantium skeleton, but because I prefer to get in and maximize what I can do with small bits, craps other people have overlooked, whether that's making quilts from damaged clothing, or picking apart a paragraph of fiction to see how many USES a particular phrase has in context.

I'd love to have Cyclops' (the Scott Summers, Marvel comics version) ability to see trajectories and three-dimensional spaces in an eye blink. Clint Barton has a similar ability, though not obviously born of a mutation. What would I do with it? Finally be able to draft out a set of slopers that work for custom clothing patterns. I'd take up woodworking and cabinetry which is more like true carving than following a recipe (until the smoke alarm goes off). Teach preschoolers to fold origami cups. Learn to make 3D models in computer programs. Make a living at any of the above, and volunteer my time and skills in the locla community.

Even a successful use of Dr. Erskine's super-soldier serum isn't worth risking everything I've learned, just to be able to calculate satellite orbits or the vectors of two colliding cars in time to nudge one of them to a less dangerous path.

Re: Shudder.

Date: 2014-04-21 11:09 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
>> Even though he's male, I'd bet on him being tetrachromat. His visual acuity is also so far beyond the norm that he's able to compete on a super scale. Just because it isn't flashy like Cyclops doesn't mean it isn't a mutation. <<

Yeah, he's got several mutations going, just from looking at the actor. You're right about the definition; to clarify maybe I should use a capital-M for the Marvel-verse meaning? Having a stack of three or more minor mutations wouldn't necessarily mean a better chance of developing powers in the Polychrome verse, would it?

You know who I'd hate to be? The actuarians and statisticians who sift through all of these incident reports LOOKING for the traces of pattern which might help explain things... if they can ever get enough positive results.

Oh, and thank you-- I had to go look up tetrachromat/tetrachromancy, and new words are big, fun presents for me.

>>True. That's dicey stuff, even buffered. Because everyone is a mix of light and dark, and most people can't hold focus under that kind of stress. But never let it be said that Steve didn't get anything out of all those beatings. He has fucking unshakeable focus. *snicker* Those poor bastards in the elevator. No wonder he felt compelled to give them one last chance at an exit. There is no way they had fully informed consent for the amount of asskicking they were about to get.

I loved the tiny little tells that put Steve on alert (and then the director ruined by having to LINGER over them until a blind Barbary ape could've read the clues). That scene is basically the epic-superhero-awesome version of "I can kick your butt with one hand tied behind my back!"

Re: Shudder.

Date: 2014-04-21 06:18 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
The other thing the great, glass, MOVING elevator did, besides add tension to the fight itself, was to get them ALL away from the general population of SHIELD. Cap is unlikely to kill even an enemy actively trying to shoot him; if someone were trying to clean his sector of the security teams, I'd certainly think a broken scapula and the resulting months of physical therapy would be a better alternative than possibly hitting/hurting/killing a coworker who may be on his way out to lunch.

Hmm... Midlevel SHIELD security, possibly not an active external agent. Security rating 5, dead in the middle of the scale? Darnit, all the people in the elevator were MALE; I'd love to create a female coworker for Phil. (Not for the romance element or the undercurrents of gender warfare, but because it creates a completely different physical training style.

Re: Shudder.

Date: 2014-07-29 12:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
>>Whoever sent them almost has to be female, or else some other disadvantaged group like a gay or black man. That specific flavor of subterfuge is particular to oppressed people, and very useful for espionage work. But it's damn hard to learn if you haven't grown up with it; most male spies want to be badasses.

It kind of raises the question how Phil learned to be so subtle and diffident.<<

This is a part of why I've always coded him as queer (the other part being that WE NEED MORE QUEER CHARACTERS DAMMIT). You don't learn to be that unassuming unless at some point or other you HAD to be that unassuming.

My own head cannon for it was that being a queer man in the marines before/during DADT isn't a bad time to learn to only show what people expect of you. He probably started out with the top layer more macho to blend in with army culture, unassuming in the army looks different than unassuming in the spy world or for civilians. Then he transformed his skill at blending in (either on his own or through classes, depending on how he got into the business) into an asset when he joined SHIELD

--Anna Libertas

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