One trope that annoys me is the whole idea of Bad Powers, Bad People. Two main reasons. First and foremost, it shows a lack of creativity on the part of the writer. If there’s one thing humans have been good at for millennia, it’s, “I’ve got too much X, you have Y that I’d like, Let’s Make a Deal.”
(And yes, I mean make a deal instead of murder and banditry. We’re innately lazy critters. Why expend all the energy to kill someone and take their stuff if you can bargain them out of some of it instead? Then you can do it again next year, and so on. Murder is a one and done; you can’t get any more from that person. Wasteful.)
You secrete acid with a touch? Chemists want your number. Zombies rise in your presence? Search & Rescue at mass disasters would be glad to have you; why risk lives recovering the dead if they can crawl out of the rubble themselves? You can kill all life in a 50’ radius? Okay, that one’s a little trickier, but you could do a thriving business going through temporarily-empty hospitals to kill off all the stray MRSA and other nasty bugs just waiting to infect people. Surgeons would pay for a sterile operating room! Heck, there are farmers and ranchers who’d call you in when something infectious hit their properties.
But one that’s really made me cranky lately is BnHA’s Shigaraki – “he disintegrates everything he touches, of course he’s a villain!”
First off, it’s a five-point contact Quirk (all 5 fingers must touch the target), so as long as he knows that, he has control over what he does and doesn’t disintegrate. A bandaid wrapped on one fingertip would be enough to keep it under wraps.
Second, “disintegrate what you touch” is something medicine, construction, and many other industries would love to have on call.
Someone’s been impaled by a girder. What would you rather do; cut them up more to get it out? Or disintegrate it with someone standing by to vacuum the dust and clean the wound?
You took down a hotel. Which is cheaper, hiring a crane and its specialized operators to move various unstable pieces to a dumpster? Or a bulldozer to scoop up dirt and dust?
You’re making fine porcelain. Do you want to pay hand over fist for access to the few good deposits of kaolin clay? Or would you rather get much more common granite, and hire a guy to turn it to clay dust?
It’s not your powers. It’s how you use them.
Which leads to the second main reason for my cranky; yes, it also involves a “lack of writer creativity”. People are more than just their powers and abilities. They are what they choose to do with those powers.
The knife that slits a throat can be turned to lifesaving surgery. The same fire that burns a house down can boil water to sterilize that knife. Radiation that leaves people dying in agony can – in small, controlled doses – kill cancer and save them.
Ethics. Self-control. Knowledge of what is and isn’t safe. If your hero doesn’t have those, it doesn’t matter what powers they have; they’re a menace to themselves and anyone around them. If your villain does, and still uses their powers to hurt and kill-
Then that’s a choice. Not their powers.
If you want to make a villain with horrible terrifying powers, fine. If those powers drove them insane, and that’s why they’re a villain – okay, valid, insane people can do horrible things. It won’t be as interesting a villain for your hero to beat, but that’s real life too.
But saying someone with a scary power is innately evil is like saying everyone with a knife is a sadist out to stab you. Sometimes they’re a surgeon instead.
(Yes, there are sadists who channel that “want to cut people up” into surgery. Real-life potential evil turned to moral ends.)
Make your villains real. Give them reasons for their villainy. “Bad powers” isn’t nearly enough.