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In fiction, it's usually human superheroes without powers like Batman or Green Arrow, that use tech or depend on tech to make up for their lack of superpowers.

Not all metahumans are bulletproof, but I still see that it's common for metahuman characters to not have any tech at all.

There is a character called Black Canary. She has a sonic scream power. Depending on the version this power is either tech-based itself or mutant/meta-based. Either way, the character doesn't wear any protection. She just dresses in street clothes and screams at bad guys.

Another example of this is a character called Iron Fist. He has Chi Energy-based powers. Iron Fist isn't really a durable character. Some versions of this character can even run out of Chi and become more vulnerable like a normal human, yet this character still chooses to wear a costume with his chest out.

This makes me wonder. Is an audience less likely to be interested in super-powered characters who depend on tech, because the tech can take away from their superpowers?

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    Spider-man depends on tech for his webs. Professor X sometimes uses Cerebro. So it does happen. But now that you mention it, not as often as would be sensible.
    – towr
    May 23 at 14:52
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    I think this Grrl Power page illustrates one possible reason. (Maxima – the golden skinned woman – is the most powerful being so far in the story.) Though that doesn't need to complicated tech, just generic obvious one. May 23 at 23:04
  • It also really depends on the conventions of the settings where it's happening. The Daredevil who appeared in Spider-Man: The Animated Series is not wearing armor. The Daredevil in the second season of the Netflix Series absolutely is.
    – notovny
    May 24 at 22:02
  • Supergirl in the CW series uses some sort of earbud tech to let her keep in touch with her teammates. I think this is because in the world of cell phones, there is an expectation of being always in touch, and is an example of how these stories have changed with the times, from the golden and silver ages of comics. May 25 at 21:22

12 Answers 12

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Magneto's helmet:

It is not really shocking for a character to have a combination of physical and technological/magical enhancements to "raise the bar" on what they can do. Magneto has a device (a mind-shielding helmet) that protects him from mind control. Spider man uses web shooters to take advantage of his spider bite-derived powers. Wolverine has a technologically-added adamantium skeleton to maximize the usefulness of his regeneration. Wonder Woman has magical devices, but is also personally extra-ordinary.

One area of logic that IS often suggested but not always addressed is why tech in anime/superhero worlds doesn't proliferate. But Tony Stark building special armor suits for other characters helps address such logical holes. It still depends on the assumption that such tech is only reproducible by some brilliant scientist.

But for story-telling, a lot of people want to see your imagination at how a character with an extraordinary ability uses that ability. If professor X uses an iron man suit to fly, be protected from attack and to walk, then his innate qualities that make him unique start to diminish. At that point, he starts to be so OP that he's less fun to read about or watch.

So story logic and reality logic do diverge a bit. The characters combining tech and abilities should be the ones with either a very specific weaknesses OR who are generally weak to begin with and need help competing with heroes or villains. Of course, adding a tech device to address a weakness or make an outdated character competitive again is always an option. And like the golden armor used by Wonder woman, a tech device can always be taken away.

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  • Your last paragraph also reminds me of Banner wearing the Hulkbuster in the later Avengers movies.
    – Erik
    May 25 at 9:26
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    I think a point you've sort of highlighted with these examples is that the tech a superpowered hero employs either complements their powers (or their "theme"), or allow them to overcome one of their glaring weaknesses that a common enemy would otherwise exploit.
    – user29717
    May 25 at 9:28
  • I added wolverine in my answer as well, I hadnt completely read yours before, so sorry for the plagirism. May 25 at 11:04
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    Is Magneto's helmet actually a special technological device? I always figured it was just a piece of metal that protects him via Faraday effect - basically just a cooler looking version of a tinfoil hat. Any old metal helmet would be equally effective, if less stylish. May 25 at 19:05
  • Wolverine's adamantium skeleton actually detracts from his healing power
    – Kevin
    May 25 at 21:24
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No, I don't think so; it's not automatically bad to have a superpowered character to be relying on tech. But you have to show why they rely on their tech. Example: Spiderman, he has the superpowers of a spider; climb walls, Spidey tingles, enhanced strength and flexibility. But why does he has tech? Because he can't shoot webs organically (unless you are Tobey Maguire). And not only that his whole power seems really great, but there are things his power doesn't do than his tech.

So, use technology to maximize the hero/villain's superpower and potential. Spiderman can't travel fast without his webs from his piece of technology and he can't just jump off from wall to wall or building to building. It's about execution. If your character has this weak moment where their power exhausts them or gives them bad side effects, then you can use the technologies they have to give them time.

And let's do the opposite: make the tech a part of their disadvantage. If their tech defuses or has errors along the way, how will they do it? Fix their tech or not? It's how their gadgetry gives them advantages and disadvantages to appeal to the audience.

While yes, others might think it is an odd concept. At the end of the day, it depends on your character and you, the writer.

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    The tech failing is a good point. I can remember a few times where spider-man got in trouble because his web-shooters broke or ran out of web-fluid.
    – towr
    May 23 at 15:34
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    Spidey running out of web fluid was a recurring plot element in the comics in the 1970s and 1980s, IIRC. Made me wonder why he didn't build a Camel Back style bladder into his suit to hold a gallon of the stuff...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    May 23 at 16:03
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    @ZeissIkon: Maybe he did, and that was why he didn't run out more often?
    – Vikki
    May 24 at 20:03
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There at least 4-5 superheroes at I know, that are both depending on Tech and are still frontrunners in their respective shows.

Captain America

The first Avenger uses the rarest metal on Earth to complement his superhuman abilities. His shield is created by the smartest person on Earth as well, so it’s definitely high tech. It supports his character as well because the shield is a defensive weapon, and Captain America is a non agressive superhero.

Wolverine

Wolverine’s skeleton is enchanced with Adamantium, which makes him much more powerful. This tech was added to him, because his own superpower of rapid healing made him the only person who could survive the surgery. It makes him a toy for Magneto, which is a great story point.

Cyclops

Tech allows him to control his very destructive superpower. Without his glasses, he can’t even see without destroying everything in front of him.

Fantastic Four & Flash

Those guys have suits that can survive heat, elasticity, super speed, invisibility. Their super powers are not hindered without that tech but it creates awkward situations when they dont have their clothes with them. Also for Flash, he needs to consume high protein food to recover the energy he burns, which still counts as tech.

All the superheroes above have a superpower on their own, so they are still something without relying on tech but they still do. They also have their own individual shows, so the audience doesnt care that much and relying on tech is part of their story & character.

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I don't think it's silly at all, nor odd.

I once created an RPG superhero character who had the abilities to become invisible, phase through solid matter, and levitate -- but his forward flight ability was very limited in speed. His solution was to wear a wingsuit with a tiny jet engine (and fuel tank, and incidentally 20 mm cannon) mounted in a backpack. He could barely hover with the weight of engine, fuel, gun, and ammunition -- but with the jet running and the wingsuit carrying his weight, he could fly at above 300 km/h, or with the wingsuit and the jet powered down, he could still use aerodynamic lift to put more of his flight power into forward speed.

In other words, a being with real powers might use tech to augment those powers. It's a very sensible way to go, for one whose powers have significant limitations.

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Thematic harmony is needed in order for a superhero to become iconic.

There's no particular reason, in the Marvel universe, why Spider-Man couldn't acquire a jet-pack, a magic ring, and an energy blaster pistol. He might find those things useful, but they wouldn't contribute to the theme of a spider hero. On the other hand, web-shooters do fit his theme, so they're acceptable. (Organic web-shooters make for a simpler origin story, but home-made technology has storytelling potential of its own.)

Magneto's anti-psychic helmet made sense because he was defined by his philosophical opposition to the psychic Professor X. Luke Skywalker's energy sword is an appropriate weapon for a science-fiction knight. A magic hammer would be an odd weapon for Superman, but is the obvious choice for Thor.

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  • Spiderman actually did get a suit from Tony Stark. And some versions of Spiderman did require him to invent the webslinger, instead of having it as part of his superpowers. May 25 at 17:14
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Yes and no.

Superhumans are commonly using conceptually simple weapons or armor, often produced with the involvement of high tech. Thor is using Mjollnir, Captain America is using his shield, Jedi knights are using lightsabers, and as DWKraus's answer mentioned, Magneto is using a special helmet.

Those weapons/armors complement superhero abilities and mitigate their weaknesses. What's common about those items is that they are very simple in their concept, even prehistoric humans would be able to grasp their effect.

On the other hand, the use of "gadgets" among superhumans is indeed uncommon. A theme of superheroes defying or bypassing complex technology rather than benefiting from it is quite common ("Use the force, Luke!")

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I agree it is silly, and I think it would make sense.

Even if somebody's superpower were invulnerability, without any attack powers they should still carry something that helps them subdue bad guys. Zip ties or something!

It would be great to wade into gunfire, explosions, blazing fires etc and be unharmed, but eventually you need to tackle the bad guys and subdue them; if you don't have any super strength (or much normal strength) you probably want some sort of tech to help with that.

On the flip side, having only offense superpowers are a problem if you are physically vulnerable to guns, knives, explosions, fire, acid, etc. You need some sort of armor on the defensive side.

Great, you can knock people down and out with a glance. But how about that sniper from a quarter mile you didn't even know was there? Or the bad ninja with a knife you didn't even hear sneak up on you from behind?

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Forge, a member of the X-Men has this exact ability. From his Wikipedia page:

Forge is a mutant with a superhuman intuitive talent for inventing mechanical devices, backed up by the ability to visually perceive mechanical energy in action. This power allows him to instinctively recognize the potential and functional uses of any machine or technological device in his visual range, a skill that, combined with his natural intelligence, gives him the ability to conceive, design and build highly advanced mechanical devices; and operate, modify and disassemble existing technology or create countermeasures for it.

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The Incredibles (2004)

In the Pixar movie The Incredibles, there's a scene (two, actually) where Edna Mode spends a couple minutes explaining/demoing the super-suits she made for the Parr family, and how their technical qualities match their different super powers and personalities:

  • Bob (Mr. Incredible): he has super strength, so his (former) super suit was made of "megamesh", a very sturdy material, though "outmoded".
  • Helen (Elastigirl): to match her super elasticity, Edna designs a suit that "can stretch as far as [Helen] can without injuring [her]self, and will retain its shape; virtually indestructible -- yet it breathes like Egyptian cotton".
  • Violet: she can make her own body invisible, but not her normal clothes; Edna manages to create "a sturdy material that will disappear completely as she does".
  • Dash: he has super speed; correspondingly, his suit is designed to withstand "enormous friction without heating up or wearing out".
  • Jack-Jack: the baby has no known powers, but he's still a super-baby, so... A "basic" bullet- and fire-proof super suit, which is also "roomy for the free movement", "comfortable for sensitive skin" -- and machine-washable!

Being a Pixar movie, we can probably agree this movie is aimed at the general public (rather than the more classic-superhero-comics fans); and yet, the idea of superheroes relying on tech for their superhero work is seen as something quite normal; not an odd concept at all.

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Frame Challenge: If the superhero doesn't, will their opponents use that to their advantage?

Ultimately, the core of the issue is if they're augmenting themselves with technology on top of their superpowers, are they covering for weaknesses? Or enhancing existing strengths?

If it's strengths, they they start to get power creep, but their weaknesses are still open for abuse. If it's for weaknesses, then the "Trick" to getting one over them is to use stuff to get rid of the tech, and now they've got their weaknesses back.

If they themselves don't use technology to augment their existing super powers, they'll run into an issue if an opponent does. Or perhaps, use technology to harness the superhero's superpower effects, and then respond with those same powers as a response.

So they can be essentially forced to ante-up against some opponents, although how they choose to ante-up depends on the character's choice themselves.

There's also some potential for interesting combinations that arise from their powers and the technology they're using - for example, if Aquaman gets a space suit and goes to space - is his ability to communicate to aquatic animals essentially null and void, or does he discover the ability to talk to Space Whales? (Interestingly: according to that TVTropes link, it doesn't look like the DC Universe has actually explored that question yet, though there is precedent for the possibility that it could.)

As I mentioned at the start though - it's going to depend on what they use their technology for, not so much as what the technology is.

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Black Lightning has super human powers, yet uses a suit to enhance those powers. He has a family and some friends that do the same, including Barron, who has the superpower of accessing technology directly with his mind.

Painkiller, in the same universe, has superpowers, yet uses all kind of weapons and tech, even though he can deliver a killing blow with just a touch of his poison.

Supergirl uses cell phones, just like most superheros in modern settings.

The Flash uses a variety of technology built at Star Labs. One of his friends, Vibe, uses all kinds of technology, as well as building it for himself, the Flash, and other members of team Flash.

Professor X uses Cerebro to enhance and extend his mind powers. All of the mutants in the X-Men universe use a variety of technology, if just for communication and transportation.

Deadpool uses guns and other weapons, including cell phones. He also relied on technology to get his superpowers.

A less generally accepted superpower is enhanced intellect, which Lex Luthor, Lena Luthor, Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Cisco Ramon (Vibe), Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and others likely have that is what probably allows them to invent the technology they use.

Depending on what you classify as technology/gadget or tech, simply wearing clothes that aren't animal skins is technically technology. Riding in cars, instead of walking, is relying on gadgets.

It's absolutely normal for people, even those with superpowers, to use the current technology of the day as well as the technology they need to overcome the villain of the day. Even Superman flies in planes on occasion and uses other tech.

Superpowered individuals use tech so often that it's easily overlooked. I'm sure I've barely skimmed the surface, especially given that I've tried to not step on the examples given in other answers.

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Consider the alternative. You have a superhero who needs no reliance on any technology because anything can be accomplished at will. How boring. Any character who has no limits, no challenges to overcome, has not much of a story. So of course any character may have innate abilities, but not every ability would be innate. It is only natural that the character would augment ability with available technology.

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