Io9 — A Mind Control Double Whammy or Double Miss

Last week, website Io9 published not just one, but two posts dealing with mind control themes. However, I have to give both posts only a mediocre rating.

People Who Gained Superpowers From Being Brainwashed

Ten individuals from SF literature, movies, television, comics, etc, all of whom acquired their powers from being brainwashed. Unfortunately, the histories of these individuals don’t quite match up with description.

Commentary: Unfortunately, out of the list given, only a couple actually fit this title. The rest were indeed brainwashed (or something similar: the article’s definition of brainwashing is overly broad) and gained superpowers but those powers were not directly the result of the brainwashing. (I’m taking a more literal view of the title here than I suspect the author does: I still think its misleading.)

The only ones listed that actually fit the description would be Captain Underpants, an autocratic elementary school principal who was hypnotized into becoming the superhero Captain Underpants when triggered; the Marvel characters Black Widow and Winter Soldier, both Soviet Cold War black ops who were brainwashed into their identifies as part of their training; and River Tam, again, brainwashed as part of her physical and psychic training.

Most of the others were brainwashed and given powers at the same time, but being brainwashed was not the cause or source of those powers. Even others, such as Simon Phoenix (“Demolition Man”), already had their abilities before being brainwashed, or Max Guevara (“Dark Angel”), who was already being brainwashed before his training (on top of genetic tinkering which occurred before birth.)

And at least one doesn’t even come close to fitting the brainwashing theme: the Marvel character Captain Universe, the identity taken by anyone possessed by the Uni-Power. Although the description says that when possessed by the power, they gain heroic attitudes, but this is more a case of those attitudes already present in the person selected.

Another that doesn’t fit the theme is Neo from the Matrix movies: the article tries to claim his training in the martial arts through memory implants is a form of brainwashing, yet the concept also has to include some kind of mental control, which is not apparent. The article says that the brainwashing included indoctrination about rejecting the reality of the Matrix but I think that’s just assumption on the part of the author.

Recommendation: Not recommended.

10 Mind Control Clichés

10 clichés that seemingly every evil mind controller has. Well, not every one, but a lot from the comics to have many of them, but there are as many exceptions to the rules as there are examples. A couple seem to really reaching to be included, and some of the cliches are also woefully incomplete. For example:

1 ) Mind controllers compensate for a lack of physical prowess: when you look at most mind controllers, you are struck by their physical deformaties: Professor X is wheelchair bound, the Puppet Master is dwarfish with an oversized head, Mesmero has green skin, Hector Hammond has an incredibly enlarged head, etc. Yes, this is a valid cliché, but always for men and only for men, never for women. The cliché for mind controlling women like the White Queen, Saturn Girl or Hypnotia is that they are the opposite, exceptionally physically endowed (in all senses of the word.)

2 ) Fingers on the forehead: Primarily used only by the characters with psychic abilities, which is a significant but still proportionally small group of mind controllers. There are about as many (Vampirella) who use the “look into my eyes” cliché, others who use magical gestures (Mandrake the Magician) and then there’s the ones who use strictly mechanical devices (the Controller, Universo) who don’t have any kind of gesturing. (Then again, Universo, in his first incarnation, did tend to grandstand a lot.)

3 ) Psychic manipulation, mind-warping drugs, hypnosis, and subliminal nudging: Of course, there’s also mechanical devices (Doctor Drakken’s mind control chip or the MKUltra machines), alien implants, sorcery and, of course, don’t forget the Orbital Mind Control Lasers. (I wonder who’s controlling them this turn? If I don’t know, then probably I’m not cleared for that information. Fnord.)

4 ) Brainwashing henchmen: While it may be the heroes best way to infiltrate the villain’s headquarters or to avoid capture (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”) its better used by the villain to ensure the loyalty of his underlings.

5 ) It’s poor form to mind control non-villains: Yet even the heroes do it, except they have episodes of angst about it: how many times did Professor X mind-wipe people who saw the X‑Men, or, in the first movie, mentally blank an entire mall because one of his students used his powers without permission? Then there’s also the famous incident when Zatanna magically erased specific memories in a number of Justice League opponents, setting off what would be a seriously tragic event and the near-collapse of the League itself, many years later.

6 ) Blank stares: Blank stares are the hallmark of mind control, but they’re only part of the overall whole picture of the total blank look of someone totally entranced. However, in the Orient, its a little different: mind control is shown by a totally featureless iris.

7 ) Mind controlling hats and helmets: Not a very prevalent cliché here, and one that is almost strictly a source of controlling the one wearing the hat: about the only one who makes considerable use of the cliché here is the Batman villain the Mad Hatter; maybe he holds the patent on the design and doesn’t market it?

8 ) Mind controllers are creepy: Its one of the first things any mind controller learns, how to keep their powers a secret (even if it takes using their powers to do so.) Such powers also make very good Psychological Disadvantages: Deep Secret for heroes to have.

9 ) Everything’s more awesome on the astral plane: The Astral Plane only because the vacation spot of choice for psychic battles once Steve Ditko started drawing Doctor Strange, but even then it is overrated. Mostly the battles take place in the mind of one or both of the combatants, although sometimes the battle is between invisible mental projections.

10 ) Mind control battles end with everyone’s brains exploding and faces melting: The image here is so 80’s. Nowadays such battles tend to end with only a bloody nose or bleeding from the ears as the only sign of a struggle.

Commentary: In trying to violate every one of the 10 listed clichés, the author actually managed to create the most boring mind controlling character ever seen.

Recommendation: Only half recommended.

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