I'm tempted to subtitle this essay "the trouble with gangsters," since some of the considerations here stem from evaluating the presence of the combative mode in stories where the exceptional hero faces unexceptional crooks. Are there ways in which some gangland-spawned foes prove more "combative" in the significant sense than others, just as I've said that some heroes, who have (discounting weapons) only ordinary mortal abilities, can possess more dynamicity than other heroes of the same basic abilities?
Anyone who's read this blog (aside from the automatic Google search-engines) should know that when I phrase a proposition in this manner, the answer will be affirmative. But is there a way to rephrase the concept of dynamicity to take in this application of the combative mode?
In DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY I outlined three "power-ratings" of dynamicity, patterned loosely after related categories in Aristotle. To sum up:
The "X-type," who possessed megadynamicity, was said to be entirely "exceptional."
The next rating down, the "Y-type," possessed of mesodynamicity, was said to cover a range of "good-to-fair." I justified the need for such a range thus:
'This category requires a "range" approach because characters who are
simply "good" in terms of their personal dynamicity function almost
exactly the same as those who are simply "fair."'
Finally, for roughly the same reasons, I assigned the final rating, the microdynamic "Z-type," as "fair-to-poor."
However, I've now amended that breakdown. Keeping in mind my assessment of the way a "mesodynamic" hero, such as Jack Burton, could be "boosted" to the higher status, I decided that the the same principle should apply to some-- though not all-- of the mundane opponents pitted against an exceptional hero.
As a negative example, one where such boosting does not take place, here's a brief scene from the first adventure of "the Bat-Man."
These two catchpenny thugs, while hypothetically capable enough within the "good-to-fair" range, are so easily disposed of by the exceptional hero that they certainly cannot be "X-types."
However, the corpus of Batman's adventures contains many mundane crooks with no more actual powers than those in the previous example. Such opponents could and did give the hero a harder time.
I suggest that although these ne'er-do-wells are not in the same league with Batman's truly exceptional foes, as per my example of the Penguin here, they still fall into the range of the megadynamic by virtue of their narrative operations. For one thing, though in both examples Batman defeats the mundane malefactors, he has to work somewhat harder in the second case, suggesting that the lawbreakers here are smarter and/or more formidable.
The same "boosting" distinction applies even in cases where the criiminals are even more outclassed, as when they combat heroes with literal super-powers.
In "The Mysterious Mister X" (ALL-STAR COMICS #5, 1941), a group of gang-leaders get sick of having their operations continually broken up by the members of the Justice Society, many of whom are powerhouses like the Flash and Doctor Fate.
With one exception (the section of the story devoted to Green Lantern), none of the gangsters have any special resources. Even the guy in a Hindu outfit, who goes after Doctor Fate, is merely a trickster.
All of them meet ignomious defeats, such as this one:
And this one:
Nevertheless, as outclassed as the hoods are in the powers department, one has to admire, if only slightly, the guts of mundane men determined to tilt with gods. Perhaps their courage is born of foolhardiness-- certainly the author was not holding them up for admiration. Still, it takes some moxie for such thugs to take on the mighty Justice Society. I'd argue that even this futile attempt confers on them a level of "might" not seen in less ambitious crooks.
While such thugs' moxie cannot make them exceptional, I suggest that it does boost them to what I now term the lower level of megadynamicity, which makes such encounters qualify for both the narrative and significant values of sublime dominance.
Thus I've re-interpreted the schema put forth in DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY, to show that all three categories encompass a range of dynamicities. The reigning schema now reads thusly:
THE Z-TYPE covers the narrative functions of all dynamicities ranging from the "poor" to the "average."
THE Y-TYPE covers the narrative functions of all dynamicities ranging from the "fair" to the "good."
THE X-TYPE covers the narrative functions of all dynamicities ranging from the "exemplary" to the "exceptional."
This elucidation of an "exemplary" range of power in the megadynamic level doesn't just serve to account for the narrative functions of mundane villains like the "Academy of Gangsters." It also takes in certain "weak heroes" like Jack Burton and Jonathan Harker, who begin as no more than "mesodynamic" presences but who "step up" to become full-fledged monster slayers, either through the possession of limited talents or dogged persistence.
In Part Two I'll offer detailed examples of each of these six power-ratings, to illustrate how the extent of a character's dynamicity affects his (or in the case of the forthcoming examples, her) narrative function.