During this enforced time-at-home with no new movies to see in the theaters, I’ve been binge-watching several series. I wish I’d encountered “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” before I wrote my last book; if I revise it, the princesses of Etheria are definitely getting a chapter!
I also binged the first two seasons of “The Umbrella Academy,” a new sci-fi show featuring a bunch of superheroes who were adopted as infants and raised for purposes-as-yet-unexplained by a mysterious father figure. And I’ve been watching “The Boys,” which also features superheroes who were made, not born, like the protagonists of “The Umbrella Academy.”
All these shows focus on the responsible use of power. To what ends does the supe use their power–for the good of others, or for personal gain, revenge, or to manipulate others into doing what they want? Do they use it to protect and defend, or for attack? Are they able to control it and meter it out appropriately, or do they become a danger to themselves and others when they let it loose?
Power needs a container. Those with power need guidance as they explore and learn how to use their powers, and they need an ethical framework as context for understanding their power. The princesses of Etheria are guided by Queen Angella, who has a clear moral sense, but who is also overly cautious, particularly with her own daughter Glimmer. She-Ra herself is guided by a holographic mother figure, Light Hope, but there are limits to what this hologram understands and can explain. The Umbrella Academy kids are trained by their mysterious Father as well as Mom, an android–like Light Hope, programmed for certain kinds of help only.
The focus in both cases is using their powers for good. However, one of the Umbrella Academy kids, Vanya, is so powerful, Father reacts with fear, trying to suppress her powers instead of teaching her to use them wisely. He even convinces her sister Allison, who has mind-control powers, to brainwash Vanya into thinking she has no power at all. When she finally realizes what she can do, she has no idea how to control it–and in her anger at how she’s been treated, she becomes a living bomb capable of destroying the world.
The supes of “The Boys” are raised in a mindset that values profit and power-for-gain over moral values. Even though one of them, Starlight, was raised by strict Christian parents, she eventually finds out that they accepted a huge payment in return for letting her be injected as a tiny baby with a compound that changes the genes and may confer superpowers–or kill the child. While this angers Starlight, her moral upbringing still enables her to resist using her powers for evil and instead, to collaborate with the people trying to expose the corporation behind the curtain, motivated entirely by profit. But the other supes do not share her moral compass.
The most powerful of them, Homelander, is a twisted thug, a rapist who has no problem committing murder, even genocide, if someone gets in his way or tells him “no.” But he is sold by the corporation to the public as their best defender and ultimate patriot. He is literally wrapped in the American flag; his cape is the flag.
Over time, the princesses of Etheria and the adopted siblings of the Umbrella Academy don’t just learn how to use their powers correctly; they learn how to trust each other and work together. Even though She-Ra is the most powerful among them, she is not their leader–she is not a princess but something else, and she feels her otherness, which makes her grateful and willing to join in when invited.
The princesses find that when they call on their powers as a group, the power joins them together and amplifies what they can do. One of the Umbrella siblings literally possesses Vanya to break her out of a fugue state and help her control her power, after which all the siblings apologize to her for how she was treated as a child and embrace her. Having learned how to do this with each other, they also reach out to one of the villains of the second season who, they realize, is just like them and thus, a sister. She becomes an ally instead of an enemy.
The supes of “The Boys” are repeatedly told by Homelander that they need to work together, to present a united front, but his idea of how to get them to do this is to threaten them if they don’t obey. Starlight is not the only one chafing under his control–all the women are. There is no trust here. Homelander is sowing the seeds of rebellion against himself without realizing it by misusing his power: the eternal lesson of tyranny that no tyrant seems capable of learning. It is those who can connect and work together who will win in the end.