As a veteran henchman, I’ve seen my fair share of heroes and villains fall victim to the use of magic gadgets, inventions, and trinkets. Oh if I had a dollar for each time I’ve seen such things fail.
When writing fiction, magic devices should be used rarely and sparingly. Maybe use it one time and good-bye. A magic device can appear to be anything; a cosmic cube, a ring, the speed force, or warp engines. The device, from a narrative point of view, is used to represent a means of power and control.
Also, in fiction, using gods or godlike beings, say aliens or robots, can also be used as a magical plot device. A being or gadget that can alter the reality of a storyline, represents power. Remember: The world of a story is reality to the characters within it.
Villains see the device as an object to obtain their desires. It’s the short-cut they can use to achieve their ends, be it world domination, making others fall in love with them, or some other form of wish fulfillment. Heroes, usually shun such objects or resist it’s power, as they’d see that using such a device as a cheat. It’s inauthentic.
Let’s look at examples.
We’ve seen the internet melt down over the “One More Day” story arc in the Amazing Spider-Man comics. (2007) Peter Parker made a deal with the devil to save his Aunt May. It was a cheat. Pete saves Aunt May, his marriage to Mary Jane is erased, and the world reboots with a younger, happier, stupider, Dan Slottier Peter Parker.
In Star Trek Voyager, the crew of the starship were frequently rescued at the last moment by technobabble; the science fiction equivalent of magic. Watching someone realign transductive phase coils to get out of a problem was a hollow victory.
(Side rant: if Voyager had that ship in tatters and always breaking down each week, and the crew had to survive in a wonky starship while trying to get home, it would have made the series light years better. – Sorry for the digression, back to the article.)
Contrast Voyager with the Millennium Falcon. That old bucket of bolts was unreliable. It made the story much more fun with an unpredictable machine. This made it authentic and believable in the minds of the audience. We’ve all experienced machines break down, and sometimes at the worst possible time.
Which brings me to my point: if you’re going to use magic or high technology in a story, use it sparingly, and if it’s used there must be consequences for it’s use.
A good use of magic in comics is the Flashpoint arc in The Flash tv series or comics. When Barry decided to go back in time and save his mother from being murdered, there were drastic consequences. Going back in time to stop himself still caused further consequences. Barry Allen, hopefully, has learned his lesson about using his power to thwart reality.
In the Harry Potter series, we see time and time again, how magic can backfire or cause detrimental effects to wizards, and especially wizard students.
The use of magic and gods to rescue heroes from peril or their circumstances was created by the Ancient Greeks. It’s called deus ex machina. A god would ride his chariot from the heavens and rescue helpless protagonists. It was fun for a while and it grew old in ancient times. It’s a ridiculously ancient artifact now.
I get it. I understand using such things to get out of a tight space in writing, especially if you’re writing a series. If you have to use a machine of the gods, make damn sure there are consequences.
Imagine if in the “One More Day” arc, Pete makes a deal with the devil, but the consequences are this: Mary Jane is erased from existence, and nobody will ever know she was real, except Peter Parker. Aunt May would be alive and well, Pete would be restored a certain point in time with the knowledge that he erased Mary Jane forever. Would he make that deal or would he have done the right thing and let his aunt pass away? Tough choice. Tough choices make good characters and good stories.
It’s not what we got. We got a cheat. No consequences for Pete save the end of his marriage. There’s a reason sales of the Amazing Spider-Man have tanked, and the sales of all Marvel comics have tanked. Marvel is not concerned with writing good stories. The batch of people creating Marvel now have no connection to the history of the characters, and no concern with the outrage vented by many over the pandering changes they’ve made to fit a political fantasy world ideology.
Magic needs consequences, or else it just won’t work. Bear that in mind the next time you shout at a screen or chuck a comic across the room when you’re outraged over a cheat. You’re mad at poor writing.
Inauthenticity in writing always fails. ALWAYS.