Every superhero knows that facing danger is part of the job. You will be in situations where every reasonable bet will place you between dead and extremely dead. Despite your best efforts to minimize risk and only use violence when there is a reasonable chance of success, you are in a vocation which lends itself to long odds and bad places. If you don’t find yourself in the occasional hopeless situation, you’re not trying hard enough.
As a superhero, part of your job in the face of immense danger is to deliver a great one-liner before jumping in. This is a delicate art, one which you should do right or not at all. The wisecrack is a time honored tradition in superhero circles which demonstrates both your commitment to the task at hand yet also your refusal to let the situation divert your focus. A great line shows the world that you are bringing you’re a-game to the fight; that your mind is sharp enough to handle all the complexities before you and you STILL have enough focus left over to make fun of your circumstances. Moreover, a great one-liner let’s everyone know you’re not afraid of what’s going to happen next. Your goal is to demonstrate that nothing can phase you, and no matter what the size, power, or speed of the challenge in your path, you’re as relaxed as you’ve ever been. A great one-liner inspires teammates, emboldens onlookers, and shatters the confidence of the cockiest of villains.
Oh, and if you can’t come up with one, just don’t bother. No wisecrack is far better than a lame one.
With all this in mind, here are a few tips for crafting the perfect wisecrack:
– Make sure your line relates to the situation at hand.
You need to show that you’re paying attention to where you are and what’s happening around you. A generic wisecrack only demonstrates that you have no idea what’s going on and, worse, that you thought of something ahead of time and aren’t smart enough to think on the fly. Make sure what you’re about to say relates to the villain, a word they just said, or at least the place where you’re standing. Otherwise, you’re better off just keeping quiet.
Good example: “Surrender? Do you think the letter on my head stands for France?” –Captain America
“Don’t you know it’s rude to drop names?” (useful after a “we meet at last” speech).
“Be mindful of your surroundings”- Batman Begins
Bad example: “Let’s do this” “It’s on” “I’m going to smack you so hard your mama’s gonna feel it”
The exception to this is, of course, the catch phrase. “Hulk SMASH!”, “Groovy”, or “It’s clobberin’ time” works pretty well in a variety of situations and doesn’t ever get old. Just make sure it really is clobberin’ time, or you’re going to look pretty stupid.
– Don’t use esoteric references.
Culturally appropriate references can be lots of fun and very appropriate. The natural downside to the cultural quip, however, is that you end up looking like a huge nerd because no one knows what you’re talking about. And huge nerds rarely inspire fear or confidence. Films like Star Wars, The Matrix, Star Trek, etc are popular enough that you can reference the broader aspects, just make sure not to get too specific.
Good: “Darth Maul wants his lightsaber back mother******!” Hawkeye, The Ultimates 2.
Better: Any quote referencing the first three Star Wars movies.
Terrible: “Why do I feel like Kafka’s hero in The Castle”-Captain America (although if you get it…good for you)
– Wait for it
Remember that secret weapon you’ve been hiding for just such a situation as this? Or that insane move you’ve got ready to go? Don’t use a one-liner early on if you’ve got something up your sleeve. There aren’t many perks to being a superhero: there are long hours, tough fights, lost loved ones, and, of course, the chance of being killed on a regular basis. But the look on an antagonist’s face just as they realize things aren’t as good as they planned is better than any benefits package the Justice League of America could offer (by the way, we don’t get a benefits package, either). The downside to this is you’ve got to sit on your advantage until some witty repartee- you can only deliver this line in a conversation.
(X-23 slashes at Lady Deathstrike as a glancing blow)
Lady Deathstrike: “Pathetic, your strike barely drew blood”
X-23: “I wasn’t aiming for your blood”
(Lady Deathstrike’s cybernetic arm falls off)
-New X-Men #45
If you do this right, sometimes you don’t even need a wisecrack
Ord (torturing a de-powered Cyclops): What other lies have you told?
(Cyclops smiles, then reveals he’s not depowered at all as he blasts Ord out the window)
Astonishing X-Men #23
– Finally, avoid ad hominum attacks (aka insults)
This last rule is curious, especially since you’d think that nothing would demoralize your opponent more than a good insult. Still, there’s something just plain un-heroic about an insult, even a good one. But a well-placed wisecrack needs to emphasize that not only are you clever and prepared, but you are also the good guy, the protagonist, not some third grader on the playground. If you are planning to say something personal, you need to say it about the villain’s choices, not their deficiencies. It is very heroic to point out the errors of a villain’s ways, but never to make little of the things in which they have little control.
Good: “Luther, if you wanted to make the world better, you’d have done it by now.” –All Star Superman
Bad (really bad): “Where’s my money, honey?” –Luke Cage (To Dr. Doom, who has just said something incredibly racist, but still, don’t ever say anything like that)
There are plenty more tips, but this should get you well on your way. If you work hard, soon you’ll be able to deliver devastating one-liners not only in the face of supervillains, but also to such evil-doers such as telemarketers who call during dinner, seniors who talk about bodily functions in restaurants, and people who talk in the theater. Huzzah!