Your hero is going on their adventure, so what do they need to bring with them? A sword probably, but perhaps also a compass to find the way, a lute to lift spirits around the campfire, or maybe even a jaunty cap so everyone will recognize this great adventurer! Over time, these tools might become so associated with the character that they’re now signature items, which is what we’re talking about this week!
- Special Abilities
- The Impala
- The Alethiometer
- Stiles’ Jeep
- Hunter: The Vigil
- Indiana Jones’ Hat
- Mutt Williams
- The Batsignal
- The Hylian Shield
- Link’s Glider
- Aang’s Glider
- The Eye of Sauron
- The Horn of Gondor
- Mr. Pointy (which we forgot was originally Kendra’s)
Generously transcribed by Kavin Jayakumar. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts, Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.[Intro Music]
Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Myth Green podcast. I’m Oren. With me today is-
Oren: Now we need to figure out what we’re doing for this podcast. So first let me check my topical meter.
Oren: And it turns out we’re doing an episode about signature items. I really hope that being able to read this topical meter never becomes overpowered.
Wes: I’m sure we’ll use it responsibly and not abuse it at all.
Oren: This is a bit of part two to the special abilities podcast because signature items are similar, but not usually the same. And they fill a similar role, but are different.
And there’s one thing I appreciate. It’s things that are similar, but different.
Chris: Well, anytime we want to give you spinach, Oren, all we have to do is rake your topical meter.
Oren: Oh no, that’s my only useful skill is reading the topical meter.
Wes: I guess you have to find somebody with a knife that can cut through ghosts.
Oren: Oh, I hate that.
Wes: It’s fine. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
Oren: Yeah. Signature items are often weapons, but not always. And they’re often magic, but not always, which is a little bit different from the special abilities because as I talked about in that podcast, most special abilities are magical or supernatural in some capacity. It’s, I’m not going to say it’s impossible to have a regular skill be a special ability, but it would be very challenging.
Chris: So here’s a question. Does a signature item have to be positive for the character? Can I call a spinning wheel Sleeping Beauty’s signature item, for instance?
Oren: In terms of sandwich discourse, I would say probably not in the original or not original, but in the classic version of the story, because the spinning wheel is sort of something that happens to her. It’s not really something that she uses, but I could very easily see a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty where she has a signature spinning wheel that she uses, because that is an item that is associated with her in the lore as it were.
Wes: I was kind of thinking that for it to be a signature item, if you cosplayed as that character and you didn’t have that item, it’d be kind of like, wait, who are you? That’s kind of where I’m going with.
Chris: But what about vehicles then? Because for some characters, the vehicle is kind of their signature item.
Oren: Oh, absolutely. Again, we’re starting to sort of get blurry here because vehicles are sort of their own thing, but in something like Supernatural, the car is definitely a signature item. It’s probably the most distinctive signature item that any of the characters have, is their Impala. So that is clearly an example of a signature item that is a car. In some cases we can get a little weird, like, is the Enterprise Picard signature item? I wouldn’t say so.
Wes: No, it’s Earl Grey hot.
Oren: Yeah, it’s Earl Grey.
Chris: I would say that the vehicle has to have a special association with a character. The Millennium Falcon, for instance, is very associated with Han. I think an even better example is Stiles from Teen Wolf has an old Jeep. It’s associated with him, for one thing. It’s clearly used to characterize him, to give him more character in that he really loves this old Jeep and continues to duct tape the engine whenever it breaks down. I think it’s also useful for the show just to have a vehicle that is always breaking down and then we need to explain why they keep using it. But also, it gives him something that he can contribute, which a lot of times that’s what a signature item does. If it gives a character more capabilities, it’s what allows them to participate in the story. So since Stiles is the only non-magical character for most of the show, that’s important. That’s on the central cast. Then he has a vehicle that he can use to make himself useful so he can drive people around.
Wes: Yeah, there’s definitely an element with signature items where so much of the character gets imbued into it. It has much more of an extension of who they are, significance. Like those scenes where Stiles is duct taping it together to do his best to not let it fail. He sees himself in the car. It’s an extension of who he is and what he contributes. So it’s a very literal connection between item and person.
Oren: One of the funnest role playing game abilities I’ve ever seen was from Hunter the Vigil and there was a signature weapon special ability that you could take and it didn’t make you do more damage or attack better when you were using the weapon. It gave you a morale boost. Just like that’s really neat. That’s a cool way of interpreting that. I liked that. In general, you want it to be something that is useful in some capacity. That’s what separates a signature item from a signature look. Like someone could have a cool hat that they always wear and that the hat is associated with them because it’s part of their look. But unless they’re like doing something with the hat, it doesn’t really serve the same storytelling function.
Chris: Indiana Jones has a hat. That’s really important. And I think in this case, it’s more than just his complete look, especially since often it’s a device. It’s not that it necessarily helps him, but usually in a movie, he’ll almost lose the hat in an extremely dangerous situation and then just last minute manage to grab it again. And so you see him interacting with the hat, even though the hat itself, I suppose it probably keeps the sun and rain out of his eyes.
Oren: Yeah, it does do that. I’ll give it that much.
Wes: Yeah, but they clearly knew how important it was to who he is because in the last crusade, they had to do the opening flash extended flashback. I don’t know the scene of him is like a teenager and he gets the hat from those treasure hunters. That guy gives him the hat at the end of it and then it flash forwards into present time. But that’s his identity. The hat is him.
Chris: It also doesn’t feel at least to me, it didn’t feel awkward and like some of the Star Wars prequels with Han. We need to figure out why he has the last name Solo. And it’s like, well, we didn’t need an explanation for that. But it feels appropriate to see Indiana Jones backstory where he gets the hat.
Wes: Well, they did the hat and the whip in that backstory. It was done pretty well and on a moving train, no less.
Chris: And then at the end of the crystal skull, we even have this moment where his hat flies off towards Shia LaBeouf’s character. And it looks like it’s supposed to be like a passing of the baton moment where he picks up the hat and he’s about to put it on and then Indiana last minute comes and grabs it from him. It’s like, no, my hat.
Oren: Look, I think they already knew by that point that most people were not going to particularly like the character of Mutt. Possibly because they named him Mutt. That wasn’t helping him at all. So I think they realized that giving him Indy’s hat at the end of the movie would make people hate it even more than they already did.
Chris: One that I think is pretty funny is I really feel like Commissioner Gordon’s signature item is the Batman summoner. His spotlight.
Wes: Oh, no. That’s so good.
Chris: It’s like that’s all he can do is summon Batman.
Oren: Like, God damn it, Bruce, get a burner phone. Yeah. We have phones now. My God, what if you’re somewhere where you can’t see the clouds? That’s an example of something that’s so important to Batman’s aesthetic that they don’t get rid of it. No matter how gritty Batman gets, they will still have Gordon summon him with a spotlight that’s bat shaped. This doesn’t fit at all with this extremely gritty Robert Pattinson Batman. But that’s part of Batman’s lore and we can’t get rid of it. It would be like saying it doesn’t really make sense for you to dress like a bat. And he’s like, yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t really make sense. I could just wear normal.
Chris: What do you do if it’s a clear night and there’s no clouds in
Wes: No crime.
Oren: You hope you don’t need Batman. But it’s also it’s Gotham. Let’s not pretend it’s not always raining in Gotham.
Chris: There is that.
Wes: A signature item that comes to mind as we were talking about fashion would be Legend of Zelda Link. I’m not talking Master Sword. I think the hood and the shield very much are the things you have to have. Obviously, there’s the little tunic thing, but the shield I think is very important. The Hyrulean shield has such a designated aesthetic to it. Getting that thing in Breath of the Wild was hard. But when I got it, I was like, OK, now I’m Link. I’ve got the right gear at this point.
Oren: I would have said overall that Link’s most iconic signature item is actually his grappling hook. I’m not an expert on Zelda, right? It’s just that the grappling hook stands out because a lot of people have swords. A lot of people have shields. And most of the time, the Master Sword is not really distinguishable from another sword. Sometimes it shoots lasers, which is not common. Most swords don’t do that. But most of the time it’s just a sword. Breath of the Wild, it regenerates after it breaks, which is an interesting mechanic. Whereas not a ton of characters have grappling hooks, especially not in high fantasy. Most characters who have grappling hooks are in a superhero genre, whereas Link has a grappling hook. So that’s the item I most associate with him. That and bombs.
Chris: Mabel does.
Oren: Oh, yeah. Mabel has a grappling hook.
Chris: Gravity Falls. Got a grappling hook.
Wes: They did notably leave the grappling hook out of the Breath of the Wild game because you have to climb and it’s always raining.
Oren: Yeah, they’re not going to let you grappling hook. Although in Breath of the Wild, they added a new signature item, which is his glider.
Oren: Or at least I think that’s new. Maybe that’s been in previous games. I don’t know.
Wes: The glider was cool. Avatar comes to mind, last airbender, another glider as a signature item.
Oren: Yeah, that glider. I like that glider in Avatar. It’s a little OP, but it’s very cool. I also love how the presence of that glider outmodes the big villain in season three of Korra’s entire special ability. Because he’s like, my special ability is I can fly. And they’re like, we can all fly, man. All of us. We have these glider things. That’s not, you’re not special.
Wes: That was so disappointing because it’s like, oh man, what is the next tier of airbending going to be? We’ve got the lava and the lightning and the metal. It’s like, I can fly. Oh, okay. Although maybe you could argue that it was ripping the air out of people.
Oren: Yeah, that is a much more impressive thing that he does. But of course, he can’t actually use that for anything other than controlling the air. And cutscene deaths, because that’s one of those, if he used that in an actual fight, it would be extremely boring. It’s the same reason why no one is ever actually allowed to use bloodbending except for villains in special scenes. Because bloodbending means we can’t have elemental kung fu fights. And that is what everyone is here to watch. This is why there are no guns in Avatar. Nobody is here to watch people shoot guns at each other.
Chris: So does the eye qualify as Sauron’s signature item? Or is it just Sauron? I’ve always been unclear about that part.
Wes: Or is it just the ring?
Oren: Like Sauron is sort of just an eye, I think. I don’t know. He’s recursive Sauron in the Hobbit movies. That’s a pretty signature item right there. I just sort of thought the eye was him. I didn’t really think of it as an item. The ring is kind of weird because it’s a MacGuffin and Frodo has it the most. But you’re kind of hard pressed to say that it belongs to Frodo.
Chris: His purpose is to be the ring bearer. So I do think it’s kind of iconic for him. And if you were, for instance, to dress up as Frodo and go to a con, it would be a little weird if you didn’t have the one ring. That would generally be expected. So it does define Frodo, but it’s still kind of antagonistic.
Oren: Sting is Frodo’s more traditional iconic item, which he got from Bilbo. It was Bilbo’s before him. I never get tired of talking about Sting because it’s a very cool weapon because it glows when orcs are near, which is just much more interesting than plus one to attack and damage.
Chris: I guess I associate Sting with more with Bilbo than Frodo.
Oren: Bilbo finds it, but I would say Frodo spends all three Lord of the Rings books with it. I feel like that’s more his item than Bilbo’s after a certain point.
Wes:I guess Bilbo just gets maybe a little bit more direct use out of it. And Frodo’s like always going into danger. He’s like, oh God, this thing doesn’t shut up.
Oren: Yeah, it’s always glowing. It’s just a night light now.
Wes: A signature item from Fellowship that I liked that definitely didn’t get that much play in the movie was Boromir’s the Horn of Gondor.
Oren: Yeah, the horn!
Wes: Is awesome because in the book the way it’s described when he blows that thing, it’s just like a force. This thing’s been handed down from all the stewards of Gondor. It’s got this lore and legacy about it. And in the movie, they get ambushed by orcs and Boromir’s trying to blow it. And Aragorn’s like, oh crap, we gotta go! A little disappointing.
Oren: Yeah, I love the Horn of Gondor in the books. That is such an unusual signature item for a badass fighter to have. Normally they’d be like, this is my magic sword, Irindel, forged by Birindel at the Smithies of Lirindel. That’s normally how Lord of the Rings does it. And I’m like, I don’t care. I’m already asleep. And then Boromir’s like, I got this horn. Let me give that a quick blow. And then I’m literally blown away by that horn.
Wes: It’s like all the force of a didgeridoo, but nice and compact for travel.
Oren: There’s just something neat about this cool warrior’s most useful item being a thing that calls for help. That’s just a neat idea, right? It just goes against the standard, I’m a badass and I don’t need no one attitude that you expect a cool Rizzled warrior to have. It’s just very neat. I like it a lot. And of course, there’s the classic we were making jokes about earlier, which is the Alethiometer from the Golden Compass. It shows the classic problems that you can have with one of these things because it works really well in the Golden Compass when Lyra is still trying to figure out how to use it. But then like in the later books, once she knows how to use it, she can basically find out anything. And so you just have to stop wondering why she isn’t using it to find out more things.
Wes: It also jumps to a new level of how contrived it is with her using it. At the end, she kind of just loses her ability to use it entirely. And so she was just basically an avatar channeling dust and that was it. At least in the first book, it felt like she was doing it herself.
Oren: Right. She was figuring out what the symbols meant. But by the second and third book, admittedly, sure, I get that it would probably get old after a while for her to constantly be trying to figure out the symbols. Maybe that was only cool for one book, but that’s something you have to think about. You have to plan ahead with these items. Whenever your hero is learning something, always plan ahead to what the story will look like once they have learned it.
Chris: I also just think it would have been neat if there had been more conflicts around her trying to interpret it. I’ve got these three symbols and I think I know what these two mean, but not this one. And then she figures it out at some point instead of just like, oh, I just have a feeling I just know what the symbol means. In some cases, if you can come up with new conflicts and new interesting ways to interpret the symbols, it will give it more longevity in the story. After a while, people might still get tired of symbol puzzles, but you could probably do a few of them.
Oren: That would certainly have extended the alethiometer’s usefulness, since that would give a tangible thing that she still hasn’t quite figured out. Like the next step as opposed to like, well, I can basically ask it anything now, which is where we are at the end of the first book.
Chris: How about Mr. Pointy?
Oren: Oh, in Buffy? Yeah, absolutely.
Chris: Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Oren: To the extent that you can tell one stake from another, right?
Chris: Like, oh. That’s the funny thing, because we all associate Buffy holding a stake, but as far as we know, she constantly goes through stake. But at some point we learned she has a stake named Mr. Pointy. It’s not really clear how much real continuity there is in that, but we can assume she has a lucky stake.
Oren: I’m gonna go back and do the CinemaSins thing of being like, eh, continuity error, that’s a different stake.
Chris: To be fair, when she stakes a character, they usually turn to dust and it leaves a stake in her hand. So she could bring you this Mr. Point quite a lot.
Oren: Yeah, except I think she lost it when she stabbed that government official in season three.
Chris: Oh no.
Wes: Oh gosh.
Oren: That was the death of the first Mr. Pointy. You don’t ask Buffy about that, she’s still kind of traumatized over the whole thing. But urban fantasy is a pretty decent place for signature items, because then you can start to add magic to it in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily do in a high fantasy story unless it was a very high magic story.
Chris: Or you could do Wizard of Oz, where the signature items are inside them all along.
Wes: Oh, what a con.
Oren: Except for the woodsman with his ax, he kills a lot of wolves with that ax.
Wes: He’s all covered in rust because it’s just dried blood. That guy’s a beast.
Oren: Yeah, he just murders lots of creatures. He is a killing machine.
Wes: Speaking of axes, I recently told Oren that I’ve been listening to Maplecroft.
Wes: And so Lizzie Borden’s iron ax is so cool. It’s just stuff I never would have thought. It’s like, what if we did a Deep Ones Cthulhu type story, these eldritch horrors? You know, okay, we better get guns. It’s like, no, what if you just had an ax? And I’m like, yes, this is better.
Oren: Well, the ax in the Borden books, first of all, it has the cultural weight of the trope of Lizzie Borden took an ax. Because these books are Lizzie Borden versus Cthulhu is the concept. Then, like, in universe, they find a way to make the ax special because the Deep One type monsters are vulnerable to iron and their bullets aren’t made of iron, but the ax is. Now, granted, once they know that, logically, you could make iron bullets, but we’re not gonna.
Chris: Just like putting the devil’s traps on bullets.
Chris: That’s super natural.
Oren: Oh, God. That upset me so much when they did that and then just forgot they could do it.
Wes: But there’s something about a melee weapon like that. The first scene where she describes that Deep One trying to get into the house and how she just like takes it out. And it’s just this gory mess of this corrosive fluids and salt water and stuff. And the ax has a bunch of gore on it and it’s sizzling. And she thinks that the blood is corroding the ax, but no, the ax is corroding the blood. The iron is dissolving it. That moment of realization was so cool in the book. And then she goes and puts nails in all the windows around the entire house. Gotta nail everything shut, put iron all over the place.
Chris: And I did love all the details about how she had to dispose of the creatures’ bodies so they wouldn’t attract more creatures.
Oren: Yeah, she also has that furnace, Chekhov’s furnace, as it turns out.
Chris: But yeah, there’s Boba Fett.
Oren: He’s a character made of signature items.
Chris: That’s basically what he is, yes.
Oren: And now Din Djarin has them all.
Wes: It’s true, I was gonna say, Boba Fett has so many… He is a walking signature item that they had to make all the Mandalorians Boba Fetts.
Oren: Yeah, they all have those things. They got the jet packs and the rocket and the grappling hook and the armor. They got everything. They even added one that Boba Fett doesn’t actually have, but that they mention, which is a disintegration gun. Mando starts the show with a rifle that disintegrates things. Man, I wish they would get that back for him. I don’t like that he doesn’t have it. It was a really cool weapon, now he just has a normal blaster pistol, which is boring. And he still has shells for the disruptor gun. He still has them, you can see them on his costume. But he doesn’t have a gun for them, and why is he still carrying those?
Chris: Because they look cool.
Oren: Now granted, he doesn’t have anywhere to put that gun anymore, because they decided his new ship is a one seat-
Wes: The tiniest ship in the world.
Chris: I was like, how is he supposed to bounty hunt with that thing? There’s no place to put people.
Oren: There are a bunch of think pieces about it.
Chris: Oh really? What’s the hottest take then?
Oren: The consensus seems to be emerging that either A, he’s going to get another ship, and maybe the Naboo fighter will be like attached to the bottom or something, or he’s just not going to do any bounty hunting in the new season. Because the new season seems to be gearing up to be a story of the struggle for leadership of the Mandalorians, so it’s possible he just doesn’t do any bounty hunting. Now of course, he doesn’t know that, so that still raises the question of why he would want a single seat fighter, but we’ll see how it goes.
Wes: Maybe it’s just he didn’t have any better options. He’s like, well, I’m broke and you’re offering to put this together for me. You do think though, with all the Mandalorians having the Boba Fett signature items, it’s like if your alleged culture is weapons, he says like weapons are my religion when he’s trying to get onto public transport. Well then why aren’t you guys making new ones? You’ve got this armorer who’s very cool, just making the same old stuff. Come on, innovate a bit.
Oren: Oh no, that’s the secret commentary. It’s because they can’t innovate, because the weapons have become part of their entrenched dogma. So they’re not allowed to change. Aha! We made it deep.
Wes: That’s why the Empire beat them.
Chris: I’m sure there’s also an unreliable narrative.
Oren: While we’re having hot takes, a signature item that I think is bad and I wish would go away, even though I know it never will, are Spider-Man’s web shooters.
Wes: Well what if you just made it genetic and his web shooters are part of his body?
Oren: You should do that. I was so confused when it turned out that wasn’t the default.
Chris: That was really interesting in Spider-Man No Way Home, where they bought multiple Spider-Mans together. They were able to compare and contrast. Wait, it just comes out of your body? It’s like, yeah. But hey, if you’re bit by a spider, it seems awfully coincidental if then you invent web shooters.
Oren: Right, that’s the weirdest thing, okay? I was so confused because I was like, all right, so he gets his powers from a spider bite. I’m like, all right, what are his powers? His powers are super strength. That’s his main one. That’s not a spider power. I don’t know why he has that. And then he has awareness and it’s like, are spiders particularly aware of things? Is that a thing?
Chris: Spiders are psychic, didn’t you know that?
Oren: If I was gonna pick an insect that is particularly aware of its environment, I would have picked flies, not spiders.
Chris: They do have eight eyes.
Oren: They do. Maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be a reference to.
Wes: But they have to rely on their webs for sensory data.
Chris: He has psychic webs all around him.
Oren: Yeah, psychic webs, that’s what it is. And he can also climb things sometimes. The current Spider-Man doesn’t really use that much, but in some iterations he can climb things. It’s okay, that’s a spidery ability. But the most spidery thing about him is a separate invention that he made. He just thought that up. Just thought you would figure that out. It’d be like if Superman had a bunch of superpowers and then also made laser eye goggles. It’s just real weird. I liked it much better in the Tobey Maguire movies when they were just part of his power because why wouldn’t they be? That’s the most spidery thing about him. Now, I like to imagine Peter Parker being like, okay, I got bit by a spider. I need to be Spider-Man. But I can’t really do anything spider related. So how is that going to work? He’s like, I know.
Chris: This is a branding problem we need to fix.
Oren: Yeah, well, maybe he was hanging out with Kate Bishop who was talking to him about branding. And he was like,you’re right. I do need to brand myself better. And so then he made some web shooters.
Chris: If we saw that, that would actually make more sense. But I think in all the iterations of Spider-Man I’ve seen, they want a very quick transformation from Peter Parker to Spider-Man. So he gets bit by a spider and then suddenly he has all the spider things, including his invented web shooters. I don’t know how it is in the original comics if he’s inspired by his spider bite or what.
Oren: Well, okay, so in the three different live action movie sequences, Tobey Maguire, he just has his. Those are built in. The Andrew Garfield one has a little montage where he makes some web shooters. And he just coincidentally happened to be working on something strong and sticky for some reason. And then he was I know web shooters. And then he just does that. And then in the new MCU version, we don’t even see his origin story because everyone knows his origin story now. So we skipped that part. In Into the Spider-Verse, does he make web shooters? Does anyone remember? How does that go in Into the Spider-Verse?
Wes: I don’t remember Miles making those.
Oren: I don’t either. Where did he get them? Uh-oh. All right, everyone, commenters, I need you to look this up for me because we’re at the nearly at the end of the episode. I don’t have time to check it myself. But anyway, that’s my hot take on Spider-Man web shooters.
Wes: I think it’s just because they want to make it clear that, hey, let’s not forget, yeah, he’s super strong now and whatever, but he’s still like a nerd. So he used his brain power to create the thing that’s most central to his identity.
Chris: Or somebody thinks that shooting webs is gross.
Oren: They do make a lot of jokes about it. So maybe that’s what it was. Maybe they were just like, we want to avoid the, does he shoot webs out of his butt joke. They always make that joke anyway. So I don’t know what the point of that was. One last thing since we’re almost at the end here. I will say be careful with plots about how your character doesn’t need their special item because special items are cool. And most of the time, if the character depends on their special item because it does a cool thing, having an arc where they lose that special item is going to be a real bummer.
Chris: But if then they just get the special item back again after they learn they don’t need it, then it makes their arc feel like it didn’t matter.
Oren: Yeah, then it’s just a very weak arc as we see in both Moana and Thor in the MCU. They both have arcs about not needing their special weapon. And in Moana’s case, Maui just gets it back because obviously we don’t want Maui without his special hook. And then in the Thor movies in Ragnarok, he actually exchanges his hammer for cool lightning powers. And that was pretty neat. But that only lasted for a movie. And in the next movie, he gets a big ax to replace it, which is way less cool. All right, I think that’ll be it for this episode. We’re going to call things to a close.
Chris: If you enjoyed this episode, support us on Patreon. Just go to
patreon.com slash mythcreants.
Oren: And before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons, assuming we still have any after my Spider-Man hot take. First, we have Callie Macleod. Then we have Kathy Ferguson, who’s a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next, we have Aymon Jaber. He’s an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally, we have Danita Rambo. She lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.[Outro Music]
P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?