The world of comic books is very different from our world, which really should go without saying. In comics, people have amazing powers; that’s the point of superhero books, after all, as it leaves everyone who’s seen a superhero (or supervillain, we’re not here to judge) sighing, “I wish I could do that.” Well, it’s time to play “be careful what you wish for.” A lot of popular superpowers in the comics wouldn’t be that great to have in the real world. Here at CBR, we’re going to burst your bubble and go over 15 superpowers that would have unpleasant and even lethal side effects.
Just to set the ground rules, all superpowers would have some basis in physics and biology of this, our real world. We’re going to allow some things like flying without wings, but none of the powers are based on magic. You would also only have one superpower. That means you wouldn’t have any additional or secondary powers along with your main superpower.
One of the most common superpowers is enhanced strength. It seems like most superheroes like Captain America have super-strength to some degree. The Hulk is pretty much all strength, of course, but there seems to be a wide range, such that even characters not known for their strength of arms have a little bit more oomph to their punches. That’s no coincidence! The wish fulfilment of super strength is strong; it would indeed be awesome to go around lifting cars and punching through steel. In reality, though, having super-strength would have some huge downsides.
First, super-strength doesn’t automatically come with super-durability. Your super-strong muscles might be able to lift thousands of pounds, but without super-strong bones to match, trying to lift a car would snap your arms and legs like twigs. Trying to punch through steel would just turn your fists into bone-jangling bags of meat. As for lifting up cars and planes, anyone who’s ever tried to hoist up a car with the jack in the wrong place knows you’d get a big hole in the bottom of the car. With all that weight on one point, your hands would punch right through the soft underside of the car or plane, and it would fall apart around you… just like your dreams of super strength.
When we talk about flight, we’re talking Hawkman style; not necessarily with wings, but definitely the gravity-free feeling of soaring. It seems like most people have dreamed of sailing through the skies with a cape flapping behind them, free as a bird. Well, it’s time to smash into the freshly-cleaned window that is reality, folks, because flight would be one dangerous superpower.
Let’s gloss over the wind, dust and bugs hitting every inch of your exposed skin. There’s also “G-LOC,” a sensation jet fighter pilots are familiar with whereby flying fast and changing direction quickly causes you to lose consciousness. Unless you flew slowly and gently (and where’s the fun in that) you’d pass out and fall to your death. Also, the higher you fly, the colder and thinner the air would be, until you froze to death or suffocated.
There’s also the problem of other aircraft. At any moment during your flight, you could get sucked into the engine of a passing airplane. Even if you didn’t get hit, the government wouldn’t look too kindly on someone sailing wherever they wanted. Flying too close to airports or national monuments or military bases — anywhere interesting at all, really — would get you shot down in record time.
13. X-Ray Vision
One of Superman’s signature powers is his X-ray vision. With his enhanced eyes, he can see through anything except lead. He uses it mainly to search for people and things, and also to see if someone’s carrying a weapon. Of course, he would never look through other people’s clothes with it. But even if you wanted to, you probably couldn’t. X-rays are very sensitive, but don’t have much control. If you focused your X-ray vision on someone, you’d see right through their clothes and their skin, leaving you looking at a bunch of skeletons walking around.
There’s also the problem of radiation. Real X-rays are really dangerous, which is why X-ray technicians wear protective gear. Every time you used your super vision, you’d be flooding yourself and everyone else with massive amounts of radiation. After a few days of enjoying your new power, you’d be diagnosed with cancer. So would everyone else you were gawking at. Good job.
Invisibility is another common superpower, and the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman is the perfect example. Taking Sue Storm’s powers as inspiration, you would be completely invisible to anyone or anything around you. Well… sort of.
True invisibility is extremely hard to get. If you were just transparent, you’d still reflect some light, so you’d look more like a glass statue of yourself. Even if you were completely transparent, any dirt or dust that collected on your body would slowly make you look visible again (unless you could make that invisible, too). You’d also leave footprints on the ground if you walked through water or dirt or mud. Any clothes would be visible, so you’d have to fight crime in the buff. That would suck, especially if it’s cold or raining. But your biggest problem would be that your eyes wouldn’t receive any light, so you’d be completely blind.
Even if you ignore all that, invisibility would mean you’d constantly have to worry about being run into by bikes or cars or trampled by people walking around. You’d feel more terrified than powerful.
The power of teleportation means you could instantly send yourself from one place to another. Nightcrawler of the X-Men is probably the most well-known user of this power, though others, like Blink, also make the list. It seems pretty handy to be able to travel to work in the blink of an eye, or send yourself into Fort Knox without even opening the door. But again, it’s not all a bed of roses.
Whenever you teleported, you would leave behind a vacuum created by your vanishing, which would cause huge implosions wherever you left. When you arrived, the air being forced out of the space you teleported into would burst outwards. That means you’d be causing explosions everywhere you went to and from, which, really, is pretty inconvenient for both you and everyone around you.
Also, as Nightcrawler said in the movie “X-Men 2,” you’d have to see where you were going. If you didn’t, you could potentially teleport into a wall or the floor or even other people. You’d end up being crushed or fused with whatever you merged with, looking like “The Fly”… or, y’know, just dead.
It’s almost standard for superheroes like Supergirl to be bulletproof. It comes in handy when the hero is facing an army of criminals armed with machine guns. In the comics, being invulnerable is easy, natural even. Unfortunately, though, this wouldn’t be the case if invulnerability was a real thing.
In the real world, it’s hard to make something bulletproof. Most bulletproof materials are thick and hard to absorb the impact. Human skin is only a couple of millimetres thick, so there’s no way that would stop a bullet. To be truly bulletproof, you would have to have skin like armor plating, so you would look more like a rhinoceros (or, admittedly, Colossus). All that added weight would make you heavy and it would be near-impossible to move.
Also, your entire body couldn’t be that thick, otherwise your soft tissues couldn’t send blood and water to vital organs. That means you’d be vulnerable in your eyes, and inside your nose and mouth. That scene in “Superman Returns” where a bullet bounces off Superman’s eyeball wouldn’t work… just like the movie itself.
9. Weather Control
The superhero Storm has a very handy power: the ability to change the weather in a given area. She can create lightning, cause rain storms, trigger strong winds and even create tornados. In the real world, weather control would be way more complicated. For instance, weather changes aren’t instantaneous. Even if you called up a rainstorm, the water would have to condense in the air to form clouds, which can take hours to build up. On the battlefield, you’d be waiting a long time for that rain to fall.
There’s also the fact that the weather doesn’t work in isolation. It’s all connected. A drop in temperature in one area would cause a rise in temperature somewhere else. Drawing moisture from one area to make rain would mean drought in another. Your rainstorm could lead to famine and starvation in other parts of the world. You’d be wreaking havoc with the weather planet-wide, a human environmental disaster.
Imagine having the power to change shape. Supervillains like Mystique can make themselves look like anyone else, while heroes like Mister Fantastic can twist their bodies into any shape they want. That all sounds pretty cool, but shape-shifting is probably one of the worst superpowers to have. For one thing, the comics never have to explain how someone can survive when they’ve twisted all their internal organs around into the shape of a pretzel. At the very least, the brain would have to stay intact, so squeezing through a keyhole would leave you with severe brain damage.
Even if you stuck to human shapes, there’s the problem of memory. If someone told you to draw a photorealistic picture of the president of the United States, could you do it? That’s what you’d have to do to copy someone else perfectly enough to fool anyone. Even the slightest mistake in the shape of the nose or the height would be painfully obvious. If you wanted to infiltrate a prison or some other ultra-secure facility — anything that may require various states of undress — you’d have to copy your mark’s naked bodies, too. We probably don’t need to tell you, that might get a little awkward.
Superheroes like the Vision have the power of intangibility, which lets them pass right through solid objects. This seems like a useful ability, since you can walk through walls and floors to go anywhere; on a literal level, you would be unstoppable. No locked doors could bar you. Also if someone tried to shoot you, the bullets would pass right through you. Same for fists.
However, if you made yourself intangible, you would quickly become helpless. In your intangible form, you wouldn’t be able to see anything, because light would pass through your eyes. You’d also immediately start to suffocate, because air would pass through your lungs. If you had any weight at all, you’d fall through the ground and end up deep in the Earth’s crust. If you had no solid mass at all, you’d be trapped and unable to move, because you wouldn’t be able to touch the ground or any other object to propel yourself. You’d end up a blind, choking ghost floating helplessly in the air.
Ant-Man has brought a seldom-used superpower back into the spotlight: shrinking. Let’s imagine that you have the power to shrink down to two or three inches tall, and then grow back again. It seems good on the big screen, shrinking down to hide easily, crawl through small holes and become as dangerous as a bullet… but we don’t think it would work that well in real life.
With your smaller size, you’d also be weaker. Ant-Man has the additional power of retaining his human-sized strength. Without that, though, even a penny would be as hard to lift for you as a Sherman tank. You’d also be extremely light, easily blowing away from a stiff breeze. It would also take forever to get anywhere. Running six feet would be like running six blocks. Of course, in your smaller state, you’d have bigger problems. For example, your body’s lungs have suddenly become so small that they can’t take in oxygen. That’s why Ant-Man wears a helmet with its own oxygen supply. Without it, you’d conceivably die of suffocation before any adventuring could even begin!
Like the arachnid from which he derives his powers and name, Spider-Man has the power to stick to walls. It’s a handy ability for getting the drop on bad guys who don’t think to look up at the ceiling. It also makes it easier to get into otherwise off-limits places, like secret lairs or well-guarded buildings, by climbing through the windows instead of walking in the front door.
However, in order to walk on walls, you would have to have huge hooks on your palms and feet. Even if you did have some oddly nebulous power to stick to objects like Spider-Man (how does he do it with shoes and gloves, really?), you’d have to keep your hands and feet uncovered. It wouldn’t work through cloth or leather. You’d be running around barefoot with bare hands, and forgetting about the chill factor in less temperate months, your secret identity would immediately be discovered. Pesky fingerprints!
There’s also the problem of a lack of super-strength as a complementary power. To climb on a wall would be just like rock climbing, so you’d have to lift yourself off the ground and pull yourself up. After a few feet of that, you would be left completely exhausted. Now imagine having to climb a skyscraper. Doesn’t it seem easier to take the stairs?
Imagine if you had the power to create fire from your body. Superheroes like the Human Torch have that power, and it sure comes in handy. They can make flames come out of their hands and attack whatever they need to burn. It’s awesome… or is it? Let’s go back to the real world. If you really had the power to make fire come out of your body, you’d be killed almost instantly. That’s because you’re creating fire on your actual body, and remember, you’re not invulnerable. You’d be dead long before anyone else even warmed up.
Even if you created all those handy fires, you wouldn’t have any control over them. The fires could easily burn out of control, burning down houses, cities and forests wherever you created them. Within minutes, your attack could lead to widespread devastation. Also, where is the fuel for the fire supposed to come from? Your own body? Do you have gasoline in your veins instead of blood? If not, you’d only be able to ignite flammable objects like cloth or wood. You’d constantly be looking for something to burn.
Let’s keep superpowers simple, and go with immortality. Characters like Vandal Savage have the ability to live forever. That seems like it would be cool, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.
So let’s say you just can’t be hurt at all. That would be great, except for the fact that everyone else is still mortal. Your crime-fighting buddies would continue to get older or get hurt. They would die or retire. You’d meet new heroes and those would pass on. All your friends and family would die, too, until their lifespan would seem like that of a fruit fly to you. You’d spend thousands of years, watching helplessly as generations die off, while you continued living. If you kept that up, eventually you would end up watching humans develop over millions of years. Eventually, you’d look like a Cro-Magnon to them. Then, of course, there’s the heat death of the universe to look forward to!
That’s if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, you might get trapped inside a collapsing building or a cave, where no one could dig you out. You would remain that way forever, unable to die and unable to move, slowly going mad.
Wolverine is one of the most popular superheroes in comics, in part because he has one of the most enviable powers. He can heal from any injury, which means his tissues grow back quickly. Shoot him with a gun and the bullet hole heals instantly. Cut off his arm, he grows a new one. It would seem like someone who can regenerate would be invulnerable. The reality wouldn’t be quite so much fun.
If you break a bone, it would heal instantly, sure. But without being set properly, you would end up with a leg or arm at a twisted angle. You’d have to break the bone again to set it, but it would heal instantly again, so you’d go through an agonizing cycle of breaking and setting the bone until it healed normally. If you got shot, the hole would heal with the bullet still inside, and there would be no way to get it out. Surgery is out, because they couldn’t cut you open without it healing again. Also, if any vital organs like your brain were destroyed, your body would die instantly, so it couldn’t heal. You can’t heal from death… well, unless you were immortal, but we’ve already talked about that fiasco.
Superheroes like the Flash are built for speed. They can move fast enough to dodge bullets, and can cross hundreds of miles in seconds. It seems awesome, but in the real world, superspeed would work a lot differently.
First, as the first supersonic jets discovered, anything moving faster than the speed of sound creates a loud sonic boom. While you’re running all over the city, you’d be leaving behind a trail of destruction and deafened ears. Also, high speed equals high heat. Your feet would create so much friction, you would burn your shoes and feet right off… not to mention that the wind blowing on your body would cook you alive.
High speed also comes with slower reaction times. Once again, you don’t get any additional powers besides speed, so you could easily run right into the first wall you come to or trip and splatter yourself into a puddle. Even without running into anything, running that fast and turning or even coming to a complete stop would slam your brain and internal organs against the inside of your body, leaving you a bloody pile of goo.
Which superpower would you still like to have? What other side effects of superpowers can you think of? Let us know in the comments!