“With great power, comes great responsibility.” We all know this (let’s be real) somewhat ham-fisted life-lesson that Uncle Ben bestowed upon Peter Parker, but does it apply to every superhero? Well, not really. The lesson was more about not using your advantages over others for selfish purposes, it doesn’t really account for not being able to control said advantages. We are of course talking about superheroes who have trouble controlling their powers, be it all the time or in specific instances. It’s a bit of a staple of dramatic superhero storytelling at this point, the tragedy of a hero who wants to help people, but doesn’t have or loses control of the very powers they use to do it.
Superpowers are, in most cases, a physical trait, something that requires active control on the part of the user. Under this idea, it makes sense that control is a sliding scale of sorts and that things like emotion, injury or even stress could tilt that scale and make the powers harder to manage. Lots of heroes have lost their powers, but losing control? That’s much worse. It means that the hero, who the public sees as such, could become a terror to society.
The X-Men, as a concept, have always been a brilliant allegory for discrimination and injustice, but Cyclops represents a much more specific take on that idea. Cyclops is a mutant and thus hated by society, but he has the “fortune” of “looking normal” when compared to his fellow original teammates Beast and Angel and the like. However, while he can pass for “normal,” he has no control over his optic blasts.
In other words, Cyclops is exactly what mutant-haters fear; someone with no control over powers that could level a city. This has happened on a couple of occasions when Scott has lost his ruby quartz visor. We’ve seen this in a couple of the X-Men films and in the Age of Apocalypse comics, Cyclops’ optic blasts were once shown to be able to destroy adamantium, vaporizing one of Wolverine’s hands!
In the comics, Raven’s powers weren’t always clearly defined, and neither was her control over them. In the Teen Titans cartoon, however, it was pretty clearly stated that Raven had psychic/magic powers, ones that were dependent on her emotions; thus, she had to act cold to keep her abilities in check.
But, despite her attempts, Raven is still human (well, half) and her emotions get the better of her a few times in the series. There was the episode “Fear Itself” when, after watching a scary movie, Raven’s fears were manifested as a real beast that haunted Titans Tower. In “Switched” we learn of the connection between Raven’s powers and her emotions when Starfire, in Raven’s body, causes havoc with her chaotic emotions. It’s a good thing Raven meditates so much, since her powers are frightening when not kept in check!
13. THE PHOENIX FORCE
Though The Phoenix Force is particular to using Jean Grey as a host, it has possessed a few others in the Marvel Universe, and all of them tend to lose control of their powers in some way or another. With Jean Grey, when the Dark Phoenix takes over, her full powers are unleashed, but they’re not under her control, instead being controlled by the cosmic force.
Then, there’s the Phoenix Five — the five mutants who were possessed by the Phoenix Force — Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik. While they become more powerful as the Phoenix Five, they didn’t seem to have complete control of their actions, and the after-effects were even worse. Each of the members experienced some “bugs” with their powers after the fact; Cyclops’s blasts became wild and sporadic, Emma lost her telepathy and Magik could no longer control her demonic powers. Untold power is great, but only if you have a handle on it, including the aftermath.
12. SCARLET WITCH
Wanda Maximoff has quite the track record. She and her brother Quicksilver have been staple members of the Avengers, she’s had a relationship with Vision and, oh yeah, she once completely rewrote reality after learning her children were erased from existence. In the famous story arc/event, House of M, Wanda seeks the help of Doctor Doom to resurrect her children, only to summon a cosmic force that overtakes Wanda and her powers.
After losing control of her abilities to the mysterious force, Wanda declares war against the Avengers. Her former teammates retaliate and, in a last-minute decision, Wanda changes reality to create a world where everyone gets what their hearts desire. Though the latter use of her powers may have been Wanda’s decision, the murders of The Vision and Hawkeye were completely out of her control.
11. THE HULK
The very concept of The Hulk as a character is the idea of losing control, and we don’t have to give you specific examples of just how disastrous the big green guy can be. Any time Bruce Banner’s stress-response kicks in, his adrenaline manifests itself as the incredible Hulk. And boy is he truly incredible… incredibly destructive, that is.
Though The Hulk is depicted as a good guy in modern comics, he started out as a comic book take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a brilliant scientist who turned into an agent of chaos. The Hulk’s early interpretations showed him as a destructive force, a monster to be kept in check at all times, but when he loses it, it’s always a bad time. One of his most famous tantrums was in Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema’s Incredible Hulk #300, where he raged through New York, beating up most of Marvel’s heaviest-hitting superheroes (including Thor) with relative ease while destroying most of the city in his wake.
Though he’s not exactly a traditional superhero, Tetsuo of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is an excellent example of losing control of superpowers. In fact, Tetsuo’s loss of control is kind of the main focus of the film adaptation of Otomo’s manga. The manga spans a much longer story, but the main plot is that Tetsuo, a shy bullied kid and best friend to a boy named Kaneda, gains psychic powers after an accident, growing more and more powerful.
However, with all telekinetic power comes intense mental instability, which leads Tetsuo to lose his control over his abilities. Other telekinetics in the world of Akira have their powers kept in check through the use of heavy medication, resulting in their hyper-aged appearance, despite being children. Tetsuo refused the medication, which lead to his power endlessly increasing power, driving him insane and leading to city-wide destruction, both by Tetsuo and by the forces trying to stop him.
Legion is a pretty high-concept mutant, wielding a strange power that makes for even stranger storytelling. David Haller has the ability to both spontaneously develop mutations and split personalities to go with them and the ability to absorb the powers and/or personalities of others. The first time David manifested his powers, he destroyed and absorbed the personality of a terrorist leader after the trauma of one of his attacks, absorbing the other victims as well.
Within his mind, the terrorist leader attempted to combine and control David’s many personalities with his telepathy. If that isn’t weird or complicated enough, there was the time David lost control of his powers and went on a rampage after traveling back in time to kill Magneto, killing Charles Xavier by accident. Eventually, though, David was given a “neural switchboard wristband” that allowed him to change powers without the personalty taking over.
8. BLACK BOLT
Like Cyclops, Black Bolt’s power activates on its own and is incredibly hard to control. The king of The Inhumans, Black Bolt’s powers come from an organic brain implant that interacts with electrons in the air, an implant that is connected to the speech center of his brain Because of this, Black Bolt’s vocal chords cause an uncontrollable reaction with his electron-harnessing abilities, resulting in sonic waves that are capable of destroying planets.
Black Bolt learned to control any small utterance he might make, but he’s had his share of, shall we say “slip-ups.” There was the time he accidentally killed his parents with the debris of a Kree ship he destroyed with his voice and the time he fought Thanos and destroyed Attilan, the latter leading to the release of a Terrigen Mist bomb that, after combining with the atmosphere, became deadly to mutants.
Powerplex is a villain of Robert Kirman’s Invincible, though he doesn’t see himself as one. During one of Invincible’s early, intense fights, he is knocked through a building. In that building was Scott Duvall’s sister, who died from the collateral damage. Seeking to prove to the world that Invincible is a menace, Scott stole experimental “bio-therm” discs to help him control his power absorbing abilities. Abilities that he would use to “heroically” make Invincible pay.
Armed with his bio-therm disc suit, Scott’s abilities allowed him to control kinetic energy and release it as electrical energy. He chose the name Powerplex and sought to lure Invincible into a trap to kill him, using his willing wife and son as bait. However, during the battle, Invincible hits Powerplex too much, overloading his powers. When releasing his body’s energy, the overpowered blast incinerates his wife and son. Now that’s an ironic tragedy.
Robert Reynolds, A.K.A. the Sentry, has had a weird and complicated history in comics, his origin having retconned him into being an active hero before The Fantastic Four. After establishing a reputable superhero career, Sentry found that his powers had a dark side, The Void, a repressed persona within Reynolds mind.
The Void was thought by Reynolds to be his greatest enemy, only to eventually learn it was actually part of him. The Void almost caused sentry to kill his sidekick, Scout, and has turned Reynolds into Dark Sentry, taking completely control. The deadliest takeover came in the storyline Siege, in which Sentry and The Void fully merged. In this Dark Sentry form, Reynolds attempted to kill his own wife, teamed up with Norman Osborn, killed the god of war, destroyed Asgardia and killed Loki. Sounds like a bad day for the Avengers!
5. LIZ SHERMAN
You can argue wether or not a BPRD agent is a superhero, but we’re gonna count her as one for this list, especially since she has had a long history of losing control of her pyrokinetic abilities, accidentally killing a number of people. Part of this has to do with the fact that her powers are tied to her emotions, a common trope in superpower storytelling.
Liz Sherman grew up in Kansas and was raised Catholic. Because of this, Liz thought she was making fire because she was sinful. This actually helped her control the powers slightly through prayer, but it didn’t work for long. When Liz was 11, she lost control, killing 32 people including her family. Since then she learned to control and live with her powers through the help and guidance of the BPRD.
The Teen Titans cartoon did a good job of adapting Terra into a deep, dramatic character with a crazy story arc. When she first showed up, Terra was shown to have some trouble controlling her powers, her mental state sometimes pushing her earth-controlling abilities into overdrive. The loss of control was dangerous to both her and the other Titans, so it’s no wonder she sought help.
However, Terra didn’t ask for help from the Titans, who she felt had betrayed her. Instead she ran to Slade, who drove her to fight against the Titans in exchange for help controlling her powers. Slade does indeed help her gain a measure of control, only to treat Terra like a puppet and user her to destroy the Titans. Fortunately, Terra manages to gain control at the last minute and sacrifices herself for her friends.
3. MATTHEW MALLOY
In the 2014 Uncanny X-Men series, Cyclops and his X-Men acted much like the original X-Men, seeking out young mutants to help and teach. However, Cyclops’ views have changed a bit, and he’s now seen as a mutant terrorist, doing whatever he can for the survival of his people. With this newfound mission, Cyclops attempts to recruit Matthew Malloy, the most powerful mutant in the world.
Most mutants have difficulty controlling their powers when they first manifest, and Matthew is no different. In fact, he’s so powerful that he killed his family as a child, leading Charles Xavier to create mental barriers that convinced him he wasn’t a mutant and made him forget what he did, so that his powers couldn’t be released. It didn’t work completely however, since Matthew’s god-like powers came forth once more, resulting in multiple deaths.
2. FRANKLIN RICHARDS
Speaking of mutants, we’ve always been curious about the mutant nature of Sue Storm and Reed Richards’ son, Franklin Richards. Seriously, was he a mutant because of the X-Gene, or are his reality-warping powers (a surprisingly common power in the Marvel Universe) the result of being born from two cosmically-mutated humans? Regardless, Franklin is classified as a mutant — an omega-level one at that.
Because Franklin’s powers manifested at a young age rather than during puberty, as with most mutants, his control over his abilities wasn’t all that great. In fact, Franklin once defeated Ultron when he accidentally released a wave of psionic energy as a result of Ultron’s radiation. He also once resurrected Galactus, created a villain known as Modulus when he felt jealous of his newborn sister and even transformed Ben Grimm back into The Thing to rescue him from an Asgardian Warrior.
1. PROFESSOR X
In the comics, Professor X has been shown to have precise skill and control with his telepathic powers, but the same can’t be said for the Fox films version, especially in Logan. In the film, we see that Logan has been keeping Charles locked up in an old water tower, far away from the world. Or rather, we should say, far away from anyone he can hurt, since his mental powers have become incredibly unstable.
We see the effects of this instability firsthand, shown when Charles sends out painful telepathic blasts without control. Furthermore, there is mention of the “Westchester incident,” in reference to the area the X-Mansion was in. It was revealed that Charles had something to do with this incident, most likely accidentally killing his students and others in the surrounding area after losing control of his powers.
Can you think of any other overpowered superheroes who have been known to lose it? Let us know in the comments!
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