The most desirable superhero abilities tend to be the “offensive” ones. Not offensive in the problematic, people want x-ray vision for creepy reasons way, but ones which allow you to take action: flight, super strength, laser beams shooting out of eyes, the full Superman special. Less common are the more defensive abilities. It’s one of the major criticisms of the Invisible Woman: the men of the Fantastic Four can attack, while she can hide or provide shielding (until her powers were more fully developed, that is).
That hasn’t stopped intangibility from becoming a power almost as prevalent among the denizens of the Marvel and DC Universes as teleportation or super-speed. Often referred to as “phasing,” we’re talking about the power to change your body’s density, so as to pass through solid objects or allow solid objects to pass through you. The power to be literally untouchable is popular, but somewhat underrated. Here are 15 of the best comics characters who can’t be touched.
Jubilation Lee has been through a lot. Snatched from her family home as a teenager to join the X-Men, she took Kitty Pryde’s place as the adolescent sidekick of Wolverine, became a key part of the ‘90s line-up of the team (and subsequent animated series) before falling out of favor. She lost her mutant powers as the result of “House of M” and gained new tech-based abilities as a member of the “New Warriors.” She is now a vampire. Even for an “X-Men” character, that’s a convoluted back story, but it’s the de-powered Jubilee we’re talking about here.
With gadgets developed by seized equipment of jailed supervillain The Wizard, “New Warriors” era Jubilee (adopting the dubious new codename Wondra) had a powerset that wasn’t to be sniffed at — and was actually better defined than her fireworks-from-her-fingertips mutant abilities. Gloves lined with micro-circuits heightened her strength and could create force fields, anti-gravity tech in her costume helped her to fly, plus she had a “ghost mode” akin to Shadowcat’s phasing. She mainly used her untouchability for emergency escapes.
Deadman’s intangibility is both a superpower and also the central tragedy of the character. Trapeze artist named Boston Brand was perhaps tempting the fates by performing in ghostly white face paint under that stage name, and was inevitably gunned down by an unknown assailant during one of his routines. Rather than passing away to whatever afterlife is canon in current DC continuity/theology, he was met by a Hindu god named “Rama Kushna” and given the ability to possess any living being.
That was a spot of luck, since, for all intents and purposes, Deadman is a classic ghost. He cannot interact with the living people around him directly, through speech or through touch. He just passes right through them. Admittedly, that makes it easier for him as he investigates his own death, since poking around into the criminal underworld doesn’t come with the usual threat of certain death. He’s already dead, after all. It just makes it harder for him to confront the people he wants to bring to justice.
For the most part, Dark Horse Comics aren’t in the superhero game. They’re in the horror game, thanks to the success of “Hellboy” and various spin-offs, and more recent books like “Harrow County” and “House of Penance.” The one time they did get into the more traditional territory of the Big Two, it had a somewhat predictable horror bent to it. The most enduring character to come out of the publisher’s “Comics’ Greatest World” imprint, Ghost was… well, she was a ghost. So, she had all the usual distinguishing features that came along with such a state.
Unable to pass onto the afterlife proper until she tracked down the people who murdered her, investigative journalist Elisa Cameron draped herself in white sheets, picked up a couple of handguns and went to work. Despite being a superhero book, “Ghost” was more of a straight detective story, with the twist being somebody solving their own murder. The other twist was that she was a ghost who could teleport and get into gunfights where returning fire would just sail right through her.
12. DEAD GIRL
“X-Force,” and later “X-Statix,” was a pretty kooky book under the stewardship of Peter Milligan and Michael Allred. In a none-more-2001 premise, they were a mutant team assembled to be a media entity, fronting a reality TV show and appearing in calculated photo-ops for gossip rags and tabloid newspapers. The members themselves were the real-deal, regardless of their manufactured careers, and their powers tended towards the weird.
Take Dead Girl. She’s a dead girl. No, really. Moonbeam (she had hippy parents) went to L.A. to pursue her dream of becoming an actor, only to be murdered. The act of being killed activated her mutant powers, which involve her being physically deceased — and decaying — yet alive. She can rebuild her body, doesn’t need food or drink or oxygen, can control her limbs even if they’ve been served, and has controllable intangibility. She was somewhere between a zombie and a ghost, essentially, capable of passing through objects and walking on air.
Afghani “X-Men” recruit Sooraya Qadir’s main mutant ability isn’t technically intangibility, it’s that she can transforms her body into a sentient, malleable cloud of dust. The creation of Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Ethan Van Sciver, Dust was groundbreaking in terms of being a mostly-positive portrayal of a Muslim woman in the 21st century — she even wears an abaya with a niqab — and through her unusual powers, which have their roots in the environment she lived in.
She can transform her body into sand-like particles at will, and then reassemble herself. These dust particles are so minuscule, they allow her to combine solid, heavy objects to attack and also to be as good as invulnerable to most attacks. For all intents and purposes, Dust is intangible, with the added benefits of also being able to unleash devastating physical attacks (stripping the flesh from attackers’ bones in an early appearance) and being untouchable on the psychic plane as well.
10. PHANTOM GIRL
On her home planet of Bgztl, Tinya Wazzo isn’t anything special. Every inhabitant of that world possesses the power of intangibility as a given, from birth. It’s a nod to the fact that the planet exists in exactly the same space as Earth, just in a completely separate dimension. Despite these hurdles, she finds herself in the 31st century, within the ranks of the Legion of Superheroes, the long-standing futuristic DC team of teen superheroes who have previously counted the likes of Matter-Eating Lad among their number. Intangibility to them is a big get!
Under the name Phantom Girl, Tinya could phase through solid objects and dimensions with a similar ease and, unlike her fellow Bgztlians, was capable of selectively choosing which parts of her body she wanted to become intangible at any given moment. When she’s intangible, she is immune to physical harm, poison gas and radiation, and can pass through solid objects. Her phasing also gives her the unique ability to explore and be aware of events in the mysterious Phantom Zone.
9. NATE GREY
Taking after his mother in the overpowered stakes, Nathaniel “Nate” Grey — otherwise now as X-Man — was an evacuee from the dystopian alternate reality of the “Age of Apocalypse.” He was raised by Forge, but was technically the child of Scott Summers, better known as Cyclops, and Jean Grey, created in a lab using their genetic material by bad guy Mr Sinister. Mostly he inherited his mother’s omega-level telepathic and telekinetic mutant abilities, as signified by the glow of usually hot pink psionic energy that constantly emanated from his left eye.
Not that that means he was simply a Phoenix-style force of destructive energy, or an Xavier-style mind reader. He was literally created to be the most powerful being on Earth, so he can do basically anything… which makes him a little cocky. He can enter the astral plane, project his consciousness onto different planes and eventually rocket himself into another reality entirely. Intangibility is relatively small potatoes to X-Man, although he has a one-up on most, since he can also make other people intangible without even having to touch them.
8. THE FLASH
Pick a Flash, any Flash. Whether it’s Barry Allen, Wally West or even Bart Allen, any scarlet speedster who has pulled on the red tights and gained access to the mysterious meta-dimensional concept known as the “speed force” can move so quickly that they don’t need to be invulnerable. Any attack they see coming, with those literal-lightning-fast reflexes, can be avoided. At that point, intangibility seems a bit like gilding an already impressive lily, but it’s another ability the speed force imbues these crimson heroes with.
Intangibility, after all, doesn’t just mean you lack solidity, that things can pass through you. It also means, in the case of the various Flashes, that they are also free of pesky things like “gravity” or “physics,” the way that physical beings and objects of certain density are beholden to. This allows them to transcend the physical boundaries of regular people and pass through time and space without doing serious harm to themselves, to speed up buildings and through the air, across lakes, all that fun stuff. This is all on top of them being freakin’ fast.
7. UATU THE WATCHER
The clue is in the name. Uatu the Watcher is a member of an alien race charged, by some unseen force and for an unknown purpose, to observe the dramas of the Marvel Universe, both cosmic and earthbound. He lives (or rather, lived) on the moon with his family, where he collected the secrets of the heroes, villains and civilians who populated the pages of Marvel Comics, but was prohibited from ever intervening. His Prime Directive mission was helped by powers of intangibility, meaning he literally could not intervene, at times.
All the better to hang around in the background of key milestones, like a mute baby with a giant head, or introduce issues of the alternate reality series “What If?” Eventually, Uatu’s non-interventionist policy and respective powers were put to the test, and found wanting. Event series “Original Sin” was based around the Watcher’s murder, and the dissemination of various secrets that had previously been hidden away in his head. Before he took that surprise bullet to the head, though? Top-notch intangibility.
6. THE SPECTRE
Despite appearances, The Spectre is even further away from a traditional spirit than even Dark Horse’s Ghost, while still benefiting from all those fun spooky powers. Unlike DC’s standard legacy hero system, the mantle of The Spectre is not a powerset and costume passed on from mentors to their younger proteges. He is less a superhero, and more of a wraith-like supernatural being, working under the auspices of forces beyond human comprehension to ensure a natural sense of justice and balance to the world.
Regardless of whether it’s hard-bitten police detective Jim Corrigan, GCPD cop Crispus Allen or even Green Lantern Hal Jordan serving as the vessel through which this spirit of vengeance is pursuing their mission, he does his job by utilizing the same abilities. Not only can The Spectre observe events without intervening or being noticed, allowing him to decide how deserving somebody is of occult punishment, he can also become intangible and thus invulnerable to all but the most powerful magical attacks. He’s not so much a fighting superhero as a judge, jury and executioner.
5. MONICA RAMBEAU
Spectrum, Captain Marvel, Photon; whatever you want to call her, Monica Rambeau has never gotten the respect she deserves. Despite possessing a unique powerset that places her in the upper echelons of Marvel superheroes, she’s perhaps best known for her appearance in Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s satirical comic book classic “Nextwave,” a characterization Al Ewing and various artists have carried through to her appearances on the roster of first the “Mighty Avengers” and then version 2.0 of the “Ultimates.”
Exposed to extra-dimensional energy while trying to sabotage the creation of a dangerous super-weapon, Monica was imbued with the ability to convert her body into any form of energy within the electromagnetic spectrum. What this essentially means is that she can do anything. She can turn invisible, intangible, but also become pure blindingly white light, become an indestructible photon energy pulse which can take down helicarriers. Also, she can fly. She’s the whole package, and plenty more besides; and yet, she’s stuck hanging out with The Captain.
4. MARTIAN MANHUNTER
There are Justice League stalwarts like Wonder Woman, The Flash and Batman, and then there’s the Martian Manhunter. Other members were successful heroes in their own right who readers love seeing interact when put together, while J’onn J’onzz has never really been given his due outside the team setting. One of the last surviving martians, before the red planet was razed with fire (his one weakness), he came to Earth to become something of a combination superhero-private eye.
Martian Manhunter’s superpowers are near enough perfect: he can fly, has super-strength, is incredibly intelligent and uncommonly empathetic, has the whole Superman gamut of extra visions, can read minds and is telekinetic, and he can shapeshift. The latter is part of a cadre of abilities owing to the malleability of his physical form, which also allows him to become intangible at will, stretch and contract his body, increase and decrease his physical form. You don’t get a chance to hang a sign on him.
3. THE VISION
What kind of a superhero doesn’t have a secret identity? One whose powers are rooted in their inhumanity. The few times The Vision has attempted to create a “normal” human life have usually ended in disaster, whether it be his doomed romance with the Scarlet Witch or the facsimile of suburban white-picket life he recently tried to build in his eponymous series by Tom King and Gabriel Hernández Walta. His intangibility is one of the key reasons why he’s an Avenger, and why he can be little more than that.
A “synthezoid,” or synthetic human android, The Vision was originally created by the megalomaniacal robot Ultron to infiltrate the Avengers and destroy them from the inside. What actually happened was that his creation became one of the cornerstone players in the team for decades after, his powers a mix of the offensive and defensive: flight, shapeshifting and superhuman strength and durability, but also the ability to control his density. This meant he could become nigh-immovable and indestructible, or ghost through solid objects like a specter.
2. DOCTOR MANHATTAN
Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s endlessly influential “Watchmen” paved the way to the grim reality of superhero comic archetypes. A masked vigilante would have more in common with deranged, bean-eating sociopath Rorschach than Batman; a jingoistic war veteran would likely resemble the slimy Comedian as opposed to Captain America. And Superman? Why would he bother saving any of us? In this world, the only “true” superpowered being is Jon Osterman, torn to pieces in a “intrinsic field experiment test chamber” and subsequently remade as a god.
Or, he was as close to a god as anyone can be. Jon’s father was a watchmaker; there’s a metaphor in there regarding his transformation into Doctor Manhattan, which gives him a full understanding of and control over the building blocks of existence. Which means he can automatically generate clothing (although he prefers to go without,) split himself into different bodies to service his wife’s needs (while carrying on with his experiments), requires no sustenance, can teleport, and can become intangible on top of it all. In fact, rearranging his atoms so matter passes through him is one of his less impressive powers.
Kitty Pryde has to be the MVP of intangibility, in Marvel or any other comic book universe. Her peers may use their abilities to avoid attack, sneak about or explore the electromagnetic spectrum (actually, that last one is still really impressive), and she has certainly had her fair share of those. Thanks to her mutant abilities, Kitty is able to “phase” through solid objects, walking through walls like a ghost and disrupting any electronics she interacts with whilseher powers are activated. However, she is so much more than just that.
She has been (and currently is) leader of the X-Men. She was the protege of notable curmudgeon and badass Wolverine, who tutored her in the ways of beating the stuffing out of people. The electronics-disruption aspect of her intangibility has allowed her to bring down the towering, mutant-hunting robot Sentinels. She survived a dangerous outer space mission while she was still a teenager, and she got a pet alien dragon as a reward. Then there was the time she willingly sacrificed herself to save an entire planet, by phasing her way into a giant space bullet destined to orbit the cosmos in perpetuity. Shadowcat isn’t just intangible. She’s untouchable.
Who is your favorite untouchable hero? Let us know in the comments!