As CBR knows only too well, the world of comic books would be pretty damn boring if none of the heroes had any weaknesses or limitations; after all, their powers have to be balanced out somehow or every battle would be over in seconds. Without conflict, there are no comics… or, at least, none worth reading!
That being said, we here at CBR reckon some heroes’ vulnerabilities are a whole lot easier to justify than others. Brute force? That’s pretty plausible. Magic? Heck, why not. But when incredibly powerful characters are taken down by simple, mundane or outright bizarre weaknesses such as a tree branch, lack of water or a color, you can’t help but wonder what the writers were smoking. Listed below are the lamest weaknesses CBR can think of. Try not to laugh too hard!
15. SUPERMAN: PRETTY SPACE ROCKS
Kryptonite isn’t the lamest superhero weakness out there, but CBR reckons it’s got to warrant a mention. After all, being allergic to pieces of your home planet is a pretty weird vulnerability to have, especially when its radioactivity is so weak that humans are largely unaffected (Post-“Crisis” Lex Luthor excluded, of course). The variant colors of kryptonite affect Superman differently and some of the symptoms are flat-out hilarious: green just makes Superman weak, but red makes him have psychedelic visions or morph into embarrassing shapes. Silver, meanwhile, turns him into a hungry drunk. And pink? Well, pink makes him super… effeminate. We have Peter David to thank for that absurd little morsel.
Perhaps what’s most ridiculous about Superman’s biggest weakness is that kryptonite is so readily available on Earth. As per “Action Comics” #600, Krypton was located approximately 50 light years from our own planet — falling within Tomar-Re’s Sector 2813, for any “Green Lantern Corps” geeks out there — so even if a few meteorites carrying the substance did make their way into Earth’s atmosphere, it’s unlikely that more than a few fragments could be recovered. So how come Lex Luthor’s got stockpiles of the stuff?
14. DAREDEVIL: NOISE POLLUTION
After a young Matt Murdock is blinded by a radioactive substance while trying to save a man from being flattened by a truck, he develops other super-heightened senses that allow him to “see” using sound, smell, taste and touch… okay, okay, mostly sound (don’t worry, he’s not going to start licking the walls to track bad guys or anything). Oh, and he also becomes a martial arts master because, y’know, it’s a Stan Lee comic and it’s cool.
Although this sensory sensitivity works effectively as a substitute for vision most of the time, it comes at a high price. Therein lies Daredevil’s daftest weakness: he can’t bear loud noises. So much so, in fact, that particularly powerful sounds weaken all his senses rather than enhancing them (not just hearing, but balance and orientation too), and can immobilize him completely as the sensory overload is so painful. You could quite literally defeat him without throwing a punch: just yell at him through a megaphone!
13. AQUAMAN: DEHYDRATION
Since his creation by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger back in 1941, Aquaman has been the butt of many a joke. He’s gifted with a range of pretty impressive abilities, including super-strength, enhanced hearing, night vision and the capacity to withstand bone-crushing pressure, but his affinity for oceanic creatures has always made him seem a bit… well… fishy.
However, we here at CBR would argue that the silliest thing about Aquaman isn’t that his closest allies could be defeated by a fishing net, but that his entire power set is reliant on him having regular access to water. Sure, the average Joe might get a headache if they don’t stay hydrated, but being out of the sea for more than an hour renders this Atlantean King completely powerless, a flaw that was retconned in during “Adventure Comics” #256 in 1959.
Aquaman can easily fight the baddies on the beaches as part of the Justice League, but what about in the middle of the city, a space station or an underground lair (all legitimate supervillain hangouts by the way)? Take him out his element, and he gets a lot less super.
12. THE HUMAN TORCH: ASBESTOS
Don’t let those dodgy “Fantastic Four” films fool you: Johnny Storm is a force to be reckoned with (although, granted, he’s a little wet behind the ears). Not only can he create, absorb and manipulate fire, which is pretty awesome, but his nova flame is hot enough to vaporize the particles of anything in his way, whether it’s a bullet, a bad guy or a building.
There is, however, one tiny exception to this rule… his powers can’t penetrate asbestos. This doesn’t seem like much of a weakness, given asbestos is now banned across most of the world, but back when the Human Torch was first conceived by Stan Lee and Ernest Hart in 1963, it was commonly used to insulate pipes and wires, soundproof rooms and even make cheap garden furniture.
This initially left the Torch open to a wide range of hair-brained attacks he had no defense against. In “Strange Tales” #111, the imaginatively-named villain Asbestos Man side-stepped Storm’s powers completely using a fire-retardant shield, net and “super-asbestos” suit. However, the Human Torch prevailed in the end and the toxic properties of Asbestos Man’s suit meant he later relied on an oxygen tank for survival. Tough break, man.
11. THE FLASH: RUNNING TOO FAST
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but in the case of Barry Allen, the opposite is true: his speed might be his greatest strength, but excelling in his abilities puts his life in mortal danger. As part of the 1985-1986 “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover comic written by Marv Wolfman, the Flash uses super-speed to thwart the Anti-Monitor’s evil plan, but the speed vortex he creates to stop the villain’s anti-matter cannon firing is so fast it sweeps the Flash away along with it. He ends up being stranded for 23 years in the Speed Force — the mystical energy field that gives all speedsters their powers — being thought dead by his closest friends, including Wally West, who takes up the Flash mantle in his absence.
Being one with the force does have upsides though, as according to the “Secret Origins” Annual #2, Allen is able to go back and mess with his own timeline (again… will he ever learn?!), becoming the lightning bolt that hit his lab and gave him superpowers in the first place. Plus, he didn’t stay dead forever, as Grant Morrison brought him back for 2008’s “Final Crisis,” but his need for speed still makes him vulnerable!
10. ADAM STRANGE: FORCED DEPORTATION
To anyone who thinks archaeologists can’t be superheroes, we give you Adam Strange, the intrepid dirt-explorer who inadvertently found himself on the planet Rann and was gifted with all the powers of a superhero in “Mystery in Space.” His creator Julius Schwartz never really explained why, but Strange quickly settles down on Rann with his space-babe of a wife, Alanna. unfortunately, this life of bliss is frequently interrupted by his rather inconvenient transportations back to Earth, where he has no powers at all.
The technology responsible for bringing him to Rann — the mysterious Zeta-Beam — only allows him to remain there for as long as it’s transmitting back to Earth… and as it takes the beam a good few years to reach Strange’s home planet, it’s not exactly easy to catch a ride back. Strange might well have been recruited as Rann’s savior, but his timing issues really make his role more of a part-time gig. He could be mid-way through his heroics before vanishing without a trace. He even left his wife to nearly get eaten by a tiger once! Luckily, as Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” series clarified, the Rannians are more than capable of looking after themselves when Strange isn’t around.
9. GLADIATOR: LOW SELF-ESTEEM
Marvel’s Gladiator, created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, is arguably one of the most powerful comic book heroes ever, and that’s a big accolade. Being gifted with planet-shattering strength, super-speed, heat vision, frost breath and a few psionic abilities to boot, he’s a superhero most guys would love to be… but, funnily enough, he’s never really learned to love himself.
Although low self-esteem isn’t exactly fun for anybody, for Gladiator it’s a fatal weakness. His power fluctuates according to his confidence, as seen in Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s “War of Kings” crossover in 2009. As such, he can be defeated by opponents with far lesser abilities if only they can make him doubt himself. A prime example of this crops up in “War of Kings” #3, when Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket Raccoon manages to convince Gladiator his gun will hurt him and, despite withstanding far worse in the past, succumbs to the self-fulfilling prophecy and is beaten. So he’s not just insecure, he’s also dumb enough to be outwitted by a raccoon. Should that count as two weaknesses?
8. BANSHEE: A SORE THROAT
It’s not exactly a secret that shouting yourself hoarse won’t do you any good, mainly because everyone around you will think you’re cray. But what if your voice was your superpower? That’s the problem that Marvel’s Banshee faces, as an X-Men mutant with a sonic scream powerful enough to disable his enemies. Of course, having super-powered vocal cords doesn’t make you invulnerable to a sore throat, as Banshee learned to his peril in “Uncanny X-Men” #119.
In it, he completely lost his powers during a battle with the terrorist Moses Magnum after overexerting himself… and by overexertion, we mean yelling really, really loudly for a few minutes ‘til he ran out of wind. It’s odd to think that something most people could cure with a lozenge or two is capable of taking down a superhero permanently (as Banshee retired shortly after this defeat to shack up with Professor X’s ex-girlfriend), but since when have comic book vulnerabilities made any sense at all?
7. CYCLOPS: MISPLACING HIS GLASSES
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Cyclops is a powerful mutant and an effective leader of the X-Men; well, so long as he’s wearing his ruby quartz visor, that is. Without it, he’s basically a walking death trap. His optic blasts may be incredibly precise, but he’s unable to control or direct them without the visor. This weakness originated from a childhood brain injury (as stated in “Uncanny X-Men” #156), but was later retconned in “Astonishing X-Men” #14 and explained as a self-imposed mental block, resulting from the trauma of his parents’ death. Either way, even opening his eyes a little without his designer cyber-specs is likely to cause general carnage and endanger everyone around him.
Laughably, many fights with Cyclops inevitably involve him losing his visor somehow and blasting holes into everything until someone stops him scrabbling around on the floor blindly. You’d think with all the super-powered technology lying around Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, someone would’ve been able to design something to help Scott Summers keep his visor on!
6. MARTIAN MANHUNTER: FIRE
He’s a powerful superhero who can shapeshift at a molecular level, changing his entire genetic composition to allow him to pass through solid objects, withstand ferocious attacks or bend light waves around his body. Moreover, he hails from Mars, otherwise known as the Red Planet or the Fire-Star. So, why exactly should Martian Manhunter be so afraid of fire?
In Grant Morrison’s “Final Crisis” #1, the Martian Manhunter is captured and killed by Libra in the presence of the Secret Society of Super-Villains on the orders of his past B-list foe, the Human Flame. Theoretically, J’onn J’onzz should be able to shapeshift into something fireproof, or wet, or something, but he ends up being torched like a marshmallow instead. Weirder still, any attempt to overcome this aversion to fire turns J’onn J’onzz into an entirely different person, specifically the Burning Martian Fernus, one of J’onn’s ancient Martian ancestors. As Joe Kelly’s “JLA” #87-89 proved, Fernus isn’t really a very nice guy — he’s fuelled by “psychic grief,” after all, which is almost never a good sign.
5. THOR: 60 SECONDS
As the God of Thunder, Thor is granted a range of truly awesome abilities, including enhanced strength and endurance, flight, weather manipulation and a near-immortal lifespan. However, it’s worth pointing out these powers are granted by his mystical hammer, Mjolnir… and it just so happens that Mjolnir can be pretty damn fickle. Original canon dictated that if Thor lost physical contact with his hammer for more than 60 seconds, he would instantly revert back to his mortal alter-ego, Donald Blake. Moreover, if someone “worthy” of Mjolnir’s power reached the hammer first, they could claim Thor’s abilities for themselves.
Creator Stan Lee unwittingly made Thor an easy target for quick-thinking villains and wannabe gods. After all, Thor’s preferred method of combat is throwing his hammer around and occasionally using it to pin down a bad guy or two, so taking him down became very simple: keep him occupied for more than a minute and create an obstacle to prevent Mjolnir returning. Boom! De-powered Thor. Thankfully, the 60-second rule was abolished in 1984, in “Thor” #340 during the “Stormbreaker” story arc written by Walter Simonson, so bad guys can’t take out the Thunder God so easily anymore.
4. WONDER WOMAN: BONDAGE
Superheroes don’t come much more kickass than Wonder Woman. As a gifted warrior with enough power to take on the gods and win, she’s shown time and again that she can hold her own in the testosterone-fueled world of comic book heroes… but she wasn’t always the self-assured feminist icon we’ve all come to know and love. As it turns out, Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston had some pretty barmy ideas about the amount of power men should be able to wield over women back in the day.
Case in point: despite being a super-powerful Amazonian princess in a land ruled by women, Marston made sure Diane of Themyscira’s powers (like those of her kind) could easily be neutralized by any member of the “greater” sex through the simple act of binding her wrists. This, according to Aphrodite’s Law, made her “as weak as other women in a man-ruled world,” reinforcing the idea that women should be answerable to men at all times. Incredibly, this gender-specific weakness persevered from Wonder Woman’s debut in 1941 (in “All-Star Comics” #8) right through to the mid ‘80s, when DC finally retconned this flaw out for the good of all womankind.
3. POWER GIRL: ANY NATURAL UNPROCESSED MATERIAL
You’d think that after getting around that whole “vulnerability-to-kryptonite” thing through the sheer convenience of having come from another dimension (kryptonite doesn’t work when it’s brought to other realities), Power Girl would pretty much be unstoppable; after all, she’s got exactly the same powers as her on-off cousin Superman, and that strong personality of hers means she can stay sharp and decisive when the going gets tough. There’s only one problem with that: Power Girl’s got a different weakness, one that is far more common than an obscure, radioactive space rock. She’s vulnerable to all raw, unprocessed materials. Yes, you read that right.
After being knocked to the ground by a tree branch and then impaled by it in Peter David’s “Supergirl” Vol.4 #16, Kara tells a bemused Supergirl that “sticks and stones can really break my [bones]” in a nod to the old schoolyard rhyme. CBR can only assume that means “names will never hurt” her. Small comfort! Wood, stone, dirt, sand — if it’s on Earth and it’s not man-made, it can harm her. Being impervious to bullets only counts for so much if your enemy can take you down with a slingshot!
2. CAPTAIN MARVEL JR.: SAYING HIS OWN NAME
Speaking of being hurt by name-calling… did anyone call for Captain Marvel Jr., DC’s resident narcissist? Unfair, maybe, but there aren’t many superheroes whose powers rely on their ability to say their own name, and for good reason. Apart from being a rather ridiculous way to activate someone’s powers, it also opens the character up to mishaps of sitcom-worthy proportions.
If Captain Marvel Jr. tries to introduce himself to a super-powered ally or, for some reason, feels the need to say his name in the middle of a battle, he’ll instantly be transformed into Freddy Freeman, a decidedly ordinary young lad who relies on a crutch to walk. If he speaks his superhero alias aloud while in the guise of Freddy Freeman (who works in a newsroom — an environment where everyone’s bound to be interested in superhero shenanigans), he’ll transform into a shimmering beacon of muscly justice and give himself away.
Writer Jerry Ordway tried getting around this flaw during Captain Marvel Jr.’s sporadic appearances in “Teen Titans” between 1995-1998 by having Freeman refer to himself as “CM3” so he could avoid accidental transformations, but the change didn’t stick (largely because saying it made him sound like a CMd-bag).
1. GREEN LANTERN: YELLOW
For many fans, Hal Jordan is the definitive Green Lantern. He’s protected the Earth from innumerable threats through sheer force of will, making him one of the most impressive wielders of the Power Ring. However, being color-coded does have its downfalls… like being rendered useless by the color yellow. Yes, yellow. The color of sunshine, raincoats, buttercups and pee-pee.
According to canon, an impurity in the ring’s power source meant that Jordan became powerless when faced with this color. This was later explained in Geoff Johns’ “Green Lantern: Rebirth” as being tied to Parallax, a yellow fear entity who was locked in the Central Power Battery, thus weakening it. Before this was revealed, though, GL’s weakness was exploited to hilarious effect, incuding by writers such as Frank Miller. He had the Caped Crusader trap Jordan in a yellow-painted room in “All-Star Batman & Robin” #9 before letting a gold-suited Robin clobber him. Why? Because, as stated explicitly in the comic, it’s the “dumbest weakness… ever heard of.” Bruce Wayne can be a bit of an a-hole, but he’s often right.
Can you think of any other daft superhero weaknesses? Let us know in the comments!