When superheroes were first introduced in the late ’30s, superpowers were simple. Superman could bend steel and leap tall buildings and the Human Torch was, well, a human torch. Most power sets were straightforward, requiring little to no explanation, but as more superheroes were created, powers became more creative and complicated. Fans could be sure that whenever a magic-based character was introduced, the full extent and true nature of the character’s powers would remain obscure. For many characters, it seemed as if they could do whatever the plot needed them to do. That’s why we’ve decided to explain the powers of twenty of the least well-understood characters in comics.
Stan Lee and company released an entirely new generation of characters in the ’60s. The powers of the characters were stranger than your typical Super Soldier, although often clear enough. Spider-Man could do whatever a spider could and the Hulk was a giant angry green guy. Eventually, more mysterious characters were introduced such as Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, and an assortment of mind-boggling Fantastic Four villains made their debut in the decade, often with either no explanation for their powers or an unprecedentedly complicated one. Later, at DC, Jack Kirby would create the New Gods, adding his own substantial mythology to the preexisting DC lore. With the creation of the New Gods, fans were introduced to a wave of ultra-powerful characters like Darkseid and Orion that receive their powers from mysterious cosmic forces. Here are twenty characters whose powers nobody understands, explained.
20. DOCTOR STRANGE
Doctor Strange is Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. His powers are categorized under the ‘magic’ umbrella, which is enough for many of us to nod our heads and keep reading. But how exactly does Doctor Strange possess such mastery over magic? Doctor Strange was taught sorcery by the Ancient One, who showed him how to call upon the mystical reserves of a trinity of godly beings.
With access to a gateway for magical power, Doctor Strange only had to learn the spells necessary to call upon those forces. As the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange possesses countless abilities, including astral projection, telepathy, and time manipulation.
Marvel’s famous time-traveling mutant was destined from birth to be one of the most powerful mutants, but it sure isn’t obvious just what his abilities are (and no, it’s not the ability to shoot gigantic guns). Like his mother, Cable is actually an Omega-Level Telepath.
At the height of his abilities, he was regarded as the most powerful telepath of Earth. Among his many psionic abilities are precognition, telekinesis, mind control, and the ability to project psionic blasts. These potent abilities are generally overshadowed by Cable’s appearance — notably his techno-organic physiology that he received at birth. That, and the giant guns.
18. MISTER MIRACLE
As with many of the New Gods, Mister Miracle’s powers aren’t quite clear. Many fans will know that Mister Miracle has his name because he’s a master escapist, but the ability to escape from tricky situations is no superpower. Aside from his New God enhanced physiology, Mister Miracle’s power lies in his ability to tap into the Alpha Energy — the energy that opposes Darkseid’s Omega Energy.
Using the Alpha Energy as fuel, Mister Miracle is able to traverse the cosmos, resurrect the perished and heal the living. However, all of this is overshadowed by Mister Miracle’s mastery over escapology, which sets him apart from his fellow gods.
In the less than two decades since Morlun’s debut in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #30, the mysterious villain has established himself as one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes. Thus far, he’s beaten Peter Parker to his end in “The Other”, and hunted down Spider-Men across the multiverse in Spider-Verse (Vol. 1).
However, even with all of these feats under his belt, Morlun’s true nature and abilities are far from clear. Morlun is an immortal who sustains his life by feeding upon the life-forces of animal or insect-related superbeings — most notably Spider-Men. In this way, he’s like a vampire with a hankering for Spider-Men.
Apropos of his name, Apocalypse spelled doom for the X-Men when he debuted in X-Factor (Vol. 1) #6. Since then, he’s been an ominous presence whenever he’s reared his ancient head. However, despite such a huge and foreboding presence that Apocalypse holds in the mutant community, most of us would have trouble pinpointing just what his powers are.
In many cases, he seems to be capable of whatever the plot requires him to do. Apocalypse has a wide variety of ultra-powerful, yet relatively common mutant abilities. Apocalypse’s many abilities include teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy, and energy manipulation among other useful powers.
Zatanna Zatara is DC’s premier sorceress, yet, as is the trend with magic-based characters, the source and limitations of her magic are often dismissed. Unlike many comic book magicians, Zatanna was born with a genetic structure that predisposed her toward magical abilities.
In addition to the magic she was born wielding, Zatanna has learned spells from her father. Though the source of her abilities has been clarified in the comics, the full extent of her powers remains unknown. She’s proved herself capable of everything from size alteration and teleportation to pyrokinesis and telekinesis and her magical abilities appear to be limitless.
DC’s John Constantine is an anti-hero with connections to the occult. Constantine’s path toward becoming a world-class magician started when he was a child after the youth learned about his first spell. Later in life, he studied with other rising magicians like Zatanna, learning as much as he could about the occult.
Constantine eventually became an occult detective, using his magical abilities to help him hunt down demons. As a magic user, Constantine displays a virtually endless array of abilities. In the past, he’s shown himself capable of performing exorcisms, casting illusions, rendering himself invisible, energy projection and inter-dimensional teleportation.
13. SCARLET WITCH
Scarlet Witch was introduced in 1964’s X-Men (Vol. 1) #4, and fans have been trying to figure out just what the heck her powers are ever since. Scarlet Witch’s magical abilities are fueled by a force called Chaos Magic and thanks to her access to it, Scarlet Witch can manifest her primary power — reality warping.
Like it sounds, the ability to warp reality encompasses just about any possibility. One of the most famous incidents of Scarlet Witch’s incredible power comes from House of M (Vol. 1). The event kicked off with her altering reality so that mutants were the majority, and closed with her declaring “no more mutants”, a spell that wiped out most of the mutant population.
Odin, king of Asgard and father of Thor, is often regarded as one of the most powerful forces in the Marvel Universe. However, unlike his son who is the God of Thunder, it isn’t obvious what Odin is the god of or what his powers are. As it turns out, most of his abilities are just enhanced versions of typical Asgardian superpowers like super-strength, super-speed, and healing factor.
However, what really sets Odin apart from his Asgardian brethren is his access to the Odin Force. The Odin Force is an astonishingly powerful magical energy that, when tapped into by Odin, has been used to transport entire populations across dimensions and banish foes into outer space with a single thought.
11. MOLECULE MAN
Of all the mutates that the Fantastic Four regularly interact with, Molecule Man may be the most powerful. Owen Reece, aka Molecule Man, first appeared in Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #20, displaying the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level. Molecule Man has also shown to be nearly omniscient, capable of assessing the size of the multiverse and spotting targets across the cosmos.
Furthermore, if Molecule Man were to perish, he could take the universe with him. He can also split himself as a way of creating new universes. Due to these capabilities, only the Beyonders are more powerful than Molecule Man.
10. AMBUSH BUG
Ambush Bug ranks among one of DC’s oddest heroes. Ever since he was introduced in DC Comics Presents (Vol. 1) #52, Ambush Bug has been baffling fans with his strange assortment of abilities — in many respects, he’s DC’s Deadpool.
After a run-in with a giant radioactive spider (sound familiar?), Ambush Bug gained access to cosmic awareness, allowing him to regularly break through the fourth wall and speak to his reader. His other powers include teleportation, invulnerability, and dumb luck. Just like it sounds, there’s not much explanation given for Ambush Bug’s dumb luck — fate just seems to be on his side.
9. PHANTOM STRANGER
Everything from Phantom Stranger’s name to his appearance to his powers exudes mystery. He debuted in 1952’s Phantom Stranger (Vol. 1) #1 and has managed to remain an enigma ever since. While we may not know where Phantom Stranger comes from or the source of his powers, his powerset has been slowly uncovered over the years.
Among his plethora of magic-based abilities are telepathy, teleportation, transmutation, and reality manipulation. Unsurprisingly, Phantom Stranger is also an immortal, once having even brushed off having his heart plucked from his body. Only time will tell if DC will ever reveal the true nature of one of its most mysterious characters.
Cynthia Reynolds, aka Gypsy, first appeared in Justice League of America Annual (Vol. 1) #2, impressing the team enough to be granted full membership. Gypsy would go on to be a key player on several Justice League line-ups, as well as on Oracle’s Birds of Prey. With good reason too — her magic-based powers are incredibly useful.
Her main ability consists in casting illusions, which may lead to some confusion. At times, it may appear as if Gypsy is shapeshifting, but she’s actually projecting an illusion around her to disguise herself as another person. Taking a backseat to her powers of illusion is her limited telepathic abilities, making her a versatile member of any team.
7. HOPE SUMMERS
When Hope Summers was born, she was destined to be the messiah of the mutant race. As the first mutant to be born in the wake of M-day, Hope carried the promise of revivifying the mutant population. The question was always about how she would do this.
It turns out that, in addition to her abilities to psionically mimic the mutant abilities of those in her vicinity and go undetected by fellow telepaths, Hope could activate the latent X-genes of mutants across the world. She could also stabilize the X-genes of all of the mutants to emerge post-“Second Coming”, putting an end to the barrage of out-of-control mutants.
Darkseid first appeared in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen (Vol. 1) #134 as the mighty ruler of Apokolips and eternal enemy of the New Gods. Darkseid would go onto become a major presence within the DC Universe, nearly destroying the multiverse in Final Crisis. Darkseid’s main powers come via a dark cosmic energy known as the Omega Effect.
This allows Darkseid to blast Omega Beams from his eyes, which can do anything from disintegrate the target to sending them back in time — as was the case with Batman during Final Crisis, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg for Darkseid. The dark god is also capable of telepathy, telekinesis, size alteration, and matter manipulation.
5. ADAM WARLOCK
The artificial being known as Adam Warlock was introduced in Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #66. Adam Warlock would become a staple of Marvel’s budding cosmic sub-universe, playing an integral role in any event involving the Infinity Gems. A character like Adam Warlock is bound to be confusing due to his strange origins as the product of a group of researchers who referred to themselves as the Beehive.
The Beehive aimed at creating the ‘perfect’ humanoid being — and they may have succeeded. The list of Adam’s astounding abilities goes on and on. Here’s just a few: cosmic awareness, matter manipulation, resurrection, time travel and, of course, magic.
Annihilus was first featured in Fantastic Four Annual (Vol. 1) #6 as a galactic conquerer hailing from the negative zone. In later appearances, more was revealed about Annihilus, namely, the astonishing extent of his power. Annihilus has steadily evolved over the years as a result of his exposure to the Cosmic Control Rod.
Thanks to the Cosmic Control Rod, Annihilus has become virtually immortal, has learned how to harness vast amounts of cosmic energy for his purposes, and manipulate matter with ease. Most recently, Annhilus has developed the ability to play with the fear-centers in the minds of his enemies.
Orion, the son, and archnemesis of Darkseid debuted in New Gods (Vol. 1) #1. As with many of the New Gods, Orion’s powers often seem nebulous. Orion can often be seen hovering around in a strange contraption known as the Atro Harness. Aside from his New God physiology, which is common to all New Gods, what makes Orion such a formidable foe for Darkseid?
Orion can tap into and wield a cosmic energy called the Astro Force, which has shown to be effective in combating Darkseid’s Omega Effect. Orion can use the Astro Force to generate force fields invulnerable to Darkseid’s Omega Beams, among other creative abilities.
2. HIGH EVOLUTIONARY
Dr. Herbert Wyndham, aka the High Evolutionary, first fomented chaos in the Marvel Universe in Thor (Vol. 1) 134. Wyndham, a rogue geneticist, was responsible for the creation of an assortment of monsters, supervillains, and superheroes. Wyndham eventually transformed into a superbeing as a result of being exposed to the Evolutionary Accelerator machine that he invented.
The High Evolutionary’s power level has fluctuated over the years due to the unpredictability of the Evolutionary Accelerator machine. At the peak of his power, the High Evolutionary has displayed god-like abilities, including near omniscience, immortality, and size manipulation. These abilities combined with his impressive inventory of inventions, make him one of Marvel’s premier evil geniuses.
1. MR. MXYZPTLK
As far as Superman villains go, Mr. Mxyzpitlk is one of a kind. The fifth-dimensional imp made his debut in Superman (Vol. 1) #30, using his endlessly creative powers to wreak havoc on Metropolis. Ever since then, Mr. Mxyzptlk has periodically returned to perplex and play extra-dimensional pranks on Superman. As inexplicable as Mr. Mxyzptlk’s abilities often appear to be, there is some sense behind his powers.
As a fifth-dimensional being, Mr. Mxyzptlk holds complete mastery over the third dimension, allowing him to warp Superman’s reality at will. Given that, it’s a miracle that Superman ever manages to get rid of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
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