Superheroes are supposed to be stronger, smarter, braver and just generally better than the rest of us. But, that doesn’t mean that a lot of them don’t fall victim to that very normal, human emotion — fear. In fact, fear is a common defining factor in a lot of superhero origin stories, and a common weapon wielded and exploited by the supervillains hellbent on their demises. An essential skill required for getting into the business of superhero-ing is facing fear; running right into the jaws of danger when any other sane person would be running away from it. While most fears are considered normal or even healthy, some superheroes — again, much like us average joes — harbour some very specific and strange phobias.
Some of them are related to past traumas or weaknesses that come with their power set while others seem to be rooted in nothing; purely irrational fears of harmless things that you’d never in a million years expect someone who hunts down powerful villains and criminals to be cowering over. Even godly beings like Thanos are plagued by weird anxieties. In 1991’s Infinity Gauntlet #5, Adam Warlock reveals to an emotionally-bruised Thanos that he has “subconsciously supplied the means [of his] own defeat” more than once, implying that the Mad Titan’s greatest fear is… winning? And if you think that’s bizarre, just wait until you see what Deadpool is most freaked out by.
15. DEMENTOID – FEAR OF BUTTS
Now, don’t laugh — Dementoid is very sensitive about this issue and you would be too if you had to go through what he endured. In Dark Reign‘s Sinister Spider-Man #4, Venom, aka Mac Gargen’s Spider-Man, aka “Your Frightening Neighborhood Spider-Man,” has beef with just about everyone — and hungrily treats them like beef, too. In an effort to eat as many unfortunate victims as possible, he starts growing mouths wherever possible, including… his butt.
In a scene that looks like something from the Human Centipede brand of horror, he uses his new mouth-anus to try and guzzle poor Dementoid — the reformed villain trying to make amends. Not much of a reward for the Doctor’s ethical change of heart. Ever since the horrific incident, Dementoid can’t so much as look at a rear end without quivering. Can you blame him?
14. DOMINO – FEAR OF CHICKENS
Yes, the tough as nails, probability-manipulating mercenary is deathly afraid of chickens. In the real world, Ornithophobia — the fear of all birds — isn’t as rare as you might think, but a specific fear of one particular type of bird seems a bit more niche. Funnily enough, Domino reveals this embarrassing phobia to Deadpool in 2013’s Deadpool #16-17 after he confesses how wary he is of cows.
Wade is also surprisingly sympathetic because, as well as clowns and cows, apparently he too shares her fear of chickens, or “Gallinophobia.” Of course, when Domino has to crawl through an air vent with Wolverine later on in the story for a mission, which unlikely beady-eyed animal does she find in her way? A chicken. Insert your cock blocking jokes here.
13. NOVA – FEAR OF RABBITS
This peculiar phobia seems to be exclusive to the Nova of Earth-12041, i.e. Marvel’s animated universe from 2010 onwards. This version of Samuel Alexander was created by Paul Dini for the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, and joins Spidey’s team of crimefighters in the second episode — an initiative spearheaded by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Nova’s unusual fear is revealed in Season One’s “Strange Days,” in which an old enemy of Doctor Strange known as Nightmare plunges New York into a magical sleep state to feed off of people’s bad dreams. While travelling through this mystical stasis, Spidey comes across his teammate fending off an army of rabbits, screaming about, “THOSE BIG EYES! AND THOSE FLOPPY EARS!” Safe to say Peter isn’t that sympathetic.
12. MARTIAN MANHUNTER – FEAR OF FIRE
J’onn J’onzz’s fear of fire is well-known, and — unlike some of the other phobias on this list — it’s one of the more justifiable ones. In humans, Pyrophobia is considered to be innate, something leftover from our caveman days when we were a lot more reliant on open flames. Similarly, J’onn’s debilitating fear of fire considerably weakens his species, making his aversion to it natural.
But, because he is also the sole survivor of a people who were burnt to death by the White Martians, it’s also a source of massive trauma for him. Like Superman, Martian Manhunter is ridiculously overpowered, so giving him his own Kryptonite is necessary. Still, to think that even lighting a cigarette in front of the guy could set him off is odd, nonetheless.
11. ARMORY – FEAR OF SPIDERS
While Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears in the world, having it as an almost defining character trait is much more unusual. For Violet Lightner, the creepy, crawly creatures were a major feature of her childhood, covering the filthy foster home she grew up in. And wouldn’t you know it? This specific detail of her formative years came back to haunt her big time in her debut story.
In Avengers: The Initiative #1 in 2007, Violet — aka Armory — is recruited for “Hero Boot Camp” following the events of Civil War. There, she goes up against fellow recruit Trauma, who can identify and manifest people’s fears. Naturally, when pitted against Armory, he goes full Shelob from Lord of the Rings. Armory freaks out and accidentally kills someone, entrenching her phobia even more.
10. WASP – FEAR OF LONG WORDS
Earth-TRN562, the world of Marvel’s online mobile game Avengers Academy, is one of the wackiest reinventions of the Marvel Universe. Case in point: its version of Janet van Dyne can’t stand really long words. This hilariously bizarre phobia has a hilariously bizarre name: “Hippoptomonstrosesquipdalophobia,” meaning that those afflicted would also be terrified of the very name of their own fear. This is also kind of ironic given Earth-616 Janet (and most other versions of her) is multilingual.
Incidentally, when the Skrull impersonating her ex-husband, Hank Pym, faced off against Trauma — the mutant who can become people’s fears — in Avengers: The Initiative #2, Trauma used her memories from Hank to identify that his biggest source of trauma was Janet. Or rather, Janet looking bruised and beaten after Hank’s battle with schizophrenia in the ’80s lead to him developing a violent persona, Yellowjacket, who emotionally and physically abused her.
9. GOKU – FEAR OF NEEDLES
Goku is widely regarded not only as one of the most powerful superheroes in anime but of the genre in general. Given the Dragon Ball franchise’s consistently crowd-pleasing balance of action and comedy, it should be unsurprising that the most respected Saiyan warrior in the multiverse, who has gladly laid down his life to save others against intergalactic threats in the past, would be secretly deathly afraid of a tiny needle prick.
Unsurprising, but still really, really weird. The gag occurs during a filler episode in the Namek Saga in Dragon Ball Z called “Held Captive.” While his son Gohan — along with Bulma and Krillin — are stuck in the exact situation the title suggests by a bunch of armed kids, Goku also finds himself in his own personal hell — getting his shots at the hospital, a fear that’s known as Trypanophobia.
8. HULK – FEAR OF HIS FATHER
The Hulk is a being closely associated with volatile emotions. His infinite well of rage is the source of his almost immeasurable strength, yet it’s this same anger that, when unbridled, causes those he wants to protect to fear and distrust him. Despite being one of Marvel’s heaviest hitters, Hulk does get intimidated — usually of enemies he finds the hardest to smash.
This was proven during his encounter with the aforementioned Trauma in Avengers: The Initiative #5. Trauma first took the forms of Hulk’s old foes Abomination and Juggernaut, but when these failed to spook him, Trauma went for the jugular — Bruce Banner’s abusive father, who Bruce killed in anger for murdering his mother. Hulk falters, but ultimately wins, claiming that he isn’t “afraid of anything.”
7. BATMAN – FEAR OF BATS
Arguably no other superhero is as intimately connected to fear as Batman. Fear — along with anger — was the emotion that kicked off his life-long pursuit of justice and it’s an emotion that most of his rogue’s gallery utilize to try and find a chink in his Batsuit. In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan swaps The Mask of Zorro film that Bruce’s parents take him to see on that fateful night in the comics for the bat-filled opera, Mefistofele.
A fear of bats isn’t an unusual one given their vampiric associations, but Bruce’s phobia about them, stemming from some childhood spelunking in the Wayne estate’s caves, always seemed pretty baseless. By connecting them to the night of his parents’ murder by way of the opera scene, Nolan gives it more weight. Of course, instead of therapy, Bruce chose to own his fear rather let it own him.
6. DEADPOOL – FEAR OF CLOWNS AND COWS
Of course Deadpool’s phobias are weird. When you’re an unkillable assassin who hits on the grim reaper, breaks the fourth wall on the regular and looks like Freddy Kruger, you’re not just going to have run-of-the-mill phobias like being scared of the dark. Saying that, a fear of clowns (known as Coulrophobia) is strangely common, thanks in no small part to pop culture’s obsession with painting them as monsters and killers.
Deadpool’s fear of the children’s entertainers is irrationally intense though. In Cable & Deadpool #15’s “Enema of the State – Part One: Killer Clowns,” he says he considers them Earth’s second greatest threat — Galactus being the first. His other great fear is even less rational: “bovinophobia” — a fear of cows. To quote the Merc With The Mouth, their dead-eye stares “scare the sh*t” out of him.
5. COLOSSUS – FEAR OF BEING IN SPACE
Colossus — and the rest of the X-Men — are regular space tourists but, weirdly, there was a definite point at which interstellar travel scared the living daylight out of the metal mutant. Prior to his first appearance in 1992’s Uncanny X-Men #285, Peter’s brother Mikhail Rasputin’s name was known only to readers because Colossus shouted it out when he and a startled Nightcrawler were space-bound a few issues prior.
The rocket the two were on was in the midst of the final ten minute countdown when Colossus — suddenly faced with the very real prospect of going into space — had a major freak out after suddenly remembering that his older brother suffered a horrible space-related death (or so he thought) and that space is kind of a dangerous place. As a result, Nightcrawler probably now suffers from a phobia of anyone screaming, “MIKHAIL!” unexpectedly.
4. STORM – FEAR OF CONFINED SPACES
Claustrophobia is a strange but not unusual phobia. It’s not, however, the kind of irrational fear you’d expect someone as poised and powerful as the X-Men’s Storm to suffer from. Readers learned of the Weather Witch’s surprising fear in Uncanny X-Men #101 in 1976 when — by virtue of a trap door activated by Banshee’s murderous brother, Black Tom Cassidy — Storm finds herself trapped in a claustrophobia-triggering basement.
Chris Claremont’s inner monolog for Ororo allows us to to see just how distressed she is. “Tomb… closed in…. rock all around me… no way in… crushing me… can’t breathe… Mother!” What Claremont was hinting at here was explained in the following issue. As a child, Storm spent days buried under rubble, powerless to help her dying mother. This fear was paralyzing for Storm for some time, though these days she’s pretty much overcome it.
3. KLARA PRAST – FEAR OF DEAD BODIES
Okay, nobody, besides necrophiliacs ,is really a fan of corpses. But, a pathological fear of them is a little rarer. In true Stand By Me style, The Runaways’ Klara Prast’s phobia of dead bodies — and just death in general — stems from a defining moment in her past. After the diminutive “Wonder” was shipped off for a better life in America by way of a Green Card marriage, her American dream quickly became a nightmare of domestic abuse and hard labor.
While working in a sweatshop in Runaways #27, Klara witnessed a devastating fire burn her co-workers to death. Though she escaped the blaze thanks to her psychic connection to plants, the incident left deep psychological damage. This phobia was brought to the surface when she thought that one of her teammates, Molly Hayes, had died, and she wasn’t exactly chill when an explosion trapped her under Old Lace’s corpse in Runaways #12.
2. WOLVERINE – FEAR OF PROTEUS, DROWNING AND FLYING
Wolverine can be an unstoppable savage when he goes into frothy-mouthed berserker mode — someone to be feared. But, even he isn’t immune to being spooked sometimes. Fearing your enemies is understandable, but not many of Logan’s adversaries have shaken him up quite as badly as Proteus. The mutant’s reality warping psychologically broke Wolvie in X-Men: The Animated Series.
More generally, Wolverine also suffers from a survivalist’s wariness of water, or more specifically — of drowning in it, which is what his adamantium-lined skeleton will make him do if he ever goes for a swim. His fear of flying is one that’s exclusive to the X-Men movies, introduced by Hugh Jackman because he felt a character with no fears was harder to empathize with.
1. AQUALAD – FEAR OF WATER
On the surface, this one is truly laughable. How can someone called Aqualad be afraid of water? It sounds almost like a pastiche of the inspiration for Batman’s superhero identity. You know that thing you’re scared of? Just be it. Problem solved! But, when Jackson Hyde’s backstory is unveiled during Brightest Day, the reasoning is more convincing.
It turns out that Jackson’s parents instilled the fear in him — Aquaphobia — from an early age to deliberately conceal the truth of his real, fishy heritage from him, worried that his real parents would be able to find and take him away if he so much as dipped a toe in the sea. This aspect of his origin is interestingly absent from the animated version of his character in Young Justice, though.
Do you know any other bizarre superhero phobias? Let us know in the comments!
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