Saturday, September 05, 2009

The 10 Least Practical Superpowers

Who among us hasn't, at some point in their life, tried to bargain for super powers with whatever higher power they prefer. God, god, Allah, Vishnu, Xenu, Rama Kushna, a young George Lucas; you name it, some geek has prayed to it. Come on, don't act like I'm the crazy one here. And in the course of said bargaining, we've all come to the point where we say, "I don't need to be Superman-just give me ONE power!" Well, this post is dedicated to whichever lucky nerd out there gets his or her prayers answered... You don't want to be caught unawares and end up with some stinker of a power all because you were caught in the sway of its superficial coolness.

To that end, this list is, BY NO MEANS, a list of "lame" super powers. In fact, these might be some of the coolest superpowers out there. BUT, I'm judging these powers' practicality based on one's ability to immediately go out there and start "making a difference." How useful would any of these powers be when fighting actual crime, or helping actual people? Because, were any self-respecting geek lucky enough to be granted a super power, he or she is gonna run straight home, drape a bath towel over his or her shoulders, and dive straight into action! Would we have any other choice? Years of black and white comic book morality have left us emotionally crippled-I don't think we'd even be able to think of any other use for a super power. Anyway, read on to be sure you're any actual use to human kind once you've been chosen to defend it.

10: Flight

Though probably the most practical in a real world setting-who wouldn't jump at the chance to fly like the eagle and be forever exempt from layovers in Denver-flight, however, is not a great solo power in the world of costumed crime fighting. It would make for easy getaways, and I guess you could scout ahead; but what would you actually do to fight crime? Drop rocks? Hock a loogie? And you'd probably be as easy to hit as a low level duck in Duck Hunt [insert sound effect of that evil 8-bit dog laughter]. And imagine being in a super hero team fighting some sort of sinister alien menace or cybernetic demon... all your buddies will be in the fray while you flutter around and watch helplessly, hoping that you don't get swatted by a stray piece of urban demolition. There's a reason this power is always a compliment, and rarely the sole power... just look at the lamest character on Heroes (and that's saying something), Nathan Petrelli.

*UPDATE* To address the dissenters who argue that this power would be useful in a fight, I ask this: who says you can suddenly pick up people willy nilly just cause you can fly? You don't have super strength; so unless you are currently strong enough to lift a 200 lb. mugger with ease, I don't know why you think you could do it while hovering a few feet off the ground. Yes, you could probably save children and particularly light damsels in distress... otherwise, good luck trying to lift that flailing-with-a-knife lunatic outside the 7-11.

9: Invisibility
The second half of the classic philosophical dilemma: invisibility or flight? (obviously flight) Invisibility is another one of those powers that has a plethora of real world applications (almost all sinister) but isn't much good in the crime fighting department. Sure, you could spy on potential wrong-doers, but you couldn't do a lot more unless you back it up with some crazy karate skills or something. Upon closer speculation, it gets even grimmer. Best case scenario-you can turn your clothes invisible and you're stuck holding your breath and tiptoeing around killers and creeps.... worse case scenario, you're stuck covering your junk, and hoping no one bumps into your translucent, naked ass. Also, you're pretty limited to warmer climes.

8: Talking to Sea Animals
(or any animals really)

I feel bad about this one. Aquaman already catches enough crap from people who don't respect the King of the Sea... but really, talking to sea animals isn't gonna do you much good. The comics have us believe that there is an abundance of giant squid and blue whales; but really you'd be spending most of your time chatting with tuna and scad. And unless you're battling Somali pirates, the vast majority of crime takes place on land. And even if you could chat with land animals, in actuality you'd be mostly talking to the bottom of the food chain. Its not like there are bears and lions casually patrolling the streets waiting for your commands. Hope you know how to work with squirrels and pigeons, buddy.

7: Uncontrollable Monster Form

This one's kind of a "no duh" case; but it's still a common enough power that needs to be addressed. Sure, as a rampaging beast of a man, you could probably stop a whole lotta crime. You could also accidentally level a city street, squash a few misunderstanding cops, and kill your loved ones with an overzealous hug. If you were able to maintain your own consciousness, then obviously this one would be a winner. But if you give up control to the reptilian parts of your brain, then your alter ego is bound to be more of a villain than a hero. Also, the replacement wardrobe costs would bankrupt you.

6: Super Senses

Unless they're backed up by Daredevil's radar sense, super senses make you little more than a super stalker. You can listen to people have sex a mile away and try to check out some girl's butt (of course all you'll see are bones), but you really can't do much to fight crime. I suppose you could be some sort of Super Snitch, just listening to people plan crimes; but you'll probably spend most of your life sucking down aspirin for all the super migraines.

5: Any sort of Power Blasts
(laser eyes, laser fists, etc)

We have now exited the useless-in-the-field portion of the list, and entered the walking-death-factory stretch of the list.
Power blasts are cool, and really useful when fighting robots and other invulnerable super beings; BUT not so great when fighting your standard crime. We all know that a stray blast from Cyclops' eyes can demolish a steel and concrete wall. Well, imagine that same blast making contact with the fragile, waterballoon-stuffed-with-organs that is your typical bank robber: Boom! People confetti. So unless you're looking to haphazardly explode people like so many cut scenes from District 9, Power Blasts won't get you much further than a jail cell (specially designed to hold you of course).

4: Sonic Scream

Another power that is great on 3-color-printed paper, but not so much in practice is the popular Sonic Scream-which has been relegated almost solely to female characters for some offensive reason I'm sure. However, it's hard to imagine any situation where this power doesn't just burst everyones' ear drums within a 5 block radius. Unless you plan on handing out ear plugs to all potential victims before any crime occurs, you're going to spend most of your costumed career being scorned for deafening an entire populace for a few purse snatchers and a car jacker.

3: Pyrokinesis/Self-Combustion
(e.g. The Human Torch)

Fire's totally awesome! And the thought of being enveloped in living flame while being unscathed is equally awesome. Plus, you can fly! Bonus awesome! Too bad you'll be responsible for the burn ward overflow at all the area hospitals. You probably couldn't even get close to anyone, victim or aggressor, without melting flesh from bones. Extra minus: do you know any super smart, stretchy guys who can manufacture your clothing from unstable molecules? No? Well, then you'll have to find someplace warm and private every time you "flame off," cause you'll be spending alot of time naked... and alot of money replacing charred jeans.

2: Adamantium Claws

This might be one of the most popular of all time... naturally thanks to one of the arguably baddest assest superheroes of all time. But let's be honest, the claws aren't what makes the mutant; it's his healing factor. That's why Wolverine is the workhorse of the X-Men, the claws are just the garnish. Also, when not coupled with a healing factor, they can be more trouble than they're worth (as this video clearly demonstrates). Even if we can ignore the massive amounts of personal blood loss, you basically just have 6 deadly knives attached to your hands. You can go out, right now, and try to fight crime with a knife in both hands, and you're practically there... and there wouldn't be too good. You're either eviscerating muggers and landing in jail, or you're just gonna get shot. Either way, the style points don't make up for the all the blood loss and severed digits.

1: Trust Fund and Anger Issues

This last one isn't so much a power, as it is a successful formula for superhero makings. It works great in the comics! Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Oliver Queen, Ted Kord, Danny Rand, whatever Moon Knight's name is (I won't even bother looking it up)... all turned out great thanks to their money and various emotional problems! Why is this not a practical "power"? Because it actually exists! And we don't have a single super hero! You're telling me, out of all the thousands of spoiled rich kids with rage issues, not a one of them bothered to dedicate their life and wealth to fighting crime? This isn't a formula for nigh-invincible, robot armor; so much as it is a recipe for date rape. Wealth and emotional problems are wasted on the rich and emotionally disturbed.

So that's my list of impractical super powers. I look forward to any arguments you may pose... as I'm sure you're all straining your brains to think of practical crime-fighting applications for these stinkers. Either way, when you do get that one wish from a genie, make sure you think long and hard about the power you choose. May I suggest super speed or a green lantern ring?


slice two said...

banshee has a sonic scream... and he's a dude.

AHR said...

I have some issues with this list, sir!

10. Flight
Flight might not be too handy for dispensing violent justice on evil doers, but you could definitely save a lot of people! Burning buildings, hello, people trapped on the roof? Done! It would also be great for patrolling, and if you see someone in trouble or getting mugged or something, you just swoop down and grab em and put em somewhere else. And if you really want hurting bad guys to be part of your MO, you could always just pick a mugger up and drop them (or threaten to). You wouldn't have to be that strong, they're not going to struggle much if you're the only thing between them and 3 story free fall! Bwahahahaha.

8. Talking to Animals
I didn't know you loved pirates so much, D, but apparently you feel they should be allowed to pillage ships without fear of sharks chewing holes in their engines! Also, on the land animal issue; haven't you ever seen THE BIRDS? A lot of anything can totally F a fool up. Batman did it with bats in that one movie.

5. Power Blasts
You actually have some very good points here.

Degan said...

First off, where do people get off assuming that just cause they can fly, they suddenly have the strength of 10 men and 2 bears? Can you pick up a mugger now? So what makes you think you can fly down, and lift some 200 pound asshole with a knife?

Also, what sharks can chew holes in engines? Unless the pirates are swimming to the boats they're pillaging, what are a bunch of fish gonna do? Maybe if we got a blue whale or giant squid up in there, ok... but those aren't really a dime a dozen in today's oceans. Also, just cause you can talk to animals, does that mean you can summon them from miles around? So unless you're running through St Mark's Square in Venice, you'll rarely find an abundance of BIRDS that'll be much help.

Also also, your emotional dependence upon LazyTown (read: disturbing obsession) is starting to trouble me.

The Whistler said...

I agree with most of your comments here, with one exception: invisibility. Outside of being able to read minds, Invisibility would be, BY FAR, the most useful superpower to have in the real world. Think about it. Sure, it's not gonna help you apprehend a mugger. But let's say you let the mugging happen, then you follow the mugger back to his connection. He doesn't see you cuz you're INVISIBLE. Then you follow the connection back to the crime lair, where the big bad boss is hanging out. No one sees you cuz you're invisible. You jab the crime boss with a needle full of poison, which he thinks is just a mosquito cuz you're INVISIBLE. BAM. You just took down an entire crime empire, not just a single mugger. You could sneak into the boardrooms of evil corporations and listen on their nefarious plots. etc etc. Modern crimefighting is all about INFORMATION, and outside of mind reading, Invisibility is one of the best ways to gather it.

Would be curious what you see as the MOST useful superpowers.

Dracula Jones said...

A better character to illustrate the impracticality of flight would be Angel, instead of Superman. I never really understood the point of Angel once basically everybody gained the power of flight, and not even as a primary power, just something extra they can do for fun and profit. What can Angel add to a team when Rogue is hanging around?

Degan said...

I love your very comic booky ideas of how crime works-oh, were it that simple. But even if it was, Invisibility is only mildy practical at best (though i'm disturbed by your needle full of poison tactic). Even at its best, what do you do if the guy you're tailing hops in a car? You can't just hop in the car with him. And if he hops in an elevator, you better hold your breath and hope he's not an elevator squirmer. And, yeah, you could take out a single guy with, perhaps, an invisible taser (less disturbing)... but once word starts to spread about a phantom do-gooder, your lone taser won't do much against a group of bad guys willing to unload their guns into empty space hoping to score a hit.

Also, you're still slow to move, and a locked door will pretty much halt your crime fighting. So i guess you could patrol the streets hoping for a mugger or a purse snatcher, but really, its not too efficient and its a whole lot more trouble than its worth.

For my money, the most practical super power is Super Speed. You can be across the planet in an instant, you're unstoppable against low level crime, and were the world to be invaded by cybernetic demons from pluto, you're also pretty good in a fight against them. Plus, you're bored? Try reading a library's worth of books while you're waiting for google to load. Its certainly the most versatile power, offering you a broad patrol area (i.e. the entire planet!) and a near infinite source of potential crime stopping tactics. When bullets hang in the air like bubbles, you can do most anything. If i got my one wish, that'd be it.

Degan said...

Also, thanks for the heads up about Banshee... totally forgot about him. Though his wikipedia page states that he's a man because his creators didn't realize that banshees were female spirits... oops

Bishop said...

Agreed on most, except the energy blasts. Cyclops does pretty well using his to disable people, with precision they can be gentle enough to just break an arm or give a concussion. Though if you were just sort of the big blast willy-nilly type they would probably just get you thrown in jail with all that property damage. Flying would be helpful if you were say, a SWAT sniper that could easily get a good position to take someone out, but I guess that's sort of the same with most of these. They all have one or two things you COULD do with them, but they still aren't overall that useful. Having your fingernails grow at will is a stupid power, but someone will always point out that you COULD grow them right into people's eyes...

Bishop said...

Also, these powers could all be much more useful for being a criminal. When not murdering people isn't a worry and avoiding capture is involved, being invisible or flying over a group of people and raining death from above is pretty helpful.

The Whistler said...

Right, so my description of how contemporary crime works is humorously cartoonish, whereas your point that flight is useless in a battle against a "cybernetic demon" is completely relevant. Let's define the playing field here.

The truth is that most super powers presume a world in which most good vs. evil conflicts occur in an alley or in Times Square or on the Golden Gate Bridge and are primarily based around physical combat. Obviously, the real world is not like that. So even if you were really really good at it, beating up/arresting/killing muggers/drug dealers is not going to make a significant difference. It fails to address the underlying problems. New baddies will simply step up to fill the shoes of the ones you've sent to jail/hell.

Given that, clearly the best power would be something all hippie dippy like "peace creation" or "food generation" or "racism draining." But obviously those aren't classic superpowers and are too goofy to even discuss here. Also, I think it's important that we define our goals as not just "affecting positive societal change" but instead "taking down evil," because let's face it, that's what comic books are really about.

So, to define exactly where we stand: we have our playing field, aka, this is the REAL WORLD, no one else has powers, no cartoonish mob bosses, no cybernetic demons, and individual muggers aren't really the problem. We have our boundaries, aka no ridiculous made-up powers like "liberal law passing." And we have our set of goals: to fight crime/evil, not just powers that would be "cool."

Given that, super speed makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. Imagine you woke up with super speed tomorrow. What would be your first step towards striking a meaningful blow against evil? Run to Afghanistan (I like how in your description, you can run 'all over the world' - including over oceans? Are you Jesus too?) and just jog around, hoping you bump into Osama Bin Laden? Yes, super speed would help you fight low-level crime and win physical battles. But as you must acknowledge, that kind of thing will make a fairly negligible difference in the big picture. I don't think super speed is a bad power, it beats eye blasts and claws and thing like that. But in the scheme of things it doesn't hold a candle to what is clearly the BEST superpower, given our terms, which is:


Think about it (no pun intended). You make a good point about invisibility being useless if your target gets into a car. Mind reading eliminates that problem. You don't need to follow him because you know exactly where he's going. You also know his social security number and his favorite Beatles song. Let's say you wanted to take down a bigger target, like Osama Bin Laden. You wouldn't have to resort to ineffective torture tactics when interrogating captured terrorists, you could just walk into the room, offer your man a danish, stare at him hard for a minute, and walk out with as much information as you needed. And here's the best thing:


If you're using super speed to fight evil, word is gonna get out pretty quick. Before you know it, every baddie you have your sights set on is gonna invest in sticky traps and electric fences and whatnot in an effort to take you down. With mind reading, if you do it right, no one has any idea whatsoever that you even have the power. You can carry out your crusade in complete anonymity.

Seriously, think about it. You're a criminal. What's more terrifying: the thought that there's some guy out there who can run really fast, or the idea that there's someone, could be anyone, could be sitting on the bus right next to you, could be the guy who just asked for directions, who KNOWS EVERY ONE OF YOUR NEFARIOUS SCHEMES NOT TO MENTION THE EMBARRASSING FACT THAT YOU SOMETIMES DAYDREAM ABOUT SLEEPING WITH YOUR COUSIN.



Degan said...

Not to go at length to debate the issue: but first off, all super speedsters are able to run on water-when you're moving that fast, its more like running on mud than actual water. Plus, if you travel at sub light speeds, you can check out pretty much every remote cave in the mountainsides of afghanistan if you wanted to... you'd probably run into bin Laden, and even if you didn't-you could prolly clear out a significant amount of taliban weapon caches in the process. I mean, you could go so far as to save a kid from being hit by a bus in Detroit, and within a minute, disarm a military junta in Africa. Pretty awesome.

Second, telepathy would be great for recon and all that (it definitely didn't make my list cause its one of my favorites), but its not like you can then go and do anything with that knowledge yourself. You'd still have to rely on the authorities to act on your intel... and that's assuming that they believe you, and that your brain hopping is enough for a judge to issue a warrant. But you can't go breaking through windows and stopping crimes yourself. Speaking of, you'd be pretty worthless against crime in action, really only good at preventing crime, or solving already committed crimes. Couldn't do much to halt the commission of a crime however.

The Whistler said...

What is the point of blogs/the tubes other than to debate insignificant topics at length?

First of all, I think you have to clarify exactly what you mean by "super speed." Just as you pointed out earlier that flight doesn't necessarily give you more than ordinary strength, I think you're interpreting the concept of "super speed" in a very broad way. You're not only assuming that someone can run/move very fast, but they can maneuver and stop very fast. You're also tacitly assuming that your mind works faster as well, and that you can comprehend the world at a pace with your body. Otherwise you would just be passing by all those caves in afghanistan in a blur. It's the broadest possible definition of super speed, probably a little too broad, but whatever, I'll give it to you. Even with that, you're making weird logical jumps.

Your contention that you could save a kid from getting hit by a bus points to the exact weakness of your argument. It presumes that you would even be in a position to see the kid getting hit by a bus in time to do anything. How often do you, Degan, in real life, see anything like that? Maybe once a year? Same goes for petty crime. You could buy a police scanner and listen in, but the cops rarely find out about a crime until it's already been perpetrated. You could be at the scene of the crime in seconds, but then what? Who do you chase with your super speed, if the criminal is already gone? You would be grabbing (albeit rapidly) at shadows.

Simply put, your contention that super speed is a better tool for preventing crime in action is irrelevant. We so rarely (remember, the playing field is the REAL WORLD) even have a chance to KNOW about crime in action that trying to stop it in progress is pointless. Which is why our entire justice system is based around prevention and punishment, which you acknowledge telepathy is damn good at.

Moving on to Afghanistan. I'm not going to take out a map and figure out the square mileage, but I don't think I have to do the exact calculations to convince anyone that searching EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY IN AFGHANISTAN would be a monstrously inefficient way to find Osama Bin Laden/sundry bad guys. The world is bigger than you think. Even with a broad definition of super speed, it would still have to be YOU, ONE PERSON, running around thousands upon thousands of inhospitable square miles. Compare that with reading the mind of three or four bad guys, which can be accomplished in seconds.

And as for taking out Taliban weapon caches...maybe, but how would you know what was a taliban weapon cache and what was the ammo dump of a friendly militia? How would you know which warlord to super-speed punch and which warlord to super-speed hug? You would be working incredibly fast, but you would be working with imperfect information, like any ordinary human.

Your point about having to rely on the authorities is valid. A couple points of rebuttal. One is that even an ordinary person, armed with perfect information and maybe a gun or two, can do a lot. Especially against smaller crime operations. For larger endeavors (juntas/taliban/etc.), yes, you would need authorities, but do you really think it would be difficult to assume a position of authority if you could read minds?

I think it's also important to point out that a super speedster will also need to rely on authorities to fight crime/evil. The only difference is that the relationship is inverse, with the hero relying on the higher ups for information instead of the other way around. A super speedster is a tool, wielded by authorities. As such, he/she can be used and manipulated for unsavory means. A mind reader is the one wielding the tool.

Bonus points: who would you rather sleep with - a person who could fuck really fast, or someone who knows exactly what you want?

Chris said...

i think super speed would be about the same usefulness as flying, at least with the invisibility you could get a gun and just shoot people who don't know where it's coming from, or spy on chicks in the locker room who also don't know where it's cuming from, hehe, you see what i did there?

Tom said...

The most "best" ability is Tychokinesis, probability manipulation. The user would have perfect luck and could cause bad luck for enemies. It would be like the entire universe bending causality to your every whim long before you are even in the position of wanting an event to occur. Your preconscious/subconscious will would be an extremely powerful, but completely unseemly, force of shaping reality itself! Mwahahaha!

Milutin said...

Superpowers are rarely practical on their own, take superman for instance, if he would burst trough a building to save somebody in reality he would probably demolish the building, because structures arent made so that supersonic projectiles can go trough them, then super speed, if you super-accelerate with somebody in your hands, or grab them while moving 300+miles an hour you would definitely kill them.
Super-powers dont make super heroes, its how you used them that makes super heroes, a lot of heroes dont even have super powers, like Frank Castle for instance. Or Zoro, or Lone Ranger, or even those few people today that go around in strange outfits making citizens arrests .

Most super powers are practical simply because you have an ability that no one else has, that's it.
For instance Flying, you can fly fire hoses to tough to reach fires, even long rope ladders to survivors in high buildings, imagine 9.11. with someone who could get a rope to all those poor people.

Then talking to animals, hello imagine you are a crook and all of a sudden 50-100 rodents are coming at you, you would shit yourself, then you would start shooting, hopelessly, then they would eat you, or at least disarm you.
Getting away in a car, imagine 30 birds covering your windshield.
Very useful for stopping crime.

Imagine a doctor with super senses! Best doctor ever.

You dont need superpowers to be a costumed crime fighter, but if you have superpowers you can save lives, and that's very practical if you want to be a Hero.