It seems to happen a least a few times every month. You are tending to your mundane business and then someone comes up to you and inquires as to your preference in superpowers. They never say if they are offering, polling, or something equally as dubious. I found out the hard way that it’s good to be prepared. I’m going to present my commentary on a variety of superpowers and which I’ve come to favor (you can vote on your preferences at the end of the blog).
Keep in mind, I’m talking about being only unipotent—that is, just one power. None of this multipotent Superman stuff. One. That’s it. Besides, even just one makes you super-human, so stop crying into your mug of blarx. OK. That said, here’s my list in no particular order:
This one is always popular once it’s handed out, but frequently overlooked when people think about powers. Here you can control magnetic fields like the ever-enigmatic Magneto (X-men frenemy), or energy fields like the force-field projecting Sue Storm (Fantastic Four).
As we’ve seen, this can be a very broad power indeed. Though simple in its description, its uses are only limited to to the wielder’s imagination. You can repel asteroids hurtling to Earth from space, or you can twist off bottle caps from across the room (this takes a deft touch earned only through long hours of practice).
Imagine getting to clean your house in only a second. Or…perhaps running all the way around the globe in the blink of an eye (for those wondering, even I know that housecleaning is more time-consuming than it first appears). The most obvious practitioner of this ability is the Flash.
Personally, I view this power as being cooler to see than to have. Sure, you can get certain physical tasks done quickly, to the outside observer, but to you it still takes time to do step 1 then step 2 then (and so on). Then there are all the bugs in your teeth from running outside. Nope, this one just isn’t high up on my list.
A classic. Not only can you bend steel bars with your bare hands, or stop locomotives in their tracks, but with enough leg strength and a powerful enough jump, you can simulate flying (at least for short trips). Definitely on of Superman’s primary features (other than that chiseled jaw and forelock with a mind all its own).
This is one of those powers that would scare me. It would be too easy to apply too much force to something and break it. For a teacup, it’s just embarrassing. When it’s your fiancee, well, let’s just say that I try not to make the same mistake twice.
Yet another ability from the Kryptonian catalog (seriously… how super does one species need to be, anyway?).
Though I once thought it a lame power, I now think it to be very practical in day-to-day life. There are so many instances in life where you need to know if something is or is not hidden behind something else. Or you need to snake some wire between walls. Or you need to cheat at cards. Whatever. It’s definitely a practical power. Not so much with the “wow” factor, but useful. Plus, there is a variant of beams shooting out of your eyes which, while not terribly helpful in most situations, is sort of cool.
And that whole peeking into locker room or through clothing… when you’ve lived long enough you realize that while there is a certain empirical aesthetic appeal to the human body, how most of our individual members look (we all being secretly naked under our clothing) should be better left to the imagination.
This power is related to super-speed, but doesn’t necessarily follow. You can be super fast and still not be quick. People who play sports understand that there is a difference between speed and quickness. Even so, except in the realm of sports, this power doesn’t seem to be particularly great to have as your one and only power.
You have an I.Q. of a googolplex. You can figure out how much to tip your waiter in less than a minute. How cool is that?
I think it would be lonely. True, you’d be useful to the advance of humankind, but you’d be so far outside of normal, even from your own perspective, that life wouldn’t be any fun. Being a little smarter is cool, being super-smart would be like a prison.
Getting to change from one form to another while retaining your mind… tres cool. I mean, just about all of us has something about ourselves that we’d like to change. With this power, you can change to your heart’s content without having to be stuck with bad results.
Beyond that, if you want to do something in the crime arena (either for or against), definitely a great power. We need only to look to Mystique (X-men) for how useful a power this can be.
Another classic. The ability to read the minds of others…a very popular superpower choice.
This can be a very powerful tool, but I think that it could be something that the owner would often want to be rid of. I think back to an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy got the power to hear others thoughts and thought it was cool…until she couldn’t quiet the din. Also, there are some (or a lot) of things I think we’d just as soon not know.
A close relative of telepathy, this is much more active. While you might not be able to read thoughts, you can implant them. Think of it being like a 100% effective version of hypnosis, but without the sideshow.
In some ways, I think of this as the nuclear weapon of powers. While something you want in your stockpile instead of your enemy’s, you can’t use it. Once you start bending people’s wills, or their very memories, then you are risking destruction of the entire species. Definitely not a casual day-to-day power.
Though seemingly silly, the X-men’s Storm wielded this power to amazing effect. Imagine being able to have a sunny day at the beach, or a well-watered lawn, without having to endure the capriciousness of mother nature.
For me, I tend to like the less attention-grabbing powers. Let’s face it, when you whip up a storm with tornadoes and bolts of lightning, you are going to attract attention to yourself.
This one seems to be a two-edged sword. On the one hand you’ll not get sick, you can jump out of tall buildings with a single bound…and splat on the sidewalk below only to get up again a few moments later. That’s all very attractive.
But…and we saw this downside with Claire’s power in Heroes: this also means that you can’t die. You are effectively immortal. That’s a scary thought. Even though you’d be in good health, you’d be condemned to whatever folly the rest of mankind chose to inflict on itself. Not a pleasant prospect.
Great for sports or for shooting variously colored arrows at your enemies. As a primary power, doesn’t seem great, but as powers go, better this than nothing.
Another perennial chart-topper. While many initially cite getting to sneak into locker rooms as a prime motivation, that would quickly get old. As many movies have shown, unless your power extends to make those things touching your skin also invisible, you’ll be quickly discovered by dust, rain, and any number of other contaminants.
Despite its restrictions, invisibility isn’t an awful prime power. If you are mindful of its use, it can be very useful.
The ability to move objects with one’s mind, regardless of (reasonable) mass, is a very desirable power, indeed. Telekinesis can often create the effect of super-strength. In a way, it’s even better because you don’t actually have to be doing the actual lifting with your body.
This is another of the problematic powers. Being about to manipulate matter/energy so that you can create things out of thin air, or to change an object into something else, can be extremely handy. You’d never lack for money, or food, or any creature comfort. On the other hand, one of the great transmogrifiers of legend, King Midas, didn’t have such a good time of it.
One of the less obvious powers on most people’s lists can be one that is very practical for both good-guys and bad. Imagine working on rescue crew not having to worry about getting injured? (Of course you’d have to worry about getting trapped…you aren’t Superman, after all.)
This isn’t a terrible prime power, and it’s certainly more useful than healing in the medium-term being that you can at least die of natural causes. Still, I think that it’s much better as a secondary power.
Phasing is definitely one of the visually coolest powers there is: being able to pass through objects like Kitty Pryde (X-men). Who hasn’t wanted to walk through walls or reach to the bottom of a box? This power also conveys a sort of invulnerability as long as you are phased whenever anything bad is about to happen (bullets, axes…you know, everyday stuff).
The downside? Let’s say you phase into another person. When you re-solidify, at least one of you is going to have a very bad day.
In less than the blink of an eye you move from one place to another without having to exert anything except your desire to do so. If you can also teleport whatever you are holding onto, even better. Want to have a French dinner? Zap yourself to Paris, order some take-out (I know…but go with me on this), and then zip back. You might not even have to pay…though if you want to go to that restaurant again, it might be a good idea.
The downside? You don’t know what will be where you are teleporting to. You could teleport right into some bus or something. If there are safety measures to prevent such a thing, then no downside.
While a seemingly desirable and altruistic power, once people knew you had it you would never get a moment of peace.
The ability to see both into the future and into the past as they existed at the time you looked. I have to confess, I’ve thought about this one a lot when I see sports being played. Imagine if you could stretch out your vision on a football field (say) so that you could see where all of the defense would be. You could then figure out a path, no matter how improbable, that could get you a touchdown every single time.
And, let’s face it, you’d easily become rich. By looking ahead in the stock market or the lottery, you could very easily accumulate a fortune.
This is the list topper. Honestly, I don’t get it. As Phoebe demonstrated in the TV series Charmed, flight is a romantic notion, but not all that practical. Sure, it can help with transport, but compared to other powers, it’s actually kind of lame.
Danger Will Robinson. Danger. Mucking with the past or future is very dangerous. If you could safe-guard your travels so as to inform your curiosity without actually changing events, well…OK then.
Freezing, slowing, and speeding up time has been a favorite fantasy of many. Charmed explored a lot of options with this very effectively. By freezing time you can make it seem to others that you can teleport. By locally speeding up time to a great degree you can cause explosions. There are many possibilities with this power.
Always a fun one. Lightning bolts, thermal rays (both hot and icy), laser beams, and the like are covered under this ability. Depending on the power and your degree of control, this can be a very practical gift.
Here, our primary referent is Reed Richards, the Fantastic Four’s Mr. Fantastic. From something as mundane as being able to reach from the bathroom to the closet to get more toilet paper, to stretching and wrapping your body around a super-villain, this superpower is, again, only limited by one’s imagination.
Like some other powers, this one conveys a lot of other advantages as well. The rebounding quality of your body decreases your physical vulnerability to many outside forces. And often you don’t need to actually go through walls, merely bypass them. With a super-stretchy ability, as long as there is the tiniest of cracks, you can usually manage to find a way into any locked box, room, or building.
Of course I’ve only touched on some of the more obvious powers. There are more but they are often sort of on the mutant fringe.
Picks and Poll
So, if I’m choosing my superpower, what will it be? What would my backups be if I can’t have my first choice? Also, if I could combine powers, what would I choose for 2- and 3- power combos?
First, my uni-power list:
The shape-shifting thing is just a personal quirk of mine. I just think it would be neat. The other four are mostly those powers that are very practical to have.
If I could combine two powers, my first choice would be the pairing of Shape-shifting and transmogrification. After all, if you are going change your shape, you’ll likely want to accessorize (or clothe) yourself. If the shape-shifting wasn’t available, then I’d pick Phasing and telekinesis. Phasing so that I could go anywhere (and hide, if necessary), and telekinesis so that I can have a simulated super-strength along with me not having to get up from the couch :-)
As for a tri-power, my first-duo power plus telekinesis. If not that, then my second duo-power plus omni-reference.
Now it’s y’all’s turn. Do what I did, pick your top five powers and we’ll see the sorts of powers that are important to people. Have fun.