Almost every kid dreams of being a superhero with superpowers, and some of us never grow out of that. Especially in these days of huge-budget comic book movies, the chances to identify with those characters who have great power and (hopefully) great responsibility are endless.
However, the powers that these characters possess aren’t the only unreal aspects of the media they inhabit; their entire universe is built to support and contain these powers. Even the advertised “realistic” depictions like the classic Watchmen or the ill-fated TV series Heroes ask you to suspend a great deal of belief about their world.
While it’s only natural to dream of having the amazing abilities that make many superheroes and supervillans…well…super, we usually don’t think about the implications that having those powers would carry in a world like ours. Here are 25 Superpowers That Would Actually Be Super Inconvenient.
Probably one of the first super powers ever conceived, there seem to be all sorts of immediate advantages to super strength. But the horrifying realities are literally brutal. As an example, let’s say you were as strong as Spiderman (not even Superman or the Hulk.) He can lift a paltry10 tons at his weakest. To put that in perspective, on average a deadly gunshot hits with less than half a ton of force (about 0.42 tons.)
The results? Even if the force you exert is distributed and assuming you hold back a large majority of your strength, you’re going to apply the equivalent pressure of just over seven times the force of that gunshot blast: Hugging somebody will immediately crush them to death, opening a door will rip it apart, and (without massive amounts of care, concentration, and training) it will probably be impossible to walk properly, as gravity won’t be able to compare to the force you exert when you take a step.
Another oldie but goodie, who doesn’t want to take to the sky like a bird (or a plane)?! Obviously all your transportation issues would be solved instantly, and if you were careful with your powers you could become the world’s greatest Olympic high jumper! Unfortunately, that’s probably about as exciting as it gets, and even that’s a stretch. Birds and planes are built (either naturally or artificially) to fly, you are not.
First, no matter your speed, you’d need goggles. Your puny human eyes are not made to handle constant wind drying them out and insects that can easily blind you at relatively low flight speeds. Speaking of speed, insects are one thing, but birds will straight-up kill you (Google: bird hits plane, you’ll get the idea.) You’d also cause panic to anyone who saw you, encounter problems with atmospheric pressure (which will make your lungs explode), and experience extreme temperatures; it might be better just to keep yourself grounded.
If flight has too many drawbacks, maybe we’ll just go with super speed. There’s probably not too much danger of detection if you move fast enough. As an extra, added bonus, I’m going to throw in the ability to process things visually as you’re running and the reflexes to avoid the things you see so that you don’t immediately pulverize yourself with whatever you run into. Not that it will matter, since there’s no avoiding science on this one.
If you’re traveling super fast, you’re going to literally set yourself on fire and rapidly burn to death due to molecular friction, so watch your speed. Inertia is another problem; assuming your organs can handle takeoff and your speed, you won’t be stopping on a dime. Trying to stop suddenly will quite simply kill you. Your heels will literally shatter and you’ll probably pancake yourself on the ground as your remains skid across the landscape.
Straight to the point of maximum transportation without all those pesky downsides, teleportation is much more a metaphysical stretch than other transportation powers. As a result, it (thankfully) avoids most of the impact-based issues. It’s also conceivably faster and more discreet. However, in this case, it’s the process that makes it nightmarishly undesirable.
The primary question is how do you navigate? Typically this is described as visualizing a place before activating your power. That’s great, but you’re going to have to be very specific with the picture in your mind, and keep a pretty clear focus on it. You also better hope wherever you’re going hasn’t changed since you saw it last. The result of screwing any of these things up is potentially teleporting into a solid object. At best, you might find yourself in excruciating pain with a Lego that is now a permanent part of your foot. At worst, there have been some remodels and they moved the walls, causing you to permanently (and obviously fatally) fuse with it when you appear.
Time Manipulation (AKA: Stopping Time)
It doesn’t matter how fast you move if you can simply stop time! This basically kills every drawback to travel-based powers! No pesky physics, no worry of obstacles, and no witnesses (because they’re all “frozen”). Even so, there are a few realistic problems that aren’t normally addressed.
Stopping time basically means you’ve paused the timeline of everyone and everything but yours. This is probably the result of some kind of energy field you generate that allows you to move outside of time. If that field doesn’t also animate the oxygen in your vicinity, you’re going to suffocate the moment you use your power. Assuming that’s covered, this also means you’re going to age faster than everyone else. If you’re using your powers to travel instantly, you still have to make the trip, and vehicles are all frozen, so you’re going to have to walk. Do this enough, and you’ll find yourself years older than people who were the same age. Another amusing but potentially horrifying possibility is freezing time while moving in a vehicle; you’d better hope your personal inertia stops with time, or things will get messy.
Most people have dreamt of seeing what the future would be like; likewise, almost everyone dreams of going back in time to stop themselves from making some horrible mistake.
Depending on when in time you travel, you’d better hope the Earth is in a habitable state at that moment. In both the future and the past, it would take a matter of minutes for you to succumb to a virus that either existed before or after your time, and that you have zero evolved immunity to. In that case, as soon as you come back, you might also unleash the next great plague on humanity.
This is still ignoring the “butterfly effect,” in which anything you do in the past might end up changing history and the world as you know it. Contrary to what some movies would have you believe, it’s not so easy (if even possible) to fix that.
Finally, there’s also the theoretical possibility about what happens when the same matter from two different time periods occupies the same space. Though some movies made it look silly, you would have to be extremely careful around your past/future self. Depending on how time works, even you tripping and bumping into yourself could create an infinite loop of self injury that would brutally beat both versions of yourself to death. Oops.
Intangibility (AKA: Phasing)
Walking through walls would be ultra-convenient, potentially very lucrative (vault? What vault?) and in some cases, could save your life.
However, the physics behind phasing leave two possibilities: either the size of your molecules are reduced to a sub-atomic state, or you manage to vibrate your molecular speed fast enough that they can get cozy with other molecules without losing coherency.
The second option would cause you and whatever you were passing through to explode almost immediately as electrons really don’t like being made to occupy the same space.
The first option isn’t much better as the moment you activate this ability, your body will theoretically be able to pass through all solid objects including the ground. Implications of this range from losing a leg to not being able to breathe once below the surface.
Imagine being able to be the fly on the wall, totally undetected as life happens all around you. Being visually undetectable gives you a whole new level of freedom! Or…maybe not.
The immediate problem is outside factors. The most obvious challenge is clothing as it won’t integrate and remains visible. So while you’re invisible, you’re naked. Which is all fine and well, until you get dirty. There’s dust and moisture in the air, and while it won’t make you immediately visible, people will see something.
If you manage to get around that challenge, you’re still naked and invisible in public. This is more dangerous than it sounds as everyone is used to people being physically aware of them on some level. In this case, if you aren’t paying attention, somebody is going ram into you (with their body or their car) with zero warning or chance to brace themselves, potentially hurting you both, especially because you’re naked.
Pheromone Projection (AKA: Super Charisma)
Everyone wants to be liked, adored, and found attractive by people. But what if one day you woke up with the subtle ability that made it easier? Much easier. What could possibly go wrong?
Well first of all, when everyone wants something, they’ll fight over it. If your power is strong enough, it will not only make people irritatingly clingy, but possibly very possessive and violent towards each other (and maybe you.) In short, you’ve permanently become their “precious,” and they will do anything to protect their precious.
Additionally, you’ll also question how genuine your relationships are for the rest of your life. Do they love you because of your merits as a person, or because they’re under the influence of your power?
Mind Reading (AKA: Telepathy, Part 1)
Who hasn’t wondered what somebody was thinking at some point. Sometimes if you just knew what your crush/spouse/boss/friend was thinking, it would make your life so much easier!
Probably not. In fact, it would likely make your life a living hell. You see, the comforting thing about people’s brains is that they are private. This is because perfectly normal people think completely insane and horrible things before rationality kicks in. Now, imagine being the one person in the world who saw all of those pre-rational, deep, dark thoughts. There’s no way to avoid a severe psychological impact.
If you couldn’t control your telepathy, you’d probably be overwhelmed and lose your mind in a matter of hours. But controlling it would only make the inevitable descent into misanthropy and madness more gradual and painful.
Mind Control (AKA: Telepathy, Part 2)
It doesn’t matter what people are thinking if you can just tell them what to think. This might sound good, but unfortunately it can’t possibly end well. Even if you’re trying to be good, you’re walking around with a human “cheat button,” and eventually a situation will convince you to use it.
Without getting into the psychology behind it, for most people, being able to get away with immoral things without any real consequences is addictive. The same principle applies to a getting a great deal of reward for little effort. This pattern consistently leads to corruption and eventual misery as a result.
Eventually, people will also start to ask questions when things don’t add up around you. Once people start asking questions, they’re coming after you for answers. How many minds do you think you can control at once?
The ability to see the future is tricky because it depends on the nature of time and what hasn’t happened yet. Unfortunately, regardless of how time works, it’s going to suck for you.
Assuming that time is fluid and constructed on the actions of the present, every time you see something, you have to choose to let it happen, or take action to change it. If you change it, the potentially horrible butterfly effect is your fault, and there’s no taking it back. There’s a good chance you’ll accidentally be responsible for the horrible and senseless deaths of millions.
Assuming that time is fixed and will self-correct is, by far, the quicker road to insanity. At some point, you’re going to see the horrible death of yourself, somebody you care about, or maybe humanity as a whole, and you won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.
Empathy is a popular subject these days. But we’re not talking about normal empathy; we’re talking about super empathy (Star Trek fans might remember Deanna Troy!) Imagine the ability to literally feel and understand the emotions of anyone around you, no matter how good they are at hiding it.
This might sound like a good “diet” version of telepathy. However, empathy means you are going to feel what the people around you are feeling. All. The. Time. When somebody nearby starts having a panic attack, you get to feel it. A decade-long relationship just ended? Enjoy the second-hand heartache. Often you won’t even know where it’s coming from, you’ll just be ridiculously happy or in an absolute rage with zero explanation. Good luck explaining that to your therapist.
Humans are limited creatures. In comparison to a large majority of the animal kingdom, people see, hear, and smell only a small percentage of what’s out there. Evolution has limited your senses for a reason. If any one sense were super enhanced, you would have trouble, but if all of them were enhanced? Game over.
As human eyes see less than one percent of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, seeing much more than that could flood your vision, very possibly rendering you effectively blind.
Your ears are no different. While it might be nice to know what the people in the next room are saying about you, good luck making that out with the ridiculous amazing amount of ambient noise your enhanced ears pick up.
Smell might be the worst of all. Just imagine the last time you smelled somebody with an obnoxious amount of cheap body spray on and amplify that ten times. That smell of unadulterated desperation will still be better than when you are near a port-a-potty.
The major problem with becoming someone else, even for a short time, is that there’s a major psychological risk involved in losing your self-identity. Pathological liars often lose their sense of self and eventually break down because they realize they don’t know themselves. Since literally becoming other people is the ultimate manifestation of those lies, the possibility of psychological impact is basically guaranteed.
There’s also the question of what might possibly happen on a molecular level. Will you ever truly 100% be yourself again or will shape shifting have an impact on your DNA?
If changing into other humans is too boring for you, the variety of animal forms holds a lot more potential.
The first major issue is whether or not you need to trigger your return to your previous form. When you assume the form of an animal, you’re also assuming its brain size. Even if we give you the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to hold on to an objective, remembering something as complex as triggering your return to human form is going to be beyond pretty much anything other than maybe a gorilla, dolphin, elephant, or golden retriever (because you’re a goood dog!)
Should you automatically revert after a certain amount of time, this presents its own problem. Realistically, your clothing isn’t going to shift with you, and now you’re on a time limit, so you better be fairly aware of the clock or at the very least you’re going to be pretty embarrassed.
Animal Communication / Telepathy
Rather than be the animal, perhaps it’s best to just control the animals! You can be one with nature and harness the power of your animal friends.
While it might be a simple matter to convince them to do what you ask initially, they have powerful instincts and lack the human ability to reason past them. So while asking that tiger to not maul you and allow you to ride it might go okay initially, if it decides it’s hungry, or you’re threatening it’s cub, or that it’s just feeling a little frisky, it only takes about 0.02 seconds for the tiger to maul you.
Mind control is probably worse. While asking might give you the chance to train and co-exist for an extended amount of time, directly mind controlling an animal (or several) is going to leave them very, very confused, and therefore probably scared, which also means aggressive. So when your power wears off, you better be sure you’re nowhere near them or you’ve got a barrier between you.
Weather Control (AKA: Atmokinesis)
Never worry about a rainy day again! By controlling local weather patterns you can summon lightning to strike down (and hopefully not kill) criminals, while making sure you have the perfect beach weather the next day. What could go wrong?
Frankly? Everything. You’re potentially a walking natural disaster. The issue is that the world’s weather patterns are connected, and the system is pretty sensitive. So while it seems harmless enough to clear a circle of sunshine above your beach, you’ve just redirected and thrown off all the weather patterns in your area (at least.)
That weather that you knocked off-course could potentially produce very unusual, (and likely violent) conditions in places that don’t normally see them. All of a sudden there could be tornados, floods, giant hail, mudslides, blizzards, lightning storms, and possibly even hurricanes, all of which can not only kill countless people, but also damage entire ecosystems as a result of unnatural weather. Billions in property damage and countless lives lost… all because you wanted your tan.
Rather than ruin the world’s climate, how about a little more localized control. Pyrokinesis (fire), Cryokinesis (cold), Electrokinesis (electricity), and Hydrokinesis (water) are some of the most commonly depicted powers and while they all come with benefits, they also come with serious downsides.
Your Pyrokinesis could create the next great forest fire or burn down a town; Cyrokinesis could cause you to damage or kill anyone or anything around you, including yourself; Electrokinesis would allow you to fry expensive electronics or zap your entire city temporarily back to the dark ages; Hydrokinesis is actually the most dangerous of this group in that you could conceivable effect tides, and extracting water from underground to a place that is normally dry could have a number of adverse effects from causing unusual drought elsewhere, to throwing off the entire local ecosystem.
Worthy of its own category, one of the most powerful and dangerous of elemental control powers is the ability to control the earth itself. Unfortunately and obviously, you’re probably going to break the planet. With this power, you have the ability to shift the world’s tectonic plates. Sure, that seems far-fetched, but anything you do to affect the lithosphere (the outermost layer of Earth’s crust) has the potential the throw off that entire layer. That could trigger anything from minor tremors, to volcanoes, to earthquakes that would literally drop parts of the world as we know it into the ocean.
This category covers everything from optic blasts, to heat vision, to firing lasers from your hands (or anywhere else). These powers carry some of the most obvious downsides. First of all, where is this energy coming from? It’s possible you’re draining it from something that needs it (like, say, the unborn future of humanity?) If that’s not the case, and you’re producing it yourself, you probably can’t hold an infinite amount, meaning at some point you have to fire off your powers, or you risk either exploding or random, involuntary energy projection. (Like vomiting, but with potentially world-ending lasers.) If said lasers are strong enough, you might literally bi-sect the planet, resulting in your death along with the extinction of every species on earth. Best not to play with energy.
Often considered the ultimate prize, what would you do if you knew you had all the time in the world? Let’s look at a few of the major drawbacks to living forever in various forms. For instance, if you can get sick, and you contract a chronic disease, you’ll have to live with that forever (or at least until the distant future can cure it).
A truly immortal life is a life of constantly waiting for something new, and eventually new things are going to become pretty rare. Everyday human life will cease to have meaning as you age well past a normal lifespan, and your brain’s tendency to measure time relative to how long you’ve lived will make years go by like days. Eventually, if you are truly indestructible, you’ll end up drifting alone in space long after earth has been destroyed. The ultimate eventuality is, you will be alone, drifting, completely insane and trapped in this plane of existence until the end of time.
Power Mimicry / Absorbtion
Rather then one power, why not have all the powers. Like a sponge, every time you came in contact with a new superhuman, BAM! New power! It’s like genetic Christmas. There may be limitations, like one power at a time, or you might be unbelievably powerful and hold every ability you’ve been able to absorb at the same time! This is the only real possibility that transcends all other powers. Eventually, you would be without weakness, but you would also probably be the end of the world and likely the universe as we know it.
Take every single downside listed above, and then stack them. After that, factor in the fact that you’re probably, accidentally, picking up all sorts of different versions of said powers and you have no idea how to use them properly. With individual powers, you might have a chance to explore or figure them out before you accidentally murder your family or level a city. But if you’re using other people’s powers without even knowing what powers you have, the chances of a mistake increase exponentially.