What's the Ideal Superpower?

Recently, we’ve seen a lot of high-quality superhero movies as of late and I’m loving it. I’m a huge nerd in that regard and with Comicon Harrisburg coming to a close this weekend, there’s a couple of story ideas swirling around my head along with one question in particular: what is the ideal superpower? Obviously, most any superpower will have situations where it becomes useless, or worse, a detriment to the person using it. Most heroes we see swaggering around the screen or on the pages of a comic don’t have just one power for this reason. More often than not these super beings are given a weakness, something the audience can relate to. Superman has kryptonite that takes away all of his powers; Batman is just a human being, he’s fragile compared to some other superheroes; Wolverine’s heightened senses can be used against him with a high-frequency sound at a loud enough volume; Nightcrawler has to see where he’s going or risk teleporting into a wall; Luke Cage’s skin, and only his skin, is invulnerable; Tony Stark has a potentially life threatening condition that gets resolved only after several years but he’s otherwise just a really smart guy in a fancy, flying robotic prosthetic that fires lasers; Professor Xavier is in a wheelchair; etc.

But the regular person will never encounter a supervillain and the worst kinds of altercation anyone might get into on any given day is a fist fight or a mugging or an assault of some kind.  There will be situations where a gun could be pulled on you at some point in your life but would that be the only chance you get to use your ultra-durable skin or Mr. Incredible strength or Flash’s speed?

In the CW series for Flash, there are a lot of little scenes or moments when we’re treated to Barry using his Speed Force powers to do everyday things, but we also know from the first episode that Barry eats a lot. He needs to consume those calories or his body is going to crash and burn; he’ll run out of energy. Anyone who’s lived paycheck to paycheck can tell you just how stressful it is to pay the bills and still eat enough. Having the dietary requirements of about three or more people’s worth of food every day will drain your wallet in a flash.

To be a more “realistic” Superhero like Batman still requires some ridiculous things laid out most eloquently in the YouTube Video by Cracked.com “So you want to be Batman”; they also have one on Wolverine funnily enough. Just listening to the lifetimes’ worth of training Bruce Wayne had to go through on top of having incredibly poor and yet excellent luck to be born in the circumstances he was makes the notion of becoming a Batman-esque hero seem a lot less “Hot Topic shopping and brooding on rooftops” and a lot more “billions of dollars on college education and way more years than is reasonable for fighting crime.”

So, where did I find my answer? Tabletop RPGs. That’s right, the hallmark of a simpler age in Nerdom and Geek Culture, D&D... Or rather, in this case, V&V. Now, a lot of you might know about D&D from hit show Stranger Things or maybe you’re a member of a games club that features table-tops prominently in the selection but one of Dungeons and Dragons’ lesser know cousins is a system from Monkey House Games called Villains and Vigilantes. The first edition came out in 1979 with a revised version in ‘82. This was a system my parents played in college and boy, can you tell. The second edition released in 2010 with a few more fixes and I was able to get my hands on a digital copy of the core rulebook. This is a game centered in a “theater of the mind” style where a group of players can be superpowered heroes or villains to follow a story created by the Game Master but what interested me was the comprehensive list of superpowers players can choose from.

Instead of giving me a clear answer on what is objectively the most useful power, I discovered a rule of thumb for any well-rounded character in a supernatural, sci-fi, or general superhero genre. First, treat anything you’ve been trained in to a point of above-average ability as a power. These are actually in one of the power tables called Skills. Batman, for example, is a hero fully dedicated to Skill powers because he has no mutations. Deadshot would also be considered entirely skill based and (depending on the iteration) so is the Joker. This group including things such as weapons training, schooling an artist’s eye through many years of practice, or even graduate level engineering courses. Most people will have skills in their lives and these are going to be a vital part of any hero, sometimes even compensating for loss of powers.

Second, pick one, maybe two powers. These should compliment each other like Firestorm from CW’s Flash show. He flies because the propulsion from his fire allows him to. Or for those keeping up with Anime, a recent series My Hero Academia has a character who uses both fire and ice. Instead of overheating or freezing himself stiff, Shouto Todoroki can maintain a temperature equilibrium making him arguably the most powerful character in the early series. Powers like guaranteed regeneration similar to Deadpool might be fun for a while but it almost guarantees the inevitability of getting trapped somewhere inescapable. In Wolverine’s case, his adamantium augmented skeleton would make it nearly impossible to get out of a trap should his forearm be pierced by something he cannot reach, especially when following the movie continuity where the metal on his claws was removed. There’s no cutting through a reinforced wall or rock fall to get his arm out and no way of removing it effectively with how fast he heals.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, be versatile. Your origin story is probably going to be something anticlimactic like getting dumped in a vat of toxic waste-- where would we even find a vat of toxic waste-- assuming that doesn't kill you. No matter what powerset or life experience you have, if you can’t find multiple ways of using your superpowers creatively and effectively than the odds of getting into a potentially lethal situation skyrocket. Take Toad, a mutant from the X-Men series into account. His powers are basically the natural abilities of a toad. Yet, in the first X-Men movie, he’s at best a C-rated antagonist and a nuisance goon. Take that same premise for powers and apply it to another MHA character, Tsuyu Asui, and you have a fan favorite, well-rounded powerhouse who is both fast on land and in the water and uses her agility to her advantage taking down enemies that by all means should have had her beat because she was more flexible and resilient under pressure.

In the end, it’s not about what power is the best, because circumstances make a lot of difference as does the person using those powers. Batman would make a terrible Superman, let’s all be honest. Bruce’s vendetta against the man who killed his parents and his toeing the line between good and evil would not end well with a god-tier power set like Supes. What makes the hero is the character.