“With great power comes great responsibility.” Those immortal words illustrated Spider-Man‘s plight in his first ever appearance in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. And that simple yet insightful phrase remains a litmus test for every superhero that has followed in his webbed footsteps.
But not all heroes (and villains) are created equal when it comes to their amazing abilities. Peter Parker has certainly seen his powers as liabilities at times, but he’s got nothing to complain about in comparison to the characters on this list. We’re covering those imbued with powers so immense, horrific, and destructive that they’re not only dangerous to humankind, but also to the possessors of such god-like abilities.
With that criteria in mind, here’s our list of the 15 most horrifying superpowers around. These abilities have given many characters on our list second thoughts and reservations, making them wonder if they (and those around them) would be better off if they’d never acquired their superhuman abilities in the first place.
15. Gotham and Gotham Girl/Use of Superpowers Shortens Lifespan
The two newest characters of our list, Gotham and Gotham Girl (introduced in DC’s Batman Rebirth), are a young crimefighting sibling duo, inspired by the Dark Knight to help fight crime (like Batman, they lost their parents to criminal violence).
Their tragic upbringing didn’t end with the death of their parents. Unlike Batman, the duo have superpowers. And while the powers they’re endowed with (super strength, flight, invulnerability, etc.) are fairly rote comic book material, the way they gained them is a far cry from the norm. Gotham and Gotham Girl paid actual money for their metahuman gifts, although the verdict on who and how has yet to be revealed (Hugo Strange is a rumored possibility). And the use of these powers takes a toll: continued implementation of their abilities significantly shortens their life expectancy. Hours of use equals years off their lifespan.
And that’s not all; the siblings have the ability to heighten and expand their superpowers, which, of course, comes at a steep price, reducing their lifespan even further. At least it proves their selfless dedication to keeping their home city safe.
14. Maggot – Painful Stomach Slugs
Oh, Maggot. Even by X-Men standards, Maggot is just too much. A South African mutant obsessed with finding Magneto (for an unspecified reason), the character’s abilities are as revolting as his name. Instead of the standard human stomach, Maggot has a weird barren cavity housing two slugs.
The slugs — nicknamed Eany and Meany… yeah, we know — are sentient beings who exit his stomach and use digestive enzymes to digest anything blocking their path (and they can do it super fast). This cumbersome form of eating makes Maggot grow in size, strength, and stamina, while also turning him blue with red eyes. Everything about Maggot is just cumbersome. And gross. And his powers aren’t just disgusting, they’re also physically painful, too.
As if suffering from this mutation wasn’t enough, Maggot was later killed in a concentration camp orchestrated by Weapon X. He’s since been resurrected and he’s still pretty gross. At least he has Eany and Meany to keep him company.
13. Legion – Multiple Personalities=Multiple Superpowers
The son of Professor Charles Xavier himself, David Charles Haller is a mutant, one with a distinctive personality. Or should we say personalities? When David was young, he was the survivor of a terrorist attack. The stress of the event brought his mutant abilities to fruition when he immolated his attackers, but the incident left him in a coma afterward.
During the process, the mind of the terrorist leader (Jemail Karam) injected itself into David’s psyche, manifesting itself as a separate personality. After emerging from the coma, David began amassing more personalities, each infused with its own superpower. Soon, he gains abilities including telekinesis, pyrokinesis, time travel, telepathy, and the ability to subvert reality itself.
The end result is a mutant with one of the most immense power sets in the entire Marvel universe, though he’s also one of its most unstable inhabitants, making him a threat to both himself and the world as a whole. Get ready to see this crazy cat come to life on the small screen when Dan Stevens (The Guest) takes him on in the upcoming FX series Legion.
12. Unus The Untouchable – Fatal Forcefields
On paper, Unus The Untouchable’s powers sound pretty awesome. The Marvel mutant can project an impenetrable force field that makes him impossible to harm. But every power has its cost, and Unus’ ability came at a very high price. With time, he became unable to control his force fields, and things didn’t end well.
Born Angelo Unuscione in Italy, Unus was a wrestler that turned into a full-on villain, eventually joining the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who were at constant odds with the X-Men. During one battle, Beast fires a gun at him, which had the odd effect of making Unus’ force-field stronger than he was able to control. Somehow, the incident resulted in him being unable to touch anything at all.
This problem continued when, during a fight with Spider-Man, Unus almost died when his force field wouldn’t even allow oxygen to get in. The problem would return again during the House of M series, and he suffocated to death. Being untouchable has its drawbacks.
11. Clayface III (Preston Payne) – Melting Touch
There have been so many Clayfaces in the DCU that it’s hard to keep track. But one of the most memorable, disturbing, and tragic characters to bear the name is Clayface III, a.k.a., Preston Payne. He was a S.T.A.R. Labs scientist with a medical condition known as hyperpituitarism. He obtains a sample of the previous Clayface Matt Hagen’s blood, isolating an enzyme that he thinks can cure his condition. It’s a fatal mistake.
Later that evening, while out on a date, Payne begins melting, and he inadvertently kills his girlfriend by touching her and melting her as well. He’s forced to create an exoskeleton to keep his liquid form contained and prevent him from touching anyone. If only it were that simple: Payne’s grotesque condition now requires that he melt other humans, otherwise he suffers excruciating pain.
Unsurprisingly, Payne snaps. Desperate for human contact, he falls in love with “Helena,” a wax mannequin, convinced that she is flesh and bone. After a bout with Batman, he winds up in Arkham Asylum, the only place that could deal with a soul so tortured. He’s now presumed dead, which might be for the best.
10. Liz Sherman – Occasionally Uncontrollable Pyrokinesis
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Sherman had a fairly idyllic childhood until she turned 10 years old. That year, she discovered she had pyrokinesis, the ability to command and emit fire at will. Liz’s dilemma, however, hinges on the “command” part. Her power is so vast and potentially destructive that she constantly struggles to keep it under control.
Her inability to get a handle on her newfound gifts inevitably results in tragedy. When Liz turns 11, she emits a burst of fire so immense that it destroys a city block, killing her entire family and everyone else in the vicinity. This tragedy leads Sherman to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, where a shadowy government organization helps her to partially control her powers, which she then puts to good use fighting dangerous paranormal phenomena alongside teammates Hellboy and Abe Sapien.
Despite her training, Sherman still has occasional lapses where her flame-wielding gift/curse goes awry, and others where she loses her power altogether. She’s a survivor, forever hoping to keep her power (and sense of guilt) in check in order to avoid any future horrors.
9. Rogue – Energy Absorption Through Touch
To say Rogue’s mutant abilities are a personal challenge is an understatement. Born Anna Marie, Rogue discovered at puberty that she now possessed a rather deadly ability: she could absorb a person’s memories, abilities, personality and physical traits merely by touch. While this ultimately gives her some amazing powers to fight evil with, it’s not so great for her personal life. Rogue is incapable of any prolonged human contact, because extended exposure results in the death of whomever she touches.
Because of this, the mutant feels her powers are more of a curse than an attribute, and it affects how she deals with the outside world, while limiting any form of intimacy or romantic relationship. And this isn’t her only challenge. Because of her ability to absorb other’s memories and personality, she’s at continual risk of mental distress, occasionally having warring personas rattling around in her head. Violent mood swings are a recurring problem, making Rogue one of the most fascinatingly troubled students at Xavier Institute.
8. The Darkness – Demon Dimension Control
Jackie Estacado is a former mob hitman who has gone on to bigger and badder things. The hired gun discovers that he has the unique ability to control The Darkness, a cast of demons who hail from another dimension. He came by these powers the hard way: by being burned to death in a job gone wrong and being sent to hell.
Estacado is allowed to exit hell after taking on the responsibilities of The Darkness. Adorned with powerful armor and his demonic minions, he commands a dark power that predates the existence of the universe itself. His power is so immense and unpredictable, however, that he has trouble controlling it. His demonic horde once even tried to kill him in their quest to break free of his command. His dimensional abilities also make him the target of the Angelus, a deity believing herself stronger than god and capable of vast destructive powers.
7. The Hulk – Super-Strong/Angry/Uncontrollable Alter-Ego
The result of a radiation experiment gone awry, scientist Bruce Banner is transformed into a giant, monstrous beast capable of mass destruction. And while Banner has at times had some control over (or has even been separated from) his angry green self, it’s the purity of Stan Lee’s creation that has made the character such a tragic hero.
The most enduring iteration of The Hulk is a being triggered by Banner’s rage, making the meek scientist’s daily existence an exercise in dread, forever having to keep his emotions in check. And when this fails, the more nightmarish part emerges, a seemingly unstoppable creature endowed with dangerous strength, capable of taking on armies or entire superhero teams. Imagine waking up from a nightmare and discovering you’re responsible for mass carnage, and on some occasions, murder? This mental weight forever plagues Banner, leaving him trapped in a tortured existence.
It says something to Hulk’s character that he generally seeks solitude and peace, only lashing out when he feels threatened. Even in his monstrous form, Banner is still trying to break through, but it’s the eternal conflict that makes the character so powerful — and tragic.
6. Negative Man – Dies If He Uses His Power For Over One Minute
DC’s Doom Patrol is a cast full of lovable misfits, complete with odd powers that make them outcasts even in a world full of superheroes. And no character on the team has a more messed up ability than Negative Man.
Larry Trainor was a test pilot who was accidentally exposed to a large amount of radiation while on a test flight. This imbues Trainor with a bizarre superpower: to release a form of negative energy from his body that resembles a glowing shadow. This entity can fly, make objects explode, and phase through all solid matter.
While this power makes him an invaluable team member, the ability has a pretty significant downside. Trainor’s physical form is not only left weakened and helpless when his negative energy is being is released, he can also only survive for one minute while it’s out of his body.
This makes every Doom Patrol mission a potentially fatal one, with Trainor having only mere seconds to save the day or die trying. In addition, Trainor can’t sustain physical touch with any other human. Forced to live his life cloaked in bandages or risk irradiating anyone near him, he’s become an isolated individual that’s completely incapable of intimate relationships.
5. Wither – Death by Touch
Mutant powers are always the luck of the draw, and Wither got dealt a pretty bad hand. We use the word “hand” there in a literal sense, because the former X-Men (real name Kevin Ford) can kill any living thing merely by touching them. His abilities first manifest in tragedy, when he accidentally reduces his father to dust.
Brought to the Charles Xavier Institute to help master his power, Wither nearly kills supervillain Donald Pierce, and he gets so freaked out by his blood lust that he leaves the school, only later to join up with sister mutant group The Hellions.
Wither’s guilt over killing his father catches up with him after he’s arrested for his murder, even though it was an accidental death. His mental anguish is further agitated after he believes that his powers have been cured after being duped by drugs supplied by the Kingmaker. He reaches for the hand of fellow mutant Laurie Collins, only to watch her flesh turn corpse-like (he stops soon enough before his necrotic abilities extend beyond her wrist). The incident makes him even more of an outsider than he was before.
4. Raven – Demonic Energy Capable of Destroying Reality Itself
The daughter of the demon Trigon and a human mother, Raven (real name Rachel Roth) is one of the most powerful heroes in the DCU, although she attained the powers through tragedy. Born after Trigon sexually assaulted and impregnated her mother, Raven grew up living in an alternate dimension, where she learned to suppress her emotions to better control her demonic abilities. Learning this skill was crucial, for when she endures emotional distress, she falls prey to being possessed by Trigon’s energy flowing through her veins.
This is easier said than done, however. Raven is also an empath, and she can be weakened and plagued by the emotional anguish she absorbs from others. She can control time, energy, and emotions. She also has the ability to hypnotize, with occasional splashes of precognition, telekinesis, and even the power to manipulate darkness itself. This host of powers could be too much for anyone to master, and while Raven has fought for the side of good alongside the Teen Titans and other members of the DCU, her occasional lapses into evil make her just as much of a threat to humanity as it does a potential savior.
3. Jean Grey aka Dark Phoenix – Life Force Control
The Dark Phoenix saga is perhaps the most iconic arc in the history of X-Men comics for good reason. It sees the ascension of psionic mutant Jean Grey (originally known as Marvel Girl) from troubled hero to galactic mass murderer.
After saving her fellow X-Men from a space mission, Grey is exposed to fatal levels of radiation. She refuses to die, however, and channels her telekinetic and telepathic powers to heal her body, becoming even more powerful in the process. She takes the new name Phoenix, a fitting description given her metamorphosis. This change comes with new abilities, including the power to warp time and reality, and even control life itself.
Sadly, her survival brings only tragedy after her powers begin corrupting her personality, resulting in a new persona altogether: the Dark Phoenix. Her destructive powers result in the destruction of a far off galaxy’s solar system.
The guilt from her actions proves to be too much for her to bear. To spare anyone else from her murderous wrath, Grey commits suicide. (This being a Marvel character, however, she’s been resurrected many times over.)
2. Pariah – Teleports Into Tragedies
The biggest sad-sack in the DCU, Kell Mossa was a genius scientist on a parallel Earth (or alternate dimension, if you’re going the retcon route). His quest to view the creation of the universe takes a perilous turn after The Anti-Monitor hijacks Mossa’s experiment for his own ends, namely destroying planets with anti-matter (during the iconic 1985 DC Comics maxi-series Crisis On Infinite Earths).
While Mossa’s planet is destroyed, he survives and becomes Pariah, cursed with the uncontrollable power of teleporting onto other parallel Earths just in time to watch the inhabitants die and their planet be completely destroyed at the Anti-Monitor’s hands.
While Pariah’s other powers, including immortality and being impervious from harm, sound great on paper, it sentences him to an endless life of agony, witnessing only death and destruction. Even after he was eventually murdered by Alexander Luthor (during Villains United), he was still resurrected to be put though more misery. He’s probably not a fun guy to hang out with.
1. Teenage Mutant – Involuntarily Incinerates Everyone Around Him
As we’ve seen throughout this list, Marvel’s X-Men has often been a series mired in tragedy. The plight of mutants, who gain bizarre powers without the ability to control them, has led to many storylines revolving around the pain and danger they pose to themselves and others.
But nothing compares to the unnamed teenage mutant in Ultimate X-Men# 41. The boy wakes up on a day like any other, heading off to school to meet up with his classmates. After briefly speaking to his girlfriend in the schoolyard, the entire student body (save for him) is suddenly reduced to total ash. He soon learns the unthinkable: puberty has unleashed his own mutant ability, namely the uncontrollable power to incinerate anyone near him. This results in the tragic death of no fewer than 265 people, including his entire family.
In most X-Men tales, this is when Professor X shows up to give the teen solace and tell him that he can help him hone his powers and no longer be a threat to others. Not this time. Instead, Wolverine shows up to put the guilt-wracked teen out of his misery. A dark end to an already tragic storyline, we think it’s safe to say that this is the one superpower no one would ever want.
What disturbing superpowers would you add to the list? Which of these abilities would you willingly take on? Tell us in the comments!
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