Not everyone can be Superman. Heck, not everyone can be Falcon. Sometimes superheroes have to make do with some truly terrible, unhelpful powers, whether they were god-given, cobbled together in their garage, or exploded all over them while they were just trying to pick up a paycheck.
Of course, having laughable superpowers doesn’t mean that they’re not good people or that they don’t try their hardest to help the world anyway. It just means that you’re probably not going to see any of these heroes on any kids’ lunchboxes anytime soon.
For the purposes of this list, we’re trying to stick with characters who had extended runs, not just one-offs purposely intended to be stupid. (Sorry, Arm-Fall-Off Boy.) Obviously, we’re also going to stick to heroes; villains with useless superpowers is a list for another time.
Lastly, we’re counting superpowers as anything the hero supposedly does better than the normal citizens; whatever gimmick they’ve hitched their cape to, whether it’s a mutant ability, a latent talent, or a science cocktail that gives them superhuman abilities.
Again, we're not saying that these aren't good comic book characters, just that, across the playgrounds and diners of America, wherever folks are spit-balling about the best superpowers to have, the abilities of these guys and gals are way at the bottom of the list.
Here are the 16 Comic Book Heroes With The Most Useless Powers.
16 Green Arrow and Hawkeye
Clint Barton and Oliver Queen are, respectfully, just a pair of regular guys. They’re both exceptional archers and pretty good in a fistfight, but, at the end of the day, they have an upper limit. They may be in peak physical condition for humans, but that doesn’t count for much, given that they pal around with gods and gamma-irradiated rage monsters.
More to the point, their choice of weapon was outdated over a hundred years ago. At least the Punisher has the (arguably) good sense to use guns: you can carry a lot more bullets than you can arrows, and they’ll do a lot more damage. Heck, Clint’s best comics’ run was when he was arguing with mobsters and hanging out with Pizza Dog.
Similarly, Green Arrow is at his Green Arrowiest when he’s arguing with the Justice League, acting as a voice of reason and fighting for the little guy. He’s basically Bernie Sanders with a bow and arrow.
To be fair, though, they both survive well into dystopian futures (Old Man Logan and The Dark Knight Returns, respectively) so maybe we’re missing something here.
As a reformed villain and staple of the Defenders for a good chunk of their original run, Nighthawk is a highly-trained natural athlete, with the added bonus of having enhanced strength – but only at night, and only a little.
Born Kyle Richmond, Nighthawk is basically a low-rent Batman rip-off: he was born rich, his parents died, he got richer, he trained himself in martial arts, he has a lot of gadgets, and he only goes out at night. The key difference is that Nighthawk has slightly more strength once the sun goes down, thanks to an alchemical accident.
You see, bereft at the loss of his parents, Kyle got drunk and started reading ancient alchemy textbooks, as one does. Then he got drunker, screwed up a potion he found in the book, and, poof, sometimes he’s a little bit stronger than other times.
14 The Great Lakes Avengers
We’ve mentioned before that the Great Lakes Avengers were created as a parody, but, over the years, they’ve grown into fan favorites, headlining their own books a couple of times. This doesn’t mean their powers aren’t terrible, though.
Doorman is a teleporter who can only send people to the other side of something he’s touching, i.e. the next room. Flatman is a two-dimensional Mr. Fantastic, only not nearly as powerful or smart. Grasshopper can jump pretty high. Mr. Immortal is immortal... and that’s it. He doesn’t have a healing factor or any other powers, which means he finds himself getting tortured or beaten up a lot.
Even Squirrel Girl is kind of atrocious on paper: she can chew through wood and talk with squirrels. Who greenlit that? How is she so popular? Is Ryan North a wizard?
13 The Thunderer
Jerry Carstairs (Seriously? Carstairs?) was a ham radio operator during World War II, and, like many other red-blooded Americans, Jerry decided that he needed to go and punch him some Nazis. Only, in this case, by “punch” we mean “scream kind of loudly at.” And by “Nazis,” we mean “Nazi propagandists," because Jerry’s job at the FCC wouldn’t let him leave the United States.
Like a cut-rate Banshee or Black Canary, Jerry threw on a hood and a cape and began calling himself The Thunderer, fighting evil with the power of sound. Not a lot of sound, mind you, as The Thunderer’s powers came from a speaker system underneath his costume, allowing him to disorient his foes with amplified shouting and static feedback.
Ultimately, The Thunderer proved woefully ineffective as a superhero, dying at the hands of the Red Skull in 1942. Though he was brought back to life, his mind was erased, and thus The Thunderer missed out on both the end of the war and Timely Comics turning into Marvel Comics. Tough break, man.
12 U.S. 1 and Razorback
For some reason, there’s more than one superpowered truck driver in the Marvel universe, but, because of many different reasons, they’re both kind of terrible.
U.S. 1 is the alter ego of Ulysses Archer, a truck driver who finds himself in an experimental surgery after an accident, the end result of which is that he can now pick up radio transmissions with his brain. Unsurprisingly, this was a terrible superpower, and even his weaponized rig couldn’t save his comic from being cancelled.
Before this could happen, though, the U.S. 1 writers got desperate and hurled Ulysses and his favorite truck stop into space, forcing his girlfriend to team up with Razorback to try and find him.
Razorback was another, already-established superhero truck driver, with the mutant ability to expertly pilot any vehicle he stumbled across, including spaceships-- how very convenient.
Razorback went on to team up with Spider-Man at one point, while U.S. 1 apparently kept on trucking, even as he applied to be Danielle Cage's nanny in New Avengers #7.
Phil Grayfield was a football player who grievously injured his knee saving a small girl, gave up on sports, became a “journalist,” and then got assaulted by thieves while interviewing a scientist-slash-NFL-memorabilia collector.
In the ensuing chaos, Phil was doused with chemicals and became almost invulnerable, then grabbed the professor’s prototype armor to become... double-almost-invulnerable?
Calling himself SuperPro, Phil went on to solve a number of NFL-related crimes over the course of twelve issues, before Marvel presumably decided that creator Fabian Nicieza didn’t need free NFL tickets that badly and cancelled the series.
Before the book was retired, though, it managed to grace the world with one last insult: The Happy Campers, a “super” team with characters such as Girth (who has an invulnerable beer belly) and The Almighty Dollar (a rich guy who shoots pennies from his hands). Even NFL SuperPro had the good sense to give up on them after one issue, and that’s saying something.
Doug Ramsey was just a regular teenager until one day he awoke to find himself cursed with the mutant ability to... speak and understand any language. Not knowing what else to do, Doug joined the New Mutants and took the name Cypher-- because apparently working for the United Nations wasn’t an option.
In the real world, the ability to speak any language would actually have a ton of useful applications. In the X-universe, however, it was extremely pointless, like “Cypher was always hiding behind trees and the artists hated drawing him” dumb.
Fans weren’t too keen on him either, and constantly wrote in asking for the character to be killed, which he was, in what ultimately proved to be an incredibly touching death.
In fact, in death Cypher proved to be more popular than he ever was in life, which resulted with him being brought back, now with the upgraded skill set of being good at computers and knowing how to read architectural weaknesses. We guess that’s somewhat better? At any rate, no one’s asking for him to be murdered anymore.
9 Maggott and Matter-Eater Lad
Maggott is a South African mutant who has two slugs instead of a normal digestive system (gross). On the plus side, the slugs can leave Maggott’s body, eat anything, and then imbue him with extra size, stamina, and speed once they crawl back and merge with his body again.
So, this is kind of a helpful power, if overly specific, limited, and prone to interruption by any bad guy worth his salt. Because of this, Maggott ends up out of the action most of the time, which is a definite drawback to being a superhero.
Matter-Eater Lad, likewise, suffers from writers who never know what to do with him. As an alien from the planet Bismoll, Matter-Eater Lad has the ability to... eat matter. And he’s a lad.
While he occasionally chews the Legion of Super-Heroes out of a tough spot, Matter-Eater Lad is mostly written out of stories and sent back to Bismoll on political business, because the writers are sick of coming up with contrived ways to make him useful.
8 Dazzler and Jubilee
Dazzler is a disco superstar with the ability to convert sound vibrations into light, thus creating her own laser light shows. For reasons we’ll get to in a moment, she debuted in 1980, years after disco peaked, and in the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga-- the story of Jean Grey’s gripping descent into madness and interstellar genocide.
You see, Dazzler was a collaboration between Marvel and Casablanca Records, as an attempt to cross-promote a character between comics and music, like KISS was doing during the ‘70s. They couldn’t agree on specifics, however, and Dazzler was placed on the backburner – at least until Marvel said “screw it” and went ahead with the “disco queen” concept anyway.
Dazzler proved more popular than expected and, trying to recapitalize on the power of light, the world was given Jubilee, an X-Men mutant with the ability to create colorful bursts of light that can blind and disorient enemies.
Over the years, her powers have been ramped up, slowly going from “light show” to “bottle rockets” to “she could probably create an atomic explosion if she wanted.” Sadly, before that claim could be tested, Jubilee was depowered, then turned into a vampire, because comics are amazing.
7 The Legion of Substitute Heroes
The Legion of Substitute Heroes is a team of heroes of questionable abilities, all of whom auditioned for the Legion of Super-Heroes and were found wanting, which is actually kind of insulting, given that the Legion includes guys like Bouncing Boy, Triplicate Girl, and the aforementioned Matter-Eater Lad.
So, who couldn’t make it over that low bar? Stone Boy, an alien with ability to turn his body to stone, but not the ability to move while in stone form. Antennae Lad, who can tune into any broadcast from any time, but only at random. Chlorophyll Kid, with the ability to stimulate plant growth. Night Girl, who possesses the strength of Superman, but only as long as it’s pitch black. As well as many others.
Despite being walking jokes who were seemingly designed to be terrible, the Legion of Substitute Heroes has been kicking around for over fifty years, somehow surviving Infinite Crisis and Zero Hour. Even Supergirl couldn’t do this.
6 The Whizzer
After being injected with the blood of a mongoose – and not a radioactive one, either – Robert Frank gained the powers of super speed, but only up to a point. Robert tops out at one hundred miles per hours, making him decidedly slower than a speeding bullet, or a car. He wouldn’t even beat most trains in a race. He’s a little over three times as fast as Usain Bolt. That’s what we’re dealing with here.
But, hey, maybe you want a superhero who’s only kind of fast. Maybe you can only afford to pick from the discount bin of speedsters. Times are tough, we get that. However, even then, the Whizzer’s not doing himself any favors.
For starters, his name is the Whizzer and he wears a bright yellow costume. Both of those are bad ideas on their own, but together? If that's not bad enough, he’s a depressive alcoholic who suffers from chronic heart attacks. We feel for you, Robert, but nothing about you spells "dependable crime-stopper."
5 Zan (of the Wonder Twins)
The Wonder Twins get a bad rap. Well, Jayna does, anyway. Zan, on the other hand...
As aliens from the planet Exxor, Jayna and Zan are twins with the ability to shapeshift when they fist-bump and shout "Wonder Twin powers activate!"
Jayna, much like Beast Boy, is able to change into any animal in existence: alive, extinct, or even mythological. She once turned into a winged Kryptonian Tanthou Flez, then used the power of Earth’s sun to overpower Superman.
Zan, meanwhile, can turn into water. In their original run on Super Friends, this mostly manifested as a puddle or a bucket, as the Twins were used more as comic relief than anything. Once they were adopted by the comics proper, Zan’s arsenal was improved somewhat, though he’s still always limited in scope.
Sure, he can turn into a disorienting mist, or a thunderstorm, but they’re short-lived events and don’t take up much space. Honestly, this might have even been all right if he wasn’t required to be within arm’s reach of a lady who can turn into a dinosaur. He’s always going to look pathetic compared to that.
4 Doll Man
Pre-dating the more successful heroes of The Atom and Ant-Man, Doll Man was possibly the first shrinking superhero, debuting under the Quality Comics banner way back in 1939. Unfortunately, in this case, first doesn’t mean best.
Much like his DC and Marvel descendants, Darrel Dane was a scientist who concocted a way to shrink himself. Unlike the other two shrinkable heroes, however, Darrel could only shrink himself down to six inches in height, and he retained his normal strength along the way. Nonetheless, Darrel got himself a costume and started calling himself Doll Man.
Several other heroes have taken up the title over the years, but the six inches and normal human strength qualifiers still remain. Later Doll Men have been given minor telekinetic abilities, but it appears to be a case of too little, too late.
3 The Question
The Question’s run on the Justice League Unlimited animated series was amazing, his (or her, if you're talking about Renee Montoya) comics are stellar, and we are in no way implying that he’s not a great character. However, as a superhero what’re his powers? Advanced paranoia?
Back in the late 1960s, a pair of scientists created a substance called Pseudoderm, which was meant to be a skin-like bandage applied via a bonding gas. The only problem was that the gas was highly toxic, but this didn’t keep one of the scientists from trying to sell it anyway.
Investigative reporter Vic Sage got wind of the deal and decided to stop it, applying the Pseudoderm to his own face and becoming the Question. Using the powers of false identity, and not being afraid to drown criminals in the sewer, he stopped the sale and went on to fight other criminals.
The Question is basically the Spirit, or the Phantom-- a holdover from the pulp heroes of the 1940s. He’s somehow managed to remain popular across two different publishers and roughly fifty years, and he’s saved Superman twice. How? What are your secrets, Question?!
After blackmailing his way onto the New Warriors, Carlton LaFroyge, calling himself Hindsight Lad, went on to have a storied career of continuously telling the team how they could have done things better.
After the New Warriors were kidnapped by the hilariously-named Poison Memories gang, Hindsight Lad talked Night Thrasher into saved them, and was, for some reason, given a full membership on the team as thanks.
Dropping the “Lad” from his name, Hindsight stayed with the team for forty issues, despite the fact that he offered very little in the way of usefulness.
However, Hindsight’s terribleness didn't stop there: during Civil War, after most of the New Warriors were exploded, he created a website that was vehemently against his former teammates, and even outed the secret identities of the surviving members.
He was eventually arrested by She-Hulk, but not until after inciting violence against those same grieving New Warriors. Hindsight was basically the worst parts of the internet made manifest, years before the internet figured out how to do this on its own.
X-Men come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of practicality, from Wolverine to Negasonic Teenage Warhead, to Nightcrawler, and to Beak. While some are born heroes or luck into co-starring in Deadpool, others are poorly devised from the start and then killed off, because, honestly, they’re just too awful.
Skin, unfortunately, is the epitome of the latter. Born Angelo Espinosa, Skin has six extra feet of skin on his body. He can stretch or manipulate this skin, but only this skin, and, again, only six feet of it. He looks like a grey-skinned alien with enormous hands. Skin’s entire ethos could be boiled down to “like Mr. Fantastic, but way worse.”
The greatest indignity of all, though, is that when Skin was grotesquely killed off in Uncanny X-Men, and the writer didn’t even get his name right, calling him Angelo Torres. Then again, Skin was in the failed Generation X pilot, so maybe he was just trying to distance himself.
Do you think there are any heroes here who we underestimated? Or can you think of anyone else that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!