The heroes of the Marvel and DC Comics universes have been protecting the world from the forces of evil for decades now – and it never gets any easier. Whether they’re confronting mad scientists, alien invaders, or something even worse, these dedicated guys and gals need to draw upon every superpower at their disposal in order to save the day.
Or do they? Lately, we’ve started to notice that many of our favorite costumed adventurers have a baffling tendency not to cut loose with their full power-set. It’s almost as if they forget they can even do these things – which is kinda crazy, especially considering how powerful some of the abilities in question are.
True, sometimes readers are provided with an in-universe explanation that clarifies exactly why a superhero opts not to employ a specific skill capable of resolving their current predicament. But more often than not, we’re not really presented with any rationale at all – which doesn’t exactly reflect well on our supposedly hyper-competent champions.
Of course, the real world excuse for these random instances of amnesia or ineptitude is that it simply boils down to storytelling. As a writer, it can be a real challenge to create dramatic tension when your protagonists are theoretically capable of overcoming any threat without really breaking a sweat. The easiest solution is to subtly dial back their power levels – and that extends to intentionally ignoring their more effective, lesser known talents.
Regardless of why it happens, this is an undeniable phenomenon – as this list of 30 Superpowers Marvel And DC Heroes Have (But Won’t Use For Some Reason) makes abundantly clear!
30 Offensive Portal Creation (Doctor Strange)
We know what you’re thinking: Doctor Strange conjures up magic portals all the time, both in the comics and on the big screen. It’s true that the Master of the Mystic Arts does rely heavily on this particular branch of spellcraft – what we’re pointing out in this entry is that he tends to overlook what else it’s capable of.
Sure, portals are a great way to get around (who doesn’t want to zip from A to C without bothering with B?). But they can also be used offensively, and if Strange had remembered that, he’d have used one to slice off Thanos’ Infinity Guantley-clad arm at the elbow in Avengers: Infinity War!
29 Super Hearing (Superman)
Superman is arguably the greatest superhero of them all (and undoubtedly the most influential) – but as the several entries devoted to him on this list illustrate, he can be a real pain to write. Take super hearing: the way this power is traditionally depicted across all media, it means that the Man of Steel is capable of detecting precise sounds all over the globe.
So really, it should be impossible to attack or plot against Superman – or any other Kryptonian, for that matter – since he’s never technically out of earshot. That’s probably why his super hearing tends to drop in and out, to allow writers to craft scenarios where he might actually be in danger!
28 Super-Laser (Iron Man)
Tony Stark may not have any powers – unless you count being a super-genius – but suited up as Iron Man, he packs at least as much firepower as his superhuman peers. One of the more impressive weapons in Shellhead’s arsenal is the ultra-intense red laser he can unleash from the back of either armored hand in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon.
Funnily enough, though, Iron Man seems to use his super-laser at full power sparingly, in deference to it’s “one and done” shelf-life. However, it feels like a perpetual tinkerer like Tony would have increased the super-laser’s shelf-life by now, and we can’t comprehend why we haven’t seen him use it against the likes of Thanos!
27 Fast Thinking (The Flash)
As the Fastest Man Alive, The Flash’s whole deal is that he’s super-humanly quick on his feet – and we don’t just mean this literally, either. The Scarlet Speedster’s thought processes are lightning quick as well, due to both his meta-human physiology, as well as the extra amount of time he has to puzzle things out.
But this isn’t something you would necessarily pick up on if you’re a casual Flash fan – especially if your only exposure to the character is his popular CW television series. Here, our hero is frequently outwitted by his malevolent rivals, the Rogues, despite his supposedly superior brainpower.
26 Enhanced Eye Sight (Captain America)
As a result of the Super-Soldier serum that courses through his veins, Captain America represents the pinnacle of humanity’s physical potential. This manifests itself in several ways, and while some are rather obvious – he’s faster, stronger and tougher than pretty much any other human on the planet – others are more understated.
Take Cap’s senses, which operate at the peak end of the spectrum. Most notably, this includes his eyesight, which is unbelievably sharp. You’d expect him to rely on this pretty heavily, but amazingly, the perfect peepers of Marvel’s ultimate soldier are rarely commented on, in the comics or the MCU!
25 Faster Than Light Travel (Starfire)
Starfire hails from Tamaran, and like all natives of that distant world, she’s blessed with a variety of awe-inspiring abilities. Of these, perhaps the coolest is her ability to fly really fast – like “faster than the speed of light” fast.
Not only does this allow her to link up with her Teen Titans pals almost instantaneously, but she’s able to zip between solar systems in minutes! Or at least, she can in the comic books – the version of Starfire that appears in both live-action and animated adaptations never even approaches her established top speed.
24 Mind Control (Scarlet Witch)
While the comics incarnation of Scarlet Witch primarily relies upon reshaping reality, manipulating probability and good ol’ fashioned magic to fight the good fight, the MCU version is different. Although her power-set is broadly similar – telekinesis is used as a substitute for many of her basic abilities, such as flight and energy blasts – on the big screen, Wanda also excels at mind control.
Indeed, this was the villainess-turned-heroine’s favorite party trick when she made her MCU debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since then, Scarlet Witch hasn’t really called upon her telepathic skills – which is bizarre, considering it could have successfully defused multiple high-stakes situations!
23 Psychic Abilities (Beast Boy)
It’s fair to say that Beast Boy has a lot going on: he’s a green-skinned shapeshifter who can assume the form of any animal. This makes him the most versatile member of the Teen Titans, as he can assume the form of anything from a lumbering rhino to a microscopic organism, depending on what the current mission demands.
Yet in addition to his incredible metamorphic gifts, Beast Boy also happens to be a psychic – or at least, he’s shown an aptitude in that area. In a mid-80s issue of Tales of the Teen Titans, it was strongly implied that our guy had latent mental abilities, although this has never been addressed again!
22 All-Tongue (Thor)
When you think of Marvel Comics powerhouse Thor, the first word to pop into your head probably isn’t “master linguist.” After all, whether it’s on the page or the silver screen, the God of Thunder is best known for his titanic strength and ability to channel lightning, rather than his conversational prowess.
Nevertheless, one of Thor’s many divine skills is known as “all-tongue,” which enables him to speak any language in the universe. Although comics readers have seen the Odinson put this talent to good use, it’s not something his MCU counterpart has tried – he never once responds in kind to “I am Groot,” for one thing – and possibly not even something he’s capable of!
21 Martian Vision (Martian Manhunter)
Strange visitor from another planet, blessed with abilities far beyond those of humankind, and utterly devoted to protecting his adopted home-world – must be Superman, right? Wrong: we’re actually referring to the Martian Manhunter, although this just serves to highlight how similar both characters are in many ways.
That’s probably why the creative team behind the Justice League animated series decided not to ever feature J’onn J’onzz cutting loose with his Martian Vision. Given Superman already had optical abilities like Heat Vision and X-Ray Vision, it was smarter to focus on the Manhunter’s unique telepathic and shapeshifting powers, instead.
20 Memory Absorption (Rogue)
The continued success of the X-Men film franchise means that even the most casual viewers should be familiar with each core character’s mutant powers. This includes Rogue – since this Southern Belle played a prominent role in the first three movies, everybody knows that she’s able to absorb someone else’s powers and life force by touching them.
What they might not know – because its something the filmmakers have largely overlooked – is that Rogue also steals a person’s memories when she makes contact with them. It’s an ability you’d think she’d make more use of, especially when Professor Xavier’s telepathic skills aren’t available!
19 Talking To Animals (Wonder Woman)
You need to be an especially amazing individual to earn the name “Wonder Woman” – as spotlighted by the list of superpowers attributed to DC’s flagship female super-heroine. Setting aside her enchanted weapons and armor, Wonder Woman is still a force to be reckoned with, owing to her superhuman strength, speed and durability.
Over the years, this Amazonian warrior princess has taken a leaf out of Doctor Dolittle’s book and conversed with animals, recruiting them as allies. It’s a useful talent Wonder Woman has employed both in the comics as well as her self-titled TV series starring Lynda Carter – but for whatever reason, lately she seems to have dropped it from her playbook!
18 Astral Sight (The Hulk)
Hulk smashes things – that’s literally his entire deal, and thanks to his nigh-unlimited, rage-fueled super strength, he does it very, very well. However, the Green Goliath is actually capable of performing noteworthy feats unrelated to wanton destruction. For example, Hulk is able to perceive the astral plane – the mystical realm frequented by otherworldly heroes and villains like Doctor Strange and Dormammu – unaided.
Disappointingly, this is a gift that Hulk seldom does anything with – on the contrary, it usually only factors in when he finds himself under supernatural attack. But wouldn’t it be cool to see the Jade Giant (and his meek alter-ego, Bruce Banner) indulge in a spot of cosmic adventuring now and then?
17 Complex Hard-Light Constructs (Green Lantern)
It’s widely accepted that the power ring – the signature weapon of the Green Lantern Corps – is the most powerful object in the entire DC Universe. That’s because it’s fueled by the wearer’s willpower and limited only by their imagination, which means it’s theoretically capable of doing anything.
Apparently, the version of John Stewart who appears in the Justice League animated series never got that memo – at least, if his ring-slinging is anything to go by. Unlike the complex three-dimensional constructs conjured up by Green Lanterns in the comics (or even the terrible Ryan Reynolds film,) the best John can muster in the TV show is ray beams, bubbles and ultra-basic shapes, which is pretty pathetic!
16 Invisibility (Nightcrawler)
Poor Nightcrawler: more than most mutants, the genetics that set him apart for regular humans represent a decidedly mixed bag. On the one hand, the dude can teleport, which is a fantastic power to be blessed with. On the other hand, he’s been covered in blue fur since birth, and also rocks horns, a tail, and hands and feet with only three digits a piece.
Somewhere in the middle of this “good/bad” mutation spectrum lies Nightcrawler’s vanishing power – something even the swashbuckling X-Man himself often forgets about! This allows him to disappear whilst in the shadows, and is a trait that should make him a natural choice when the team needs to run covert missions!
15 Alien-Specific Mind Control (Aquaman)
Aquaman is (in)famously able to talk to fish – or rather, for being able to compel sea life to do his bidding via telepathy. Although it’s a power that’s been unfairly mocked over the years (be honest: who wouldn’t want their own pet shark or giant squid), that’s mostly because its wider applications are often dismissed.
Need an example? Well, Aquaman’s influence over nautical lifeforms doesn’t end with the residents of Sea World – it includes anyone whose biology includes traces of marine ancestry. So whenever he’s faced with an alien opponent who ticks this box, he can shut them down in seconds flat. It’s something critics – and Aquaman himself! – should bear in mind more often.
14 Self-Immolation (Luke Cage)
Unsurprisingly, there tends to be a fair amount of overlap between having an interest in comic books and a fascination with science. This in turn has led fans to speculate over the hypothetical ways in which superheroes could use their powers, based off what we know about actual, real-world physics.
This is why more than a few online commentators have pointed out that Luke Cage – whose bulletproof skin is immune to fire – should be able to set himself alight. All he’d need to do is to create sufficient friction, and he’d be making like the Human Torch. Which begs the question: why doesn’t he? Maybe he’s worried about controlling the ensuing blaze!
13 Precognition (Raven)
Raven is a half-human/half-demon hybrid, which grants her numerous mystical skills, such as telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, and other magical gifts of varying degrees of spookiness. Combined, these abilities make this Teen Titan a valuable ally and a dangerous enemy – and she’s not even reached her full potential yet.
That won’t happen until Raven has properly honed her precognitive talents, which currently surface inconsistently and outside of her direct control. After all, being able to predict the future is only a worthwhile power when it can be done reliably and at will – so she really needs to remember to practice!
12 Spider Manipulation (Spider-Man)
In the wake of the “Avengers Disassembled” story arc – which had wide-ranging consequences for the entire Marvel Universe – Spider-Man acquired a brand new superpower. Now, he wasn’t merely able to mimic the abilities of an arachnid: he was able to control the eight-legged beasties themselves, too.
In much the same way that Ant-Man can bend ants to his will, everybody’s favorite wall-crawler is able to manipulate nearby spiders to assist him in his crime-fighting endeavors. It’s not a bad gimmick to fall back on, however Spidey pretty much never does, no matter how tight a corner he finds himself in!
11 Astral Projection (Batman)
A big part of Batman’s appeal is that he’s portrayed as an ordinary human – or as ordinary as a human who happens to be an Olympic-level athlete, bonafide genius and billionaire playboy can be, anyway. Despite this, the Dark Knight has occasionally augmented his existing skill set with superhuman talents, like when he demonstrated a knack for astral projection in the Brave and the Bold cartoon.
In the episode “Dawn of the Dead Man!,” Batman is shown crossing over into the spirit world just by meditating. Given how often he’s confronted by supernatural foes in the comics, it’s a bit strange we’ve never seen him resort to astral projection there, as well.
10 Sleep Induction (Magneto)
Magneto deserves kudos for being a character who regularly utilizes his powers inventively, yielding results that range from highly destructive to commendably low-key. An instance of the latter is seen in the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline, when a heroic version of the Master of Magnetism sends Bishop to sleep by altering the mineral composition in his blood stream.
It’s an incredibly effective yet non-violent response to a dangerous situation – and something Magneto’s mainstream counterpart should probably try out, regardless of whether he’s fighting on the side of the angels or not!
9 Time Travel (Superman)
As discussed already, Superman is one of the most powerful superheroes on the block – but exactly how powerful he is has fluctuated over the years, in response to changes to DC’s continuity. Still, at various points in his history, the Last Son of Krypton has been capable of flying faster than the speed of light, facilitating time travel.
So (canon-willing), you’d think Superman would take advantage of this more often than he does. But for whatever reason – perhaps due to an understandable fear of the inherent dangers posed by meddling about with the time stream (or writers keen to avoid telling peril-free stories) – the Man of Steel seldom hits the reset button when disaster strikes!
8 Omniscience (Heimdall)
Like all Asgardians, Heimdall is blessed with his own unique gifts, separate to those shared by all his fellow Gods. Specifically, he can see (and hear) everything that transpires across the Nine Realms of the Marvel Universe – right down the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings.
So how come Heimdall is caught off guard so often? Seriously: there are so many times when this supposedly omniscient watchman fails in his sentry duties – although admittedly, external forces are often shown magically circumventing his senses when this happens. All the same, either Heimdall’s sight and hearing are vastly overrated, or he just isn’t paying enough attention sometimes!
7 Reality Altering Screams (Tyroc)
The Legion of Superheroes has boasted an eclectic roster over the years, with teenaged adventurers like Bouncing Boy, Chlorophyll Kid and Matter-Eater Lad counting among their number. But while super elasticity, plant cultivation and the ability to eat anything are insanely off-the-wall powers, we’d argue that Tyroc has them all beat.
After all, what could be goofier than being able to warp the fabric of time and space by screaming? It seems that DC Comics agrees with this assessment, as in his subsequent appearances, Tyroc’s vocal cords have only been used to create waves of sonic energy (à la Black Canary), which seems like a waste of his talents!
6 Animal Senses (Wolverine)
Wolverine is renowned for being the best there is at what he does, and that reputation relies upon him leveraging all of his mutant powers. But while Logan has consistently put his healing factor and claws to fantastic use in the four and a half decades since his debut, the same can’t be said for his animal senses.
True, Wolverine does use his heightened sense of smell, ability to see in the dark and acute hearing to good effect from time to time. But these genetic traits should make him virtually impossible to either deceive or blindside – so how come both of these things still happen with alarming regularity?
5 Super Breath (Wonder Woman)
We’ve already covered Wonder Woman’s abandoned ability to hold two-way conversations with animals, but there are even more powers that she hasn’t made use of in a while, as well. As you might expect, many of these are linked to Diana’s superhuman physiology.
For instance, her unearthly lung capacity doesn’t just provide her with next-level stamina – it allows her to blow evildoers away by exhaling gale force winds in their direction. Despite this, Wonder Woman next to never resorts to doing this for some reason, perhaps content to leave the super breath-related shenanigans to her Justice League teammate, Superman.
4 Pleasure Induction (Emma Frost)
Emma Frost may be able to assume an organic diamond form, but that’s only her secondary mutation; her main shtick is telepathy, and she’s a world class practitioner of the skill. It was these mental powers that allowed her to effortlessly subdue an angry mob in the New X-Men comic book series, simply by overstimulating the pleasure centers in their brains.
Sure, it’s a humiliating (and morally dubious) stunt, but probably one she should pull more often. Indeed, we’re willing to bet that a pragmatist like Emma can surely see the benefit in neutralizing a very real threat without anyone getting hurt – even if it is a little icky.
3 Gravity Manipulation (Superman)
The third and final entry dedicated to Superman on this list, this time concerned with the Man of Tomorrow’s gravity manipulation powers. See, when the Superman titles were relaunched in the mid-'80s, our hero’s super strength was partially chalked up to him subconsciously modifying the gravitational field around him.
As well as explaining how Superman could fly without any visible means of propulsion, this also clarified how he could do things like lift an ocean liner overhead without it breaking in two. Several more reboots down the line, we’re not 100% certain if the current incarnation of Metropolis Marvel has retained these gravity-altering abilities, but if he has, he really needs to develop them further.
2 Spider-Sense (Spider-Man)
We’ll be honest: we kinda understand how Spider-Man could forget about the spider-controlling powers we mentioned earlier – it is a relatively recent addition to his power-set. But we’re clueless when it comes to why the webslinger doesn’t use his long-standing spider-sense to the fullest.
This super-charged biological threat detection system should enable Spidey to dodge 90% (or more) of the attacks that come his way, yet he still cops more than his share of licks. However, now that we think of it, while web-head's spider-sense has made for some memorable moments in both comics and other media, it does render him borderline invincible – so it’s likely writers (not Spider-Man himself) who downplay this ability!
1 Unlimited Reality Alteration (Zatanna)
Zatanna poses a real problem for modern comic book scribes, as technically, her powers have no upper limit. As long as she’s able to describe aloud whatever she wants to happen – only with the words spoken back to front – then she can make it real. So all she needs to do is say “Dieskrad si detaefed” and even a heavyweight villain like Darkseid will find himself down for the count.
As such, this talented magician is basically a walking deus ex machina, capable of resolving any plot point with a few words muttered in reverse – which doesn’t make for the most exciting storytelling. This would explain why most writers have an aversion to showcasing Zatanna’s unfettered spell-casting skill.
What are some other superpowers Marvel and DC heroes have but won’t use? Let us know in the comments!