Have you ever wanted to be a superhero? It’d be pretty cool, right? Flying around, kicking butt, living in a secret lair or swanky mansion. It’s a fantasy life, and that’s why it appeals so much to us.
But, in real life, becoming a superhero may be a little more complicated than that. While movies like Kick-Ass and Super have tackled regular joes putting on costumes and trying to be heroes, none have dealt with the reality of trying to become an actual super-powered hero. In most instances, heroes get their powers in freak accidents, exposure to radiation or alien technology, or sometimes even through a deliberate effort. While genetic manipulation may be getting closer to reality, so far it is being developed with the intent to cure or prevent diseases, not build super-soldiers. Hopefully.
What if our favourite heroes had their origins in a universe that obeyed the same rules and principles as our own? Would they become heroes? Or would they die a horrible death, blown to pieces or mutated into something grotesque?
Here are 15 Superhero Origins That Would Definitely Kill You In Real Life.
15 Doctor Manhattan
Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan is the most powerful being in his reality. After being disintegrated in an Intrinsic Field Subtractor, he begins to reconstruct himself, and gains the power of a god in the process. Pressed into serving the nation, he becomes the government’s greatest weapon. In a world without any other super-humans, he is both respected and feared for his limitless power.
In the real world things would be really different. Instead of becoming the post-human god of the Watchmen universe, Dr. Jonathan Osterman would have simply been atomized. No molecular reconstruction, no god-like powers. He’d be dead. There wouldn’t even be much in the way of remains, maybe some dust, but that’s about it.
While the technology that created him is fictional, the physics are very real. Instead of retaining consciousness and pulling his atoms back together, he would have died instantly, probably so fast he wasn’t even aware of what was happening.
While being bitten by a spider is no big thing unless it’s a Funnel Web, Black Widow, or another venomous species along those lines, adding the random factor of radiation does alter the equation a bit. In the comic books, the radioactive spider passes on certain genetic attributes which give 15-year-old Peter Parker aka The Amazing Spider-Man his fantastic gifts. He can walk up walls, has incredible strength, agility, etc.
Being dosed with radiation not always lethal, and Parker may not have received a killer dose. In one story, though, he passed along enough radiation to kill Mary Jane.
In fact, even when taking the highly unlikely premise that an irradiated spider-bite can give you super powers as a possibility, it’s not that which would likely kill you. Spider-Man instantly took to the streets and fought armed criminals and dodged bullets. Even in possession of a spider-sense, it’s impossible for him to have dodged every single bullet.
13 Luke Cage
Luke Cage, possibly the coolest hero around right now thanks to Mike Colter’s perfect portrayal in Netflix’s Luke Cage, is the indestructible tough guy from Harlem with a surprisingly sensitive soul. Wrongfully imprisoned, he becomes a test subject for human experimentation. As a result, he gains unbreakable skin and incredible superhuman strength, and becomes a hero for hire.
The process that gives him his powers is unclear, but it involves immersion in an acid bath which contains a potent mix of chemicals, and is heated to boiling point. Both the comic books and the show indicate that several people have died during these experiments, with the show stating that only Luke could survive the process due to a random factor in his DNA.
In a real-life setting, it’s unlikely anyone would survive such a process, much less be augmented to superhuman levels. It’s more likely that their body would be dissolved by the acid bath, leaving little to experiment on.
The original Firestorm was distinguished by his dual identity as both Ronnie Raymond, a high school student, and Professor Martin Stein a Nobel Prize winning physicist. During a nuclear accident the two were fused together on a molecular level and became a single super-powered being. While the light-hearted adventures of the two mismatched characters was a hit, the reality of their situation would have been very different.
While Firestorm’s primary ability is to rearrange matter, which enables him to survive the separation and reunification of two separate beings, he would never have survived the original circumstances that led to his creation. Not only would the massive blast of radiation caused cancerous tumours to develop almost instantly, but the fusion of the two people would have resulted in instant death.
Far from becoming a nuclear-powered hero, the two bodies would have fallen victim to the basic principle that no two objects can occupy the same space. Far from the comic book outcome, the real life fusion of two people into a single entity would look more like Jeff Goldblum in the last hour of The Fly than anything else. If such a creature survived for more than a few moments, it would have been begging for death.
Deadpool, The Merc with a Mouth, has had his best year ever thanks to his hit movie breaking all kinds of records. Like Luke Cage, Wade Wilson became the subject of experimentation. But unlike Cage, he did so in a desperate attempt to cure his cancer-ridden body. The attempts to kick-start his latent mutation and grafting of a healing factor (derived from Wolverine, in the comics) led to an interaction with the cancer in his system. Far from a super-power, his cancer merely regenerates, destroys itself, and then regenerates once more causing the side effects of an enhanced healing factor as well as speed, strength and agility.
In reality, there is no easy cure for cancer. While some aggressive treatments of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cure some people, there is still no one-size-fits-all pill. The experiments done to Wade would have merely hastened the end, and his body would have broken under the strain, given that it was already so damaged.
Truthfully, Batman’s story began that fateful night in an alleyway when a lone gunman (Joe Chill in some stories) shoots and kills his parents. His origins then take place over many years as he hones his mind and body into the ultimate crime-fighter.
But there’s actual science to suggest that while a person could train to become Batman with enough time and money, they wouldn’t survive long. E Paul Zehr, associate professor of kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria in British Columbia actually wrote a book about the possibility of becoming Batman and concluded that due to his physical conditioning he would likely have developed much stronger bones than the average human. This is common among martial arts practitioners and is pretty much the opposite of osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones.
However, Professor Zehr compared Batman to other top-tier athletes, both fighters and NFL Players, and concluded that Batman would only remain at his peak for about three years. Beyond that, and cumulative effects of his many injuries would slow him down to the point where he would simply not be able to win every fight, and in Gotham losing a fight means dying. So while Batman’s initial origin may not kill you, you certainly wouldn’t survive being Batman for very long.
9 Fantastic Four
Going into space is no easy thing. NASA spends years planning each mission meticulously, with little being left to chance. Food, water, air, even body waste is planned to the ounce. With that in mind, they would never overlook something as significant as cosmic radiation - but that's exactly what Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four did.
According to the comic book cannon, Reed Richards (the smartest man in the world) uses an untested and experimental rocket to fly into space along with his best friend (and ace pilot) Ben Grimm and his Girlfriend Sue and her brother Johnny. Because when trying to win the space race, you of course take a teenage boy with no skills to help the team and your girlfriend. Makes total sense.
Admittedly, there is still a lot we don’t know about space travel. That’s why the International Space Station routinely runs numerous experiments which will aid us in planning space flight in the future.
One thing we have begun to understand is the effects of radiation on the human body. While the cosmic radiation of Fantastic Four comics is fictional, assuming they were exposed to one of the more powerful types of known radiations, they would have returned to earth riddled with cancer.
8 The Flash
Being struck by lightning doesn’t guarantee death by any stretch of the imagination. While many people are killed, a great many survive to tell the tale. In the case of the original Flash, Barry Allen, he was exposed to exotic chemicals at the same time and the combination of the two gave him his incredible speed. In the current The Flash TV show, Barry is exposed to a dark matter explosion from a particle accelerator and a lightning bolt simultaneously, causing the same effect.
While the source of The Flash’s powers is generally considered to be the mysterious Speed Force. Looking at the comic book explanation, it’s unlikely that Barry would have survived the instant mutation of his cells anyway. While the chemicals may not have been fatal on their own, the combination of them and the lightning may well have been enough to stop Barry’s heart, and without immediate medical attention, he may have died long before donning the familiar scarlet body-suit.
Looking to the original Ant-Man’s origins from the comic books, Hank Pym is a scientist who discovers a formula to shrink to the size of an insect. In his first adventure, he is unprepared and is nearly killed by the ants he encounters. Now, assuming that the Ant-Man formula is possible to replicate in the real world, there are several reasons why it’s unlikely that you would survive.
Firstly, at a reduced size breathing becomes a massive issue. Your lungs are adapted to breathe oxygen molecules that are a consistent size. Given the different size of the air, relative to the size of the person, they’d likely either asphyxiate or their lungs would explode due to the pressure.
And if the air itself didn’t kill you, the ants themselves would have. Ants, like humans, are omnivores and eat just about anything. If a tiny person came across them, they’d likely just see it as a food source and munch away.
6 Iron Man
Tony Stark didn’t just dream up the Iron Man armour in his garage, it was invented due to the necessity of needing a way to escape capture from terrorists. Gravely wounded, his heart is damaged by shrapnel and he requires the use of his armours chest-plate (the ARC reactor in the movies) to survive.
His origin would kill you in real life simply due to the initial wound. The shrapnel in his chest, if not instantly fatal, would have become infected very quickly. While Yin-Sen did a decent job of patching up Tony’s wound, the lack of proper medical attention would most likely lead to toxaemia and death within a few days.
The lack of antibiotics, sterile operating equipment, and proper aftercare would ensure that Tony Would have been too weak to build much of anything, even if he did survive. Thus ensuring his death at the hands of his captors after he failed to provide them with weapons.
As we’ve discussed already, radioactive and toxic materials are no joking matter. That’s why there are so many rules and regulations regarding their storage and transportation. When a young Matt Murdock was trying to save the life of an old man crossing the street, he is exposed to a potent mix of chemicals. Hitting him in the face he is instantly blinded, but his other senses become heightened, in particular his hearing becomes akin to sonar and he learns to navigate the world via a radar-sense.
Again, looking at the reality of the situation, getting a dose of radioactive materials to the face would most likely result in death pretty quickly. Even if Matt survived, he’d most likely get cancer as a side effect.
Assuming he survived the initial incident, and the resulting cancer, and he goes on to adopt the role of Daredevil, Matt would die the instant he jumps off his first rooftop. Because y’know, he’s a blind guy jumping off a roof.
4 Captain Atom
Again, on the subject of an experimentation, Captain Atom developed superhuman powers that essentially have no limit. His body was destroyed, but his atoms developed the ability to explode and reform constantly, producing massive amounts of nuclear power.
While his theoretical powers involve tapping into the strong nuclear force, the energy that binds protons and neutrons in the nucleus, allow him to survive, along with a containment suit that prevents those around him being exposed to radiation, in reality, he would not have survived the initial experiment.
Much like Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, who was inspired by Captain Atom, the process that created him blew him apart, atom by atom. So far as modern physics knows, there’s no way for a human being to survive that, much less retain consciousness and re-form a body. What’s more, his containment suit wouldn’t be able to hold back his power. Even a modern nuclear reactor requires massive amounts of shielding to prevent radiation leaks, and they only put out a fraction of his implied power. Being buddies with Captain Atom would most likely give you a lifetime’s supply of radiation poisoning.
3 Captain America
Everyone loves an underdog. And nobody embodies the spirit of an underdog quite like Steve Rogers A.K.A Captain America. The boy from Brooklyn who had a frail body was given a shot at serving his country in World War 2 by a scientist working on a super-soldier serum. He undergoes the procedure and becomes the world’s first super soldier…
Except that, the kind of stress the body would undergo would tear it apart. Before the procedure Steve is a small, underdeveloped man, afterwards, he is over six feet tall and built like a tank. Anyone who has undergone growing pains during puberty will tell you that it can be seriously painful. And that’s at a normal speed. But to grow by almost a foot, and acquire 100 pounds in additional muscle mass almost instantaneously would be excruciating. Not only painful, the procedure alone would cause muscles, tendons, skin, and bone to tear and break under the stress of rapid growth.
Instead of a super soldier, it’s more likely that the result of the experiment would be instant, and very painful, death.
While there’s little bar kryptonite or Doomsday’s fists that can kill Superman due to his Kryptonian heritage, it’s that alien body of his that could prove to have been his undoing.
While humans are given various antibodies by their mother’s in the womb, young Kal-El only inherited immunities to Kryptonian illnesses. Once he arrived on Earth, he was exposed to hundreds of bacterias, viruses, and many other things that humans have evolved to have immunities to. It’s probable that any alien life, Superman included, would be unable to breathe in our environment.
The movie Man Of Steel does touch upon the difficulties involved in breathing an alien atmosphere, it fails to discuss Clark potentially dying when his body is exposed to a flu virus. Assuming Clark has the same immune response as a human, he could have died long before he became the hero of Metropolis.
This has been touched on in HG Wells’ classic sci-fi, The War of the Worlds where the alien invaders devastate the Earth, only to fall victim to the numerous micro-organisms in the air.
The Hulk’s origin from the comics involves genius scientist Bruce Banner developing a weapon for the government. The so-called Gamma Bomb was intended to be much more powerful than the conventional nuclear devices used in reality. While testing his invention, he sees a young man entering the test area and runs to his rescue. He succeeds in saving the young man, Rick Jones, but is caught in the blast himself.
This is where fiction and reality part ways. While Banner survives in the comics, albeit with the curse of becoming the uncontrollable rage monster, the reality is that his proximity to the blast would have left little to no remains of either him or Rick. Even a regular nuclear blast would have killed him instantly, so an enhanced version would have clearly done the same.
Unlike some of the other characters on this list that survived exposure to radiation without developing cancers, Bruce Banner would have died in an instant.