Sunday, March 3, 2013

Your Questions Answered: Which Super Power?

CanadianSimon asks:

I know you've spent a lot of time thinking about this, all comic fans have, if you could have one super power what would it be? How would it be useful in the real world and what would the detriments be. Finally, do you think this absolute power would corrupt you?

For a long, long time I thought the power I'd want, and which I'd still want in a way, is: invulnerability

It sort of started with the idea, when I was living in a 14 story dorm, of getting tired of waiting for the elevator and thinking "man, if I could just pitch myself out the window and get up and walk away, I could save myself a lot of time."  Yes, it would be alarming to everyone on the ground, but those elevators took forever.

Then I began extrapolating all the other stuff I could do even without other standard super powers, like flight or super strength.

Flight would be very cool, but its got limited application.  It's basically a way of getting around that avoids traffic.  Strength is great, but without invulnerability, it seems like you'd be in constant danger putting that strength into practice.  What if you drop the bus on yourself?

But I think with invulnerability, you could actually be fairly useful.  If human frailty were removed, the opportunities seem limitless for ways in which it could be applied, from deep sea explorer to space walker to fireman.  And, if you don't need to worry about getting dinged up, you can also get a rocket pack or whatever, and flight can be an option.

The trick, of course, is that you'd lose empathy for other people who did bleed, and who had to worry about the basics of an existence where harm would end you.  I don't know what it might mean for longevity if your physical shell was impervious to damage, so the problems of remaining healthy and whole while time marches on for everyone else could really take a mental toll.  And, of course, using the power for means that served a benefit to the most people and not just as a party trick to get on TV, nor to be asked to use it for harm.  And, I wouldn't want to wind up assigned permanently to standing next to the President on the off-hand someone starts lobbing bullets at him.

In a lot of ways, it would be necessary to be open and public about the ability in order to find places to use it, and that seems fraught with it's own challenges, such as staffing.

At some point, though, I came upon the decision that if the genie appeared and gave me the opportunity, I'd skip invulnerability and take either the ability to make ill people well.  But that now seems so fraught with abuse, and the potential for exploitation - not to mention, I'm not sure you could live with the guilt of not being everywhere to help everyone once word got out... And the moral implications of who you choose to help. Do you spend all day at the children's hospital, high-fiving sick kids? What if those kids grow up to be jerks? Do you go to prisons and help those people? Maybe you could help them out and make them want to do better on release? It's a lot. I don't think I could handle it.

So now I think the most useful power would be The Reed Richards Brain.  One of my favorite parts of recent Fantastic Four books has been that the writers have understood that Reed wants to apply that brain not just to make neat inventions, but that he's constantly working to improve the conditions of humanity. With the Richards brain, you could approach multiple problems simultaneously, and if you did come up with a cure for Hodgkins Lymphoma, you're not healing an individual with a touch, you've just helped everyone challenged with the disease.

As the comics highlight, it's a lonely existence, and I think that would be the greatest challenge.  Who do you talk to?  Who do you relate to?  Like all powers, isn't it ultimately fairly isolating?  And, like all powers, would you feel the need to be at work?  Would you be unable to enjoy the simpler pleasures of life as you ran subroutines tackling other issues or would you be able to see something new in those pleasures?

I'm not smart enough to answer that question.

I suspect that whether one views it that way or not, the compromises that come with power and responsibility are often beyond the comprehension of even the minds that are in the middle of balancing those things.  No one escapes history unscathed for their decisions or actions.  We hold a mythological view of Christ-like perfection up to our "heroes", and we are disappointed when they fall short.  We see it every time a film is released about an historical figure as our facebook friends come out of the wood work pointing out that Abraham Lincoln didn't really walk on water,  or that MLK Jr. was all too human or whatever.

How can you not be seen as failing if you're not everywhere, all the time with your powers?  What decision would you make that would fail to take in some esoteric factor or have unintended consequences?  If you required money to perform any of the services I described above, what's a comfortable living that isn't going to outrage the masses?

I suspect that there was wisdom in The Dark Knight when Harvey suggested that you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.  It's only after your initial fall that you get the second chance to write a new chapter, and I suspect that's an inevitability.

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