Inspired by the thread on the Flash being bored all the time, let’s explore other superpowers.
Obviously super strength causing unintended damage if it cannot be controlled precisely enough. And you can’t lift anything heavier than what the floor under you can support.
Invisibility can be a curse if it’s permanent.
Or how about growing in size / shrinking in size. Discounting wardrobe malfunctions, if you grow too much your body would be unable to function, i.e. unable to move itself or breathe, etc.
If you shrink, wouldn’t your brain shrink and thus you’d become a moron? If the claim is your total brain cell count is the same, just closer together, would the spacing of your molecules be affected to the point where the strong and weak nuclear forces come into play? Would you become a big fusion or fission reaction?
Does Reed Richards or Elastic Man have similar problems?
How about flight. If I were able to have one super power, flight would be my choice. But you’d always have to wear eye protection from the wind or bugs. Despite being able to fly, imagine the fear you’d have if you’re a few thousand feet and you start thinking about losing your power. If you lose your super strength or laser eyes one afternoon, big deal. You can’t use them any more. But if you lose your flying power when you’re way up in the air, you’re going to leave a mess.
Nightmares would cause lots of problems with potentially destructive powers. It would be quite common for some super to wake up and blast a hole in his bedroom, or tear his bed in half.
The high speed maneuvers you often see high end guys make - moving “faster than a speeding bullet” to dodge or block an attack, or flying at those speeds to the rescue - would cause all sorts of damage thanks to sonic booms.
And the same goes with flipped genders; a man might not even be able to penetrate a superstrong woman. And even if he did, as soon as she gets excited it’s Woman of Steel, Man of Toothpaste.
I’ve always fanwanked it that, at least in the case of Kryptonians, super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, and flight were all different applications of the same ability. I think it’s even canon at this point–“tactile telekinesis.”
Beyond the “fine control” and “supporting surface” issues, use of super strength would be complicated by the fact that most things you’d be lifting or throwing don’t have as much structural strength as is often assumed. You might be able to throw a car a mile, but you’d have to be careful where you lifted it, lest you simply rip off a bumper or fender.
Even then, throwing it wouldn’t be as easy as simply heaving a pillow – you could easily end up just whipping a handful of metal at your foe while the rest of the car dropped at your feet. High-speed airflow might also tend to rip improperly streamlined items apart in flight.
The same goes for people. A rather gory video over in the “Holy Crap” videos thread shows a person hit by a Formula One car at high speed and, shall we say, imparting destructive airborne spin to him.
Yes, but it’s from the John Byrne part of the canon, which everyone except John Byrne completely ignores.
Myself, I’ve often wondered about superheroes who didn’t get the “package deal”. There are a lot of things people think of as individual superpowers, but which are actually a combination of different powers. For instance, suppose you had someone whose muscles were super-strong, but who had normal bones: He’d be strong enough to lift a car, say, but if he tried, he’d break his arms. Though maybe he could get by with a costume which incorporated external steel struts, or the like.
Another one: A super-speedster with merely normal reflexes. He’d do fine on a straightaway dash across level ground, and maybe he could outrun a bullet, but he’d have to already be running when the gun was fired, or he wouldn’t get a chance to start.
Beyond that, if you shrink your legs would be way too big for your new weight - there is a reason insects have very small legs. Even worse, if you grow you’d collapse under your own weight, because your legs would no longer be strong enough to support you. Arthur C. Clarke had a good section on this in Profiles of the Future.
Another problem has just occured to me with superstrength; unless you engage in a rigorous, systematic and superhuman weight training program you’ll wither away, since normal human activity essentially won’t exercise your muscles at all. If you aren’t systematic about the exercise, you’ll end up really weirdly built; twig-like legs and neck and normal looking arms for someone who just bench presses trucks, say. People will call you Popeye.
TV Tropes has a page on that; Required Secondary Powers. Plenty of good examples; like the fact that super speedsters must have some kick of enhanced friction or sticking power to keep from just going in a straight line into the air every time they hit a change in elevation in the road. Running up a hill at extreme superspeed really should launch someone like the Flash into the stratosphere or space.
The Human Top (who later renamed himself “Whirlwind” because it sounded better) had that drawback: he made plenty of money as a professional athlete by just holding back, and supplemented it when zipping away from the cops well enough during a bank robbery or whatever, and could even make pretty good use of hit-and-run tactics against the Avengers – but upon pushing his luck in a prolonged fight would repeatedly wind up getting smacked around by mere athletes like Captain America or even Hank Pym, occasionally with the hero in question explicitly specifying that he (a) couldn’t match the guy’s speed, but (b) sure found his reflexes to be nothing special.
Most of the superpowers under consideration here are essentially magic powers, or so heavily blackboxed as to be indistinguishable from magic, so the question of whether, e.g., the Atom or Ant-Man can keep the same number of brain cells when he shrinks is hardly applicable. “Wizard Did It” hand-waving is essentially part of the concept.
A more realistic-by-comparison perspective can be found in Drakon, by S.M. Stirling. The Homo drakensis, or New Race Draka, are gene-engineered to be superhuman – which means their abilities are limited by physics, chemistry, hominid physiognomy, and the available kit of mammalian DNA. So, they have superstrength, because they have superior muscular efficiency (like a chimpanzee’s, supposedly), and bones with flanges at the muscle attachments for greater leverage; but it’s not Superman-level strength. They have extra-dense bones to make them harder to break, but they’re not (without technological enhancements) invulnerable. They have superior fast-healing ability, but nothing like Wolverine’s. They can detect other peoples’ emotions through acute smell and hearing, and pick up things we subconsciously mutter under our breaths, but they’re not telepaths. Etc. The price of all this – the only price mentioned, at any rate – is that they have to eat an awful lot.