In August, I revealed some of the more obscure superpowers of comic book heroes and villains over the years. The list attracted plenty of comments from people who named other ridiculous superhero powers, inspiring me to write a sequel. Here are seven more powers bestowed on superheroes "“ not just in comic books, but also on television "“ that should be remembered.
1. The Power to Stop Timepieces
A forgotten character from the Golden Age of comic books, Mister Midnite first appeared in Silver Streak Comics in 1939. While many writers were dreaming up cool powers for new superheroes to cash in on the success of Superman, the brains at little-known Comic House Publishers came up with Mister Midnite "“ alias "wealthy young sportsman" Neal Carruthers "“ who possessed a unique power. When he called out "Stop, time!" he could stop"¦time? Well, not exactly. He could only stop clocks. He only lasted two issues, perhaps because his publisher realized that there was only so much you can do with that power. Fortunately, he never had to battle Uri Geller.
Another also-ran from the Golden Age, the Echo's power was to, er, throw his voice. This works well for him in his day job (he's a ventriloquist), but also in his work as an amateur detective, tricking villains by making them think that they're surrounded by cops, when it's really the Echo saying "We've got him covered!" "“ and making them think that the voice is coming from behind them. Best of all, you never see his lips move! He first appeared in Yankee Comics (1941) and somehow fooled crooks for the next two years. In reality, his name was Jim Carson, though his chemist brother, who helped him fight crime, somehow had the name Dr Doom. (Obviously, not the famous Fantastic Four villain.)
3. Independence Day Powers
In 1966, DC Comics came up with Dial H for Hero, which was about a teenager named Robby Reed who finds a special dial. When he dials H-E-R-O, it transforms him into a superhero "“ a different one each time. In 1981, the concept was revisited, when two teenagers accidentally found these dials in a haunted house and were magically transformed into adult superheroes. The cleverest part of this idea is that the heroes were invented by the readers themselves. The readers weren't paid any royalties (though they were sent a nifty Dial H for Hero t-shirt), but as the heroes never appeared more than once, they didn't miss out on much.
A pity, as it would have been great to see the further adventures of Balloon Boy, Blazerina, Raggedy Doll and Fuzz Ball (who can bounce around stomping on villains), Lavender Sky-Writer, or the Mighty Moppet (whose baby bottle squirts a liquid to shrink his enemies down to his size). But of the hundreds of dialed-up heroes, few were cooler than the Yankee Doodle Kid, whose super-patriotic powers would leave Captain America to shame. The Kid, one of Robby Reed's heroes from 1966, was a one-man Fourth of July machine, generating fireworks from his eyes, cherry bomb missiles and picture-display illusions from his fingers. Great for defending America against criminals"¦ then celebrating afterwards.
4. The Power to Spread Germs
DC also gave us The Legion of Substitute Heroes, with such heroes as Color Kid, Porcupine Pete, Double-Header (with two heads "“ and that's it) and Infectious Lass, whose power (which she can't fully control) is to carry assorted diseases and spread them to other people. While she boasts the spread of "bubonic plague, syphilus, Spanish flu, all manner of mutant sexual diseases," she's more likely to give you a dumb disease like gender re-alignment virus, which temporarily turned Color Kid into "Color Queen." Admittedly, this was meant to be ridiculous. The Substitute Heroes are the ones whose powers were too silly or useless to get them into the more prestigious Legion of Super-Heroes. And as the Legion of Super-Heroes has included the likes of Bouncing Boy, Dream Girl and Matter-Eater Lad, this must surely be rather insulting.
5. The Power to Transform Bad Words
Before they won the rights to use Spider-Man, the PBS educational show The Electric Company introduced a new hero called Letterman in 1971, in a series of animated cartoons. Letterman "“ "faster than a rolling O, more powerful than a silent E, able to leap a capital T" "“ would fly to the scene of a problem a fix it by plucking letters from his sweatshirt, changing bad words into good words. He would change "gun" to "bun", or "tickle" to "pickle" (revealing, presumably, that "tickle" is a bad word). If he had enough letters, no doubt he could change "superhero" into "what a ridiculous superpower."
6. The Power of Squirrels
Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine "“ some of the coolest superheroes have the abilities of the toughest or most fearsome animals. In 1992, Marvel Comics introduced high-school student Doreen Green, a mutant with the abilities of"¦squirrels. Though this is cooler than it might sound, as Squirrel Girl (what else?) has a semi-prehensile tail, a retractable knuckle spike, enlarged incisors, super-strength and an empathic bond with squirrels. Oh, and she's cute. With her powers, she has singlehandedly defeated Doctor Doom (the villain, not the Echo's brother), and is a valuable member of a team called the Great Lakes Champions. Still, a prehensile tail isn't quite as awesome as spiderwebs"¦
7. Magical Nose Hair
Oh yes. The Japanese cartoon series Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, which began in 2003, is about a 31st-century superhero of that name, with a magical yellow afro, who uses his nose hair to strangle or otherwise subdue his enemies "“ specifically an evil emperor who wants to turn everyone bald. (If only this villain could use his power for good deeds, like removing nose hairs.) Somehow, this ran for 76 episodes, each of which were even dubbed into English. If you thought Pokemon was as weird as Japanese animation could get, you might want to reconsider.
Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. To see what else he's written, visit markjuddery.com.