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Famous Superpowers That Don't Work The Way You Think They Do

Updated March 22, 2021 295.7k views16 items

Superheroes have never been more mainstream, but some costumed crusaders are so ubiquitous they were household names long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. Characters like Superman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk are all recognizable worldwide, but casual fans might be surprised to learn that even some of the most famous superpowers may be a lot more complicated than they appear on the surface.

Longtime fans are well aware that comic book continuity is complex and difficult to parse; they have made peace with the fact that not every detail in these superhero mythologies will end up making it to the big screen. Regardless, fans of all stripes would probably claim to understand the full story behind some of the more popular superpowers, like flight or wall-crawling - but they’d be wrong.

  • What You Think Their Superpower Does: Bruce Banner transforms into the Incredible Hulk whenever he gets mad. That’s his whole thing: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Once he’s Hulked out, he stays that way until he’s able to calm down.

    What Their Superpower Actually Does: It isn’t anger that fuels the Hulk, but adrenaline. His superhuman strength grows in direct proportion to the level of adrenaline in his bloodstream, and there’s no limit to it. So, yes, Banner turns into the Hulk when he gets angry, and he gets stronger the madder he gets. But that’s true for any adrenaline-inducing emotion, including fright and lust.

  • What You Think Their Superpower Does: Whether it’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the pages of Marvel Comics, the Scarlet Witch’s powers have always been ill-defined. She’s usually depicted as manipulating some form of “hex” energies, which generally come across as knockoff Doctor Strange abilities.

    What Their Superpower Actually Does: Wanda Maximoff has the power to warp reality itself with chaos magic. In her early days, the Scarlet Witch mostly flexed her magical muscles by firing “hex bolts” that did generic damage to her opponents. Since then, Maximoff’s character and her range of abilities have only grown in magnitude. She uses her ability to alter probability, but that’s not all she can do. When she truly unleashes her powers, the Scarlet Witch can alter reality for the entire planet - like when she nearly wipes mutants out of existence.

  • What You Think Their Superpower Does: Wade Wilson, better known as Deadpool, appears to have garden-variety regenerative abilities. Like many other characters with so-called “healing factors,” the Merc with the Mouth can shrug off any manner of harm and recover at inhuman speed. He’s a knockoff Wolverine without the metal bones and claws.

    What Their Superpower Actually Does: Deadpool is quite literally a knockoff Wolverine. His healing factor is the result of experimentation using Logan’s DNA. A shadowy organization accidentally granted Wilson abilities that far outstripped those of his adamantium-laced pal. The antihero's cells are constantly being reborn, which causes his perpetual cancer and skin condition, but also allows him to survive calamities up to and including decapitation. He’s functionally immortal - something Thanos eventually codifies by cursing him to live forever.

  • What You Think Their Superpower Does: Robert Drake, the founding X-Man known as Iceman, seems rather simple as far as mutants go. He can make ice and turn things - including his own body - into ice. While Drake frequently uses his ice powers in dramatic fashion, he appears to be a one-note superhero.

    What Their Superpower Actually Does: Iceman is one of the most powerful mutants in existence. He doesn’t just make ice, he possesses thermokinesis, the ability to lower the temperature of his immediate surroundings. Drake’s powers can cause temperatures to fall as low as absolute zero, the point at which all molecular motion stops. He’s stopped a nuclear detonation in its tracks before, and he can essentially freeze time - a far cry from snowballs and ice-slides.