What, exactly, makes a super-ability the best? Is the best power the one that affords you the most opportunities for do-gooderism? Is it the one that makes your life more convenient? Or is the best power the one that's the most fun to show off to your friends? As with anything, it's a matter of opinion — and everyone who's ever cracked the spine of a comic book has one.
With superheroes conquering TV on shows like The CW's The Flash, it's time to reconsider some standby super-powers, weigh their relative awesomeness, and examine their hidden drawbacks. Below, check out a (totally biased and arbitrary!) list of super-power pros and cons, complete with thoughts from several notable experts. Find yourself in staunch disagreement with the verdicts? Comments are open, so let the arguments begin.
Leaving aside the hoary comic book cliché of the inexperienced telepath becoming overwhelmed by the intrusive, mind-melting cacophony of other people's scream-y thoughts, it's not hard to see that the ability to read minds might just end up offering way too much in the way of information. Sure, you might stumble on a thought or two that could help you thwart the odd crime, but mostly you're just going to find yourself eavesdropping on people's unflattering opinions about you and learning weird secrets that you were better off not knowing.
Also, if comic books are any indication, it seems like telepathic brainpower might increase your odds of being afflicted with male pattern baldness?
Telekinesis comes in very handy for a crime-fighter. You can use it to redirect bullets, to hurl heavy objects at n'er-do-wells, and to create a force field around yourself when those heavy objects get thrown right back at you.
You can also skip the crime-fighting entirely and use it to change the TV channel without reaching for the remote. Actually, one starts to wonder: if telekinetics can do all their housework with just the twitch of a nose, why do they ever get up off the couch at all? Are they just trying to prove something by doing things the hard way? For a lazy person who would like to go through the rest of life without lifting even one finger ever again, telekinesis is a dream power.
Verdict: Yes please.
Super-speed has all of the benefits of teleportation, plus several added bonus applications. For instance, as The Flash teaches us, you can sometimes run so fast that you can actually travel back in time. Only one question: won't it start to get really annoying when everyone around you seems to be moving super slowly all the time? Clearly, the Flash is an extremely patient man. In any case, with a little creativity, super-speed presents almost limitless possibilities, with fewer hidden drawbacks than most powers.
It's tempting to write off flying as too boring to bother with — especially if it doesn't come bundled with other powers — but Robert Berens, writer for the long-running spook-soap Supernatural would like to offer a defense: "Flight is the kind of superpower that doesn't seem that interesting to read in a comic or watch in a movie, but there's a reason it's one of the first (the first?) superpowers: it's awesome, it's useful, and it's ridiculously easy to imagine wielding it — we do it in our dreams all the time. I just think it would feel really good to fly."
Elana Levin, host of the Graphic Policy podcast also thinks flight is underrated. "There is literally nothing wrong about flying. Even if it requires having wings that are too big to fit through doorways, damn it, just turn sideways. Even if it requires special tailoring. I'm sure all of your clothes will look even better. Wings go with everything. Except chairs."
Verdict: Sure, why not.
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, invisibility seems guaranteed to corrupt a person slowly and quietly. Sure, you'll start out using your newfound power to pull benign but hilarious pranks on your friends, infiltrate terrorist cells, and commit anonymous acts of kindness. But the ability to go completely unnoticed offers so many opportunities to do evil that the drift toward creepy villainy seems inevitable for even the most morally upstanding person. Before you know it, you'll find yourself stealing candy from little kids, driving people to madness by moving their stuff around, and spying on your childhood crushes in the shower. Is that really the kind of person you want to be?
Gwenda Bond, book blogger and author of Lois Lane: Fallout agrees: "Invisibility has always seemed like the kind of power that would backfire immediately. Having your own invisible jet, however, would be killer."
Verdict: For villains only.
Who among us, while racing to work in the morning, hasn't fantasized about being blessed with the ability to teleport? It would be awesome not only for superheroic purposes, but because it would have so many pragmatic applications for your regular life. You'd never be late again, never have to worry about forgetting your keys, and never have to pay for airfare.
What's not to like about that? Illustrator Rogan Josh, whose ModHero illustrations offer a sophisticated, moody take on classic superheroes, would like to remind everyone that the hidden cost of all that convenience might be more than the average hero bargains for: "Teleporters rip a hole in space and hurl themselves through it, using the power of their minds. It's crazy! If people could actually teleport, they would probably end up ruining the integrity of the universe just by taking too many trips to the supermarket."
Verdict: Depends on how you feel about the integrity of the universe?
Do you think telepathy is actually the greatest power ever? Are you outraged that the ability to turn yourself microscopic has been left off the list? Have at it in the comments. And if you remain unconvinced about the advantages of super-speed is, be sure to check out The Flash on the CW, Tuesdays at 8/7C, to be proven wrong. All new episodes start January 19.
Bennett Madison is the author of several books for young people. His most recent novel, September Girls, was nominated for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's 2013 Andre Norton Award and was a finalist for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.