It was a sunny day on a grassy field. There was weed and a hot girl. I was 16 and she was 17. There were classes to attend, but we didn’t care. Clearly, it was go time.
To display my thoughtful side, that part of me in touch with innocence and aspiration, I told her about the superpowers I pined for in my childhood. Except, I took the Batman route, wishing not for supernatural gifts but for badass utilities, specifically rollerskates with nitrogen rockets built into the heels.
And she scoffed.
“Everyone had that fantasy,” she contemptuously oozed.
“Scabby wench, how dare you?” I didn’t ask but hurtfully thought.
I should’ve imagined my palms containing black holes powerful enough to suck her eyeballs out of their sockets. But I was a different person then, and the thought of depositing those pretty brown organs on the far side of an event horizon escaped me.
But no longer. These days, that chick would be strolling the abandoned cities of my imagination with a white cane and a dog named Look Here.
There’s something very human about conceiving of yourself as beyond human. The psychology, at least in the first world, is pretty basic, and it goes something like this: Banality is oppressive and ubiquitous, forever shaping our past, present and future in largely contained ways. How, then, to rise above the dreary predictability of it all? How to stand apart from other humans in a display of supra prowess? And what to do with it should the opportunity arise?
At the risk of sounding like that snob from the sunny field, most people fantasize about the same powers. Find me a dude who doesn’t want to fly and I’ll find you a baby that doesn’t shit itself. Find me someone who would rather not read minds and I’ll find you a graveyard full of people laughing. Yes, there is a standard bag of powers that appeal to the human collective, and that’s pretty much understandable. Odds are a bird self-aware enough to re-envision itself would be stoked to walk without that comical strut.
Of course, there are those of us who pursue superpowers within the confines of our born abilities. Take the Grizzly Man or those cliff-jumping crazies who fly around in squirrel suits. They’ve become superpowerful, although they’ve done it in a Batman type way.
Other super types include Kim Jong II and Adolf Hitler, both men who built themselves into larger than life entities, each with a staggering array of powers at his disposal. The fact of those two maniacs brings us to the moral dilemma that comes with super status in the same irrevocable way that rent comes with landlords. Uncle Ben, that less than super pillar of moral righteousness, put it best with the great-power/great-responsibility speech he gave Peter Parker.
Notions of good and bad are murkier still in The Dark Knight, in which various ham-fisted soliloquies remind us of moral relativism in what might be described as audience reception. The crux of all that is basically this: I dig heroes when it suits me, and hate them thereafter. At work is a spectrum that begins with the hope for salvation and ends with jealousy and resentment. Like, thanks for returning my purse, but now you can screw off with that ridiculous motorcycle and go hang upside down somewhere; your parents don’t care anymore.
But I digress. No doubt the universe has deliberately arranged itself in such a way as to disallow members of the same species to stand out from their brethren on account of super special abilities. It should be noted, though, that special abilities like Olympic strength and Einsteinian intelligence are acceptable. Dollops of entertainment and destruction are natural — anything more is unacceptable.
Were it any other way, the potential for vengeful orgies would be even larger than my black hole palms fantasy. Imagine if someone could stop time. One second you’re heating up soup; the next, you’re making out with your neighbour’s father in the back of his van while listening to Neil Diamond. The likelihood of intense societal damage there is horrifically profound, to say nothing of record sales where there should be none. Throw some shabby, Pakistani nuclear facility into the mix and things are even direr still.
To be sure, there’s universality in being unsatisfied with one’s lot in life. As mentioned, those of us oppressed by the mundane knee-jerk towards fantasies of superness. To be fair, those of us under the thumb of some demented government often move towards fantasies of liberation as well. Call that the rebel spirit. Having never discussed this with a political refugee, I can’t be certain those fantasies don’t include powers outside the human realm.
Either way, there’s a reason we don’t get those powers. None of us are Spiderman — which is a relief in that you’ll never be depicted on screen by Tobey Maguire — and few of us are moral when sufficiently empowered with opportunities not to be. That’s why all the normal folk in X-Men want to kill the mutants. How could you ever learn to trust some woman who controls the weather? Burn the witch, as they say.