Implications of Super powers

I’ve watched and read a number of stories about super powered people and I’m often left feeling unsatisfied. I think one reason is because the super powers are too often described in non-mystical terms and yet don’t have the implications of the super power. That is to say the author / screen writer has attempted to root the power in some kind of reality and yet has ignored what the super power really means. If it is purely a mystical power, one derived and governed by magic, things can be different. Let me explain.


I watched a couple of episodes of Alphas over the last week. If you haven’t seen the show, it is essentially a crime drama bit with a group of super powered people; ‘Alphas’. This group consists of people with enhanced abilities that are supposedly extensions of natural ability. So there is one guy who is super strong because he has an enhance “fight or flight” mechanism. I assume that means when his adrenalin kicks in he can use his strength.


How much a person can lift is a function of muscle efficiency, that is how completely his nerves can activate his muscle fibres and how coordinated those contractions are, muscle density, how many fibres per unit measure, muscle mass, how many fibres in total, tendon and ligament strength and bone density and strength. Newton tells us that if you apply a force in one direction there is an equal and opposite force. So to hold one kilogram you must exert one kilo of force (though when talking force you are talking Newtons) upward because the kilo is exerting one kilo downward. Make sense? That means whatever you are using to exert that kilo of force must be able to withstand the stress. Now pump that up so you are picking up one ton and you need to be able to withstand the force of one ton. So all of your tendons, ligaments, bones and even skin need to be strong enough. So it stands to reason that if a man is able to lift extraordinarily weight, he must also be extraordinarily well constructed. Ever wondered why sprinters are such well muscled guys? Because the stronger your legs are, the greater stride you can take and the faster you can travel. A super strong character should also be proportionally fast too. If they can jump ten metres straight up, they can drop ten metres straight down with ease. If the strength comes from muscle, they would also be more dense than a normal person and so have trouble swimming. The would get super hungry due to the super number of calories they need to fuel their super muscles.

Heightened senses:

Apparently, and I’m not a neurologist, the visual systems are hooked up to something like one quarter of the brain. Someone with super vision, that is able to like a microscope or like a telescope, must have some super powered brain cells. In the animal kingdom, the greater the acuity of sight, in general, the greater the density and size of the brain. A person with super vision, super hearing and super smell (that would be nasty wouldn’t it?) would have to have an appropriate increase in the capacity of their brain. Lets assume this just means greater density and a slight increase in volume so they don’t have a super size head. How would this relate to their capacity for imagination? What about sensory misfires? You know when you are a bit tired and you think you heard something, but you might have imagined it as you slip into a momentary state of sleep? Or you catch a flicker out of the corner of your eye and mistake it for something else? Someone with a super capacity for sensation would surely have a similarly heightened capacity for “brain farts” as I call them. There would also be a considerable sense of confusion. In the show Alphas, there was a bad guy who’s super power allowed him to intrinsically understand cause and effect. He could see direct links between an action and its consequence and not just immediate consequence but many steps in the chain down the line. To escape he flips a coin that hits a release catch the drop stuff on a guy’s head, causing the driver to swerve which causes a multi-car pile up resulting in a steel bar flying through the van he is in, severing his hand cuffs. This guy couldn’t understand that he was the only one able to see things like this. As a result he assumed that if anyone did something that resulted in a bad thing happening to him then they must have planned it. How could someone able to hear so well no assume that everyone else could as well? Quiet words not intended to be overheard would be easy to hear so they must have meant to say it.
Anyway, I think you get the point.

I’m writing a super hero story, Angel Bones, that is supposed to be somewhat rooted in reality so I’m trying hard to work all these implications in. I want to make sure the character comes to terms with his powers and that I don’t leave the reader wondering: WTF?


About sjohnhughes

Author, nerd, father, runner and more View all posts by sjohnhughes

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