Sep 23, 2019
3 heroes/villains whose superpowers came back to bite them in the ass
While pretty much the entire world is familiar with the success stories in the superhero world, not every character is going to be designed well enough to end up in a license tug-o’-war with Marvel and Sony. It wasn’t always easy to fill 22 pages worth of Comic Code-friendly stories and adventures, especially not since anything good you came up with would just get stolen by Stan Lee anyway. Combine that with deadline panic, and you end up with a few characters who didn’t think their personas through very well.
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1. Asbestos Man
Our story begins in 1963, in the pages of Strange Tales, originally a sci-fi and horror anthology that Marvel had overrun with superheroes like every other goddamn thing. A chemist named Dr. Orson Karloff creates a liquid that can melt through any metal, and rather than say, patenting it and making all the money ever, decides to use it to become a criminal, which shockingly backfires, because inventing a weird chemical didn’t magically make him any better at outrunning the police. Having apparently gotten a taste for bad decisions at this point, Karloff decides he just needs practice and challenges the Human Torch to a showdown. So he makes a costume out of asbestos and calls himself the “Asbestos Man.”
Now, if you have even the smallest recollection of elementary school science, you probably know why this was a bad idea, but it was 1963 and people were all about awful ideas that would give everyone horrible diseases. To the surprise of Dr. Karloff, creating a persona designed to fight off literally one superhero on the entire planet didn’t work out too well, and he lost in a rematch with the Torch, then disappeared for decades until he returned during the Fear Itself storyline, where to the shock of no one except himself, he was now dying of cancer as the unforeseen consequence of wrapping himself in a full-body cover made from one of the most toxic materials known to mankind.
2. Element Woman
But poor, tumor-ridden Asbestos Man wasn’t the only one who didn’t think things through when it came to designing his new persona. In 1965, DC Comics introduced the character Metamorpho, an adventurer who was exposed to a radioactive isotope in an Egyptian artifact. Rather than, you know, killing him, the radiation did its usual comic book bullshit and transformed him, giving him the power to transmute himself into different elements, while at the same time making him look like a coloring book owned by Timothy Leary. Metamorpho is understandably not super-thrilled about this and desperately wants to be human again.
But he isn’t the example we’re going to talk about. Rather, it’s his short-lived sidekick, Element Woman. Originally a US government agent named Urania Blackwell, Blackwell exposed herself to the radiation on purpose as part of a government mission. She quickly discovered that being turned into a shapeshifting monstrosity is a lot less glamorous if you aren’t Reed Richards, and that regular people don’t really want to hang around someone who looks like a bag of baking soda that’s been left in the fridge for too long.
Isolated, living off a disability pension and depressed, Blackwell ended up trying to kill herself, but because she had superpowers, that didn’t work either, and she pretty much had to hang around in her smelly apartment until Death literally showed up on her doorstep to help her off herself.
Hell, even when what you have isn’t strictly a superpower, more like a slightly bizarre quirk that made you think you should put on a flamboyant circus costume and rob banks, it can still turn against you. In this case, we have the Ragdoll. Now, the Ragdoll was literally just an ex-carnie who thought that his ability to contort his limbs made him a good match for the original Flash back in the 1940s. Yeah, a guy whose power was creeping people out at a circus against a guy with super-speed. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out so well.
Now, flash-forward to a few decades later, and the Ragdoll isn’t in very good shape. As it turns out, contorting your limbs like you’re Stretch Armstrong isn’t a very good long-term career, and Ragdoll found himself in a great deal of pain, which probably wasn’t helped by the fact that he’d spent the last few years getting punched at Mach 2. So what was a washed-up old supervillain to do? Why, become a crazy cult leader, of course!
Seriously, Ragdoll’s solution to his problem was becoming Charles Manson wearing a burlap clown mask. Maybe his real superpower was getting people to take him seriously when he dressed like Raggedy Anne’s bipolar cousin. After having the cult go on a killing spree, Ragdoll was eventually captured by his old enemy Flash, alongside Green Lantern and Starman. At which point, he thought it would be a good idea to reveal that he knew their identities and was going to murder their families. To his surprise, they weren’t thrilled about that.
In fairness, it’s all their parents’ fault. They never should have exposed them to superheroes in the first place.