Superpowers are, let's face it, cool. I defy anyone to have watched a superhero film or read a comic book without thinking WOW! Me? I always fancied being telekinetic, moving things with my mind and adhering to the lazy side of myself; which admittedly is less of a 'side' and more of a whole. And then I read Stephen King's Carrie about the bullied and traumatised girl who developed telekinetic powers of her own, and I kind of wanted that ability even more.
But the super aspect of superpowers can be exaggerated, and often film execs will look at the array of choice and choose one that's visually stunning. Take Wolverine: adamantium claws that embody what it is to be badass. Or Scarlet Witch's recent incarnation, creating a level of grace and beauty to a power that is terrifying in its own right. And, every power has its pitfalls. Take Professor X and his telepathy. He can read every thought a person has, erase memories on a whim, control minds like a revolutionary puppeteer, but he also has to listen to his students wondering if his head was shiny enough to use as a mirror.
Still, not every superpower is really all that useful. And I mean that in the context of superhero requirements, ergo, saving the world from generic villain mark three. Shooting laser beams from your eyes: useful. Teleportation: useful. Shapeshifting: useful for the more subtle forms of attack. But having a tongue like a reptile's? Nope, not quite.
So, here is my non-extensive list of the top 10 most useless superpowers.
Maybe I'm reading too much into the metaphor or turning into an actual puddle at the sight of the bad guy, but I kind of feel that it's lacking in its uses. I would argue that Clayface from DC could refute this, but I would class his ability as edging towards shapeshifting; overall, the ability to just become liquid has little strategic advantage. Unless, of course, they could cause their villain to slip and fall into a conveniently placed vortex of doom... or at least off a cliff.
I considered the possible option of turning into water to act as conduit for electricity, to spread out around a live wire and zap the crap out of any enemies. But then, turning into a liquid doesn't exactly make someone invulnerable to electricity, so, nope. In a manner of saving the world, devoid of conveniently placed vortexes of doom or, well, cliffs, liquification is pretty useless.
This one will, no doubt, cause some controversy. There are various methods of flight - energy propulsion, magnetic levitation, sonic repulsion, telekinesis - that, although having limitations, seem less vulnerable than having a pair of wings attached to your shoulder blades. In the heat of battle, against other superpowered villains or just villains with a lot of firepower, having a pair of bright angel wings (à la Warren Worthington III) is essentially painting a huge target on your back.
I concede that the recent adaptation of Archangel in X-Men: Apocalypse does add a little more credence to the usefulness of wings: having them made out of metal is a pretty sure-fire way to limit the vulnerability. But, surely that form of armour would inhibit flight patterns and, whilst protecting the vulnerable appendages, slows your flight agility down to the level of an airborne sloth. Which is why, in a life-or-death Battle Royale, I would leave the wings to the birds who have already done the smart thing and migrated away from all this violence bullshit.
3. Astral Trapping
This is not astral projection, which also would have limited uses in the battlefield. No, no, no. This is the very job specific superpower in which a person has the ability to cause an astral projection to remain trapped in the astral plane. Which is great, if your opponent happens to be engaged in astral projection. Otherwise, the limitations are pretty substantial.
As shown in DC's Constantine, astral trapping has its uses and keeps the astral from becoming tangible, but in a superhero tête-a-tête, it would only succeed in very specific circumstances. If generic villain mark two uses astral projection, or exists in the astral plane, then voila. Problem solved. But if generic villain mark five shoots radiation beams out of their wrists, then the astral realm will become a little too familiar. To put it simply: dead as the much-referred to dodo.
4. Prehensile/Animated Hair
This power lends itself to animé superpowers in which, typically women, develop the ability to grow lusciously long locks worthy of a L'Oréal membership. Through this ability, each tendril of hair develops tensile strength akin to a rope or grappling hook, and can be used to similar effect. Think Tangled's Rapunzel and her makeshift keratin bungee cord.
As, admittedly, cool as this ability would look, there are numerous problems. One: the villain has a fire-based ability, burning a very flammable form of power. Two: the villain has heard of scissors, which speaks for itself. Three: my hair is nowhere near superpowered length and as soon as I stop brushed it, it becomes knot-central. I don't care what conditioner you use, that much hair is going to become a nest of knots, twigs, possibly random wildlife. Not the best form of weapon, unless the intention is to take down the villain with an aggressive hairball.
5. Cross-Dimensional Awareness
Championed by Marvel's Deadpool, this cross-dimensional perception, commonly known as breaking the fourth wall, is undoubtedly a unique aspect to the comic book world. Having a superhero acknowledge his own fictional status and engage with an active audience is, undoubtedly, what makes Deadpool one of the most entertaining heroes in the genre.
But, is it useful in a battle? Not at all. What makes Deadpool unique is his cross-dimensional awareness; what makes him good in a fight is his healing factor, strength, agility, and combat skills. As interesting as it would be to converse with inhabitants of the fourth wall during a final 'boss battle', it will ultimately do nothing to impede the path of a bullet or prevent being crushed by falling buildings (as mass destruction is a given in superhero final fight scenes).
6. Power Sensing
Used predominantly in the X-Men universe, most famously demonstrated through Professor X and his use of the machine, Cerebro, being able to sense powers within others is what frees them from obscurity and allows them to be seen for what they truly are. It is an enlightening gift (damning in some aspects) and allows for a unity between alike individuals.
So, not at all useless in any other sense, but in a battle, sensing another person's power is of no use if there is no reaction to it. Being able to identify that the villain fires spikes or can manipulate reality is great for pre-battle strategy, but pretty crappy in the middle of a fight. Like, really, did I need forewarning that the guy can generate 10,000 volts of electricity when he literally just lit up like a Christmas Tree in the middle of the city? Forewarned is only forearmed when the warning comes a little more than ten seconds before being fried.
7. Body Part Substitution
The best comparison for this is Frankenstein's monster and ensures longevity and an extended lifespan, with added benefits of strength and endurance. However, what this superpower needs is time; having limbs blown off in the middle of a battle and scrambling around trying to find nearby replacements will, while being a rather unique sight, probably result in death by blood loss.
Besides, with the 'hero' part of superheroes and superpowers being a core factor, there may be issue taken up with someone wandering through a field of corpses and collecting limbs to staple onto themselves; I say staple because it is probably the quickest and most effective method available. And as impressive as it would be in demonstrating a frankly disturbing form of survival, it is essentially useless. Reattaching limbs would serve only for them to be detached again after another psionic blast or energy pulse.
8. Duplication (Temporal)
Like flight, there are different forms of duplication, and the most commonly used is physical cloning: creating doubles of oneself for a variety of purposes. But, temporal duplication has a slightly different effect. This one causes past and future versions of a person to converge in the present. Advantage: more than one you, which could provide the whole strength in numbers thing. However, this advantage would be better served in creating body doubles or mimics rather than delving into all that timey-wimey temporal shit, which never fails to be problematic.
So, the disadvantage: if past, present, and future you exist in one moment - a moment rife with death, destruction and chaos - what happens if one of you dies? If future you dies, does it cause ripples in their timeline and the path that they were intended to walk? If past you dies, do present and future you fade from existence? Really, having all versions of yourself in one place is just asking for immediate eradication from every possible timeline. Best plan? Ask another superhero for help before resorting to the narcissistic trinity of Me, Myself, and I.
9. Spiritual Mediumship
Now, unless there is an urgent need to pull out a Ouija board in the middle of a fight, spiritual mediumship isn't going to be the most useful of powers. Mid-showdown, to put it simply, being able to commune with the dead provides very little benefit. If this mediumship extended to some kind of ghost-weapon - think LOTR: Return of the King style with the Army of the Dead - then I could definitely see this being used as a mode of attack. Already dead people don't tend to die again, which makes them a valuable asset.
However, what this ability does is akin to every medium portrayal ever shown on TV; FaceTime chats with the departed about whatever hot topic is needed to speed along the plot. In the heat of battle, the "I see dead people" phrase loses impact when there would literally be bodies everywhere. Sorry, Haley Joel, wait for M. Night to roll out another "twist".
10. Pheromone Manipulation
Admittedly, this one is borderline useful. Excluding the use of pheromones for attraction purposes - we'll go under the pretence that the supervillains tend to have little to no romantic attraction to anything besides death and/or a mirror - there is some benefit in the stimulation of disorientation or, if powerful, enough, susceptibility; borderline stepping into the territory of mind control. However, really, telepathy would prove to be a stronger bet with this area of psychological manipulation.
But, is it useful enough in a battle? I would argue no. Pheromone manipulation, as DC's Poison Ivy demonstrates, works well as a distraction tactic; drawing crowds of googly-eyed men and giving the user time to escape. Drawing crowds of innocents into the middle of a superpowered fight? Not so great for the hero image. In typical boss battles, the villain is immune to what we can call status attacks, like sleep or confusion. (Yes, I am resorting to Pokémon terms, but we all know that sleep, confusion, and poison were typically useless against the Big Bads of the game).
I'm not claiming that I wouldn't want any (or all) of these superpowers but in the context of an apocalyptic showdown being super good and super evil, I would rather be able to turn into a giant fireball or shoot bullets out of my fingertips. These 10 abilities? Let's just say...