Nerd Factor: Zap!
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
In the superhero scene, the ability to project energy from one’s body is nearly a commonplace as super-strength and invulnerability. That does not make such a superpower easy to live with, though. While seemingly desirable, this power set is fraught with problems.
1) What are you shooting? The immediate concern with all powers that can zap opponents from a distance is the nature of the zap itself. There is a wide variety of energy to choose from and most of those choices become quite worrisome for anyone interested in the public good. A blast of fire or electricity has an obvious danger to it, but that risk can be handled by a certain amount of commonsense precaution. Short zaps of electricity will shock rather than kill. Jets of flame near the target will drive off rather than immolate an opponent. The esoteric nature of other energy forms are a bit harder to understand. What, for example, are the long term effects of firing gamma ray or x-ray blasts at someone? If that is your thing, do you want to expose everyone you fight to a potential case of cancer years later?
2) Where are you shooting it from? Energy tends to be fired from the hands or eyes of metahumans. Occasionally, the energy is fired from the being’s full face. Any other suggestions are impossibly juvenile. While this seems astonishingly convenient, remember that these powers are not like guns and rifles. They do not have safety catches. Even with a safety on, using a gun to point at something is staggeringly stupid. But if you can emit energy from your hands, then any attempt on your part to point out, say, the location of the nearest Starbucks could result in that building’s damage or destruction. Presumably, one could learn to mitigate this with practice, but if the energy is coming out of the eyes, watch out. Ever been so mad that you felt like you could stare holes in someone? Well, with this kind of power, you certainly could and probably would.
3) What are you wearing? Dr. Reed Richard’s miraculous invention of the unstable molecule has allowed superhero costumes to withstand the potentially damaging effects of their wearer’s abilities. Unless you are a friend of the Fantastic Four, you are on an established superhero team, or you have a lot of cash, you probably will not be able to afford this wondrous fabric. This means you will be fragging your cool-looking super suit gloves every time you are in a fight.
4) How does someone shut off your power? The antidotes to some energy projection powers are pretty obvious. Want to stop the Human Torch from making a flame blast? Well, spray him with a firehose or drop him in a swimming pool. The preventative measures against other abilities are not so easy to determine. How does, for example, a supervillain stop a protagonist from firing cosmic energy from his or her hands? The countermeasure is not so clear. This might sound advantageous to the budding superhero, but the best advice is to maybe sew a little label explaining this onto your costume. After all, every superhero gets captured at some point. You do not want your foe thinking the easiest way to stop your zaps is to remove your limbs.