There’s nothing comics fans love like “badasses”. Wolverine, the Hulk, the Punisher, Batman…all of these characters’ popularity depend on their ability and willingness to kick ass in a fight. Anytime someone wants to take an obscure character and make them into a fan favorite, their first step is to give them a “take no prisoners” attitude and a lot more combat prowess. And even within the fictional universe, the fighting abilities of these characters are respected and feared by villains and heroes alike. Every villain knows that when Wolverine shows up, Shit Gets Real. Likewise, their opponents are badasses-by-proxy; if Sabretooth can take on Wolverine in a fight, he must be one tough customer despite the fact that Spider-Man once defeated him by tricking him into clawing his own face off.
But there are plenty of characters out there who don’t have any kind of reputation as “tough” customers, despite the fact that they could easily murder their way through the entire Marvel Universe faster than you could say “personality change by authorial fiat”. Here are five characters whose abilities make them scary enough that villains should pray they never get a personality transfusion from the Punisher.
1) Kitty Pryde. Kitty is mostly portrayed as a cute teenage kid, a skilled computer hacker, and a ninja with neat infiltration skills and a mostly defensive array of powers. But in any kind of actual physical fight…she can’t be hit, she can’t be hurt, and she can kill you instantly. All she has to do is take an object, any object, phase it, stick it inside your chest cavity or skull, and let go. Thud. Alternatively, she can phase a person, let them sink into the ground up to their chest, and let go. Not only do you die, but your final moments are unspeakable agony as your entire nervous system is now completely integrated with foreign matter.
2) Invisible Woman. Sue Richards can create an invisible, solid object in any shape she wants. She can make it hard enough to stop a speeding car (you know that if she was a supervillain, she’d totally do this just for kicks) and thin enough to cut through human flesh. She can expand it, and she can contract it. And she does not need line of sight to use it. The number of ways you could use this power to murder another human being are limited only by the imagination. Doctor Doom getting on your nerves? Create a cylindrical force field that forms a seal over his eye, then extend it out to create a partial vacuum. The Hulk bothering you? Wait until he exhales, then create a force-field in his esophagus. And the Wizard’s anti-gravity powers don’t sound so impressive when he’s flying through an invisible maze of razorwire.
3) Iceman. Honestly, I never understood why Scott Lobdell needed to make up new powers for Bobby when he wanted to show how he wasn’t using them to his full potential by having the White Queen take over his body. The guy has the power to instantly freeze things, and human beings are mostly water. Do you really have to pretend that he could always turn into ice but just never figured out how in order to show that he could be a tough customer? To say nothing of the fact that ices is heavy and hard. Even if you weren’t interested in killing someone subtly and undetectably by freezing their heart solid in their chest, you could make a big flashy statement by dropping a giant icicle on their heads.
4) The Human Torch. Actually, this is one of those characters whose most astonishing achievement is that he’s never killed anybody purely by accident. His principal power–hell, his only power–is to unleash a torrent of insanely hot fire at things. The degree of control he exerts on a daily basis to avoid inadvertently murdering not just people but entire housing tracts really shows you what an amazingly good person he is. If he ever decided not to be that good, I really don’t think many characters could survive an encounter with him. (Except for the Invisible Woman, who could murder him easily. See above.)
5) Storm. Most of the time when the X-Men get into a fight, Storm mainly just flies around and shoots little zap bolts at people. Occasionally she’ll hide the team with fog or toss around a little freezing rain to make bad guys uncomfortable. Whereas in fact, getting into a fight with Storm should be about as safe as juggling nitroglycerin. The upper limits of Storm’s weather control powers haven’t ever really been tested. Can she create 70 MPH straight-line winds? Can she generate a lightning bolt that contains 15 million volts of current and superheats the air around it to 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit? Can she cause a torrential downpour, causing an instant flash flood? Can she create an EF5 tornado, capable of devastating an entire city? Who knows? Pick a fight with her when she’s in a bad mood, and you may be the first to find out? (Thor also falls into his category, but usually people treat him like a badass. Mind you, they tend to be more respectful of his ability to hit things with a big hammer than his ability to steer a hurricane into Long Island.)
None of this is to suggest that I really want to see these characters turn into Wolverine-esque murderous “tough guys”. For one thing, the stories would be pretty short if they used their powers to their full potential. (“Oh, no, Magneto’s back! He’s going to…die, because Kitty Pryde just snuck up behind him and materialized a log through his head. Well, what’s on TV?”) I’m mainly trying to say that characters shouldn’t be idolized solely based on how easily they can win a fight. Because if you think Wolverine’s a super-impressive tough guy, try to remember that he wouldn’t last five minutes in a fight with a teenage girl.