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[Comments] (5) : One assumption I've never seen questioned in my extremely non-exhaustive survey of superhero comics is the idea that every super-powered person has unique powers. In real life, it's much more likely you'd have populations of people with similar powers, like you might get in an RPG with a points system.

But when I think of scenarios where, eg. 1% of the population is telepathic, all I come up with is young adult SF books where there's only one superpower: there's normal people and then an oppressed minority of telepaths that's a metaphor for puberty. Has no one combined population genetics with the wide variety of superpowers found in, say, the Marvel universe?


Posted by Nathaniel at Fri Aug 29 2008 03:57

I guess Dawn Cook's "First Truth" series sorta-kinda counts... there are IIRC effectively 4 different powers people have, and they're coded by a combination of single-allele recessives. (Seriously, in like book 3 we get a page-long description of Mendelian genetics from a dragon. They have flaws, but also the coolest auctorial-Xanatos-gambit I've seen; I liked them.) They're clearly in the fantasy tradition rather than the superhero tradition, though, and the powers are like "wizard", "can see ghosts", etc.

Posted by Brendan at Fri Aug 29 2008 12:06

If I recall correctly, Earth X threw this out as a series premise--everybody in the Marvel universe gets Marvel-universe-style powers--but then largely ignored it and focused on extant superheroes anyway. I understand The 4400 attempted another take on it (large population gets a chemical that manifests as powers, many of which are in similar veins), but I have even less firsthand knowledge of that.

Posted by Will Sargent at Sat Aug 30 2008 00:57

Marvel had The New Universe, which didn't enforce uniqueness Then there's the Wild Card series, Octavia Butler's PatternMaster series, Sheri Tepper's The True Game. It's not all that uncommon.

Posted by Nathaniel at Sat Aug 30 2008 05:42

I just read the first Wild Cards book and so I thought of it when reading this entry -- it even discusses genetics explicitly by noting that the Wild Card effect is heritable, as it's carried by a retrovirus that can integrate into the host DNA -- but the whole idea is that its effects are still different for everyone. Are any powers actually repeated ever?

Posted by Leonard at Sat Aug 30 2008 08:07

Dramatically it's difficult because when everyone has unique powers you can use the powers as a shorthand for the character. When there are multiple people with the same powers, the powers actually get in the way of other character traits.

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