I like Superheroes. I may not have stacks and stacks of comic books in my house and a perfectly recreated batsuit, but I do enjoy the concept. People who, for little more reason than that they can, decide to do their best to help their fellow man in ways they don’t believe others are capable of. Depending on how its done, fiction on superhero can be optimistic or pessimistic on the nature of man, and can be fitted to nearly any viewpoint the writer wishes to portray. But, since I’m a sciency nerd who enjoys speculation and world building, I mainly focus on the superpowers.
There are a few “Main” superpowers that are just the standard fare for a Superhero. Super strength, or some way to emulate it, is almost a must, because you need to punch people like, really, really hard. Theses aren’t just concussions, they’re Superconcussions. Next you need some way to get around. This usually takes the form of flight or superspeed, if you feel like breaking, just, all the laws of physics, or lacking that, a really cool car/jet. Beyond that there are nearly infinite superpowers, ranging from the amazing to the physics-defying to the just plain useless but the writers insist on putting that guy in anyway for some reason. But there’s one power that I find to be painfully underused and under explored. One with immense potential to which no one uses it:
That’s right. Commonly known as “walking through walls.”
Most people, writers included, seem to think that this ability is only good for two things: stealing things and NOT getting punched. Which is pretty much the opposite of what we want our Heroes to be doing. Often maligned for its scientific flaws, this power is used as a sort of supplementary superpower for heroes who already have a ton of abilities, flight usually being one of them, or is given to one of the less-useful characters who relies more on character development to be interesting. It’s not really depicted as being very useful in a fight. Sure, that guy from Heroes tears a couple peoples’ brains out, and Kitty Pryde…flipped one dude in that X-Men movie we all tried to forget. But I think the power goes beyond that.
Let’s start with the fighting potential. How do you think you would do in a fight with someone who you literally cannot hit and who can punch you from the inside. Oh? You’re wearing super-mecha-armor? I can punch through that, to you. I can punch your kidneys if I feel like it. I can just pat your brain a bit and give you a concussion! That’s all it takes! And you know how people tend to get incapacitated when there’s even a little bit of water in their lungs? I can do that to you! Just phase some water right into your lungs! Choke on that! Literally! Oh, what’s that? I just put a sedative in your bloodstream, and now you’re entirely incapacitated. Looks like the day was saved again by Phasing Man!
So that’s the first requirement. What about the second? How’s this ghostly hero supposed to get around his native city at high speeds? Well, here’s where things get complicated. But also awesome.
One of the main critiques of this power is that, if you could just move through walls, you would also move through the floor, and the floor below that, and the ground, and eventually just fall into the molten core of the Earth. Some stories actually have this happen. Others give an explanation for why it does’t. Some ignore the issue completely and I scream at them from my couch. This is often resolved by the hero also having the ability to fly, but we’re ignoring that here in favor of powers that merely supplement phasing, rather than being different abilities entirely. So let’s say you can simply control your phasing, able to move your body through objects (or, alternatively, move objects through yourself). This is shown with Kitty Pryde in the film X-Men: Last Stand, also known as Thank God They Undid This Plot With Time Travel Later.
Look at that! She just rises straight up out of the ground like the Lady of the Lake or some shit! So let’s say you can do that. You can apply, by some means, some degree of force to the matter you inhabit the same space as, thus moving yourself. Well, if you can move up, you can also presumably move sideways as well. There’s your means of transportation! You might say “That doesn’t seem like much. All she does is move slowly up. It’s like walking up a flight of stairs.” But assume that the force you can apply is distributed evenly across your body, and you can only apply force to matter you inhabit the same space as, with the portion of your body that inhabits that space. That means that, at the end of her rise, Kitty Pryde was holding up her entire weight on with nothing but the soles of her feet. Let’s say she weighs about 100 pounds, and she’s rising, so that means she’s applying more than 100 pounds of force with just a few cubic inches of her body! Imagine how fast she could go using all the force of her entire body to go sideways!
Let’s tone that down a bit and do a little math. (I apologize if said math is atrocious, I’m a humanities major) The least amount of force you would need to be able to apply to make this work is, say, to be able to hold yourself up with what’s below one knee. That way you can get that high and lift yourself up with your other leg. Your calf and foot represent, what? About 7, 8% of your body by volume? We’ll round that down to 5. So if Kitty is submerged up to her center of gravity (around her bellybutton), and that one lower leg is being used to keep her up while the rest of her lower body applies force forward, then pushing forward her 100 pound plus, say, 10 pounds for the clothes and the oxygen tank she should be carrying, is the equivalent of 900 pounds of force. That makes for about 8.2 times gravity, or 262 feet per second per second, which is an acceleration of about 178 miles per hour every second! Those are accelerations most humans can’t even survive for very long! If we neglect friction, which we’re kind of justified in doing for a person who can phase through the air, Kitty Pride could hit the speed of sound in slightly over four seconds. And that’s with only half her body exerting force. After I seriously scaled down the force she could apply per volume of body displayed in the film.
That, in itself, is a weapon! Imagine out phasing hero speeding into a flock of goons, leaping up out of the ground, phasing into one of the goons, and changing their trajectory by launching the goon across the room. And they just pinball all the goons across the room like that, one after the other in rapid succession! Tell me that would not be awesome!
Now, how long you could actually sustain acceleration like that is really a matter of efficiency and metabolism, but given the degrees to which many other powers are used, superhero writers have a habit of ignoring that sort of thing more than just about anything besides A-cup breasts. So really, all they’re doing is a denying the world a hell of a lot of potential badass.