After May 6, the day Marvel Studios releases its highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, regular moviegoers will discuss a topic that has weighed on the minds of comic book readers for some time now. I’m, of course, talking about just how much responsibility comes with being a superhero. Super powers can be a gift, but does that gift also require a degree of responsibility?

With great power comes great responsibility, right?

In the comics, Civil War focused on the U.S. government’s Iron Man-backed Superhuman Registration Act, which required super-powered individuals to register with the government and not act autonomously. Captain America opposed this move, believing heroes had a right to maintain a secret identity and police themselves.

But that’s comic books. What if tomorrow morning, you woke up with super powers? I’m talking amazing abilities that could be used to save lives and make a positive difference in the world. Would you have a responsibility to use your powers, even if you never asked for them? And let’s say you chose not to use your powers, would others have a right to tell you how you should use your special abilities?

Makes you think twice about wishing for super powers, doesn’t it?

The Burden of Super Powers

Spider-Man is the poster child for the pros and cons of being a superhero. As soon as he became aware of his amazing powers, his first thought was to use them to gain fame and fortune. Sadly, it was Peter Parker’s selfish thinking that stood in the way of stopping the man who would eventually murder his beloved Uncle Ben.

Peter’s late uncle always taught him that with great power comes great responsibility – something he took to heart and has weighed on his conscience ever since. And while Spider-Man has done great things with his spectacular abilities, they’ve also prevented him from living a normal life.

Yes, Spider-Man has the proportional strength of a spider, making him stronger than the average man, but his vow to use his powers for good has constantly hurt Peter’s ability to have a normal relationship. Spider-Man can enjoy the thrill of swinging through the New York skyline, but Peter also struggles to have a steady career. I’m not even going to get into all the tragedies Spider-Man has endured because of the sinister enemies he’s made throughout his superhero career.

The point is, having incredible super powers can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.

What if You Refuse?

I think the majority of emails I receive come from restaurants. Northeast healthy food chain b. good would have to be the most desperate of these eateries. I don’t eat there often and, as a result, I receive messages asking me to come back so I can try some free food. While b. good sells [healthy] burgers and fries, the free bites they offer tend to be stuff like crisp veggies and kale smoothies – not my cup of cauliflower.

But how spoiled am I to receive an email offering me free food that I proceed to move to my email’s trash bin? (Well, actually, I often offer the offer to one or two friends who also reject it). Would the residents of the Syrian city of Madaya who are reportedly starving happily take my crisp veggies? Or closer to home, would the homeless man a block down from b. good like my free kale smoothie?

My point is, do I (and anybody else who receives coupons for free food) have a responsibility to take advantage of these promotions or gift them to others?

Now what if instead of a coupon for a free smoothie, you were gifted with an incredible super power, like the ability to fly? I’m going to take it a step further – what if you had a terrible fear of heights?

This is actually an idea for a story I had awhile back (and since I’m talking about it in an article with my name on it, you’d be foolish to steal it). Imagine any superhero who can fly, such as Superman or the X-Men’s Angel, and now add acrophobia. I assume the discovery of this power would be a terrifying experience – one that would keep this individual grounded for life. What would be an incredible gift to a thrill-seeker who thinks nothing of jumping out of a plane would be the greatest curse imaginable for someone with an irrational fear of heights.

But let’s say you’re the only person in the world who can fly, and you happen to be on the street looking up at a burning skyscraper. You could reach heights firemen can’t and save those trapped individuals whose only options are to burn alive or jump to their deaths. Maybe floodwaters are rising and you can swoop in and fly people to safety before they’re swept away with deadly debris.

Then again, if your power renders you useless, can anyone truly blame you for keeping your extra ability a secret and doing nothing?

In my story idea, a Justice League-type organization of super-powered individuals learns of the acrophobic man’s ability and tries to get him to use his flight to benefit others. When he refuses, they decide to take his power from him and gift it to someone who isn’t afraid to help others.

That’s when we get into the question of whether others have the right to rob someone of a gift if he or she isn’t using it for the benefit of mankind. Who is the villain in this scenario? The person who has power and refuses to use it for good, or those who feel they have the right to decide how someone else should use that power?

And that’s where we come full circle back to the Civil War debate. Is Captain America right to reject the government’s desire to control powers, or is Iron Man being more responsible in thinking great power requires regulation?

I think that answering this question honestly truly requires you to first figure out what you would do if tomorrow you woke up with a super power.

Well, what would you do?

  • Reed Pritchards

    I suppose you could pose this similar quandary: if a man is strong, muscular and of excellent “fighting” build, does he owe it to himself and others to become an MMA fighter? Should a tall, athletic man become a basketball player?

    Those are a little different because fighting and basketball are for entertainment, (though they come with high reward and payment for the individual with the natural gifts.) Now if you apply it to a man with super intellect — does he owe it to himself to create with his superior intelligence ways to better humanity? It’s interesting to think about.

    • Chris Hassan

      I agree, Reed, all interesting points! I think the superior intelligence for the betterment of mankind is the eternal argument with super-intelligent villains like Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor. Just imagine them putting aside their petty issues and egos to make the world a better place.