jueves, noviembre 12, 2009

Superpowers versus Sociology

Almost everyone may agree, more or less, that superheroes are a mirror of our society. You may think that because of the situations and problems they have to solve, political situation that affects our favorite hero, etc... But I am saying so because of the type of superpowers the spuerheroes/villains have. I wonder if there is any sociology-related PhD thesis dealing with this issue. I couldn't find any, if you do please let me know.

Not long ago I was reading Watchmen, which tales the story of a group of tormented superheroes that, except one, do not have superpowers. I was asking myself: which may be the most common superpower? In average, how many superpowers a superhero has? And the most important to me, can we extract some sociological conclusions from these values? Fortunately enough I came across the Comic Vine web site, that provides extensive information on Superheroes and Supervillains. They would give me the answers I was looking for.


The approach I used consisted in downloading data using the API provided by Comic Vine, which contains a huge amount of information from ca. 10000 different characters (superheroes and supervillains). This information goes from birth date, origin planet, marital status, etc... but the most important to me was, of course, the superpowers of the character.

Once the data was downloaded, a bit of very simple number crunching was done (i.e. histogram computation). In the figure below you will find the 20 most popular superpowers out of a total of... 128 superpowers listed (wow!). You have the complete list below if you are curious. In this list you will find the most common superpowers such as flight, super speed and the most weird ones: have you heard of controlled bone growth (!?), or synaestesia? Not me.


Most popular Superpowers and corresponding percentage (i.e. percentage of characters with a given superpower)
From this plot, there are several things that stroke me a little bit:
  • The most popular superpower is "Unarmed Combat" (melee), followed by Super Strength. Intelligence comes only after these two! It seems that the idea of superheroes of being a kind of paradigm or example to follow collides with Isaac Asimov's saying: "Violence is the last resort of the incompetent". Intelligence does not seem to be a raising value nowadays.
  • To find within the first top 10 two unexpected superpowers: (femenine and masculine) attractiveness. I never though of attractiveness as being a superpower... but it seems it is certainly relevant feature to characterize a superhero with. Is this fact a consequence of the projection of the comic writers' wishes? i.e. to be an attractive male to be successful with women or to draw a sexy superwoman that origins from fantasies? (of course the opposite can be said from female comic writers, but I assume the number of male comic writers is much higher).
  • Flight is almost at the end of the top 10. Frankly speaking I would have expected to find it among the first top 3! Well, that expectation may be because flying has been my fantasy since kid (don't tell me that you have never thought "if I could fly...", because I won't believe you ;)).

The last question that I was asking myself is the number of superpowers that a superhero has in average. A similar (normalized) histogram can be build for this case:



Probability of having a given number of superpowers. Blue line corresponds to an Erlang probability distribution function
This normalized histogram (or probability density function) can be fit with an Erlang Distribution with k=2 and lambda=0.42. Basically this histogram (or Erlang distribution) tells us that the most number of superheroes have between 1 and 3 different superpowers. That sounds reasonable, no? With a single superpower I think I would be happy anyway. There is of course the extreme cases such as the Prince Wayfinder (sorry, never heard of him), who is so lucky to have 88 superpowers!! Since the extremes are bad, I think that this guy may loose thousands of combats with his opponents because of the time he has to spend thinking which is the most appropriate superpower to use for the situation.


Percentage - Superpower
37.3% - Unarmed Combat
30.2% - Super Strength
28.4% - Intellect
25.4% - Attractive Female
23.1% - Agility
20.2% - Stamina
19.2% - Attractive Male
18.7% - Weapon Master
17.9% - Flight
16.1% - Blast Power
15.9% - Invulnerability
14.0% - Leadership
12.7% - Marksmanship
11.9% - Gadgets
11.8% - Super Speed
10.2% - Longevity
9.1% - Healing
8.7% - Magic
8.4% - Stealth
8.1% - Shape Shifter
7.9% - Immortal
7.4% - Swordsmanship
6.7% - Tracking
6.6% - Claws
6.4% - Divine Powers
5.9% - Telepathy
5.8% - Teleport
5.7% - Super Sight
5.7% - Power Suit
5.6% - Insanely Rich
5.4% - Power Item
5.0% - Energy Manipulation
4.3% - Super Hearing
4.2% - Berserker Strength
4.1% - Force Field
3.8% - Super Smell
3.8% - Size Manipulation
3.8% - Adaptive
3.7% - Feral
3.7% - Escape Artist
3.7% - Telekinesis
3.7% - Energy Absorption
3.6% - Psionic
3.5% - Energy-Enhanced Strike
3.2% - Illusion Casting
3.1% - Fire Control
2.9% - Implants
2.8% - Levitation
2.8% - Dimensional Manipulation
2.6% - Electricity Control
2.6% - Heat Generation
2.6% - Psychic
2.5% - Animal Control
2.4% - Phasing / Ghost
2.4% - Energy Shield
2.3% - Hypnosis
2.2% - Sub-Mariner
2.1% - Invisibility
2.1% - Light Projection
2.0% - Reality Manpulation
2.0% - Cosmic Awareness
1.9% - Energy Based Constructs
1.9% - Time Travel
1.9% - Possession
1.9% - Chameleon
1.8% - Necromancy
1.7% - Wind Bursts
1.7% - Astral Projection
1.7% - Precognition
1.6% - Omni-lingual
1.6% - Empathy
1.6% - Danger Sense
1.6% - Mesmerize
1.5% - Willpower-Based Constructs
1.5% - Siphon Lifeforce
1.5% - Elasticity
1.5% - Emotion Control
1.4% - Technopathy
1.4% - Radiation
1.3% - Electronic interaction
1.3% - Vampirism
1.3% - Density Control
1.3% - Radar Sense
1.3% - Chemical Secretion
1.3% - Water Control
1.3% - Electronic Disruption
1.2% - Wall Clinger
1.2% - Death Touch
1.2% - Heat Vision
1.2% - Animation
1.2% - Ice Control
1.2% - Earth Manipulation
1.2% - Time Manipulation
1.2% - Super Eating
1.2% - Duplication
1.1% - Siphon Abilities
1.1% - Genetic Manipulation
1.1% - Weather Control
1.0% - Magnetism
0.9% - Poisonous
0.9% - Flame Breath
0.9% - Holographic Projection
0.8% - Voice-induced Manipulation
0.8% - Sonic Scream
0.8% - Gravity control
0.8% - Darkforce Manipulation
0.7% - Vibration Wave
0.7% - Darkness Manipulation
0.7% - Soul Absorption
0.7% - Power Mimicry
0.7% - Matter Absorption
0.7% - Plant Control
0.6% - Probability Manipulation
0.6% - Sense Death
0.6% - Enhance Mutation
0.6% - Postcognition
0.6% - Ice Breath
0.4% - Inertia Absorption
0.4% - Webslinger
0.4% - Shadowmeld
0.4% - Pheromone Control
0.3% - Psychometry
0.3% - Hellfire Control
0.3% - Sand manipulation
0.3% - Chemical Absorbtion
0.2% - Controlled Bone Growth
0.2% - Penance Stare
0.1% - Synaesthesia

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