Nerd Factor: Its a Bit of a Stretch

Dr Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Stretching is one of the more underrated choices on the superpower options list. The ability to lengthen or widen one’s body, just doesn’t seem too appealing in a fictional world of regenerating mutants with indestructible claws and alien beings with vast arrays of impossible powers. Beware though, for these tensile titans are often the most dangerous of foes. They have to be. When one thinks about it, this power has a high risk of killing those who use it.

Like many other fantastic abilities, this sprawling superpower plays out on a continuum. Some superheroes, like the Elongated Man, mostly stretch their limbs and torso out to great lengths. Others, such as Elasti-Girl, will put their bodies into different shapes. A few, like the new Ms. Marvel, will also change their height as well. And then, there is Plastic Man, the superhero who can generally be whatever he cares to imagine.

The combat advantages of pliable powers are immediately evident. Stretchy superheroes can reach opponents who are a long distance away. They can also lasso enemies with their long arms or constrict around one or more opponents. The Fantastic Four’s, Mr. Fantastic, has beaten the formidable Doctor Doom in single combat many times by using his powers to tear Doom’s armor apart from the inside.

Those with greater capacities to assume different forms are limited only by their imaginations. Fingers can stretch to make cages. Hands can become giant boxing gloves and so on. On defense, these heroes can certainly take a punch. Many punches in fact as their putty-like forms can absorb blows with ease.

Bullets and other ranged projectiles are also easily caught and sometimes snapped back at those who fired them.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that Batman himself considers Plastic Man to be one of the most dangerous people in the DC Universe. That’s not because of Plas’ oddball take on life or his tendency to joke constantly in dire situations. Batman knows that a Plastic Man without any morals could easily become any lethal weapon he chose to be.

On the downside, stretching tends to make one a big target. Baddies seem particularly compelled to attempt to try and cut these good guys and gals. Or try to pull them apart. Or wind them up in giant taffy-pulling machines. The latter is admittedly a bit extreme, but that is the general personality type for supervillains.

What are typically not considered about this power though are the potential physiological side effects. It is safe to assume that stretchy bodies come with appropriately stretchy muscles, bones and tendons that do not pull or break. But an elastic body would presumably play havoc on the respiratory and circulatory systems. The shape of the airways and the capacities of the lungs would be constant problems.

More worrisome though, is the fact that a finite amount of blood would be moving around in the randomly changing volume of a stretchable form. These superheroes would be constantly on the verge of passing out from either sudden increases or decreases of blood pressure as their bodies snapped in and out of various lengths. No wonder Plastic Man comes off a little crazy.