The link between insanity and reality warping

This is my first attempt at a blog of this kind, so if there are errors or gaps in continuity, please forgive me. Thanks.

Comic books really run the gamut as far as superhuman abilities go. Superman has his strength, Flash has his speed, Thor has his lightning and thunder. Even the lack of powers isn't a detriment to being a superhero: Batman is the pinnacle of human perfection and Iron Man's cutting-edge tech makes him one of the most invaluable members of the Avengers. But there's one power that reigns over all the others: the power to bend the fabric of reality itself to your will, to defy the laws of nature, to create worlds that are only limited by your imagination. Reality warpers reign supreme in the comic book world, there's no single ability that beats them. But the majority of reality warpers aren't nigh-omnipotent gods and goddesses living out their fantasies in a world of their making. Quite a few of them struggle to keep their very sanity intact, and are mistrusted and vilified by the people around them. Let's take a look at some of them:

Wanda Maximoff/"Scarlet Witch"

The daughter of Magneto and sister of Quicksilver and Polaris, Wanda was born a mutant with the power to twist probabilities in her favor. The circumstances of her birth led to the development of an additional power: the ability to wield Chaos Magic. The combination of these two abilities, along with the presence of a mysterious entity called the Life Force, resulted in Wanda being able to warp reality on a massive scale, damaging the structure of the omniverse itself.

When she believed her children to be lost to her, Wanda sank into a deep depression. An unfortunate quip on her ambitions of motherhood from a drunken Janet Van Dyne led to Wanda seeking out her mentor Agatha Harkness, demanding to know the truth about her missing children. When Harkness proved unwilling to help her, Wanda snapped, killing her on the spot. She then waged war on the Avengers, which resulted in the deaths of both Vision and Hawkeye. She was eventually defeated by Dr. Strange.

Still, the problem remained. What to do with the unstable, unbelievably powerful young mutant? As Charles Xavier stated "If word got out that a mutant with the power to alter reality had gone insane, it would send human-mutant relations back to the stone age." After heated debates, the Avengers arrived at the only possible conclusion: Wanda's existence was a danger to the world. She had to die.

Her brother Pietro, overhearing this, rushed to Wanda's side and persuaded her to prevent her execution with one last warp: creating the "House of M" reality, where mutants were the dominant species on Earth, ruled by Magneto. Eventually a small group of heroes, led by Wolverine, saw through the fake reality and came face to face with the now completely unstable Wanda. After seeing her brother nearly die at her father's hands, the enraged and grief-stricken Wanda uttered three words that changed the Marvel Universe for ever: "no more mutants".

In one fell swoop, over 90% of the mutant population lost their abilities, an event that the media dubbed "M-Day". A species that once numbered into the millions was reduced to near-extinction. It would not be a stretch to say that the X-Men's history can be divided into two periods: pre M-Day and post M-Day. Wanda has since made her return in the miniseries "The Children's Crusade", seeking to atone for her sins by restoring powers to the mutant victims of M-Day. But her road to redemption is far from smooth: Cyclops, along with most of the world's remaining mutants, considers her actions to be nothing short of genocide, and Wolverine has sworn to kill her the first chance he gets. Only time will tell what lies ahead for Wanda.

"Even when you get what you want, you're still this horrible man. We're not the next step. We're not gods. We're freaks! Look at us, daddy! We're freaks! Mutants! You chose this over us and you ruined us! Daddy... No more mutants."
-
Wanda Maximoff, House of M #7

Sir James Jaspers/"Mad Jim Jaspers"

The name really says it all. When he was first encountered in the Earth-238 reality, Jaspers was doing what all good politicians in search of power do: eliminating the competition. In his case, a successful campaign to outlaw all superhuman activities. Once there was no one left to stand in his path, the madman unleashed the Jasper's Warp, that ripped apart and rewove the fabric of reality in the entire universe over and over again, seeking to rebuild reality in his own insane image. These actions resulted in the infection and deterioration of the universe. To stop the Jasper's Warp from spreading out of the Earth-238 reality, that entire universe was destroyed, along with Jaspers himself.

But in a cruel twist, it was revealed that the mainstream 616 reality's Mad Jim Jaspers was even more powerful than his Earth-238 counterpart. This Jaspers was powerful enough to wreak havoc on the omniverse itself, and his insanity seemed to match his might. He unleashed a deadlier version of the Jasper's Wave on reality, and the battle to end his madness took off. He was eventually killed when the Fury teleported him to an inter-universal void, where he was powerless since there was no reality to warp.

Unfortunately for the omniverse, he was resurrected by the Scarlet Witch's House of M warp, though it remains to be seen if he is still as deadly as he once was.

"Hello, I'm Jaspers. Jim Jaspers. Mad Jim Jaspers. Actually, you can call me 'Mad'. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! I made you. I made everything, actually. I made the sky. I made the tiger and the lamb... I put the bop in the bop shebop shebop and the ram in the rama lama dingdong! I made the stars and the cockroaches...the trees, the winklepicker shoe... Well, I don't remember making that!"

-Mad Jim Jaspers

Jamie Braddock

The eldest brother of Psylocke, everyone's favorite telekinetic/telepathic ninja, Jamie is unique among mutants in that his special abilities didn't manifest at puberty, but much later as an adult. His sister and brother both wield considerable power, but they're both utterly dwarfed by Jamie's powers: he perceives reality as a web of infinite strings, and by tugging on those strings he can bend all of time and space to his will. He was tortured by Doctor Crocodile, which caused his psyche to shatter. Thus, he believes that the reality he perceives is nothing more than a dream.

His powers were originally limited: he could only affect dense forms, and needed to be in their proximity to do so. However, his powers eventually developed to the point where all such limitations were removed. His reality warping was massive in scale, limited only by his intelligence and level of insanity at the time. There are few things Jamie Braddock hasn't done: he's resurrected the dead, given people superpowers, transformed himself into shapes and sizes that allowed him to survive great damage, teleported across dimensions and universes. You name it. He died sacrificing his own life to save Psylocke's, which would indicate a happier fate than most of the other people on this list.

""Power runs deep in our family. He got the full measure. The ability to pull the quantum strings that define causality.
He got himself so tangled, he'll never twist free.'
"

-Psylocke, Uncanny X-Men #464

Kevin MacTaggart/"Proteus"

There's a bitter irony in noting that the son of the X-Men's closest ally would become one of their deadliest enemies. Kevin MacTaggart did not have a happy beginning. He was conceived when his father Joseph savagely beat and raped his mother, Moira MacTaggart. Moira left Joseph and took Kevin with her to the Muir Island Mutant Research Center in Scotland. When he hit puberty, his mysterious mutant ability manifested, causing his body to start rapidly decaying at an alarming rate. He was filled with an uncontrollable hunger for the life-force of others. To protect the people she worked with, Moira was forced to confine Kevin in a cell with energy generators that kept her son's body from burning out.

A battle between Magneto and the X-Men resulted in damage to the cell, and Kevin was able to escape by possessing the body of another man. An encounter with the X-Men revealed Kevin's true power: he could exude massive amounts of psionic energy that allowed him to restructure his surrounding reality in any manner. The man's body began to start decaying slowly, since Kevin's energies corroded living flesh. The only solution the body-hopping psychopath could find was to possess human host bodies, one after another, including one of Multiple Man's duplicates, Ferdie Duncan, an unnamed policeman, and Jennie Banks. This process was effectively a death sentence for those possessed.

After making his way to Edinburgh and possessing the body of his father, Kevin began to call himself "Proteus", after the shape-shifting Greek god. In a final confrontation with the X-Men, it was revealed that Proteus' fragile energy structure could not withstand prolonged exposure to metal. A punch from Colossus resulted in his form being disintegrated and scattered across the world, and it was assumed that he was dead.

However, MacTaggart resurfaced once more in the "Necrosha" story arc, having possessed the X-Man Blindfold. He easily defeated a team of mutants consisting of Psylocke, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Husk and Colossus, but made the mistake of underestimating Magneto. While Kevin was taunting Magnus and showing off his incredible power, Magneto was able to destabilize Proteus' energy lattice, causing him to shatter into countless pieces.

Magnus warned that Proteus would eventually reform, which means that this isn't the last the X-Men have seen of this powerful foe.

"Possession isn't my power. It's just how I feed. My power is to shove my fist into the ribs of reality and tear out it's smoking heart."
-
Proteus, X-Men Legacy #233

David Haller/"Legion"

"And He (Jesus) asked him (the man), "What is thy name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion: for we are many."
-
Mark 5:9

The son of X-Men founder Charles Xavier and an Israeli diplomat named Gabrielle Haller, David suffers from a form of multiple personality disorder, where each personality has access to a different power. It's important to note that in real life, multiple personality disorder is a condition so exceedingly rare that most psychiatrists aren't in agreement on whether it even exists.

David possesses thousands of personalities with powers ranging from telekinesis to reality warping. He struggles to control them all, and if one or more of them gain control of his body they tend to embark on sprees of destruction. His initial encounters with the X-Men were turbulent: his personalities often got the better of him and wreaked havoc on the mutants. Legion is perhaps most famous for his misguided quest to redeem himself in his father's eyes by travelling back in time to kill Magneto; his actions resulted in the accidental death of Xavier and the beginning of the Age of Apocalypse. This event was averted by Bishop, who was able to travel back in time and stop David from accidentally killing his father. It seemed that David himself had died as a result of his encounter with Bishop.

He later resurfaced during the first arc of the third volume of "New Mutants", where a newly formed team was tasked with subduing him after his personalities had shoved him aside and taken control of his body. Once he was brought back under the care of the X-Men, his father gathered some of the finest minds on Marvel Earth to seek a solution to David's problem. Even so, earlier this year one of David's errant personalities pulled the entire 616 universe into a colossal warp, creating the Age of X. David took responsibility for the personality's actions, and restored reality to normal after reabsorbing her into his psyche. He's still viewed with suspicion and distrust, and understandably so. But his future seems brighter than most of the others on this list. He's regained some level of control over his powers, and has been reunited with his father.

"Oh god....this wasn't supposed to happen. I just wanted someone to fix me!"
-
Legion, New Mutants #4

Why do so many reality warpers suffer from mental conditions or sociopathic tendencies? Is it because the very concept of turning reality on its head is so unthinkable that it's relegated to monsters and lunatics? Is there a perception that bending reality could only be done by people who see their surroundings through a different lens? Or am I just reading into this way too much? There are more stable warpers like Franklin Richards, but although we have seen a possible future version of him, we have yet to see what kind of man he will truly grow up to be.

Which begs the question, will we ever see a powerful reality warper who's relatively stable and well adjusted?

As stable as a member of the Authority can be.
35 Comments
35 Comments
Posted by Mercy_

Incredibly well-written blog. That was seriously impressive.

As to the question, I think that their insanity/mental instability may be the effect of their powers more so than it is the cause.

Moderator
Posted by lykopis

Extremely informative and thought provoking blog, well done. Your last question needs some further thought from me - what does "well adjusted and stable" necessarily mean to a powerful reality warper? Their interpretation, or the world around them. Good question, and has me eyeing little Franklin Richards suspiciously.

Thank you for this. :)

Posted by Saren

@The Dark Huntress: @lykopis: Thanks for the feedback! Much appreciated.

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Posted by SC

Great thread/blog. I hope this is the start of more? Seriously great stuff.  
 
I think mental instability is also creator induced as well? These characters need a crux. Not only that but there is a sort of instinctual subconsciousness effect at play, because I mean, reality warping could be... what if a character used reality warping to inflict damage on themselves before warping away their powers? Like pushing a vase over? Once its broken.. its hard to put back together again. So there's a matter of control that is at the writers discretion. (much like the definition of reality itself) 

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Posted by Saren

@SC: Thanks, and hopefully it is!

I think that's partly related to my final paragraph; it would seem that the writers write most reality warpers as fragile and unstable.

Moderator
Posted by Billy Batson
Which begs the question, will we ever see a powerful reality warper who's relatively stable and well adjusted?

Lucifer?
BB

Online
Posted by Hawkeye446

Very nice. Well Done.

Edited by RainEffect

Mate, you've outdone yourself this time. That was a seriously spot on analysis, especially looking at Wanda. I loved the inclusion of quotes, giving it a real connection with the comics and proving that it isn't just something you have invented for the sake of it,

Posted by Saren

@Billy Batson said:

Which begs the question, will we ever see a powerful reality warper who's relatively stable and well adjusted?

Lucifer?
BB

Too many daddy issues, man.

@RainEffect: @Hawkeye446: Thanks :)

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Posted by Saren

Actually, now that I think about it the entire Emperor Joker arc is a good example for something like this.

Anyone else have an opinion?

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Posted by DoomDoomDoom

Awesome blog, really enjoyed reading through it and the description of Legion, who I'm not all that familiar with.

If Jesus is omnipotent than when he asked "what is thy name?" it must have been a rhetorical question right? random sorry.

Posted by super_psycho

Great blog :)

Posted by Saren

@DoomDoomDoom: @super_psycho: Thanks guys :)

Moderator
Posted by entropy_aegis

Parallax as well.

Posted by Saren

@entropy_aegis said:

Parallax as well.

Yeah. I still remember Spectre screaming "Emerald hypocrite! Your insanity will doom us all!" or something alone those lines.

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Posted by Decibelle

What about Franklin Richards?

Posted by Saren

@Decibelle said:

What about Franklin Richards?

He's been mentioned above. I still want to see what 616 Franklin slowly grows up to be like.

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Edited by Decibelle
@CitizenBane: Just noticed him.
 
Honestly, if a reality warper can grow up to be stable, at all, it'll be him, I reckon. I'm not just saying that because I like the Richards children.
 
(Also, can someone with a Cosmic Cube be considered a reality re-writer?) Don't get me wrong, I like your theory, and it makes sense. I wanna prove it further.
Edited by Saren

@Decibelle: The thing is, there are very few people who wouldn't go overboard if they had the kind of power he does.

Cosmic Cubes are almost always misused, aren't they?

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Posted by Morpheus_
 Cool blog. Thumbs up.
 
 
As for Wanda, they went all Parallax with her in the most recent issue of the Children's Crusade, so apparently it wasn't really her fault, after all.
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Edited by Decibelle
@CitizenBane: Yeah; was thinking of further examples you could use (Red Skull, Thanos.) On a more topical note, there are very few, but deep down, I can't see the son of Reed and Susan going crazy. Provided he's given a stable upbringing.
 
(stable for the Fantastic Four, anyway.)
Posted by ComicMan24

Nice blog. Well it should be noted that a lot of these people, if not all, don't really have a happy background.

@Morpheus_ said:

As for Wanda, they went all Parallax with her in the most recent issue of the Children's Crusade, so apparently it wasn't really her fault, after all.

Really?

Posted by Saren

@Morpheus_: @ComicMan24: Thanks, guys!

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Edited by crazy8504

I enjoyed reading this. I think the reason reality warpers are so unstable is because if you change change reality so easily what then is real to you. How can you have an anchor to the real world when you can make anything real with just a thought. Also I imagine it gives these people god complexes and that is never a sane mindset.

Posted by midnightmare

1) Franklin Richards has been controlling reality for years, he's still 5 years old while other characters who where born after him are teenagers. 2) Out story writers make reality warpers insane because no one knows how to make one a main character, so they're always the menaces. 3) In story, Reality Warpers became insane because whithout any kind of boundaries they loose their sense of reallity(i kow, recdundant).

Posted by TheWitchingHour

Really great blog CitizenBane, I enjoy you're breakdown a great deal. Insanity seems to be very prevalent among reality warpers in the Marvel Universe, but what about the D.C. or Image universes? I'd be curious for your take on those as well. Keep it up, I look forward to more.

Edited by Saren

@TheWitchingHour: Thanks. I think Marvel's view is realistic in the sense that it's easy to lose sight of what's real and what's not if you have the ability to switch the two around. But quite a few of their warpers like MJJ, Legion and Proteus were unstable and/or sociopaths even before they were established as reality warpers.

For DC, off the top of my head, Jenny Quantum comes to mind. She grew into a teenager in the Wildstorm Universe and was one of the more stable and in-control reality warpers in comics. Still waiting to see how she's handled in the new 52 though. And then there's Hal Jordan as Parallax. He tried to recreate the entire DCU in his own image after being driven insane with grief at the destruction of his home city. I'll have to think it over to find more examples.

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Edited by djotaku

I arrived late to the party on this one. I think the answer has to do with the outside world more than the world within Marvel. If you're a hero or villain who can bend reality, then what's to stop you ever? Why wouldn't you always win? Why would there be any tension to the story? If a bad guy was attacking - write him out of existence. Or place him in space, or over the ocean, etc I think reality manipulators are crazy because their stories would otherwise suck.

However, if I could take the other side for a moment - I guess if I were always able to change reality, would I end up developing a paranoia about what reality I was in? Or something related to that. I guess it would depend on how the reality changes worked.

Posted by Eyelash30

The commentary of insane reality warpers is very spot on in themes with select comics replicated in such DC stories as 'Emporerer Joker'. The themes that are reflected and repeated well through the comic book authors is to existentially question the idea of reality itself. Comedianne Lily Tomlin long once stated, "What is reality but a collectivistic hunch?" To philosophize reality is to question people; people do not see the world as it is, they see the world as they see themselves - "The thief believes everyone is a thief" mentality.

Scarlet Witch's probabilty powers are subjective symbolics of hope in action; Legion is a caricature of the identity complex and the world surrounding identity; Proteus is a caricature of childish ID seeking to control one's environment as specifically seen desirable; Jamie Braddock is a reciprocal of existence- a prior egotist brought low to lose his mind and sense of reality to suggest "life is but a dream" and thus is an irrational shell of a man.

"Mad Jim" Jaspers proved to be best fascinating as a villainous politician before becoming a Machiavellian manipulator of reality itself, but the reality he is unable to differentiate reality makes the reality-warping power even more symbolic for it becomes subjective that reality is individualistically perspective. Ergo, "There is a thin line between genius and madness."

Will we ever see a reality warper who is stable and well adjusted? Such nominations I would reflect would be Molecule Man, Miracle Man, and a long forgotten female heroine, Holly Ann Ember/Starbird, as examples. Perhaps Beyonder?

Posted by PhoenixoftheTides

Great blog! I think the problem is that their power to change reality leads to mental instability. If you could bring dead people back to life, for example, death as a concept means nothing to you, so I somewhat agree with @midnightmare said:

In story, Reality Warpers became insane because whithout any kind of boundaries they loose their sense of reallity(i kow, recdundant).

I was wondering if Jeroen, the first doctor in The Authority could be an example of a stable reality warper, even though he abused drugs to alter his state of consciousness to such an extent that he was rarely sober. At the very least, he wasn't destroying the world with his reality alteration or turning into a power mad villain.

Posted by doomsilver

Good blog, really well written.

Edited by Rumble Man

@CitizenBane:

Don't forget
Jeroen

@djotaku said:

If you're a hero or villain who can bend reality, then what's to stop you ever?

Plenty of things, ranging from adaptors to power nullifiers with guns

Why wouldn't you always win?

There will always be someone better, even in reality warping

Why would there be any tension to the story?

Yes, evil imaginary friends coming to life that cannot be removed because of trauma

Edited by Redberry

Wiccan can warp reality, too, and he's not insane (He may go a bit crazy for project runway but otherwise).

Posted by majestic99

@CitizenBane:

Well written blog.

I think if reality warpers were evil and mentally stable at the same time nobody would be able to stop them.

Also, it shows how humans would react with infinite power.

Posted by Edenstar

Very well written blog. I personally think that it comes down to one particular fact: weakness. Reality warpers need a weakness. A stable one is nigh-invincible. They could eliminate any obstacle in their path. But an insane one can be taken advantage of. They can be manipulate or taunted into defeat. Without that, the reality warper would literally break the story and not allow for any tension or drama.