In comics, radiation doesn’t give you cancer; it gives you superpowers. Fair enough. But there are plenty of supervillains who should be dead or dying due to their exposure to elements that they use to attack superheroes. There’s a lot of elements that we know are dangerous that we simply didn’t know about 20 to 50 years ago. This list showcases a number of supervillains whose environments or weapons would undoubtedly kill them off if the superheroes were too busy to get around to stopping them.
Asbestos Lady: Mesothelioma
Originally appearing in 1947, Asbestos Lady hated the Human Torch (the original android one, not the Fantastic Four one, but same powers/look). So she made herself a suit of asbestos. Which, yeah, is fantastic at preventing heat and flame from getting through. It also undeniably causes cancer, specifically mesothelioma. So, the Human Torch might have had to wait a while, but she would eventually be done in by her own powers. Marvel’s comics at the time transitioned more to romance and western books around the 50s and let their WW2 superhero titles just fade away and she never came back. But when the Fantastic Four came out in the 60s, the new Human Torch also had an enemy named Asbestos Man. Same idea for a fireproof suit. He also quickly faded into obscurity and in 2014 got a passing mention that he’d died, probably from the suit he wore. Of course, that makes a lot less sense when you consider the Fantastic Four and other superheroes are basically constantly retconned to only having been heroes for maybe 5 years or so, not 50, but you know, whatever. At least they acknowledged the inherent danger of asbestos in passing.
Namor: Mercury Poisoning
Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal that is poisonous in large amounts. Now, for people, the most common way to get too much mercury is from consumption of a lot of fish (and especially whale or dolphin). But it wasn’t always this way. A lot of the mercury comes from the burning of coal or from volcanoes and gets into our seafood. Back in the 40s, when Namor, the Submariner came out, the industrial revolution had only happened around 60 years ago. But since he lives underwater you have to assume that he eats a LOT more fish than us. I think Namor and the rest of the Atlanteans that live underwater are pretty much boned.
Lex Luthor: Lead Poisoning
In the late 1980s, Superman villain Lex Luthor got cancer from the radiation off of a kryptonite ring he wore all the time. While instantly lethal to Kryptonians like Superman, it was also dangerous for humans with long-term exposure. But really, Lex should have been dead a long time before that. Originally appearing in 1940, he quickly became Superman’s greatest nemesis. And one thing he did a lot was cover everything in lead. Boxes containing doomsday weapons or warehouses. Because Superman’s X-Ray vision couldn’t see through lead. But we now know that lead is pretty dangerous and we try to avoid using it in paint for our walls and toys because it affected so many kids. Chronic exposure can cause muscle problems, brain problems and gastrointestinal problems. It gets you real sick. There’s a reason the lead in Flint, Michigan’s water supply right now is a huge news story. It’s dangerous stuff. And Luthor was constantly surrounding himself with it.
Trapster: Solvent Inhalation
Trapster, also known as Paste Pot Pete, was a Fantastic Four villain (I guess he still is, technically) who basically shot glue all over everything. In really massive amounts. And he never wore a mask. So this dude was constantly, just always, inhaling solvents. People get high sniffing glue and do permanent brain damage thanks to something called Toulene Toxicity. There’s also the danger of inhaling hydrocarbons and countless other elements. People that work at glue factories wear special respirators. Trapster doesn’t Maybe he’d been inhaling glue for years and that’s what made him think “Paste Pot Pete” was a good supervillain name or that glue was a good weapon against four superheroes.
Highwayman: Skin Cancer
Highwayman was a truck driver who wanted to kill his brother, another truck driver. That’s it. Ever meet a long-haul trucker? They have one of the toughest jobs out there. They are at high risk for obesity and blood clots. They hold in the need to use the restroom and it leads to bladder and kidney problems including cancer. And one side of their face is constantly exposed to the sun. So it’s super common for them to get skin cancer on the left side of their face. Brutal. Eventually, Highwayman sold his soul to the devil so that he could drive without sleeping, because all the younger truckers were getting the good jobs. But if he hadn’t got himself some supernatural powers, he’d be at risk for a whole mess of problems.
The Tinkerer: Cadmium Poisoning
The Tinkerer is a technological genius who builds all sorts of weapons for supervillains. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man back in 1963 and is an old man. He’s been around forever. Just constantly welding and sautering. Welding and sautering. Hmmm. That’s a lot of exposure to cadmium. That’s a metal found in batteries, electroplating, all sort of stuff that Tinkerer would be exposing himself to day in and day out for years, with no regulation oversight because he’s doing this in secret. Dude would get SO sick. It leads to respiratory tract and kidney problems. Gout. Arthritis. Osteoporosis. Ugh, Tinkerer better hope one of his inventions blows up and kills him. Because he’s bound for a long, slow, painful death otherwise.
The Slug: Diabetes
The Slug is a stupid villain. He’s a Miami crime boss who is massively, obscenely obese. He literally kills his enemies by having them smothered in his rolls of fat. Gross. He weighs so much that supposedly he can’t even walk. He has to be moved on forklifts or hover-chairs. It’s been theorized that he’s a mutant and that’s the only reason he’s somehow still alive. Who knows what power that would be. He weighs about 1,000 pounds. Ever see the TLC show “My 600 Pound Life”? It’s really scary. These people need emergency surgeries because their body cannot continue to function at that weight. And this guy weighs several people more than that. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. At the very, very least, you’d have to imagine he has the most severe case of Type 2 Diabetes known to man. We’re talking high risk for cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart disease and stroke, and even loss of his limbs to the extent he’d need amputation. Come to think of it, we never really see his legs. Maybe they’re already gone. Captain America and Spider-Man should not worry about this guy. He has about 10 minutes left.
Snowflame: Heart Attack
Snowflame is a supervillain powered by cocaine. Literally cocaine. I don’t care how lucky you are, if you are constantly flooding your body with cocaine is going to lead to some gross chronic problems, like the cartilage in your nose disappearing and maybe your nose collapsing and various other cardiovascular issues. But the thing it most does is really get your heart beating. Eventually that muscle is just not going to be able to handle the strain and will more or less explode. A superhero team called the New Guardians went up against him twice and in the second fight, they tossed him into an explosion. They needn’t have bothered.
The Kingpin: Lung Cancer
The Kingpin is Marvel’s premier crime boss. He’s mostly a Daredevil nemesis these days but originally appeared in Spider-Man books. And he was a classy guy. White suit, cravat… and one of those fancy cigarette holders. Dude was ALWAYS smoking. He’d smoke on the covers of the book, standing over Spider-Man. He’d smoke while he outlined his evil plans. He’d smoke while fist-fighting Spider-Man. In recent years, Marvel has banned its characters from smoking. Lucky for Kingpin. Because his chain smoking habit combined with his huge body means he’d be first in line for some lung cancer. Things they didn’t know about as much in the early 60s when Kingpin was first invented.
Punisher: Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Punisher is one of a very few Marvel characters whose origin is still tied to a real-life event. Before he became the Punisher, Frank Castle served in the Marines in the Vietnam War. In fact, he served THREE tours over there. He was in battles all over Vietnam. You know what he would very likely have been exposed to? Agent Orange. It was a defoliant we used extensively from 1961 to 1971. One of the most common cancers associated with the chemicals is soft tissue sarcoma. Punisher could very easily have tumors all over his arms, legs and torso. And even if he didn’t, he’d be likely to pass on birth defects to his son. It’s not a definite that he’d get this, of course. But with how much he was over there, it could be likely. The only crime he’d be fighting is that the soup in his palliative care facility has been the same for three days in a row.