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So, I have a superhero, and his name is Logan Wotowski, the indestructible man.

He can survive and heal from gunshots to the head, knives to throat, getting hit by cars, fire, electrocutions, high falls, disembowlment and explosions, you name it. No normal, ordinary injury can kill him.

So, in my story there is a scene in which he is trying to disarm a bomb and he can’t leave since he’s trapped underground in a coffin. While he’s trying to disarm the bomb, he’s terrified as all get out. All the other times he’s about to die, he’s afraid too.

My question is, why would an invincible character still fear mortal injuries?

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    $\begingroup$ He is trapped in a coffin with a bomb? $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 22 '18 at 1:34
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know why @Philipp deleted his answer. That would have been the substance of my answer. Also, if he didn't grow up as a super healer, he would have the mental associations and habits he learned as a child. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Jul 22 '18 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ Wolverine can drown. $\endgroup$ – Martin Schröder Jul 22 '18 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ Because it hurts (or rather will hurt)? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jul 22 '18 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Most Superhumans don't actually know the limit(s) of their power, so what if this is what kills him? $\endgroup$ – Möoz Jul 23 '18 at 2:54

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Logan might have a supernatural healing factor, but not superhuman pain tolerance.

Having suffered the horrible pain caused by injuries no other human ever survived could have been a traumatizing experience he really, really doesn't want to repeat. Most people assume that getting blown to pieces by a bomb is a quick and painless death. But Logan knows that he will feel how every part of his body gets ripped apart, and that he will survive with the memory of it. And that expectation terrifies him.

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    $\begingroup$ Just like another probably-entirely-unrelated Logan, PTSD miiiiiight limit his effectiveness $\endgroup$ – Punintended Jul 21 '18 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Also, healing from injuries doens't help with his (in)ability to dig out. Who wants to be fully healed and still buried alive dozens of meters underground in hard-packed dirt? $\endgroup$ – flith Jul 23 '18 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ @flith That exact concept has been used in several movies. Immortals are buried alive, under tons of earth and stone. Studies have shown that a few minutes of total sensory deprivation can easily agitate people far more than anything else, imagine a few days of it. Assuming the coffin survives -- or that it's buried by whatever's enclosing it -- Logan could look forward to that. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jul 24 '18 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ @NicHartley Days? I'd assume if someone does want to bury him, they will bury well enough that Logan stays underground for years, if not centuries. I cannot imagine what that will do to him, but I'm not sure if he will still be human. $\endgroup$ – Alice Jul 25 '18 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ I recall an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where Xander is standing in a room with a bomb, between a zombie that can't die and the exit. Xander explains the bully's choice "Being blowed up isn't walking around and drinking with your buddies dead. It's little bits being swept up by a janitor dead, and I don't think you're ready for that." $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jul 25 '18 at 10:51
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The possibility of being buried alive is a very powerful fear.
The Old Croghan Man was a mummified body found in a bog estimated to be about 2000 years old dug up in Ireland.
Imagine that body was your super hero but alive for all of the 2000 years.

What he fears is his enemy finding him during his defenseless regen phases and moving him somewhere encased in concrete, and then construction workers simply building a new building above him. We are probably never going to check what is buried 10 feet underneath the bottommost stone of the pyramids of Giza.
Even if the hero knows a nationwide manhunt will follow if he goes missing.

Remember MA flight 370, they searched about 4,500,000 km² of ocean floor for its transponder, which is about half the area of the USA. Now good luck finding a box with a built-in radio signal.
Imagine waiting in a coffin of concrete and rebar until the deep ocean wildlife has effected your environment so you can even begin trying to dig yourself from the ocean floor.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: I know of several people who are far more afraid of being locked in a box than they are of dying. For some people, the complete impotence, the lack of ability to do anything of value, really bothers them. Indeed, there are entire martial arts which are built around learning how to not need to do anything -- let your opponent do all the work. It turns out it is incredibly difficult to learn to do nothing. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 21 '18 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ Even if he was a mental paragon of virtue everyone who he ever knew could be dead by the time he gets out of the box. $\endgroup$ – Mellester Jul 21 '18 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ If anything, I feel like immortality should make you even more scared of being trapped. Anyone else has the eventual reprieve of death- a regenerating immortal doesn't. $\endgroup$ – Friendlysociopath Jul 22 '18 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ Re deep ocean wildlife, if your enemy is really nasty s/he builds a really strong box and dumps you in an ocean trench, where after a few million years or so, you get subducted into the mantle... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 22 '18 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ Wait, who said anything about Logan not being able to starve to death like any ordinary people? Being able to survive a gunshot sounds like a different thing to being able to survive with no food or water. If anything, he should be eating more to compensate for his superb metabolism, right? $\endgroup$ – ZeroOne Jul 22 '18 at 19:02
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He doesn't trust in the healing factor

  • He has never been decapitated nor lost his head (literally). He isn't sure if his healing factor is able to heal the whole loss of the brain: maybe it's possible, but maybe the new brain loses all its memories.
  • He doesn't know how his healing power works: maybe it has a limited amount of uses like @david starkey suggested. Who knows, maybe his special stem cells aren't able to replicate themselves, and each time they heal something, they die in the process.

And obviously, he doesn't want to take the risk and try it.

He is still a human

Humans have instinct, things that they can't control completely. Some people are afraid of heights, even when they know they won't fall. He is still a human, a super-human but after all a human. He can't control that kind of instinct.

He suffers pain

Again, he is human and humans are able to suffer pain from injuries. Furthermore, humans have a pain tolerance, and reaching that threshold can have some psychological consequences. For example in Tokio Ghoul spoiler:

Ken Kaneki has a hyper-fast healing factor, which heals so quickly that when he was captured and tortured, his torturer used to cut off his fingers and toes every 10 seconds, for 10 consecutive days. Ken Kaneki get a bit traumatized... his hair became white, his introverted and friendly personality disappeared and until he lost his memory (and got a second personality) he used to cut the fingers off everyone he met, and then eat their corpses.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the irrational nature of fear. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jul 23 '18 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ He is still a human is IMHO the core. It's really difficult to overcome your instincts. The fact you're not vulnerable to any injury might be clear for your reasoning ego but it doesn't have to comfort your unconscious id. $\endgroup$ – Ister Jul 23 '18 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ Along with the first bit, maybe he believes he has a limited number of healings? $\endgroup$ – David Starkey Jul 23 '18 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidStarkey Good idea! $\endgroup$ – Ender Look Jul 23 '18 at 14:45
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In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle book Inferno, the protagonist is in Hell and can't die no matter how badly he is hurt.

Even after he's gotten so shell shocked he accepts that he will suffer pain, he avoids it when possible because it hurts so much. He may have to wade through a lake of boiling blood but he'll stay in the shallows as much as possible so only his legs cook, jumping down a jagged cliff is preferable to being torn apart by demons, etc. Since he can't die his nerves never deteriorate, the pain never numbs, it's always sharp and fresh.

Now imagine feeling all of that as your body tries to knit itself together? To die of oxygen deprivation and come back to life every few minutes only to die again, and again, and again. And except for the times when death mercifully knocks him out for a few seconds or minutes, his brain is active enough to sense the pain, the death throes of his body, the raw nerves regenerating before the muscles and skin.

I'd be terrified of being hurt that badly, at least death would end the suffering, his will never end.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. I think I should read this book. Sounds fascinating. (Dark...but interesting.) $\endgroup$ – Beska Jul 25 '18 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Beska, it's a good one. But make sure to just stick to Inferno, the sequel is garbage. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Jul 26 '18 at 2:51
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Is it possible that his healing factor hurts others? For instance, maybe when he heals he (involuntarily) takes someone else's lifeforce. Near-death experiences for him are real-death experiences for someone else. He's terrified that someone else will suffer or die as he heals.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of Carnivàle. +1 for a unique answer $\endgroup$ – RubberDuck Jul 22 '18 at 20:10
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He is a total wuss.

Yes, he is afraid of getting hurt. Also afraid of spiders, and daschhunds, and that there might be a raisin in his bread (he always checks because ONCE THERE WAS!). He is afraid that his underwear might be on backwards and he will have to walk around that way until he can get to a restroom and switch them back. He is afraid of riding on the bus and afraid of those rotating doors in big hotels and department stores. Also he is afraid he might have an ulcer (he might) and that the pharmacy gave him someone else's medicine and that his sandwich wasn't really beef but it was horse and he liked it!

It is bad enough that he is afraid of all this stuff but worse is that he will let you know he is afraid, over and over, in a whiny voice, and it is all your fault.

It is pretty amazing that he ever does anything heroic. Although you do not stipulate that he ever actually does.

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    $\begingroup$ I can imagine agreat comedic superhero film out of this. Sort of Johnny English meets The X Men, a completely accidental superpowered hero who really just wants to sit at home. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 26 '18 at 7:29
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Regeneration is fine and dandy for most things, lose an arm, grow a new one. It might hurt, but he'll be okay in a few days/weeks/months.

But if he suffers head-trauma, or gets his brain blown out, he loses memories.

Having his brain destroyed by a bomb means that he's going to grow back a new brain, perhaps with some of his memories, perhaps not, but it's going to be a serious long-term effect either way.

Realistically, he should be more or less a newborn baby neurologically, but handwaved by supernatural abilities, perhaps he will be "backed up" to the last time he slept, or to the day he acquired his powers.

Imagine waking up in screaming pain, under meters of soil with no idea how you got there and the last thing you remember is either going to bed or suffering a traumatic super-power activating experience.

That's enough to give me the heebie-jeebies myself!

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with this. DNA will be a blueprint for rebuilding the body, but there is no blueprint for rebuilding memories. $\endgroup$ – zero Jul 23 '18 at 16:58
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Because, in line with this question, there are already seventeen of him and it's starting to get silly.

Yeah sure he can be in several places at once, but the bed is getting crowded.

He regenerates, but he has no way to know which part of him to regenerate from, so unless all detached parts are back in contact within a few seconds he regenerates from all of them. This is fine when he's lost an arm, he can grab it quickly, but being cleft in twain is a bit of a problem.

The problem first showed when he was caught in a decapitating trap, his body couldn't find his head so it grew a new one, his head couldn't see his body so also grew a new one. It went rapidly downhill from there and now his favourite point to stand overlooking the city and brood is always occupied by another one of himself and they all claim to be the original.

Getting blown to smithereens would cause no end of trouble, there could be hundreds or thousands of him running around.

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Are taking a bullet to the head and being blown to strawberry jam both healable?

One of the many reasons for beheading is that you're absolutely sure the dude is dead. If I behead Mr. Wotowski, is he dead? Or can his superpower replace a head complete with brain? The answer should be "no."

Therefore, it is possible to do so much damage that the superpower cannot repair it. Being blown to bits qualifies, and therefore justifies Mr. Wotowski's substantial fear of death.

If being blown to bits is healable by the superpower, then he isn't superhuman, he's a god and entirely indestructable. No fear is justified save for irrationality, which is hard to believe in a godlike being. I'm not a fan of godlike superheros, they tend to be boring.

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  • $\begingroup$ "If being blown to bits is healable by the superpower, then he isn't superhuman, he's a god and entirely indestructable. No fear is justified save for irrationality, which is hard to believe in a godlike being. I'm not a fan of godlike superheros, they tend to be boring." I've seen workarounds for this. For example, they can heal from events like that; but only if they are in possession of specific items, and there is still a limited capacity, so doing it multiple times in succession without giving them recovery time would eventually kill them. Made a pretty cool villain. $\endgroup$ – JMac Jul 23 '18 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ @JMac Or even something as simple as losing all memories and skills, given that those are (most likely) stored in the brain. Even if the whole body is rebuilt perfectly, he'd be a different person (though it would probably be worth handwaving that he isn't a human infant; perhaps he reverts to the exact state he was when he became superhuman?). So sure, there might be some continuity to him, but his earlier self died and its memories are gone. The same way, brain trauma wouldn't kill him, but could do permanent damage to parts of his memory/personality/abilities. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 26 '18 at 6:16
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I have normal human healing powers.

I can survive and heal (and in fact I already have) from several cases of broken bones, burns, cuts and other bodily damage.

And yet, for instance, I'm still afraid of breaking one of my bones - even the ones that quite clearly won't lead to death or long lasting damage.

I'm not even a fan of cutting my skin when chopping onions, although I would hardly die as a consequence of that.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe not the best and most detailed answer, but short and sweet. And, therefore, good. +1 $\endgroup$ – TOOGAM Jul 26 '18 at 9:16
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Quoting the great Arnold: "I suppose nothing hurts you." "Only pain". Your hero seems to be immortal but he is not immune to pain. So, when he is desembowled he will feel it. How bad he will feel it depends on he going into shock and staying unconscious. Another important question is what heals first, the main, core parts of the organism, or the peripherical parts?

For example, the villain stabs our hero in the back with a chainsaw. The spine, his guts, like the intestines are destroyed. Then our sadistic villain melts our hero's legs' skin with acid. What will heal first? The main systems like the spine, the arteries and big veins? Or peripherical systems like the shredded bowel's linement and the corroded leg skin?

If our hero heals the core first he is for a hell of pain. If he heals the core last, if the last step is the reconnection of the spine, he will suffer less pain.

So, the first reason he is afraid is that he is afraid of pain, not of death. A second reason depends upon on how he acquired this immortality: was he a normal human that became a superhealing immortal? Or was he born that way? If it is the first alternative, he is afraid because he still thinks as a normal human, because of reflexes and conditioning.

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    $\begingroup$ "...he is afraid of pain, not of death". Applies to a lot of us: we do plenty of things that could realistically get us killed, but we don't worry much about that. But pain? Say a simple visit to the dentist? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 23 '18 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Indeed, given that not going to the dentist can kill you, it's a great example. We trade the certainty of some pain for the uncertain death. Of course, usually the thing that kills you makes you hurt more and more until the doctor doesn't seem so scary anymore :D $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 26 '18 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ A remember a scene from the TV show called "Heroes". Claire intentionally falls from a great height. Her flying boyfriend rushes down to save her. She pointed out that his effort wasn't required because she would have survived the fall. He said, "I know. I just never want to see you get hurt." Kissing commences. $\endgroup$ – TOOGAM Jul 26 '18 at 9:25
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In the vein of Ender Cooks's answer about not trusting his power, if he doesn't understand his power he might be afraid that it could stop working some day.

Or maybe he has some partial understanding that makes him afraid. If he's always hungry after healing maybe he worries that he won't be able to heal this time if he didn't eat enough for breakfast.

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Well, a few reasons:

  • It hurts. Obviously.
  • You can still suffer from things like claustrophobia (being buried alive).
  • The time he is wounded he can't fight as good as he could in normal conditions. Therefore he can't protect the things he loves as good as he wants (I stole that one from Deadpool).
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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! A little tip about markdown: to get a soft linebreak you need to have two spaces at the end of a line before hitting Enter. To get a paragraph you need to hit Enter twice to have an empty line between the paragraphs. Lists work by having one empty line before having each line start with a dash, followed by a space. There is a little bar at the top of where you type that can help you with markdown and you can "suggest an edit" to see other peoples markdown. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jul 23 '18 at 7:37
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One thing you have to be careful about with super-powers is that your character is still vulnerable somehow/has his limits.

Maybe he is used to the pain. But there are other weaknesses and potential drawbacks. What is the consequence for constantly being extremely injured? Does healing take a lot of time or energy? Maybe being blown up would take him 5 days to heal, and there's stuff he can't wait 5 days to do.

Maybe he is extremely claustrophobic. The coffin is terrifying him psychologically.

Maybe every time he gets blown to bits it takes more and more (time/energy) to become whole again. I personally really liked the idea by Ruadhan2300 where he would lose some memories because of the brain damage.

Superheroes are fun. But a hero with unlimited powers and no weaknesses or drawbacks can be incredibly boring. Write limits to your character's powers (whether actual--(like how Claire in Heroes (who had a similar power) would not be able to regenerate while a certain part of her brain was stabbed/pierced) or percieved--(MC is scared that he will encounter something he won't be able to recover from.) Either way, limitless power is usually an unrealistic and boring quality. If the MC is in danger, the audience needs to be concerned that they might not make it out of this okay, or they won't be interested.

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Perhaps it's not the immediate physical injuries he's worried about.

He's buried underground in an enclosed space. It's possible for your hero to break their way out of a coffin and dig themselves back to the surface (Mythbusters might disagree, but they didn't test with a superhero).

What happens if that bomb goes off? The explosion will blow the coffin apart and disrupt the dirt around it. There's no longer anything holding back the freshly-dug and still-loose soil above the coffin. All that dirt will cascade down, filling the space around the hero. The hero may heal from his injuries, but now he's completely trapped under a massive amount of dirt without even an inch of space to move. He no longer has any way to free himself from this prison. He's now faced with the a brand new series of dangers:

  • If his healing abilities won't work when the pieces of his post-explosion body are thoroughly mixed in with a mountain of dirt, then he may not heal at all.
  • If he can successfully heal but is vulnerable to suffocation, he'd die within minutes.
  • If breathing isn't a problem, he faces a slow death by dehydration/hunger.
  • Even if he's completely immortal, he has to deal with the psychological torture of being completely trapped, helpless, and alone until someone finds him. It doesn't take long in this state for someone to completely lose their mind.

Alternatively, your hero could fear the ultimate vulnerability that plagued even the mighty Superman: the inability to be in two places at the same time. Sure, your hero might heal from the injury, but how long will that take? What Awful Things is the villain going to do to his friends in that time? The hero is the only one that can prevent Awful Things, and the only way he can do that is if he stays in one piece.

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Vanity

Mr. Wotowski is actually really obsessed with his personal appearance. Bomb blasts might not kill him, but they'll certainly ruin his perfect outfit. He can heal easily from shrapnel cuts, but it might result in scars that mar his complexion. If his hair gets burnt it'll take weeks to regrow. At least ordinary baddies have the decency to go down easily, and stick to means that (usually) don't attack his vanity

Maybe he was born with superpowers, maybe it's Maybelline.

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Terrible consquences to recovering from mortal injuries.

Perhaps Logan has terrible nightmares after recovering from a mortal injury, getting worse every time he revives? Maybe some otherworldly, metaphysical creature creeps up on him, closer and closer? Or perhaps a random person's life is extinguished every time Logan dies and recovers? The superpower is supernatural, so it might have supernatural consequences as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer. The body heals, but you still have PTSD.... $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 1 '18 at 15:11
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The film "Death becomes her" is a film where 2 immortal women start fighting. While it might seem that there can be no winner and no loser - as they are, after all, immortal, this means only that they do not die.

However, injuries sustained do not magically heal - infact their ability to heal is almost completely removed.

This means that should they break their neck, they will forever have a broken neck, unable to maintain their heads usual position up on their shoulders, it will fall down from the lack of support.

It becomes a fate worse than death; as whatever injury they suffer, however abnormal it will make them; they will not die.

Given those conditions, I'd avoid these situations like the plague.

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Religious Reasons

Perhaps our hero is religious. He's suspicious of his powers being unnatural at the best of times, but when he suffers what should have been a fatal injury he becomes even more disturbed. Perhaps he believes that he loses a piece of his soul every time he comes back from death (and perhaps he's right).

Tattoos

More a fear of mutilation than death itself, but I thought I'd throw this idea out there anyhow.

He has tattoos, but if he loses the part of himself that the tattoo is on he loses the tattoo as well. Maybe one or more have sentimental value to him that are irreplaceable, such as a loved one's name/image or art done by a close friend who has passed away.

Tying in to Ruadhan2300's answer concerning the loss of memory and taking a page from the movie Memento, perhaps some of the tattoos are there to help him keep track of his history. When both the memory and the tattoo are gone, that history is lost forever.

Maybe he just really loves those tattoos and is afraid he's going to have get them all redone.

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Because his regeneration factor will make him grow limbs in weird places.

And he knows it.

Usually when it's just a cut or a scratch, it's easy for him to control his regeneration: disinfect, add a bandage, and that's fine! But if he's really badly injured or, like in your scenario, exploded, his regenerative powers could go nuts and he will reassemble in the worst, yet optimal way given the circumstances.

Or...

Let's say you're hurt, you lose a finger and do not sanitize / cauterize the wound. Given time (and some bad genetics) you're prone to catch an infection, or in the worst cases, gangrene that will rot you from the inside. And with regenerative powers gone wild, your hero could grow infected limbs from scratch.

Anyway, both options he'd prefer to avoid at all costs.

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Instincts of self-preservation

Fear is not a reasonable thing. You fear something because you feel so, not because you think it is reasonable.

He is a healing factor superhero, but he is also a human being. A human mind has a few basic instincts, including instincts of self-preservation. It is the most basic, naturalistic fear of being injured. Even if he can tolerate the pain, he might surrender to fear.

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One way is to introduce something that can override the self-regeneration. Marvel Comics has a sword that cancels healing factors. Superman loses his invulnerability due to kryptonite or red solar radiation. By having an external factor that cancels out the power, you can create the tension.

Let’s say your character’s healing factor can be canceled out by Element X. If the bomb goes off, the character will be shredded by shrapnel made of Element X.

Alternatively, make the fear not for their own safety, but for that of someone else. Put an innocent person in the coffin with him. Give him a negative consequence for failure or taking too long.

I hope my ideas help.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! Great first answer! Have fun on the site and don't hesitate to ask on Wordbuilding Meta or check the help center should you have any questions about the site. Enjoy your stay. :) $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Jul 25 '18 at 10:21
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People that you love and want to save dying or suffering is something that is important to consider in the vase of worry, fear, and anxiety too. Healing doesnt make you forget pain, and make you lose empathy, if anything it ought to make you more empathetic.

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The bomb might have enough energy to completely vaporize him, or turn him into a plasma. His healing power ceases to exist if he no longer has any structure at all -- not even any DNA.

A nuclear bomb would be intense enough to do this, if he is close enough to it.

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All animals in this world have some kind of Healing Factor. It's just magnified in case of superheroes. Superheroes have the ability to heal parts of body which cannot be healed eg. growing broken teeth. There are two reasons for him to be afraid:

  1. The pain
  2. His rate of healing might be slower than the rate at which the bomb releases energy(heat) since it in which case he'll die a very painful death.
  3. The prospect of death might bring fear losing loved ones and not looking after them.
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I think fear is a physiological thing more than a physical thing, I am afraid of getting flu shots even though I don't feel any pain in it.

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protected by Separatrix Jul 26 '18 at 6:54

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