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One of the major problems I've always had with the MCU and the DC universe is how powerful many of the beings or people are whilst the World is still almost the same as ours.

It was as if the writers were trying to have their cake and eat it. Generally speaking the most superpowers you add to a setting and the more powerful the people are, the more different a setting should be to our modern world even if it's a modern world.

A lot of comic books writers and other writers don't tend to do or consider their worldbuidling because it forces the writer to answer and ask certain questions. It also forces the writer to literally change a setting to be more than real world plus.

I've never really gotten into the whole mutant debates in marvel because of how poorly handled or thought out they were.

However I'm ranting now. My Hero Academia and Darker than Black both show limitations in the powers which result in there being less changes to the setting itself making it more similar to our world. Even then there are super-powered beings in government bodies, criminal networks and terrorist rings.

However what I am asking is this.

How powerful can you make a general or significant part of your population without changing it drastically from our world?

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    $\begingroup$ In our real world there are many very powerful people... In fact, what has always amazed me is how weak many of the so-called superheroes of American comics are. People like Vladimir Putin (president of Russia), Kristalina Georgieva (managing director of the IMF), David Malpass (president of the World Bank), Joe Biden (president of USA), Jinping Xi (president of the People's Republic), Emmanuel Macron (president of France), Bernard Émié (director of the French DGSE), Yossi Cohen (director of the Mossad) etc. etc. are vastly more powerful than Spiderman or Captain America. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 3 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ That power is purely social and if a large enough number of people decided to ignore it, it would vanish. You can't do that to Superman. $\endgroup$ – Mary Apr 3 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ "A lot of comic books writers and other writers don't tend to do or consider their worldbuidling..." I think this is both disingenuous and insulting. Comic book writers have editorial mandates and conventions of the genre to consider. The world history is similar to the real world to be accessible to the readers. Comic book writers who change the non-super parts of the world get fired. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Apr 3 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I mean, more broadly this is a problem with all urban fantasy/superhero fiction. The supernatural is not allowed to have any effect on the modern world lest the world cease to resemble our own world and lack verisimilitude. Hence you have fiction with anemic, reactionary superheroes who fail to do any lasting good or stop the atrocities of history and supernatural beings like vampires who seemingly cower under rocks in fear of humans. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 3 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Snail343 Shonen is guilty of this too. Why don't hollow predations have a massive impact on society in Bleach? Do you think Jujutsu Kaisen is going to have the presence of curses and sorcerors affect human history and politics? My Hero Academia addresses this, but Man Versus Society is the crux of its entire plot. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 4 at 1:06
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Pretty much any amount of superpowers at all will cause human history to be dramatically different from our timeline

The thing about history is it's a very complex subject where even the slightest change would produce massive divergences. Social, cultural and political trends are in large part driven by people's reactions to major (then-)current events, and our societies and laws are informed and influenced by what has happened before and what has worked and not worked. Even the smallest change would result in a massive butterfly effect that would warp everything around it. A world with superpowers, any degree of superpowers, should, realistically, not resemble the social and cultural landscape of the modern world at all.

Watchmen provides a pretty good example of this, where a social trend leading to an increase in non-powered costumed vigilantes and one outright superhuman is enough to cause massive changes in history and American culture, including widespread usage of clean energy-powered cars, Richard Nixon as a four-term president, and America winning the Vietnam War. This goes beyond someone who is as god-like as Doctor Manhattan. Even less-powerful superhumans would be enough to warp history to this degree (e.g., the X-Men Forge and Wolverine could potentially produce the same results with Vietnam and Lithium-powered cars).

In the real world, superhumans would also massively affect the political balance of power just by existing, simply because they represent an avenue of power that the politicians don't have universal control over. If the superhumans are natural and not part of an engineered arms race, the people running the status quo cannot dominate them the way they do financially and socially. In the real world, during the Cold War Russia would be terrified of the existence of Superman and the U.S. government would be rapidly scrabbling for contingencies because they know Superman won't obey the minute his definition of "the American way" differs from their own.

This goes beyond mere flying brick-level superhumans. Mad scientists and supergeniuses like Mr. Fantastic, Lex Luthor, or Mr. Freeze would rapidly have their technology available to the common person. Even if they didn't decide to simply sell it out of ideological reasons (I'm looking at you, Poison Ivy), governments would rapidly get their hands on their technology after they got arrested and start trying to re-engineer it to advance their own motives. This goes for alien invasions as well. Darkseid invades Earth and suddenly he's left Apokaliptan god-tech scattered all over the globe.

There would be many, many changes in history should there be any superpowers, anything stronger than, say, Daredevil. Even the existence of a group of people with powers similar to Luke Cage or Spider-Man would cause major historical ripples. Among the many changes, just to highlight a few major examples...

  • World history should go very, very differently. Assuming superpowers occur due to random mutations or accidents of fate across the globe you would have a lot more cases where the presence of superhumans dramatically reshapes the world's political balance. Superpowers are basically a huge weapon of war and whoever has the best and most of them has the advantage. You'd get a lot more cases where a smaller country fights off a larger attacker due to the presence of superhumans as a force multiplier, so a lot of IRL historical invasions would fail (or alternatively, others would succeed).
  • A good example of this? The Nazis, given how obsessed the Third Reich was with mysticism and alternate means to power and the fact that their invasion plans had low odds for long-term success due to a lack of materiel and natural resources for their war machine and the fact that they managed to aggravate almost everyone, including the USSR who massively outnumbered them. But if the Nazis had a disproportionate number of superhumans due to comic-book super-soldier programs, that might change how World War II ended up.
  • Or consider what happens when a superhuman born in a developing nation gains an ability like, say, the ability to make crops bloom on command, generate clean water, or provide an unlimited source of clean energy. It would give that country a huge economic advantage.
  • The presence of superpowers would also warp scientific history and discovery, as people become interested in why certain powers work and devote research along those lines. Or outright cause some inventions to be ignored (why invent powered flight when you have a class of people that flies?)
  • Air power would become a bigger threat in military technology long before the invention of air superiority IRL if you have people that fly.
  • Alternatively, if you had superpowers unequally distributed and disproportionately represented among a particular culture or ethnic group, that group would eventually come to dominate at the expense of all others. Superpowers for this culture would be like how guns and gunpowder allowed Europeans to run roughshod over cultures in the rest of the world. You would also have significant issues with Nazi-esque rhetoric where the group with superpowers would claim they are superior because only their group has all the powers.
  • Christianity would probably not become the dominant religion in the West, and the same is true for Buddhism in the East. Jesus and Buddha's miracles cease to become interesting in the context of a world where powers or healing magic are commonplace. They might gain traction as powerful secular figures based on their rhetoric akin to how Judaism or Islam sees Jesus IRL, but they likely wouldn't achieve their current popularity. Without the spread of these populist, pro-social religions that support the little guy and present the idea that in the grand scheme of things everyone is cosmically equal (either through reincarnation in Buddhism or everyone being equal before God in Christianity), we probably wouldn't see the expansion of human rights. In particular, we would probably still have slavery around in the West, since the moral disconnect between Christian values and the institution of slavery was a huge issue for many pro-democracy politicians and one of the driving forces for the abolitionist movement. "Might makes right" social philosophies would be a lot more common.
  • Europeans would have never colonized Africa, the Pacific, and the New World. Europeans mostly managed to colonize these parts of the globe (especially the New World) due to the use of firearms, iron armor, horses, and disease. The native populations often lacked this military advantage. Superpowers evens the playing field, especially given how small initial European expedition attempts were. Even if smallpox wiped out most of the native population, some native superhumans would survive and they would have wreaked havoc on the early European attempts at conquest and settlement. This is especially pertinent in the case of the Aztec and Inca empires. These empires, which had a population of 6 and 10 million people, respectably, would have had access to superhumans (and would have probably kept them at their capitals), and would have been able to smash Cortes and Pizarro's invasion attempts easily. The fact that these invasion attempts failed would probably cause European rulers to consider exploration of the New World a lost cause (the King of England almost wrote the New World off as not worh colonizing after Roanoke vanished and Jamestown was failing) and dissuade would-be conquistadors. E.g., Pizarro only attempted to overthrow the Inca after he saw how wealthy and powerful it made Cortes.
  • Human sacrifice would probably be a lot more common. Studies of human social systems have found that human sacrifice tends to become more common in highly-stratified social systems where individual human life is devalued as a means of controlling the lower class. E.g., the Aztec empire, which depended heavily on manual labor for construction due to the lack of exploitable pack animals and hence people were more valuable as labor than as people, as well as having a stratified upper class. Create a society where society is stratified along biological lines due to superpowers and, well...

These changes would be much more prominent in earlier history than in more recent times. Today with modern technology and fire-arms someone like Spider-Man or Luke Cage wouldn't have that much of an influence. But to a Stone Age or Bronze Age culture like most pre-European New World cultures, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, feudal Japan, etc., someone with Spider-Man or Luke Cage's powers would be like a living god. I mean, Luke Cage is basically modern day Achilles, and in The Iliad Achilles' presence basically dictates the course of the Trojan War.

Equality is Dead

A world with superpowers, especially flying brick and above powers, would also shoot ideas of equality under the law (isonomy) and liberalism in general stone dead. Society basically works because no individual is able to unilaterally apply their will over everyone else, even totalitarian dictators have to maintain the support of their inner circle, their generals, and the masses or else risk being overthrown. But what do you do when you have an individual whose power comes from themselves and cannot be stopped by mass action? Say a Superman-level superhuman gets convicted of a crime? How are you going to imprison someone who can't be held against their will and can easily escape from any normal prison? Or a superhuman dictator who can do whatever they like, enforcing whatever insane ideology they believe to be correct, simply because they are so powerful that no one can tell them "no" and they don't have to maintain the good will of the people? How do you deal with a society where some individuals really are physically "superior" to others to a degree that cannot be ignored in culture and law?

A good example of this can be seen in how the X-Men comics have treated the two cases where mutants created a sovereign mutant-run nation: Genosha and Krakoa. Genosha was ruled for a time by Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants, whereas currently in the comics Krakoa is ruled by a council of mutants that include Charles Xavier, Magneto, Apocalypse, Exodus, Mister Sinister, Mystique, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, Jean Grey, Storm, and Cyclops. Note that in both cases it’s still the same Alpha and Omega-class mutants who are dictating policy to the rest, whereas the poor schmuck whose mutation merely consists of a tail or the ability to change color is still politically disenfranchised. The fact that the different degrees of mutant powers create a class system and a small group of people at the top are never really addressed in the comics. Nor the fact that this cabal of super-mutants basically gained political power by putting a metaphorical gun to the heads of the world's leaders to do what they say or else.

What this would end up doing is killing most of the humanistic movements of the Enlightement and the idea of universal human rights, since you have a group of people that are both biologically and socially not equal to other human beings, and that would frame how people would talk about what is the best or most moral system of social organization and governance. I don't think Karl Marx would be too happy about the existence of superhumans either, likely calling them "natural bourgeoise" or something and likely espousing Hitler-esque ideas on how they should all be destroyed since unlike the bourgeioise you cannot take their power away via social mechanisms or government-mandated seizure of their property, and hence they would perpetually be an uncontrollable threat to Marx' envisioned communist utopia. That is if Marx even comes up with the same ideas due to the existence of superhumans throwing a wrench into his ideals. That's potentially one of the most influential ideas in the last 150 years of human history being radically different or outright never proposed.

Destruction of Narratives

The presence of superpowers would also throw a huge wrench into historical narratives of group superiority or oppression. Namely because it makes no sense for a society to view a certain gender, sexuality, or ethnic group as inferior when those people can very easily be the most powerful. This is especially the case for women. For most of human history the majority of human societies have been heavily patriarchal and women have been seen as the "fairer sex". However, in a world with superpowers, assuming random distribution half of all superhumans would be women. Narratives of women being submissive, weaker, gentler, or "belonging in the home" would go flying out the window the minute some Roman or Chinese woman ripped apart an attacking force with her bare hands. Not to mention all the women that would use their powers to advance themselves socially and politically (Boudicca or Wu Zetian with laser eyes anyone?) Similar issues would be present with cases of sexual assault. Men would be hesitant to sexually assault women because they are now playing Russian roulette if they tried. Male superhuman sexual abuse cases would skyrocket, and female sexual assault and rape cases, which actually kind of common but brushed under the rug in current times, would become high profile as you now have women capable of easily overpowering men and having their way with them in an undismissable manner. Female superhumans might end up being stereotyped as promiscuous and sexually aggressive because of it.

Similarly, because superpowers are such a great weapon of war, it would be silly for a culture to sideline it's superhumans based on narratives of sexism or other, similar ideas, simply because you are sidelining your best weapons out of ideology (and would likely lose). If you have a woman who's a flying brick and a man who's power is to heal people, why would the culture tell the woman to get back in the kitchen and send the man to the front lines?

This wouldn't just apply to women. Cultural narratives of LGBT people or those of a specific ethnic group being "inferior" would be rapidly debunked by the presence of high-profile individuals with superpowers that anyone could point to. Patriarchy, homophobia, or ethnic superiority probably wouldn't become a thing, because it would contradict historical knowledge. Powers versus no powers would be the primary social divide.

A good example of this can be seen in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. The Northern Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom have been depicted as highly sexist, and the Turf Wars miniseries revealed that the Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, and Great War-era Fire Nation were all incredibly homophobic. This makes no sense given that for 230 years Avatar Kyoshi, the physically and politically most powerful person in the world (and often revered in-universe in a manner similar to the IRL Dalai Lama), was an openly bisexual woman who eventually ended up in a homosexual relationship. And then that person's reincarnation three cycles down the line (Korra), was also a bisexual woman who ended up in a homosexual relationship. Not to mention all the powerful benders who are either female or LGBT. The most powerful Earthbender is the world in both series is a short, blind woman. Homophobia and sexism make no sense within the context of that world.

How to fix this?

There are a couple of solutions to fix this, but none of them are any good. The easiest way would be for there to be some kind of masquerade hiding the existence of superpowers and the supernatural from the common populace, at least until the author decides to reveal it. But a masquerade is way more trouble to maintain than it is worth, maintaining a would be nearly impossible and there are tons of examples on this very website on how hard it would be to maintain. Just to pick out two examples, a masquerade would require large numbers of people to successfully keep a hugely noticeable secret and for no one to be in a position that's can easily break it (laughable at the best of times) and if the government is using funding to hide evidence of the supernatural someone will notice the money going missing and will eventually dig up evidence on it. Not to mention a masquerade would require the complete cooperation of every nation on the planet (laughs in realpolitik), and there is nothing stopping, say, China from deciding to cause social chaos in the U.S. by revealing the existence of the supernatural (or vice versa).

The masquerade also has issues with having to do mental gymnastics through history in order to justify why superpowers haven't affected history beyond a few mysterious events which are basically low-hanging fruit for urban fantasy/science fiction settings like Tunguska or the Bermuda Triangle. Why didn't the presence of superhumans affect World War II? This was a problem in IRL comics where DC had to justify why Superman didn't just punch out Hitler given it was in character for his altrusitic, pro-freedom personality and came up with the solution that Hitler had the freaking Lance of Longinus. Or, to use American history as an example, where were the superhumans during the Civil Rights movement or the recent Black Lives Matter protests? Are you seriously telling me that not a single superhuman in the U.S. felt the desire to affect positive social change given their position of power, or that you had some young, politically left-leaning, disaffected 20-something superhuman who hates the system and cannot easily be stopped by the police decide to go on a rampage during the riots in 2020 (or any riot in history, really)? Which would in turn provoke further outrage and controversy or escalate the situation. Even if their powers were "only" Spider-Man level, their actions would still change history significantly.

The other option is to tie superpowers into historical folklore about people with superhuman abilities. Urban fantasy already does this to some degree using a "stock catalog" of folkloric supernaturals like vampires and werewolves, and you could also potentially do that with historical narratives of saints, demigods, and other superhuman heroes. In this case you at least have an excuse for why people haven't made mention of the supernatural: "oh, they have, but it's just memorialized in folklore rather than being seen as real and common knowledge". But the problem here is that you are restricted in what you can do based on IRL folklore.

Now, I know your question is: how powerful can a superhuman be without making a world that does not resemble our own history. Well the answer is: not very powerful at all. These kinds of things would come about even if you only had a small number of superhumans with rather unremarkable powers. At most you could have someone like Daredevil, who's powers are a bit odd but ultimately he's physically no different from a fit parkour-loving human. Even a small number of people who are "peak human" (as defined by Marvel), like Captain America, would massively distort history from what we know. The only way for this not to be the case is for superpowers to be so rare and so minor that you may as well not even call them superpowers in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ Watchman was a work of fiction. Furthermore, such effects as are shown are entirely with normal human capacity. $\endgroup$ – Mary Apr 3 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary Watchmen was a thought experiment as to how the presence of costumed vigilantes and actual superhumans would effect the history of the 20th century if they were real. And the lithium batteries and victory in Vietnam were in-story explicitly because of the superhuman Doctor Manhattan rather than the non-super vigilantes like Ozymandias or the Comedian. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 3 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure Buddhism is about "miracles" at all. And I also think you treat fictional story of Watchen too much like it was real and thus a good foundation to base some logic on. In particular Vietnam War example "Stupid vietnamese untermensh submit to overwhelming power of Exceptional Nation, throwing their conviction out of window. Look at those fools, he thinks that's a god!' sounds plainly stupid and insulting to me. IRL last time Germany tried to display such superiority to Russia in that way... well, I think you know how it ended. $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Apr 5 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @OlegV.Volkov I mean, one kind of has to use fictional examples when talking about the potential consequences of superpowers simply because there are no definitive IRL examples of people with superpowers. We can't say for sure how superpowers would affect history because superpowers don't exist. E.g., the same logic could be applied to the X-Men and Avatar examples above. The broader point is that Watchmen presents a universe where the presence of one superhuman results in a world extremely different from our own. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 5 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 I think you can use IRL conflicts against technologically/industrially superior civilizations as a good base. $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Apr 6 at 8:47
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Super Powers Mimic Technology & what can be done Anyway:

If your super powers are such that the effects they have on the world are no different than the technology they match, then their effects on society will be negligible. You can dispute individual examples, but the general principle still applies.

Take, for example, super-strength. In realistic terms, the 'hero' with super strength will be a normal guy who is super-strong. Most normal people aren't out fighting super-villains. This guy will get a job in a factory and possibly replace a fork-lift. Most likely, supers would be excluded from being professional athletes. So while it might be a slight economic dislocation to fork-lift engineers to have super-strong people, it doesn't really affect society in general (except for the whole CONCEPT of having supers). Police would respond to him like a guy who was carrying a gun - the poor shmuck will be a lot more likely to get killed by over-zealous police, but as a net, it isn't terribly disruptive.

Now think about someone who can shoot fire from their hands at will. Again, except for the occasional mass-flaming that might occur as this person goes on a rampage, they will probably get a job in a power station somewhere heating water for a steam turbine. Mass-shootings are already a thing, and anyone who can get a gun or a car can do something similar in terms of violence. Flame throwers are a military thing (and this power will likely affect things like terrorism), and while this super has real military potential, it's less disruptive than you think.

Flying moves into a murky realm, as people start to be able to do things that don't easily replicate what machines do. I think it's likely such people could integrate fairly smoothly, but everything from pizza delivery to security is at least partly affected. For something like this, a low prevalence of people with this sort of ability makes it an exception, and minimally disruptive. 20% of society flying means there is a real disruption to how things run, but we can adapt.

Telekinesis is definitely disruptive, as people can now do things that are flat-out impossible. The social order gets strained as a kid can steal candy without walking into the store, or the disgruntled employee can strangle someone from a distance without leaving physical evidence. You need a different set of laws to deal with people who can do something that doesn't match what is currently possible, and it has serious implications for civil liberties.

Compare that to someone who can use mind control. This completely disrupts the flow of society, causing a serious question about free will, justice, and economics, not to mention the ability to steal and rape and kill at will with no consequences. The whole ideals of something like democracy are founded on the free exercise of choice. This up-ends the principles on which societies function. Even one person with this ability means we need to prep our culture in a totally different way. Mom could 'become' an assassin tomorrow, and the society would need to be able to respond.

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    $\begingroup$ The number of people with super-powers is an important factor. If you have a lot of super-strong people capable of doing the work of fork-lifts the disruption will be on a much larger scale than what you presenting here: Factories will be redesigned to accommodate people instead of machines; the entire fork-lift manufacturing chain will collapse; building codes will have to be revised; etc. On the other hand, one person with super-powers cannot change much unless that super-power is divine level allowing changes on a planetary level. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Apr 3 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin On the flip side, as more people get super powers, their abilities become normalized, and the whole society adjusts to a new semi-normal "normal." When everyone is super-strong, you have to be ultra-strong to stand out. Ridley/Aliens-style exo-suits instead of fork lifts, anyone? $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Apr 3 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ You are absolutely correct, but the world where super-powers are a norm will be very different from ours. A lot of things will have to be done in a different manner. The world we live in is exactly the way it is because of the way we are. So, if we go with the OP's question it would make sense to have as few people with abilities as possible to have a world and societies close to what we have in reality. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Apr 3 at 21:57
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Genesis 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

god rested

http://kansasartguild.com/workszoom/3341205/on-the-seventh-day-god-rested

Your supers are powerful. Very, very powerful. Maybe in the distant past they did a lot. Now they are not inclined to do much. The world unfolds as it will.

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, that was my first thought: I depends a lot on their level of involvement. $\endgroup$ – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 4 at 8:57
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It depends a lot on the level of involvement the superpowered fellows decide to have. Scenarios that allow you to keep our world as-is include:

  • The Harry Potter world. The wizards essentially live in a parallel world with only minor contact on the government level, so we muggles just go about our normal lives.

  • There is a government agency keeping them in check (Stross' Laundry, Men in Black).

  • We are actually secretly run by a conspiracy, and they usually try to keep it a conspiracy. They meet every year in Davos, or such. Occasionally the conspiracy leaks, perhaps because of rogue players (Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Nazis — which were eventually contained —, Facebook, Tesla).

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  1. Your super powers would have to be scaled down and would have to mimic things people could already do. One of your guys can run faster than the fastest normal guy, but not break any of the barriers, like Flash can. Another of your guys can jump higher than the highest jumping normal guy, but not leap tall buildings in a single bound. One guy can lift a jeep, but not a humvee. They would be at least one order above the best Olympic or record holding atheletes, but well within the range of possibility, though on the extreme end obviously.

Why? Plausible deniability. While people might be amazed at a guy that can jump onto the roof of your house they might not automatically jump to the conclusion that he was super human; just that he was "a really high jumper" or "really fast runner" etc etc.

  1. Also, your guys might have super powers that are easily hidden. For example: invisibility, telepathy, telekinisis, weather control, teleportation... The list goes on.

Powers that aren't too outlandish or too flashy or too overboard can still make for amazing stories. Think of how a spy might use powers. It would be kind of on the down low.

But once you have Superman or Dr. Manhattan type guys I don't think there's a way to avoid it affecting the world. So keep the powers on the lower end and with limitations.

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You first need to decide upon your point of divergence, chaos theory says that everyone conceived after that is someone else, so totally different.

First change in 1805 and the US civil war is drastically different and might not even happen. While there were certainly historical pressures, they were in part brought about by the people with their own agendas, so different people, different agendas, different pressures. All different.

Same thing for any war, pick a time a before the major figures were born and its a different war. Easier, harder, different alliances, different betrayals. All new.

Major inventions likewise.

Major religious movements, likewise.

Now, how different would our world would be, if super powers came into existence in say 1962. The US might have won Vietnam, even without Iron Man getting involved, although he probably would have. Future wars are all different. Cold War was ongoing, but would end differently and at a different time.

As for how powerful a super being can we have, without distorting everything else, assuming a sorta secret history, such as is common in urban fantasy...that depends upon their willingness to be secret. To step outside of fantasy, take the Mutineers Moon novel by David Weber, the three sides all have the ability to totally destroy the world and (absent the other 2) take it over, but not the motivation. So, god level threat, but unknown would be possible, plausible to be our world. Back to fantasy land, Dr Manhattan moves to the Himalayas and spends 60 years examining his navel, and we don’t see any difference. Daredevil decides to go on his crime busting spree, and things are different. He’ll have a voice and it will be a powerful one, because of his abilities. Think Muhammad Ali x 1000.

Ignoring chaos theory, how much impact would they have? Even setting aside sports, it’s hard to see how someone with strength in the low thousands doesn’t become rich and successful. There is simply so much manual labor where they can do things in seconds that it takes more people and more machines so much longer to do that it simply wouldn’t make sense for them not to be in high demand and well paid. Superhuman senses like daredevil? He’s flown to disasters and well paid, not to mention inspections. Guy is rolling in the dough. 10’s and 100’s of tons? The worlds the limit.

Even setting aside their economic impact, they can and almost certainly would, have cultural impact. For instance, consider anyone in the 10-25 ton range, and marijuana. They can be out walking in public and smoking a joint, and nobody is going to arrest them, simply because it’s impossible. In order to arrest them for smoking a joint you’d have to basically call out the army and go to lethal weapons as your first action. And there has been a lot of people over the last 60 years that have considered the drug laws some combination of stupid, racist, morally repugnant and classist. In our non-super powered world, the most most people can do is get arrested in protest, a super powered individual would simply be able to scoff at the law, while simultaneously being the underdog and hero to a significant portion of the population for committing the crime. A serious attempt to bring such a person in would justifiably be considered conspiracy to commit first degree murder under our existing laws. And would be a well documented, because you can’t move that kind of fire power around without lots of paperwork.

On the flip side, to quote Saitama “Plus, I’m pissed, so anybody in my way..gets punched”. Rapist with their heads torn off? Innocent boyfriends accused of being rapist when their heads are torn off? Religion? Are they blessed by God, gods themselves, servants of Satan, angels, aliens, lots of changes, lots of impact.

It just goes on and on, if they are openly here, big changes galore.

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TW/CW: Historical and Modern poor treatment of minorities, imperialism

Burn The Wich!

Realistically speaking, your superpowered individuals could be quite powerful, providing they still had the ability to be easily killed by angry mobs of pitchfork wielding peasants or political/religious leaders looking for a quick scapegoat. Our very own history is full of people being subjected to horrible fates over (very much alleged) supernatural status. Similarly, in recent history, neuroatypical people and strong minded women have been subject to stuff like transorbital lobotomies, An abhorrent fate and one all too likely for a superhero with psychic/mental powers to be subject to.

Ignored by Enlightenment

The more the post-enlightenment (and post-european-imperialism) world knows about superpowered individuals, the more likely they would have had to play a part in post "burn at the stake" era world events such as wars, political agreements, scientific breakthroughs that contributed to the state of the world now. The more science could have "overlooked" superpowers, the less society would have been effected by their presence. Fortunately there's a lot of ways this could happen.

Medical science hasn't actually been all that good at focusing in on minorities in the real world, which is not great if you have mental health issues or are neurodivergent in any way, or are a woman. And there's a lot of stuff that non-european medicine has known about that european medical science ignored for a long time because they believed they were more enlightened than the rest of the world. There's a lot of stuff about this in episodes of the Sawbones podcast about medical history, I'd highly reccomend checking it out. Upshot of it is, it'd probably be pretty easy for superpowered individuals to go unnoticed or simply be classified as "circus freaks" by science, possibly even well in to the 21st century. This could be further exacerbated by superheros who have powers that are not "relevant" to the era they grew up in. Nobody's gonna pay much attention to the girl who can control electronic devices if "electronic devices" consists of a bunch of small scale experiments in people's studies brought out for expos and showing off at society meetings.

Population Size, Documentation, Travel, and Communication

The chances of running into a superpowered individual and talking to them would probably have to be quite unlikely, so with population size, the chances of running into a superpowered individual would increase in proportion to how many people there are in the world. The world's population has rapidly shot up in the last century, so logically there must be more superpowered individuals in the world. If superpowers are natural and a proportion of the population have them, then you're more likely to run into them today than you would in 1920, especially with similar exansions in travel and communications technology. Similarly if superpowers are aquired, the increased population and how easy it is for them to share how they gained their superpowers with others over the internet would mean there'd be more people to have superpowers happen to them, and more people seeking out ways to get superpowers.

Things get really interesting if superpowers are hereditary though, especially if a lot of superpowered individuals were getting burnt at the stake just a couple centuries ago. Superheroes might have been way more common back in the day, and it's possible that mythology is representitive of this in your world. However if a lot of superpowered individuals were killed by people blaming them for their problems, and if superpowered individuals have carried around a stigma and thus had little opportunity to spread their superpower genes outside of insular superpowered communities, there probably wouldn't be many superpowered individuals in the world as of the modern era. It'd also mean that superpowers would be more common in cultures that accepted them more than everyone else, which would be an interesting flavour/dynamic.

Breaking the Stigma

The 20th and 21st century have been marked by various minority groups fighting for civil rights and public recognition and acceptance. While historically superpowered individuals might have been seen as freaks, dangerous to people around them (an accusation levied against LGBTQ people IRL even today) or in need of "curing" (an attitude many still hold toward Neurodivergent children today). With the push for civil rights, some superpowered individuals may publicly stand up for their rights and try to increase public understanding of them. Many others still will still feel the need to remain Closeted, or Mask to fit in with "normal" people, as they have always done. This could perhaps be a factor in how many superheroes in your world choose to mantain a "secret identity", to hide the fact they're different from their friends or family. One final thing to note in this regard is that as superpowers become more public and acceptable, people's will be able to talk about and understand their superpowers more, and will develop a greater understanding of them, so superheroes will become more familiar with their abilities and more capable of using them in the present, appearing to be "more powerful than they used to be" back in the past.

No Gods, Only Supermen

As noted above, this all only applies if your superpowered individuals die like the rest of us, feel pain like the rest of us and/or are otherwise vunerable to a lot of the same things as us. Invunerability type powers would not work in a setting like this, and things like super-speed, healing factors, time travel, etc, would have to have pretty clear limitations. Telekenisis can't stop bullets, mind control can't be strong enough to make people turn a blind eye to you indefinitely, and no matter how good your powers help you in fending off death, eventually you must be able to slip up or exhaust yourself. Your heroes can be powerful, but they must be mortal and face real danger from any typical humans they encounter.

Final Notes Please note, autism is not a superpower, nor is it "the next step in human evolution" as certain pieces of media have claimed. I use it here only as a comparison tool.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the movie Jumper (and probably the book it's based on which I haven't read) is a good example of the kind of situation I'm proposing. Small population, heavily stigmatised, and while quite powerful in the right circumstances, far from immortal. $\endgroup$ – mattihase Apr 4 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with this is that all of these things would still change how history turned out. Part of the reason witch burnings eventually became taboo was because people realized they were burning innocent people instead of actual witches. If those people really could threaten someone with supernatural abilities, then witchcraft would never fade into superstition and people would still treat supernatural powers as deadly serious even in the present day. Societies would make laws and cultural customs regarding treatment of powers because they would be needed for survival... $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 4 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ ...this causes broader problems in that people with powers are objectively more dangerous to those around them than the average person, whereas autistic, LGBT, or female people aren't. And people with powers represent either a threat or a potential tool to many people looking for easy roads to power, especially if they're marginalized and can be easily convinced to follow a demagogue promising them a better life. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 4 at 22:15

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