From magical artifacts to mutant genes, there have been many ways Marvel characters have gained their superpowers. One of the most common methods has been exposure to performance-enhancing substances. While some of these are long-standing traditions and rights of passage passed down through generations, others have been experimental formulas or derivatives thereof.
As Marvel’s creators have been tasked with the requisition of definitive ways to explain the powers of their increasing roster of characters throughout years of publication, new power-enhancing substances have continued to be introduced into the universe.
Xperience, not to be confused with the Seattle rapper of the same name, was a temporary power-granting designer drug, derived from harvested mutant genes. Created by the villainous businessman Lobe, it was marketed to the public via his own personal Xperience empowered team of X-Men, each wielding the name and powers of one of Xavier’s original five.
While this team acted heroically in the public eye, they only did so to push the marketing agenda of The Sublime Corporation and their superpower bestowing product and were eventually dismantled after a battle with the real X-Men.
9 Infinity Formula
While not necessarily “power-enhancing,” the Infinity Formula utilized by the original Nick Fury grants extended vitality and longevity, slowing the aging process and allowing its users to remain in prime physical condition. Also called the “Forever Compound,” this synthetic fountain of youth was originally created by the scientist Professor Sternberg during WWII, diluted from the notes of Sir Isaac Newton, who had developed his own “Elixer of Life” in the 1600s.
Sternberg’s version of the formula was first tested upon Nick Fury after he suffered life-threatening injuries in combat alongside The Howling Commandos. Requiring regular doses of the formula in order to maintain his vitality, Fury was blackmailed by Sternberg for years after his original exposure, until eventually defeating him and sequestering all remaining samples of it in his hidden base on the moon.
A power-enhancer for a population with inherent powers, Kick was a drug that was only effective when used by mutants. Temporarily boosting their natural abilities, Kick users also experienced addictive physical and mental highs. When Marvel’s mutant population coalesced as a cultural movement in Grant Morrison’s early 2000s New X-Men, Kick was the drug of choice among the mansion’s extended student body.
Eventually revealed to be aerosolized particles of the sentient virus, Sublime, the use and abuse of Kick was a major plot element during Morrison’s critically acclaimed X-Men run, powering the imposter Magneto when he eventually recruited the mansion’s special class for an assault on New York.
7 Pym Particles
A rare group of subatomic particles first isolated by scientist Dr. Henry Pym, Pym Particles have the ability to alter the size and mass of objects and living beings exposed to them. Originally only used to decrease natural sizes, Pym and his wife, Janet Van-Dyne, utilized this discovery to become the original Ant-Man and The Wasp, and later went on to co-found The Avengers.
After experimenting with his discovery, Pym developed the ability to utilize the particles for the opposite effect, allowing him to grow to new heights as the heroic Giant-Man. One of Marvel’s earliest power-granting substances, Pym Particles have gone on to endow both heroes and villains alike since their discovery, but continue to bear an association with their original user.
Mutant Growth Hormone is an addictive narcotic usually derived from the DNA of Marvel’s mutants, but also occasionally from other super-powered denizens. Granting temporary powers to the powerless, and increased powers to those who already wield them, MGH is a highly sought-after black market commodity. Established villains have sought it out to increase their effectiveness, while affluent unpowered humans have purchased it for temporary thrills. Due to this demand, heroes such as Dazzler and Deadpool have been held captive to be harvested for their genetic material to create the drug.
Since its introduction, its use has been widespread and epidemic, with such notable users as the Young Avenger Patriot, who used the drug to disguise his lack of inherent powers, and the supervillain Nitro, who used the power boost of MGH to destroy an entire populated city block, the catalyst for Marvel’s game-changing 2006 Civil War event.
5 Goblin Formula
Enhancing its user’s strength and mental acuity, Norman Osborn’s Goblin Formula comes with the side effect of a gradual deterioration of mental health associated with long-term exposure. In the short term, this has lead to some of Spider-Man’s most cunning, fearsome, and personally relevant foes. In the long term, this has lead to a history of convoluted plots, retcons, and reveals, culminating in Norman Osborn’s eventual resurrection after over 20 years of being assumed deceased.
As it was revealed, aside from its physical and mentally enhancing properties, the formula also includes a latent healing factor, allowing users such as the original Green Goblin to return from seemingly fatal injuries, although with massive psychological damage.
A right of passage within Inhuman culture, Terrigenesis is the revelation of the unique abilities shown by members of the Inhuman race after their exposure to the mists generated by Terrigen Crystals. Encompassing entire populations who have existed alongside ancient and modern humans, the genes of the Inhumans have been revealed to be more prevalent than previously thought.
Black Bolt’s detonation of a Terrigen bomb following 2013’s Infinity event expanded the known Inhuman ranks, exposing many previously unknown carriers of their genetic legacy throughout the world. While strength-enhancing to those carrying the inhuman gene, exposure to the Terrigen mists has since been proven ineffective towards regular humans, and deadly towards carriers of the mutant X-Gene.
3 Heart-Shaped Herb
A rare plant grown only in Wakanda, the Heart-Shaped Herb is the historical source of power amongst the nation’s leadership, represented by the legacy of heroic Black Panthers. Passed down upon generations of Wakandan royalty, consumption of the Heart-Shaped Herb is a right of passage for the nation’s monarchs. As a natural mental and physically-enhancing substance, it’s long been speculated that the legendary Super Soldier Serum that empowered Captain America may have been derived from the strength-enhancing properties of this artifact.
With its origins shrouded in mystery, the full effects of the Heart-Shaped Herb remain unknown, but if a super-soldier serum wielder such as Captain America were to use it, in conjunction with the attributes he already possesses, its power enhancing nature would likely at least double his acquired set of abilities.
2 Super Soldier Serum
The original performance-enhancing substance in Marvel Comics, The Super Soldier Serum that empowered Steve Rogers, turning him into Captain America, has been attempted to be duplicated numerous times, to varying results.
From The Red Skull to USAgent, the original serum has never been fully recreated, marking Steve as the only true user of the formula as it was originally intended. As the first and most famous Captain America, Steve Rogers has used these powers to lead the Avengers while building a reputation as Marvel’s longest-tenured and most noble hero.
1 Golden Sentry Serum
An attempted recreation of the serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America, The Golden Sentry Serum sat languishing in laboratory trials before Robert Reynolds stumbled upon it. Consuming it in a careless effort to find a quick fix, the former drug addict Reynolds was transformed into the most powerful hero of Marvel’s pantheon as The Sentry, wielding the power of a thousand exploding suns.
Despite helping to save the world numerous times, a side effect of The Sentry Serum also gave birth to the existence of a manifestation of Reynolds’ darker impulses in the form of the evil Void, who was only defeated when Reynold’s erased the entire knowledge of his existence from Marvel history.
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