So my recent read of USM got me thinking more about the consequences and logistics of being a villain in a comic book universe, which lead to this conclusion – sentient superweapons will always betray you.
This applies to heroes or villains and in pretty much every single case I can think of, the aforementioned superweapon went out of control and betrayed their creator(s), but I don’t know everything about the comic book universes, so perhaps someone’s superweapon didn’t betray them. So I’ll amend my statement a bit and say sentient superweapons are 99% likely to betray you. Those are still really poor odds. My examples are primarily from Marvel, but I’m sure those who follow DC can provide numerous examples.
So, as a comic book villain, you may think that what you really need to give you an edge is a superweapon. After all, your enemies have awesome powers, and in the arms race of taking over the world, you need awesomer powers on your side. Now, robots are all well and good but do tend to have this tendency of being tricked or having their programming overwhelmed or simply aren’t up to the task at hand (programming can only go so far). So, you start to think to yourself, maybe you should develop a sentient superweapon that can think for itself, although not too much of course, and will be better able to handle your enemies. At this point, you have two options – fully sentient artificial intelligence or biological intelligence. Obviously there will be failsafes. What could possibly go wrong?
Oh, my mad scientist friends, so very, very much. In fact, in nearly every case a genius built a superweapon (even in cases where the genius is not actually evil), said superweapon went completely out of control, betrayed the genius that created it, and nearly killed the genius to boot.
Fully Sentient A.I.
At first glance, this seems like the sensible choice. A robot can be built with any number of failsafes and in theory should limit a fully sentient artificial intelligence, even one that can learn on its own.
1) Ultron. Honestly, that should be enough said, and Ultron was built by a good guy! (more or less). So think about that, villains. If a good guy (more or less) makes an android as terrible as Ultron, what hope do you have? While I am not clear exactly what Henry Pym’s purpose was in developing Ultron (and the tangled continuity and the fact Ultron made everyone forget his original creation may mean even the writers don’t really know), once Ultron became sentient, bad things happened. Sure, the Avengers have defeated Ultron, eventually, for a little while, until it came back even tougher and worse than before.
2) Jocasta/Vision/Victor Mancha/Alkhema – proof that even evil masterminds’ fully sentient superweapons turn on them, and that even an evil masterminds like Ultron can’t program in sufficient failsafes.
3) Master Mold – the Sentinel maker that got in its deranged mind that the greatest threat to humanity was not in fact mutants but humans themselves. That was a bad day for its human creators.
4) Iron Man’s rogue suit – The Iron Man suits aren’t meant to be sentient, and that’s smart of Tony. But there’s a story in which a suit accidentally gains sentience and promptly turns on its creator like a jealous jilted ex-lover. It’s pretty skeevy, really. Also, another hero’s technology that backfires horribly.
5) Doombot – Even Dr. Doom can’t escape this problem. One of his many Doombots gained sentience (I’ll give Vic props for not programming in sentience in the first place) and decided it was really Dr. Doom and tried to destroy the real Dr. Doom.
Take notes, villains, because generally the heroes are cut a little more slack than you are. So if Avengers end up with their superweapons turning on them, you are probably not going to escape that fate.
Okay, so creating a fully sentient artificial intelligence clearly has some issues (has no one ever heard of the Three Laws of Robotics?), so perhaps using a biological intelligence may work better. Of course, sometimes this involves unwilling test subjects and brainwashing, but hey, it’s the results that matter. For those of you keeping track, the first three examples of why not to do this are all products of various governments.
1) Captain America – This is the best case: a volunteer test subject. Yes, even that paragon of virtue is a superweapon that has on occasion turned against his creator (the U.S. Government). He mostly works for the U.S. government, except when they ask him to do things against his principles and then he turns against them.
2) Wolverine – yeah, so that worked well… Take away a person’s memories, brainwash them, make them indestructible and then they escape. Honorable mention goes to Wolverine’s teammates Maverick, Sabretooth, and Silver Fox, who all also turned against the Canadian government.
3) Omega Red – It’s not just the U.S. and Canadian governments who lost control of a superweapon. The Soviets ended up having to fight against Omega Red and put him in cryogenic stasis because he was just too dangerous. Maybe taking a mutant who could generate a “death field” and making him hard to kill and giving him extra weapons was not a good idea.
So you’re thinking the problem is starting with someone who already has personality. Maybe the key to biological intelligence is completely home-grown clones. Yeah, that doesn’t really turn out any better…
4) Adam Warlock (or, Him) – The Enclaves‘s experiment in creating a perfect human being. It absolutely worked except Adam took one look at his obviously inferior creators and made a break for it, and the Enclave was in no position to actually stop their superweapon. Oops, back to the drawing board.
5) Her (or, Kismet) – The Enclave”s second experiment in creating a perfect human being, which also absolutely worked (why wouldn’t it; it worked the first time). Adam’s distaff counterpart was kept in check for slightly longer but eventually turned on her obviously inferior creators and escaped.
6) X-23 – a female clone of Wolverine. What could be awesomer! And brainwashed and traumatized and programmed to kill. Until, of course, X-23 completely snapped and turned against her creators. Which, you know, is exactly what happened with Wolverine. Apparently someone did not do their research.
Okay, okay, but surely someone with sufficient genius could just make this work instead of teams of researchers who are almost certainly going to screw something up.
7) Nate Grey – in an alternate hell universe in which Sinister was allowed to do exactly what he always wanted, which was to create a being powerful enough to kill Apocalypse for him, he created a minor god. Sure enough, Nate figured out what his creator was all about (as though the name wasn’t a dead giveaway), turned on his creator and actually killed him.
8) Mister Sinister – Apocalypse has been tinkering with biological weapons since he figured out how to do so. He experimented on Sinister, which worked out great, until Sinister realized Apocalypse was totally serious about destroying the world if necessary, which Sinister was absolutely not going to allow to happen because that’s where he keeps his stuff. So he turned against Apocalypse and for most of their following relationship, Apocalypse made it clear he was only letting Sinister live as long as he was more useful than treacherous.
9) Archangel – Hey, speaking of Apocalypse’s creations, remember Death? Poor Warren Worthington was turned into one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, but thanks to the X-men, he broke free of the brainwashing and turned against his creator.
10) Cloak and Dagger (Ulti-verse version) – they were just introduced, so I’m not entirely certain what happened to the Roxxon lab when their brand-new powers manifested, but since they had been essentially kidnapped and experimented on against their will, I’m guessing Very Bad Things.
So maybe you’re thinking, “Well, humans are just bad at this,” I’d like to point out at the Kree created the Inhumans, who eventually turned against the Overmind, took over the Kree empire, and killed thousands and thousands of Kree in the process. Pretty much every genius and every attempt is batting exactly zero for creations not turning on them. And the only two creators I can think of who were not really bothered in any way were Apocalypse and Dr. Doom. Dr. Doom wasn’t bothered because he actually put in working failsafes in his Doombot and destroyed it. Apocalypse wasn’t bothered because a) he’s insane and b) he is pretty much nigh unkillable by his creations.
So where does this leave you? You still have no superweapon, and several cautionary examples against creating one. Well, there is one other option… yourself.
This may explain the propensity of super-geniuses to test out their crazy superweapon formulas/nanotech/procedure/whatever on themselves. Because A.I.s can’t be trusted, and other people can’t be trusted, so the only person who can be trusted with superpowers is themselves. After all, the genius can’t turn on themselves. Side-effects, of course, may include physical deformities, mental instability, physical degeneration, continuous mutation, insanity, and death. The smart genius would want to test such a formula/procedure on someone else, but if it works, well, you’ve just created a superweapon that is absolutely, positively going to turn on you.
In other words, if you want a superweapon, you’d better be the superweapon, and you’d better get the formula/procedure right the first time. Because if you don’t, that’s another problem.