"In Mutants and Masterminds the generic terms 'superhuman' and 'super' are used to refer to people with powers. However, that isn't necessarily what everyone in the setting calls them. Some worlds have their own unique names for superhumans, creating a distinct feel and style to the setting. Possibilities include the following: aberrants, aces, alphas, angels, avatars, awakened, capes, chosen, deltas, deviants, elites, exarchs, extraordinaries, freaks, gammas, geeks, gene-freaks, gifted, godlings, Homo Superior, hyper-humans, incredibles, inhumans, inspired, marvels, masks, metas, metahumans, mutants, nephilim, novas, omegas, paragons, paranormals, post-humans, powers, psis, psions, psychics, psykes, seraphim, specials, stalwarts, superlatives, supernaturals, superiors, talents, übermenschen, ultras, unnaturals, unusuals."
—Mutants and Masterminds, Second Edition Core Rules
So, what do you call a superhero? Sure, a lot of individual heroes go by the standard coupling of noun/adjective with gender, or an alias cunningly related to their real name and/or their powers, or just something that sounds nice and somewhat appropriate.
But what do you call all of them? When you think about it, superhero is just a bit... well, overused. And kiddy. And explicitly positive, so it works for neither the evilly-inclined nor anyone whose morality is subtler than "Good" or "Evil". (Not to mention it's trademarked, although there is some legal dispute over that.) So, what do you call a man with Super Strength, Eye Beams, and the ability to belch plasma?
Well, you could be all politically correct and call them a Differently-Powered Individual. Or, you could call them any other universal term that's used to label superhumans... such as the ones below.
See also Not Using the Z Word. For Mad Scientist types with a common origin or nature, see Science-Related Memetic Disorder. If they're treated as a minority, they might be asked "Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?"
Anime and Manga
- The use of the term "Esper" (see below) in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is used by Haruhi in the context of "has special powers", although the original meaning of Alfred Bester and those he inspired is generally specific to Telepathy or at least Psychic Powers in general.
- Of course, this is the result of an unusual translation convention. The original Japanese uses the far-more-generic "chōnōryokusha", which can be broken down literally into "super ability person".
- A Certain Magical Index also uses "Esper" (along with chōnōryokusha) to describe beings who gain supernatural powers by scientific means.
- Darker than Black has its Contractors, in reference to the powers they have which they "repay" through Renumerations (rituals that must be done each time they use their powers). That being said, the term also calls to mind contract killing and Private Military Contractors, which are both pretty accurate descriptions of the type of jobs Contractors tend to be involved in.
- There are also certain other types of supers: Dolls (who have little personal volition and whose powers usually focus on ESP through a chosen medium), Moratoriums (who have no control over their powers and usually go into trance-like states of destruction), and Forfeiters (Contractors who lost their powers and regained their emotions).
- The graphic Hentai Manga Mai-chan's Daily Life refers to someone with unusual abilities as a "Physical Idiosyncrasy".
- The titular NEEDLESS-es.
- Tiger and Bunny has NEXT. The NEXT that put on costumes and fight crime, however, are still called superheroes (or just heroes).
- Medaka Box: Those with overpowering abilities (such as killing intent, analysis , and super reflexes) are known as Abnormals, which includes the protagonist as well.
- Later in the story, as more types are introduced (Pluses and Minuses and Not Equals, oh my), they start getting called Skill Holders.
- One Piece: Considering the primary origin of superpowers in the series, most people of the type are simply referred to as Devil Fruit users.
- Invidual users are referred to as an "X-person"; Luffy is called a Rubberman, Miss Doublefinger is a Spikewoman, Mr. One is a Blademan (ironically, and almost certainly accidentally, his fruit is the "supa supa" in Japanese, so he's a "supa-man"), etc.
- Well, it might be accidental. Under the cover arc, it was revealed that Mr. 1 dream was to be a superhero.
- Rising Stars uses the term "Specials". In this world, all powered characters got their powers the same way.
- The DCU uses the term "metahumans" to designate humans who gain superpowers through the metagene, a latent gene that is "activated" by stress (for instance, those oh-so-common lab accidents); once activated, it can carry a parent's powers down to his or her child. The Diniverse seems to use "metahuman". and "superhero" interchangeably. "Metahuman" is also sometimes used as a DC-equivalent of "mutant"; Some people are just born with an active metagene.
- The Marvel Universe takes care to distinguish between "Mutants" (people who develop superpowers through an inherited trait) and "superhumans" (people who gain powers due to exposure of foreign elements), mainly because of the Fantastic Racism against the former (the pejorative term "mutie" is quite popular among anti-mutant bigots). "Mutates" can be mistaken for either group (and many supplemental sources outside of the actual comics think superhumans are called mutates) but they're former humans genetically enhanced with superpowers by a villain with Mad Scientist credentials, such as the Savage Land Mutates.
- Ironically, many superhumans are still mistaken for mutants, with Spider-Man at the top of the list.
- Mutants can further be broken down into Alpha, Beta and Omega, in reference to how well they can control their power: Alphas are able to turn theirs on or off at will, like Jubilee, Shadowcat or Colossus; while Betas' powers are always active, like Wolverine, Cyclops, or Rogue. Omegas are rare (by which we mean 90% of the main cast are listed as such at one point or another) and are basically some of the most powerful beings in the universe—the prime example of an Omega is Jean/Phoenix. There are also lower Gamma/Delta levels for mutants who just got screwed, like the one whose sole power was a ten-foot neck, and those who didn't get (or lost) the Required Secondary Powers they needed.
- Lampshaded in Peter David's X-Factor run. Strong Guy gets angry at the media's use of "mutant" as a pejorative buzzword, and says they prefer being called "Genetically Challenged, or GeeCees for short." He later tells Havok he did it to divert the reporters' attention, but much to Havok's dismay, the term stuck (at least, during David's run on the book.)
- "Costume" is sometimes used as a noun to refer to people who dress up in spandex and fight or cause crime, regardless of whether they have powers or not.
- "Cape" is a similar term in the DCU, and the DCAU gives us the great line, "Uh-oh. Long-johns at 10 o'clock!"
- In early issues of Daredevil, the title character is referred to as a "costumed adventurer".
- Of course, the public did not know of Daredevil's blindess, and thus his metahuman senses, so they had no reason not to presume him a "costumed hero" (term used by Max Allan Collins in Amazing Heroes #119) similar to the early Night Raven, the pulp Shadow (who could not "cloud men's minds"), the Spider, the Green Hornet, the Phantom (of Phantom Detective Magazine), etc.
- Marvels coins "the Marvels", which stuck for a while.
- Runaways once featured an arc where they ended up in 1907, while there they ran across multiple gangs of super-powered teenagers called "wonders". While some of these kids were obviously using magical or mechanically-based powers, a good number were undoubtedly mutants or mutates.
- Those who get powers through Gamma radiation are called "Gamma mutates".
- The Wildstorm Universe typically uses the term "post-human"... except for Welcome to Tranquility, which uses "maxis" to describe its aging Golden Age citizens.
- Ultimate Marvel also uses "posthuman".
- As does Empowered, even though many superheroes are perfectly human there. Empowered also uses "capes" as a general superhuman term (Black Capes and White Capes for villains and heroes, respectively) "superchicas" for female superheroes and "supervill" for supervillains. "Superhero" and "supervillain" are still sometimes used, however.
- In the works of Alan Moore's America's Best Comics (ABC) series (Top Ten, Promethea, Tom Strong and others), superheroes are referred to as "science-heroes." (Even the magical ones.) This was because the publisher Wildstorm, of which ABC was an imprint, was initially an independent company and therefore restricted from using the term "superhero" which is jointly trademarked by DC and Marvel. When DC acquired Wildstorm, the ABC titles were already far enough into their run that the term "science hero" was retained.
- In Watchmen, they are referred to as "costume heroes", "masked avengers" or "masks", which is appropriate, as most don't have superpowers.
- In The New Universe, "paranormals" is the common term.
- Warren Ellis is fond of the term "underwear perverts". This extends to all superheroes in his view, not just powered ones. But then, it's Warren Ellis; to him, everything is about sex and corruption.
- In The Golden Age of Comic Books, before the word "superhero" even existed, costumed adventurers both powered and Badass Normal were sometimes, on the rare occasions they were called any collective term, referred to as "mystery men". This is a common term in Golden Age throwback series, and the source of the title of Mystery Men. It's far more common now in Retcon references to that time than it ever was in the actual Golden Age comics, due to the modern prevalence of the shared universe concept, as opposed to the mostly isolated solo adventures common to the period.
- The End League calls people with powers "magnificents".
- The Next Men were called, well, Next Men. Those "triggered" into mutation — by having sex with Next Men, or being descended from those who did — were called Halflings in the future prequel/sequel 2112.
- In the universe of Paul Dini's Madame Mirage, all enhanced humans, Mad Scientists, and users of Powered Armor and other exotic technology alike are all called "mega-techs" or just "megas" for short.
- Alan Moore's Miracleman used "Parahuman".
- Valiant Comics' blanket term was "Harbingers", a term coined by Villain with Good Publicity Toyo Harada as part of his new humanity philosophy.
- In Erik Larsen's The Savage Dragon, they are called "Freaks".
- Doug Sangnoir of Drunkard's Walk follows his home timeline's nomenclature and uses "metahuman" for all powered persons (and "metatalents" or "metagifts" for their powers), regardless of what the world he's currently in uses. Interestingly, his native timeline appears to classify most magical abilities (but not theurgy) as "metahuman" talents, too. He's also made use of the terms "vig" (from "vigilante") and "costumed extremist" when describing some of those who possess metatalents.
Film - Animated
- The Incredibles used the shortened form "Super" for all people with powers. Probably apt, since having powers doesn't necessarily mean you are (or were) a hero.
- The Wild Cards series distinguishes among Aces (people infected with the wild card virus who gain superpowers), Jokers (people who survived the wild card virus but who were horribly mutated as a result), and Deuces (people who weren't mutated by the virus, but who got really lame powers). Naturally, there is some overlap among the three: The prime example is the heroine/TV host Peregrine, who is technically a Joker because she grew wings, but is considered an Ace because they're functional and let her fly -— and are sexy. (The official term in the book's universe is "metahuman". It's rarely used outside of scientific literature, though.)
- And "exotic" was used briefly during the early years after the Wild Card virus was first released; the official name of the Four Aces was "Exotics For Democracy".
- Xanth has three classes of superpower. Mundane: No magic. Magician: Incredibly powerful magic. The rest of Xanth's inhabitants (with no special name, other than "everybody") each have a magic talent that falls between the two extremes. Those who can do exceedingly minor things like conjuring rotten pineapples or chlorinating water are referred to in A Spell for Chameleon as having "Spot on the Wall"-type talents, from the ultimate example: making a small, colored spot appear on the wall.
- Many fictional realms class their extranormal individuals as witches, or (in older works) witch for female and warlock for male.
- Likewise, in Harry Potter, all magically-endowed people are Wizards or Witches. The books imply that other terms like "warlock" are also used, but the differences, if they exist, are not touched upon.
- In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, it is explained that "warlock" is a title for a very powerful/accomplished wizard, similar to being given the title of knight.
- The use of the name Homo Superior goes back at least to the 1930 story "Odd John" by Olaf Stapledon. It's been used everywhere from pulp sci-fi to Marvel Comics to The Tomorrow People to refer to superhumans as the "next stage of evolution".
- The term "esper" (from "ESP user") was once used fairly frequently in science fiction to denote someone with Psychic Powers. Such authors as Alfred Bester, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Christopher Stasheff have used it in this context. Not to mention those cheerful children in Akira.
- The Temps shared world of tongue-in-cheek British superheroics used "paranorm". As well as the accepted and standard term, however, it was also a slur used by All of the Other Reindeer. The powered individuals themselves preferred "Talented".
- The Anne McCaffrey Rowan novel series, and its prequels, the Pegasus trilogy, used "Talents" for all those born with Psychic Powers, the first story in that Verse having been written in 1959.
- Graceling has the titular individuals, blessed or cursed with different-coloured eyes and a superpower.
- The Nightfall books by Mickey Zucker Reichert feature individuals with "natal talents."
- People with innate superpowers are called Magicals or Actives in The Grimnoir Chronicles.
- In the Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes, superpowered people are dubbed COL As or Children Of Limitless Ability due to them all being under the age of fifteen.
- Those Who Walk in Darkness and What Fire Cannot Burn by John Ridley call them metanormals.
- In Night Watch, they are called Others.
- Ayize Jama-Barrett's novel The Liminal People has the protagonist referring to himself and other superpowered individuals as "liminal" or existing in a liminal state as they are usually on the fringes of society.
Live Action TV
- It is apparently public policy in the real world to refer to the Mutants on Heroes as, well, "Heroes". This ignores the ones that are apathetic to the cause of Justice (tm), have their own neutral agendas, are incidental to the plot, or, let's face it, are just plain evil.
- In-show, though, collective terms are rarely used, other than vague terms such as "others like me".
- In the dystopian future where it's common knowledge that there are people with powers, they tend to be referred to as "the special people". The online comics show that it's apparently "The Company"'s policy to describe them as "specials". Danko of Volume 4 used "Specials" at least once.
- Volume 4 seems to have Danko's Cape Busters team refer to them mainly as "individuals with abilities".
- Season 3 supervillain Knox quite straightforwardly refers to people like him as "supers", although he's pretty much alone in doing so.
- The general fan consensus seems to have "evolved humans" being the term of choice, so much so that even NBC's publicity department is using it.
- "Specials" becomes a general term late in Volume 5.
- Babylon 5 just calls all psychics Telepaths or "Teeps", since that is far and away their most common power.
- They also refer to the small subset of Telepaths with a telekinetic talent as "Teeks".
- The Tomorrow People. It's right there in the name.
- On the TV version of Painkiller Jane, all those with powers except for the title character are called Neuros, short for Neurological Aberration.
- That's because Neuros are only the failed stage 1 experiments. Jane is stage 2.
- The X-Files often referred to the more human freaks of the week as "mutants", "genetic mutations" or "genetic aberrations".
- Sanctuary uses the term "abnormals" for humans with strange qualities.
- They also use the term to refer to non-human cryptids, such as merpeople and sasquatch. It is not clear whether the term also applies to the non-sentient cryptids — no one has yet used the term directly when talking about a specific non-sentient animal, but Magnus does refer to the Sanctuary's residents collectively as "abnormals".
- The 4400 refers to the 4,400 people with superpowers as "returnees", due to the way they were abducted from the past and then returned all at once with powers added. Those who acquire their powers in the present day using the Super Serum Promicin are unnamed.
- The term "p-positive" has been used, short for "promicin-positive" with the plural being simply "p-positives".
- Birds of Prey seems to take place in a bizarre version of The DCU where the only superpowered individuals are metahumans, called "metas" for short.
- Smallville calls people with special powers "Meteor Freaks", though "metahuman" is coming into use for non-Green Rocks empowered superhumans.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all supernatural beings are collectively referred to as demons regardless of their moral stance. The Initiative coins the term "hostile sub-t" (for sub-terrestrial), probably because it would not go over well having to tell the Congressional budgetary comittee that they need money to fight "demons"...
- Season 4 also made it clear that the Initiative did not believe in magic or the supernatural, and thus the term "demon" was disregarded for something more scientific.
- The Showa Kamen Riders have "reconstructed humans (kaizo ningen)".
- In Firefly, psychics are informally referred to as "readers." While the term is only used once in the series itself, its apparently common enough that when Mal says he thinks River is a reader, Zoe immediately responds with "Psychic?"
- Mutant X uses the slightly strange term "New Mutants". No mention is ever made of "Old Mutants". Maybe it's to distinguish their differences from actual mutations.
- In Haven, the Troubled are people who have started to (or always did) display strange powers.
- The second pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series used the term "Esper" a few times, referring to those whose ESP ratings were higher than average, normal Human or not. No doubt borrowed the term from Asimov.
- Alphas, obviously, uses the term alphas.
- The Tabletop RPG Aberrant uses "novas" (a general pop culture term for superhumans) and "aberrants" (the superhuman equivalent of the N word).
- The powered beings of the Adventure! game (set decades earlier, when a lesser version of the Aberrant Meta Origin kick-starts a Golden Age) are "stalwarts" or "daredevils". (Daredevils are either Badass Normals or characters with "luck" powers, depending on which Sourcebook you read).
- Non-Aberrant Psychics have a separate terminology: they're called "mesmerists" in Adventure!, "psychs" in Aberrant and "psions" in the future setting of Trinity.
- The superhero RPG Brave New World uses the term "deltas" to refer to heroes, as delta represents the process of change in scientific formulae. Particularly powerful "evolved" delta heroes are called "alphas".
- And if some other books ever saw light, there could be omegas and infinities.
- The Tabletop RPG Godlike and its sequel, Wild Talents, use "talents".
- They're not superheroes by any means, but Warhammer 40K calls those poor bastards born with mental powers "Psykers."
- They also use abhumans for stable human subspecies (like Ratlings) that are on the Imperium's good side and mutants for those that are not.
- There are two types of mutant — the oppressed underclass who generally want to rebel and throw off the yoke of Imperial brutality, and the Chaos-powered maniacs who want to eat your children as a sacrifice to the Dark Gods. Type I can easily become Type II...
- They also use abhumans for stable human subspecies (like Ratlings) that are on the Imperium's good side and mutants for those that are not.
- GURPS Supers uses "supers," naturally enough, throughout the rules, but within the "house setting" of the International Super Teams world, "metahuman" or "meta" is preferred (at least in English-speaking countries; other languages have their own terms).
- In City of Heroes the superpowerful characters are generally just referred to as heroes or villains.
- Different factions in the game have different names — among them "capes", "cowls", "cloaks", "masks" (black mask for villains) and "Boy Scouts". The Circle of Thorns sorcerous society calls them "the Gifted". Arachnos calls their freelance supervillains "Destined Ones" as part of their overarching metaplot, while Malta, the the high-tech secret anti-hero conspiracy, refers to them as "metahumans". Otherwise, you'll find people using just about any term on the list.
- The somewhat awkward term "Psychiccer" is used in Psychic Force.
- In Mass Effect, they're biotics. Justified in that it isn't pure brainpower that lets them perform incredible feats, and several in-universe sources hint that the name was deliberately chosen to keep people from misunderstanding what biotics are capable of (e.g. no mindreading). The asari complicate matters, as they are all biotics and they do appear able to read minds (embrace eternity!). This is related to their method of reproduction (synching their nervous system with that of another person), however, and not biotics at all.
- Fable refers to all humans with supernatural powers as "Heroes," regardless of whether they are good or evil. This might be explained by the Heroes' Guild originally being for exclusively good beings, but became more neutral and allowed Heroes of different moralities sometime prior to the first game.
- Well, the original first heroes, the Greek ones, were a bit less about doing heroic stuff and more about being famous and really powerful. Only in modern times, it's a term that's associated with goodness. So they might just as well have started to use the term in its original meaning.
- The superpowered humans in In Famous are referred to as "Conduits." The gene that marks a human as a Conduit allows one to channel, or be a conduit for, Ray Field Energy and gain superpowers through exposure to it. The Good ending of the second game has Cole destroy all conduits (including himself) in order to save the Muggles of the world while the Evil ending has the reverse happening.
- Mages in Dragon Age.
- The Descendants sees the news media and most mature people using 'prelate' instead of superhero while the younger generation calls a spade a spade.
- It also uses the word 'psychic' to describe everyone with superpowers, whether that accurately describes their powers or not. The word 'descendant' is starting to displace that, though, now that the origins of their powers are confirmed.
- In the Whateley Universe, they're "mutants", unless they're called named by someone who doesn't like them. "Gene filth", "gene deviant", and so on. There are also various types supers who are not mutants: they're "Imbued" (Think Captain Marvel), "Dynamorph" (An external creature called a dynamorph bonding with you), and"Origin" (Pretty much anything else.),. There are also "mages" who are skilled in the use of magic but not because of a mutation, and also various supernatural entities such as spirits, gods (apparently), and werewolves.
- Artifice Comics uses "Post Moderns".
- Bloody Urban uses "Paranormals" as a broad term which includes all manner of supernatural characters, and "Indigos" as a term for humans born with Psychic Powers. (These people have indigo auras, hence the name.)
- In Super Stories, the narrator Veldron refers to such people as superhumans, but this may not be universal—the superpowered police force is called the Metapatrol, for instance.
- In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the official, scientific term for superhumans is "meta-powered humans". But outside of the scientific journals, you'll generally never encounter the term. Most people just call them "supers".
- The Omega Universe calls them ... well, omegas.
- The ASH universe refers to the most powerful as Supernaturals and the lesser lights as Supernormals.
- Destine Enormity uses the phrase "Power Users," although its opposite term, "Normals," is more commonly used. They rarely need to talk about Power Users, in much the same way that fish rarely need to talk about water.
- Worm refers to people with powers in general as "parahumans," while those who put on a costume and try to become a villain or hero are referred to as "capes." Parahumans who try to settle down and have a normal life are referred to as "rogues."
- Static Shock uses "Bang Baby" to describe humans mutated by the industrial gas explosion known as the "Big Bang" and Static himself considers the term mutant to be degrading (take that, X-Men). Eventually they settle on "metahuman" as more non-big bang supers started showing up (and when the show became a more established part of the DCAU).
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, "benders" is the name given to those who have the ability to bend the elements- rather logical, actually. Someone who can bend all the elements is the Avatar, who is reborn after he/she dies. Aang can bend air, is the last of his kind, and the Avatar....thus, the title.