I have a lovely little jar that I pass around my college classes.  I call it my Jar’o’Sex.  When I pass the jar around, each student must write an anonymous question and put it in the jar.  Often the semester starts off with lots of questions, and then they slow to a trickle and eventually we stop passing the jar all together.  The jar holds two purposes:

  1. to cover all those questions that people have that don’t really fit anywhere in the curriculum (like: “If a woman has sex with two men, can she have twins from different daddies?”)
  2. to allow the students to ask questions without having to admit to asking them (like: “I’ve never managed to give my girlfriend an orgasm.  Is something wrong with me?  Or with her?”)

I have a similar tradition with all of my classes, although the amount of structure and guidance I give varies a bit depending on the age group.

This semester there are a few people in both of my college classes who were annoyed that I was making them ask a question.  They said they had no questions.  (Surprise to me, I have to say!  I have lots of questions about human sexuality that are currently unanswered, and I would love for someone to offer to answer them all for me!)

One of these people, I assume, although because it’s anonymous, I can’t be sure, asked the following question:

If superheros existed would they have super sperm?  For example if Spiderman made babies, would his children have spidey sense?

Far be it from me to let a question about sexuality go unanswered, so I contacted an authority on the matter, and here is his in-depth answer:

Thank-you to Dr. Rayne for the opportunity to provide a response to your question.

First off, I must take issue the gender bias inherent in the way you stated your question – “Would a superhero have super sperm?”  Perhaps he would, if he were a man.  But from Wonder Woman to the Powerpuff girls – there are legions of female heroes, none of whom have sperm, super or otherwise.

Moving on, the answer to your rephrased question – “Would superheroes produce superhero children and would they have similar power to their parents”? – is complicated.  Superheros derive their powers from many different sources – genetic mutation, exposure to cosmic rays, bites from radioactive vermin, alien artifacts, just to name a few.  In general, the source of a hero‘s powers determines whether these powers can be passed down to their offspring, but this is handled differently and not always consistently, in various books, comics and movies.

Some heroes like DC’s Superman and Wonder Woman, have special powers because they are members of separate super-powered races (Kryptonians and Amazons, respectively.)  So long as they bore children with another member of their own race, one would expect their children to be comparably super-powered.  Similarly, the hero Paul Chadwick’s “Concrete” is a human trapped in an super-strong alien body.  Concrete’s child, produced through asexual budding, is expected to grow to as strong and resilient as his parent.

The mutants of Marvel’s popular X-Men are also a separate species –  an evolutionary off-shoot of Homo sapiens,  referred to as Homo superior.  These mutants are different from normal humans because they posses the X-gene which results in the manifestation of super-powers, usually around the onset of puberty.  As the X-men’s powers are genetically based, the children of the X-Men would inherit these genes and super powers.

However, the expression of the X-gene is very difficult to predict. The powers of the children tend to reflect the powers of their parents, but do not always match exactly.  Dakon, Wolverine’s son, has his father’s trademark claws and healing factor.  Conversely, Cable, the son the X-Men Cyclops and Phoenix, has some but, not all, of his mother’s psychic abilities, and none of his father’s ability to shoot energy beams from his eyes.

Some superhero mythologies address the issue inherited powers differently than it is handled in the X-Men.  In the movie The Incredilbes, Mr. Fantastic and Elastigirl have three children.  Although the older two are known to be super-powered, initially the parents do not believe their third child, Jack-Jack, to have any special abilities.  The parents’ reaction to Jack-Jack’s lack of powers suggests that, in their world, super-heroes usually, but not always have super-powered children.  None of  the powers of the children are obviously related to the powers of their parents.

Some heroes, like DC’s Batman, Marvel’s Iron Man, or Night Owl of the Watchmen, are essentially normal humans, who are able to perform super human feats because of a combination of training, dedication and high tech gadgetry.  Their children would be normal humans – perhaps gifted, but not innately superheroes.

Many heroes began their life as normal humans, and became super-powered only as a result of some amazing event or accident.  Most of these heroes appear to be able to pass on at least some of their powers to their children.  Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four have two super-powered children, Franklin and Valeria.  The Hulk has an angry green son called Skaar.

Additionally, there are heroes fall outside the norms of human reproduction. The Vision, a classic member of Marvel’s Avengers, is a robotic android; he might be able to build a child, but is not able to reproduce naturally.

Finally, in the specific case of Spider-Man, his famous run-in with a glowing little spider gave him super powers that could be inherited.  This was clearly established in a long running comic book, set in an alternate future, featuring Spider-Man’s daughter – cleverly nick-named “Spider-girl”.  Spider-girl is strong, can climb walls and shoot webs, and she can sense impending danger through her “spider-sense”.

Hope that helps.

Indeed it does, indeed it does.