In the 1960s, Marvel Comics published the first issues of “The X-Men,” which featured characters with mutant superpowers. You’ve seen all the movies and TV shows. You know about Wolverine’s healing factor and Beast’s furry face. With mutants, Marvel introduced a super-powered “Other” that could be used as a foil for issues like racism and homophobia. It also saved writers from concocting an origin story for every jerk with a mind-control talent.
Mutants are the most accessible superheroes. If you want to walk up walls and sling webs, you have to find a radioactive spider and harass it into biting you. But mutants don’t need unlikely arachnids or expensive laboratories or alien ancestry. Just wait for the X-Gene to kick in at puberty. It could happen to anyone, anywhere. You could wake up one day with telepathy or super speed or shape-shifting abilities — if you’re lucky.
Marvel’s fictional mutants often got the shaft in the superpowers lottery. Jubilee must’ve been bummed to learn her genetic gift was shooting sparks out her fingertips, but it could have been worse. Rogue can never get to first base because her skin sucks the life out of anyone who touches her. And there’s a whole group of sewer-dwelling sad sacks called the Morlocks.
Extreme mutations in real life tend more toward Morlock than X-Men quality. You’re more likely to have Hunter syndrome than hunting response, color blindness than tetrachromacy. Less-extreme mutations produce traits that range from “nifty” to “meh.” You can spot them walking around campus: people with freckles, dimples, blue eyes or red hair. Mutants in our midst! Before you start plotting the pogroms and internment camps, check yourself for telltale signs like eyeballs, underarm hair or warm blood. Follicles and photoreceptors were pretty freaky mutations once upon a time in evolutionary history.
My own mutant superpower is the ability to sense minute amounts of cilantro in any meal I eat. If you try to hide even a single leaf in my taco, my cilantro sense will tingle. Here’s how my powers work: My genetically enhanced taste buds can detect the aldehydes present in the leaves that give this herb its distinct aroma. You can tell my powers are working when I grimace and start gulping water to get rid of the flavor, which I would describe as floral, industrial and noxious, with a hint of Axe Body Spray. It’s the kind of flavor that pairs well with fillet of cane toad and a nice glass of antifreeze.
My superpower is useful only for reducing my restaurant spending, because every type of eatery from Thai to Mexican has jumped on the cilantro bandwagon over the past decade. I wish I had the power to enjoy all kinds of food without worrying about chomping into hidden nuggets of nope. But most powers are not innate; they’re developed through effort and discipline. So you can keep your cilantro; I’ll be over here learning to cook my own damn meals.