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A superhuman (also written super-human) is an entity with intelligence or physical abilities exceeding human standards.
Superhuman can mean an improved human, for example, by genetic modification, cybernetic implants, or by what might be defined as natural evolution. It can also mean an otherwise “normal” human with unusual properties, such as psychic abilities or exceptional proficiency at some skill that is far beyond the norm.
Superhuman can also be used to define a being that is not human, but is considered to be "superior" to humans in some ways. Theoretically, a robot that easily passed the Turing test, and could do some things humans can't, could be considered superhuman. A very intelligent or strong alien could be considered superhuman, although no known superhuman has yet been definitively defined as extraterrestrial in origin, despite claims otherwise (see the psychological disorder Kal-El Syndrome).
According to transhumanist thinkers, a posthuman is a hypothetical future being "whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards." Under this definition, some scientists and religious cults believe that superhumanism constitutes a posthuman species distinct from homo sapiens. In contrast, the non-powered Hugo Tanner, also known as Centurion, has proclaimed himself as the world's first posthuman, and espouses the view that superhumans are aberrant mutations not worthy of being defined as a species, but should be sterilized to allow the scientific development of mankind.
Main article: Fictional portrayals of superhumans in media and popular culture
Although true superhumans did not emerge until after the Second World War, fictional superhumans have been a part of popular culture since the debut of DC Comics' Superman in 1938. Evolving out of pulp heroes such as Doc Savage and The Shadow, these fictional superhumans would shape much of the essential characteristics of today's superhuman culture: a secret identity, a colorful costume often involving a symbol and/or cape, and a predilection either towards vigilantism or criminal behavior.
The emergence of actual superhumans created a "superhero boom" in the 1950s, fueled by cooperation between major publishers and the American government, who saw superhero comics as unpaid propaganda for officially-sanctioned superhumans. The popularity of comic book superheroes also invited criticism, culminating in psychologist Frederic Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that there was a link between comic book reading and juvenile deliquency. Wertham's views resulted in a Congressional inquiry, but the anti-comics movement ended soon after the press received FBI documents implying Wertham had a secret relationship with left-wing organizations.
Fictional superheroes remained popular well into the 1980s, but have waned significantly in recent years due to public concern over the unregulated use of superpowers. After being acquired by Tanner Industries, Marvel Comics cancelled their entire superhero line and now focus primarily on sports and "science hero" comics. DC Comics went bankrupt in 1998, and is now completely defunct. The only remaining major publisher of superhero comics is Entertaining Comics, which has enjoyed the longest and most substantial relationship with the government to produce official-licensed comics featuring actual superhumans. However, EC Comics' horror line has recently gained in popularity and its Crypt of Fear series now outsells its highest-selling superhero title, The Adventures of Nightshadow, by a 2-to-1 margin.
Superhumanism during the Second World War
The first known superhuman was All-American, a patriotic costumed "super-soldier" who fought for the Allies on the front lines in Europe. Debuting in 1942, several men wore the All-American costume, as they were actually non-powered athletes taking part in a "black propaganda" campaign to fool the Germans that such super-soldiers could be created through scientific means. The Allies knew that the Germans had been pursuing such research, and, believing it be a fruitless and expensive endeavor, sought to convince the Germans it had actual worth so that they would continue to pour funds into it.
Unknown to the Allies, the German "super-soldier" program would successfully create superhumans, although not in time to stop the Allied victory. The program stemmed from research on a large meteorite excavated in Tibet in 1935. The meteorite, later captured by American forces and nicknamed "the Rock," emanated a strange form of radiation that, when exposed to a human fetus, could result in that child developing superpowers later in life. Only 0.01% of such subjects developed powers, with the rest either being stillborn or dying soon after birth due to massive physical defects.
Hundreds of pregnant women from SS Lebensborn homes were exposed in this manner, and while the Germans were able to manifest 17 superhumans, none of the children exhibited their powers before the end of the war. The 17 children were adopted by military families in the United States, where they were raised as Americans and routinely experimented upon by government scientists.
The All-Superhuman Squadron
The first of the Lebensborn superhumans to manifest their powers was Roger Stevens. At the age of seventeen, he was given the costume of the All-American and sent to fight in Korea. Twelve of the other Lebensborn superhumans followed Stevens into military service, and, beginning in Laos in 1959, were deployed in combat as a single unit that became known in the press as the All-Superhuman Squadron. During the 1960s, the Squadron served extensively in Southeast Asia and Latin America, as well as on the home front against several "costumed villains" who emerged following the public debut of superhumans. Most of these villains were non-powered humans, but five were former Lebensborn subjects who had abandoned government service to use their powers for personal gain. Two were incarcerated and later died in prison, and one was killed while resisting arrest by the Squadron. Of the remaining two villains, Frank "Icepick" Sloane is currently in prison on multiple life sentences, and the last is the "supermind" calling himself Daedalus, who disappeared in the early 1980s. Roger Stevens is the only surviving member of the All-Superhuman Squadron, after the recent disapperance of his team-mate Superfortress. The Squadron itself was deactivated by the Department of Defense in 1975, as, by then, All-American and Superfortress were its sole surviving members following the deaths of the last two other members during the fall of Saigon.
After the Second World War, American scientists continued the Lebensborn program in secret, over fears that the public would not allow so many human fetuses to die or be malformed in testing. Using an existing study on syphillis treatments in Alabama, the American program exposed the Rock to hundreds of unprivileged mostly African-American pregnant women who believed they were recieving free prenatal care. The Alabama program resulted in a single success (the "super-revolutionary" known as Black Power) before it was shut down following a media expose by Edward R. Murrow in 1954, which sparked race riots in the South over fears that the government was "arming Negroes" with superpowers.
By this time, government scientists had long perfected Compound-S, a chemical solution derived from the Rock which was deemed safer than direct exposure. Abandoning the Alabama program, the government used Compound-S on volunteers, whose selection was strictly controlled over fears that the solution might be reverse-engineered by foreign agents. Eighteen thousand women were treated with Compound-S during their pregnancies before the program folded in 1963, when it was finally determined that the solution had no effect whatsoever. As for the Rock itself, the meteorite's radiation began to wane in the late 1950s and became utterly inert by the mid-1980s. On the fiftieth anniversary of its discovery in 1985, an independent examination by PNC (PrintCorp News Channel) revealed that the Rock was now composed of nothing other than mundane elements.
Despite the percieved failure of Compound-S, a number of costumed vigilantes emerged in the 1970s who claimed "superhuman" status through technological means. The most prominent of these non-powered "superheroes" was Nightshadow, who first appeared on the streets of Chicago in 1979 as a generic street brawler before he re-emerged in the mid-1980s performing superhuman feats through hi-tech gadgetry. In the late 1970s, former government scientist Abednego Tanner proclaimed that he had achieved "superhumanism by human hands" in his young son Hugo (see Centurion), who, through the use of experimental pharmaceuticals, genetic engineering, and a rigorous diet and exercise regime, seemed to have reached the limits of human physical and mental potential. Nevertheless, as the Lebensborn superhumans began to pass away, and infertility was discovered to be a by-product of exposure to the Rock, it seemed as though true biological superhumanism would eventually die out.
The Re-emergence of superhumanism
All that changed in 1989, as a handful of American teenagers suddenly manifested superpowers. The parents of these teenagers had been treated with Compound-S while they were babies back in the 1950s, so the drug achieved its desired goal but only after skipping a generation. Since 1989, nearly 300 individuals have been identified as bearing latent superpowers, typically but not always manifesting them between the ages of 16 and 21. These manifestations peaked between 1995 and 2004, but are expected to fade out completely by the 2010s, as almost all women who were exposed to Compound-S either became too old to have children by the end of the 1990s or had accepted the $10 million dollar cash offer made by Hugo Tanner in exchange for voluntary sterilization.
The Super-Human Violence Protection Act
The explosion of new superhumans over the past 25 years has created a significant amount of unease amongst non-powered citizenry, especially as many of the new generation of superhumans have used their powers for personal gain, often in illegal enterprises. At first, superhuman violence was kept in check by the revived All-Superhuman Squadron, now simply titled "the Squadron" to differentiate the new law enforcement-oriented unit with its military-oriented predecessor (as well as ignore its oft-mocked acronym). While the Squadron was officially sponsored by the government, a number of superhumans turned to costumed vigilatism, often creating as much mayhem and property damage as the super-powered criminals they sought to apprehend. Tensions escalated to such an extent that the Super-Human Violence Protection Act of 1993 was passed with widespread bi-partisan support during the early Clinton Administration, requiring that all superhumans register with the government and making the unauthorized use of superpowers in the commission of a crime (including vigilantism) a federal crime. Due to fears over super-powered terrorism, the SHVPA was further strengthened under the US Patriot Act of 2001, making any use of superpowers a federal offense outside of government-sponsored activity, which was enforced by requiring any superhuman not a member of the Squadron or its subsidiary teams to maintain a monitored prescription of SPD (Super Power Depressant) drugs. "Superhumans" whose powers were technological rather than biological have remained exempt from the SHVPA.
In August 2007, during a humanitarian mission (and well-publicized press event) where the Squadron delivered food supplies to Darfur refugees in Chad, the Redeemer used his powers to hold off an incursion by Janjaweed militia, who were intent on massacring the unarmed civilians. This action was against a presidential-level directive ordering the Squadron not to become involved in the conflict. While his fellow teammates obeyed the order, the Redeemer responded by engaging in a three-day campaign to destory every piece of military armament within a 100-mile radius which he decreed to be a safe zone of "holy ground." While some debates whether this contravened the SHVPA (the use of superpowers on foreign soil has been legally vague since superhumans were defined as "extralegal weapons of mass destruction" by the Bush Administration during the Iraq War), the Redeemer was widely cheered for his actions. Popular with the fundamentalist Christian movement even before the Darfur incident, the Redeemer decided to run for the Republican nomination in the upcoming 2008 US presidential election, on a platform based on "Judeo-Christian values of charity, social justice, and strong moral values." While he achieved victory in the South Carolina primary, Turner performed poorly on Super Tuesday and was forced out of the race.
Over the following months, Internet rumors spread over "electoral improprieties" which had fixed the votes in the Super Tuesday primaries against Turner. Though no evidence was ever found to substantiate the rumors, and while investigative journalists traced the source of the rumors to blogs run by members of The Redeemed (the Redeemer's official fan club), they still lead to large nationwide protests calling to "Redeem the Nation" during the Republican National Convention, then on Election Day, and finally during the Presidential Inauguration.
On 15 April 2009, immediately after North Korea expelled inspectors and declared they would be resuming their nuclear weapons program, the Redeemer appeared in the skies over the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center and vaporized the facility. He then proceeded to eliminate every major piece of military armament in both North and South Korea over the next five days, much as he had during the Darfur incident. Ignoring a unanimous declaration by the UN Security Council calling for him to surrender himself, the Redeemer instead addressed the media. Based on the rumors of election fraud, the Redeemer claimed the 2008 US presidential election to be invalid, and placed himself in charge of the American government until the nation could be "reformed" and "proper" elections could take place. He also addressed the other nations of the world, ordering them to disarm themselves of both nuclear and conventional weapons, or he would personally bring forth the consequences.
With most members of the Squadron siding with the Redeemer, he took over the American government in a matter of weeks. The extent of the Redeemer's poweres were revealed during the Battle of New Mexico, when he survived a direct assault by MInuteman and Trident nuclear missiles that has killed hundreds of thousands and irradiated a large swath of the American Southwest. Since what has come to be known as the Redemption, the Redeemer and his loyalists within the Squadron have carried out a global program of military disarmament. The Redeemer is set to begin his "Five-Year Plan" of economic revitalization through faith-based initiatives that he believes will end poverty, hunger, abortion, pollution, and criminal violence throughout the world.
Main article: United States Superhuman Maximum Security Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island
Besides the Squadron, few of the world's superhumans have supported the Redemption. 43 superhumans were killed in action fighting the Redeemer during the Battle of New Mexico, and dozens more died while resisting arrest for refusing to support the Redemption. Roughly 200 superhumans have been incarcerated by pro-Redemption forces, and a new prison facility designed to hold superhumans was built over the remains of the old penitentiary on Alcatraz Island. Ignoring the objections of historical preservationists and environmentalists, the facility, nicknamed "SuperMax", opened on 22 June 2009.
Main article: List of active superhumans
The following list represents a small number of those superhumans known to have manifested their powers and are actively using them, either with or without government approval:
Alabama Experiments superhumans
Superhumanism outside the United States
Due to the fact that Compound-S was only ever approved for use by American citizens, very few superhumans have manifested outside the borders of the United States and most of those bear dual citizenship as Americans (and thereby regulation under the SHVPA). At this time, there are nineteen known foreign superhumans: four are the surviving members of Euroforce, which has capitulated to the Redemption following a bloody struggle; thirteen are Canadians who, at the behest of the US government, agreed in 2001 to maintain injections of SPDs to suppress their powers and have continued to do so under the Redemption; one is Sholef, the last surviving Israeli superhuman, as all others were killed in battle with the Squadron while resisting disarmament; and the last is Fedayeen, an American-born but Syrian-raised superhuman "terrorist," held in American custody since 2004.
The Soviet Union attempted to create their own superhumans, based on intelligence stolen from the American research program and from German scientists captured after the war. Although the Soviets were able to acquire a very limited supply of Compound-S, no superhumans manifested their powers before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Seventeen superhumans manifested in former Soviet states after 1991, but all of them either emigrated to the United States (lured by significant financial incentives) or died under mysterious circumstances. The superhuman Sharpshooter has since claimed that he was part of a covert military group that assassinated those former Soviet superhumans who refused to emigrate to the United States, but those charges were never verified and he has been unwilling to discuss them since his pardon agreement in 2001.
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