While working on my List of Superpowers (200+), one of the more interesting superpowers I added, that was not on my previous list of 150 superpowers, was the ability to merge human beings into a single being (power 99). Writing about this superpower brought back a lot of memories. I first read Childhood’s End when I was a teenager and the book kind of scared the crap out of me because there was something deeply true about the novel. In Childhood’s End the Overlords look like demons. Our fear of demons is a premonition of a fate in which humans become a single organism. Childhood’s End is a novelistic version of the Omega Point put forth by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The recent TV series version of Childhood’s End also got me thinking about the subject of MERGED HUMANS! This article will explore (1) how humans have been merged, (2) why humans have been merged and different (3) types of merging in comic books.
1.0) How would you create merged humans?
One way of merging human is via a combination of biological and technological means. This merging can be done for various ends. Transhumanism, or H+ for short, suggests we use emerging technologies such as genetic engineering and/or intelligence augmentation (IA) and artificial technology in tandem in order to enhance human potential. There are different flavors of transhumanism including: Abolitionism, Democratic transhumanism, Extropianism, Immortalism, Libertarian transhumanism, Postgenderism, Singularitarianism, and Technogaianism.
The flavor missing from the list is the flavor you see in any number of science fiction movies in which emerging technologies are used to enhance humans to serve the interests of the state which are generally military. Captain America is enhanced to fight Nazis as super soldier. In the future, the very same Marvel Comics super solider program is used to create Nuke (Marvel), a cyborg. I actually find the comic book version of a post human future more “realistic” than the H+ version. Enhanced humans will require deep pockets which only the state has and not the politically correct. The Kree Empire decides to use cyborg technology to create the Supreme Intelligence! The most famous cyborg collective intelligence is of course the Borg (Star Trek). The Borg have the amazing ability to assimilate both technological and biological uniqueness and then add them to the collective.
A superorganism is an organism that consists of other organisms. In the case of superorganisms, humans are merged via biological means rather than cybernetic means. In one scenario, aliens may arrive and have the ability to merge humans via biological means and humans lose their identity as individual i.e. they become the fictional version of eusocial. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the seminal movie of this type. The comic book version of an alien that takes over humans is Starro (DC) and Starro uses little star fish that attach themselves to the head of humans including even Superman to take them over an make them part of a collective intelligence.
Marvel decided to make a montage of the The Stepford Wives and The Midwich Cuckoos and created the Stepford Cuckoos (Marvel) who are quintuplets with a telepathic hive mind. Marvel also created the Uni-Mind (Marvel). The Eternals are a race that has all the powers of Superman, more or less, and can merge into a single Uni-Mind due to their Eternal physiology rather than via technological means. There is a loss of individual identity but only temporarily. The Overmind (Marvel) is an alien belonging to the Eternals of Eyung and the receptacle for entire population of several hundred million minds. The individual minds have been totally erased. The High Evolutionary use some sort of compound to accelerate human evolution and creates the Entity (Marvel) in What If -The Avengers Lost the Evolutionary War V2 #1 but individuality is retained while powers are amalgamated.
The comic book writer, Alan Moore has the Swamp Thing accidently become a collective intelligence in Swamp Thing V2 #61 (1987). The Swamp Thing creates a plant based superorganism. Alan Moore always uses a unique POV to make an old topic interesting. The problem of unmerging the collective is seen from the POV of those merged first and the Green Lantern who wants to save the merged innocents and tries different solutions. Compare this POV driven approach to storytelling to how the Uni-Mind, Ubersaurus and Mangog are summarily unmerged.
1.3) Technological Singularity
In the technological singularity scenario, computers create even better computers and those better computers create even better computers and on and on until computers quickly reach a level of artificial intelligence (AI) that soon totally surpasses human intelligence. This article is about merging humans not AI so let’s assume computers don’t like waste and merge humans into the machine. In “real” life, I think super computers would either ignore us or eliminate us but conquering us or more salaciously conquering our women seems to sell more books and tickets!
In the comic book version of the technological singularity the computers mostly conquer humans or try to eliminate us but we put up a really good fight. Brainiac (DC) is the number one comic book robot that goes this route. Brainiac shrinks cities so he can study them the way a youngster studies an ant farm. The concept is totally insane but a lot of fun and allows for a slew of Kandor related stories since this is the city Brainiac “saved” from the destruction of Krypton. If there is no Kandor then there is no Superman Emergency Squad! Finally, if there is no Superman Emergency Squad then you can’t have a fight between them and Supergirl in Action 276.
Ultron (Marvel) used to want to eliminate humans but lately he has started to merge humans.
A similar plot twist happened in the Terminator franchise. In Terminator Genisys, Skynet turns John Connor, the leader of the human resistance, into a Terminator! I suppose both 1.1 and 1.3 are examples of cyborg technology from a technological point of view but I would say if you as a human are mostly computer and more importantly it was done to you by a computer than it’s still an expression of technological singularity and a very important difference in terms of novelistic conflict.
1.4) Unknown Means
In the case of the Omega Point, the role of biological and technological merging of humans is not specified and/or irrelevant. Merged humans provide theological answers so the ends not the means are more relevant. In Childhood’s End one assumes scientific means are used but as in the case of the Omega Point, the details of how this merging happens is not specified. Odin creates Mangog (Marvel) using magic but magic isn’t much of an explanation. Mostly I just don’t want to make a whole category just for Mangog!
2.0) Why would you create merged humans?
2.1) Evolutionary Imperative
Merging human is just the right thing to do! Come on humans as individuals suck! You know it! I know it! We are going to destroy ourselves in the next twenty minutes anyway so we might as well merge and go up the evolutionary ladder. Do you think microbes liked being part of a larger multicellular body? Of course not! It’s the next stage and we will be happier for going up the ladder. The Borg know assimilation is just the right thing to do! Teilhard de Chardin doesn’t suggest there is a choice but God is behind the plan so it must be the right thing to do.
Two brains are better than one and two thousand brains are probably better than two. The Kree Empire use technology to create the Supreme Intelligence which is an amalgam of the best and brightest minds of Kree history. The Supreme Intelligence is created to create a cosmic cube but refuses but is kept around anyway for governance. The Eternals merge into a Uni-Mind temporarily to make big decisions.
Merged humans might have military applications. Maybe the Borg didn’t create a hive mind mostly for military purposes but they do tend to kick Starfleet around without much trouble. Even the Q (Star Trek) don’t mess with the Borg. The Overmind (Marvel) and the Ubersaur (Astro City) were created specifically for combat!
“Hell is other People”, according to Sartre. Odin is obviously a big fan of Sartre and decided the best way to punish a people was to merge them into a single entity called Mangog. Mangog in turn almost destroys his kingdom. Odin’s merging makes no sense whatsoever but this is often the case with the Marvel version of Odin! However, the idea of a criminal feeling the pain of their victim does make some sense. In The Crow, protagonist Eric Draven makes villain Top Dollar feel 30 hours of his (Eric’s) murdered girlfriend Shelly’s pain in one moment.
3.0) Type of Merging
There are at least three possibilities when it comes to merging (3.1) Mind only, (3.2) Body mostly (lack of super intelligence) and (3.3) Mind and Body. The type of merging is sadly neglected in one of the most popular fan boy fights: What would happen if the Uni-Mind fought the Supreme Intelligence. The Uni-Mind can fly and seems to be an amalgam of the Eternals physically not just mentally (3.3). The Uni-Mind, unlike the Supreme Intelligence, is more like a thousand Supermans in one big body. Actually the Uni-Mind hasn’t really shown any super intelligence feats but has vast psionic powers and is used for governance sporadically so one assumes there is some sort of super intelligence at work.
The Supreme Intelligence is probably more intelligent because more minds make up the Supreme Intelligence than the Uni-Mind. However, physically the Supreme Intelligence physically is a collection of computers and brains and can only control three androids to fight (3.1). However, the Supreme Intelligence does have vast psionic powers. The Supreme Intelligence is one of the great manipulators of the Marvel Universe and ruthlessly created the Nega-Bomb to force the evolution of the Kree race while not letting the Kree know about its genocidal plan directed at the Kree themselves for a larger end! The Supreme Intelligence can access all the information of the Kree Empire, process that information and come up with extremely complex plans that have been successful in the past.
Minus prep, the Uni-Mind wins in a conflict with the Supreme Intelligence. The Uni-Mind is powerful enough to just fly through Kree space and blast the Supreme Intelligence to death. The Supreme Intelligence has some psionic powers but not to the same extent as the Uni-Mind. Without prep then the conflict is more or less Superman versus a computer installation!
If there is prep then the Supreme Intelligence has the vast resources of the interstellar Kree Empire and superior intelligence to use those resources. This would be Superman versus a computer installation which is guarded by an insane level of military resources and they know you are coming and of course they can come after you first! The Kree Empire did create the Inhumans as their answer to the Celestial created Eternals and if they can create a super race then surely they can create weapons to take out a super race.
The Supreme Intelligence can send out an armada that conquers worlds, Sentries, giant robots with vast destructive potential, and specialized weaponry designed to take out Eternals merged or not. The Supreme Intelligence is the brain of the Kree Empire. The Uni-Mind is more agile as a body and brain in one package but the Supreme Intelligence has a body which is the Kree Empire at its disposal with prep. Also, the Supreme Intelligence is more redundant. The Supreme Intelligence is a vast network and the pieces can be replaced with more brains and more computers. The Supreme Intelligence is more of a distributed network. The Uni-Mind is a single entity flying in the sky. A really powerful entity but one target when it’s all said and done. The Uni-Mind was been taken out by a single blast from a Celestial in the past!
The Overmind (Marvel) received vast psionic powers due to his merging but not the physical powers of the millions that he is the merged version of or super intelligence.
What if there is a physical merging but not a merging of minds (3.2)? You merge beings to get super strength. There are major disadvantages to having an amalgam body lacking super intelligence or psionic powers. Mangog is a savage creature of unbelievable strength and is much stronger than Thor. However, Mangog is easily taken apart by Odin. Super intelligence could have given Magog the ability to create a defense against Odin.
Ubersaurus (Astro City), in a manner similar to the Eternals, uses the inherent super powers of their alien physiology to create a collective being that has a collective body but the Ubersaurus doesn’t appear to be all that smart and is easily defeated by some sort of ray that a super intelligent being would have anticipated (3.2). If the Ubersaurus had psionic powers then it might have erected some sort of psionic force field to stop the ray.
The Swamp Thing becomes a physically impressive specimen but the merging leaves him in a state of shock. A merged creature minus super intelligence or psionic defenses is easily unmerged with the right technology and this seems to be the main weakness of this type of merging.
I am going to argue that the Borg are an example of 3.3 but the Borg have their little version of 3.3 which makes them very interesting. Do the Borg as a hive mind have super intelligence? The Borg can store and process huge amounts of information as a hive mind that consists of countless assimilated species. The Queen of the Borg serves some sort of information processing nexus function that is not totally explained in the Star Trek universe. The Borg can adapt to all sorts of technology almost instantly and if this isn’t super intelligence certainly this ability mimics super intelligence.
However, stratagems by Starfleet do seem to work against the Borg and Borg intelligence seems to have blind spot when it comes to individuals. The Borg do not so much assimilate individuals as civilizations so individuals are ignored and an individual might be able to slip past Borg defenses and do damage to the Borg that is disproportionate to the apparent potential of the individual. A Borg, Hugh is infected with a computer virus and the Enterprise crew is pretty sure their stratagem will work if Hugh is assimilated again. The human equivalent would be blankets with Small Pox given to Native Americans and a being with super intelligence would see through such a trick easily. The Borg have assimilated humans so this particular historical example would be in their data base. The Borg are like an idiot savant in some ways. Their knowledge is deep and detailed but their thought sometimes lacks common sense. The Borg are more robotic and slow moving and slow thinking than human and agile of mind and body.
The Borg can create a custom nexus similar to the Borg Queen that deals with particular problems. The Borg created a nexus called Locutus out of Captain Picard in order to take out the Federation. This custom made nexus seems to give the Borg the advantages of both a hive mind and a quicker more agile individual mind in one package. I see Locutus as being a custom made chip designed for a particular problem. The Borg as a collective are a cybernetic system that is smart enough to create a cybernetic expert system when needed and by assimilating Captain Picard avoid the knowledge acquisition problem.
Do the Borg have some sort of ability to merge their humanoid bodies? The Borg as a cube ship seem to have some sort of ability to draw on the physical reserves of all the individual Borg in the cube ship for regeneration from attacks that would destroy any Starfleet ship (3.3). Individual Borg outside of the cube ship do not have this ability.
I would say the Entity is an example of 3.3 taken to a higher level than any other being in comic book history. The Entity can destroy both Eternity and Death physically because it’s an amalgam of most of the Marvel Universe superheroes who have also been evolved. Even the merged humans, not super humans, can disintegrate a Celestial with just a thought!
In conclusion the topic of merged humans in comic books appears to be simple but actually has a lot of components that make the topic more interesting.