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People Who Gained Superpowers From Being Brainwashed

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We all act like being mind-wiped and reprogrammed is such a bad thing — but is it always? Sometimes having your personality or identity scrubbed away like so much grout scum is just a great way to make room for new stuff. Like killer ninja skills. Or superpowers.

Mind-control and mind-wiping are common themes in science fiction and fantasy — and sometimes, they actually give people superpowers as a side-effect, or as their main result. Here are some people who got awesome superpowers from being brainwashed.

Bucky Barnes
As Captain America's sidekick, he was already sort of a badass — but when he became the Winter Soldier, he was programmed to become a Soviet assassin for Department X. And his programming made him way more effective and deadly than he had previously been — and arguably gave him the wherewithal to be able to take over as Captain America himself, eventualy.


The Black Widow
Natalia Romanova was raised in the U.S.S.R.'s Black Widow Ops program, and biologically enhanced while also being programmed as the perfect spy and assassin. She was given false memories to go with her programming, to enable her to be the perfect spy. She even became the lover of the Winter Soldier, her fellow brainwashed Soviet agent.

Echo and her friends, on Dollhouse
Joss Whedon sure loves to show people getting mind-wiped and gaining powers as a result — even Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be seen as being programmed by her dreams and indoctrinated by her Watcher — and this theme reached its ultimate expression in Dollhouse. Echo, Sierra and the others have their whole minds erased and stored on discs, but then their empty brains are filled with new personalities — including awesome skills like safe-cracking and ninja-ness. (Ninja-hood? Ninja-bility? Ninjitsu?)


Supergirl on Smallville
According to SupermanTV, we first met "Supergirl" at the end of season three — and she seemed to be a girl named Kara who had Kryptonian powers. But we soon learned that Clark's dead biological daddy, Jor-El, had actually kidnapped and brainwashed an Earth girl named Lindsey Harrison and given her Kryptonain powers, to make Clark confront his Kryptonian heritage.

Once Neo joins up with Morpheus and the rest of the Resistance, he gets combat skills and tons of other knowledge uploaded directly into his brain — along with a heaping dose of indoctrination about rejecting the reality of the Matrix and the authority of the Agents.


Captain Underpants
Did you realize that this children's book superhero's origin involves being hypnotized by two children? In his civilian identity, Captain Underpants is a mean principal, Mr. Krupp, who hates children. But after being mind-controlled by two of his students, Mr. Krupp becomes Captain Underpants whenever he hears fingers snapping. And eventually, he gains actual superpowers, even though he remains unaware of his other persona when he's not triggered.

Max Guevara, from Dark Angel
Max and the other kids from Manticore are genetically engineered, but also undergo extensive brainwashing — with a laser in the eye! And no doubt, all of the mind-scrubbing just makes them better at their jobs.


Captain Universe
Captain Universe isn't a single person — he's an identity that tends to take over people, and he's had several hosts throughout his history. The Uni-Power, an aspect of the Enigma Force, seeks out "people in great peril" and bonds with them, transforming them into Captain Universe. And along with the powers of the Captain, they also gain some of his heroic attitudes.

Simon Phoenix
When the old-school criminal Simon Phoenix is awoken from cryo-freezing for a parole hearing, he mysteriously has up-to-date knowledge that lets him escape from prison. It turns out Phoenix knows an amazing amount about the future and has tons of useful skills to go with his already psychopathic personality — and he's also got instructions buried in his brain telling him whom to kill.


River Tam
And finally... there's Joss Whedon's other mind-frakked superwoman, who underwent incredibly nasty brain surgery at the hands of the Alliance. These experiments gave her tons of powers, including some kind of telepathy and super-fighter skills — but she also has some nasty junk in her head, including some programming whose exact nature is never entirely made clear.