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Dan Stevens in 'Legion' (Photo: FX)

Legion is Marvel Television’s first series that explores the reality of the X-Men movies, where people are born with extraordinary powers thanks to genetic mutations. It’s based around the character Legion (played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens), son of Charles Xavier, who has terrific psychic abilities —including psionic time travel — but also some mental health problems, which manifest in a series of split personalities.

The first episode airs on FX at 10/9c. on Wednesday (February 8), and to celebrate this, here are 10 real people who have performed exceptional feats that uncannily mirror the actions of some of the heroes and heroines (and villains) in Marvel and DC’s classic comic books.

Daredevil is the story of a lawyer who was blinded in an accident, and goes on to develop extra powers of perception thanks to his other senses (and some toxic waste), and he uses his extra-sensory advantage to battle crime. Jim Sherman is a Houston resident who was blind from birth, and yet, when his neighbor Annie Smith — who was eighty four and also vision impaired — called out that she was trapped, and that her house was on fire. As the two neighbors had taken to communicating by baby monitor when Annie’s daughter was at work, Annie asked Jim to come and help. He found his way to her front door using a chain link fence for immediate guidance, then entered the building, found Annie and pulled her out.

Mr. Freeze
Wim Hof is not like other humans when it comes to extreme temperatures. Able to withstand temperatures that would have even Batman’s arch nemesis Mr. Freeze reaching for his thermal vest, he ran a topless marathon in minus 20 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures, risked exposure and hypothermia by hanging out at the North Pole in just a pair of shorts, and even sat in a tub of ice for 104 minutes, breaking a world record in the process. And yet, as this fascinating Vice documentary from 2015 proves, these feats are only the tip of his supericeberg powers:

In 1976, a bus carrying 92 passengers left the road in Yereven, Armenia, and fell into the waters of a reservoir, trapping everyone inside, around 10 feet under the surface. Luckily, the crash was observed by Shavarsh Karapetyan, a champion finswimmer who was just completing a run with his brother. He dove into the water, kicked open a window, and started helping as many people as he could escape the bus before he lost consciousness. Not only did he survive, but 20 of those 92 people did too. For his heroic actions, he went on to receive the Order of the Badge of Honour from the USSR.

It’s all very well running fast or lifting heavy objects, but what if an evil supervillain had hidden the secret code that knocks the fuse out of a massive bomb in the plot to a very long book, and then set the clock ticking at two hours? Well, that’s when you call for Anne Jones. Anne is a world champion speed-reader, who some people claim can manage somewhere in the region of 250 words per minute. She finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in just 27 minutes and then reviewed the book for Sky News afterwards. She’d have that code sorted so quick you’d have time for a cup of tea before foiling the countdown in the all important final few seconds.

Ma Xiangang is a man born with an unusual gift, of the sort that no one should ever, ever go and check for themselves. Hailing from Daqing, in China’s Heilongjiang province, he appears to be impervious to electricity. He made his discovery after poking at his fuse box with his finger, hitting a live wire and claiming to have felt nothing but a mild, energizing tingle. Although always a good idea to take claims of this sort with a pinch of salt, it is true that reaction to electricity is a personal thing, to do with your skin’s natural chemistry and moisture. Experts checking Ma’s hands found the skin to be tough and dry enough to insulate the current passing into his body down to around 6 milliamps, which is lower than the 8-10 milliamps considered to be a safe level.

The Flash
This story comes straight out of the pages of the early Superman comics. In 2012, a school bus driver in New Mexico suffered a seizure while at the wheel, and lost control of his bus, loaded with passengers. Standing at a nearby bus stop, mild-mannered local mom Rhonda Carlsen realized something was amiss when her daughter spotted the driver. Thinking quickly, she ran alongside the moving vehicle, shouting up to the children inside to pull the lever that opened the door. Once they had done so, she leapt aboard and brought the bus to standstill. No one was hurt.

Rhonda Carlsen and daughter Lauren on The Steve Harvey Show in 2014 (Photo: Getty Images)
Rhonda Carlsen and daughter Lauren on The Steve Harvey Show in 2014 (Photo: Getty Images)

The Thing
It may seem overly credulous to refer back to the claims of an 18th century strongman as if they were scientifically verified fact, but according to contemporary reports, Thomas Topham, a British strongman, performed without knowing any of the usual sleight of hand tricks usually associated with such an act. Mental Floss has the full list of his remarkable feats, which include making a human bridge between two chairs (head on one, feet on the other) while bearing the weight of four adults, lifting a 378lb vicar into the air with one hand and this, a feat which appears to have sadly slipped from the rounds of World’s Strongest Man: “Having thrust a bowl under his garter, his legs being bent, he broke it to pieces by the tendons of his hams, without altering the bending of his leg.”

Alain Robert is the free climber known as “the human spider” who has climbed the outsides of a good deal of the world’s tallest skyscrapers using only his hands and feet, and occasionally wearing a Spider-Man costume. Clinging to tiny lumps and cracks in the outer facade of famous buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Sydney Opera House and the Sears Tower. Often arriving at dawn and without obtaining the necessary permissions, he was originally considered something of a nuisance and often arrested for his pains. But with growing appreciation of his talents came offers to perform legitimate climbs, often as part of a publicity campaign, including a climb of the Lloyds Building in London, to promote the premiere of the first Spider-Man movie on a British TV channel.

There are many urban legends of people who have been able to perform feats of extreme strength in the midst of stressful situations, and indeed those kind of tales are the backbone of the Marvel story of the Hulk, a beast who represents the untapped potential of the human body, when pushed into action by extreme rage. One that has been confirmed by witnesses happened in Georgia in 1982. 50-year-old Angela Cavallo discovered her son trapped under his Chevrolet Impala, when the jack collapsed while he was working underneath. She picked up one end of the 3,000 pound car, and held it around four inches off the ground for five solid minutes while a neighbor’s son ran to fetch help.

Although he’s not on record as being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, Dean Karnazes of Los Angeles certainly deserves credit for his supernatural stamina. A committed distance runner, he managed to cross 135 miles of Death Valley, in 120 degree temperatures, and also ran a marathon to the South Pole, hitting minus 40 on the way. By way of light relief, in 2006 he ran 50 marathons across 50 states in 50 days.

Although in this area, his efforts were slightly overtaken by those of Canadian Terry Fox, who in 1980 — at the age of 21 — ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day for 143 days in order to raise money and awareness for cancer research. It’s a feat that would be jaw-dropping enough for any athlete, but Terry had already lost his right leg to bone cancer, and ran on a prosthetic limb. He died the following year, having raised over over 650 million Canadian dollars and attained iconic status as a worldwide inspiration, both for people with disabilities and people dealing with life threatening illness.

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Filed Under: Legion, Marvel, Superheroes
By Fraser McAlpine