Friday, June 27, 2008

To Ear is Superhuman

In this issue of Action Comics, a gang of common thugs band together in an effort to kill Superman. One invents a gun that emits high frequency soundwaves designed to take advantage of Superman's super-hearing. The agonizing shriek, while inaudible to ordinary humans, drives Superman into outer space, where sound cannot travel.

(Whenever Superman needed to communicate in space, he always used his super-ventriloquism. Yes, it's a real super-power, and no, I have no idea how the ability to super-throw-your-voice would allow you to speak in a vacuum.)

The crooks are delighted - the soundwave gun may not have killed Superman, but driving him into permanent exile is the next best thing.

But Superman always has a plan: he just finds the nearest white dwarf star and scoops up some neutronium to make a set of homemade earplugs.



Hmm. You know, this almost seems plausible, given comic-book logic and physics. But imagine trying to duplicate a feat of equal difficulty on a human scale. Let's say you can, with some effort, lug a cinder block in each hand. Now imagine carrying that kind of weight around in your ears. Possible, maybe, with the right leverage - but might it not throw off your balance and posture? And yet Superman seems to have no trouble carrying around two million tons of weight in his ears.

I guess that's why he's Superman, and I'm not.

6 comments:

AllanX said...

We'll start by avoiding the fact that there's no such thing as neutronium, and we'll just point out that even if they meant neutrons you'll need a neutron star to procure them, not a white dwarf. Oh, and that the neutrons would just scatter as soon as Superman got out of the too-impossibly-harsh-for-humans-to-comprehend gravitational environment of the core of a neutron star, just as they do out of the sun, passing harmlessly through us continually.

Also, by this logic, I guess Superman's own cranium must be in the same density neighborhood as neutronium otherwise the soundwaves are just going to go around the plugs.

Now, assuming Superman has big feet (and why wouldn't we assume that?) at 100 square inches, he would be applying 40 million pounds per square inch to any surface he stood on. He might be okay as long as he wasn't dim enough to try to actually stand on anything (as pictured), otherwise he'd just drop explosively through the Earth's crust.

Also 4 billion pounds of anything is going to generate a noticeable gravitational field on anything nearby. Probably the crooks would just have to throw dirt at him and he would have some difficulty getting it out of his eyes and off his head.

And why would Superman need (ostensibly) the most dense matter in the universe to block this sound? All sound can easily be blocked by terrestrial materials. They're implying sound energy which is distinct from frequency, and the level of energy being discussed would likely disintegrate all matter for miles in all directions. The crook inventor is clearly an idiot savant or he'd realize he could make billions by commercializing the power source for his gun.

Advice to petty crook #2: don't shoot at a device that harnesses unimaginable power. But of course if they're stupid enough to paint themselves with a big target by calling themselves the Anti-Superman Gang and maintaining a physical headquarters...

Earl J. Woods said...

Thanks for the cogent (and very funny) analysis, Allan.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something here? Wouldn't flying into a neutron star or even a white dwarf just kill Superman?

This is what I mean: if Kal-El stayed on Krypton and the sun didn't blow up, he'd live out his life as Just Another Guy, albeit the pampered son of a big name scientist. No super powers.

But he came to Earth, and our yellow sun gave Kal-El his super powers. Now he's The Man Of Steel!

A neutron star and a white dwarf is not a yellow sun. When Superman flew out of the range of our sun, he'd just lose his power and die alone in the vastness of outer space.

Even if he did manage to live (say by using a spacecraft) long enough to reach a neutron star or a white dwarf, he wouldn't get his power back, and he would be vaporized long before he could harvest any neutronium.

What impressed me is the artist who visualized Superman at the heart of a neutron star, and the colourist, who assumed that we would be able to see Supes' red, yellow, and blue suit.

Earl J. Woods said...

While "consistency" isn't exactly the middle name of any given Superman writer, Superman has indeed gone on many out space missions without losing his powers - indeed, at various times in the character's history, there's been a sort of sliding scale of power drain/boost depending on what kind of star system Superman visits. In a system with a red sun, no powers, he dies. Orange sun, his powers are at half strength. Yellow sun, all systems normal. Blue or white sun, he's juiced up! So this little jaunt seems possible within the rules established by previous stories.

Whether or not it makes sense, well...

Anonymous said...

i see this as either evidence of Divine design, or else an incredibly cruel and utter coincidence that the only, yea, the single one colour in the entire radiadtion spectrum that could kill a Kryptonian actually wipes out their entire civilization (minus individual stragglers) because it belongs to their native sun. It's not like they tried to get away from it, either.

"Hey, General Zod, just thinking out loud here. If we travelled to another star system using space technology that we already have, we could set ourselves up as undisputed god-like rulers. Or we could stay here, get arrested, and be incarcerated by rotating hula hoops."

And I thought Douglas Adams had a corner on cosmic jokes.

AllanX said...

JOR-EL
It's the only answer Lara. If he remains here with us, he will die as surely as we will.

LARA
But why Earth, Jor-El? They're primitives. Thousands of years behind us.

JOR-EL
He will need that advantage to survive. Their atmosphere will sustain him.

LARA
He will defy their gravity.

JOR-EL
He will look like one of them.

LARA
He won't be one of them.

JOR-EL
No. His dense molecular structure will make him strong.

LARA
He'll be odd. Different.

JOR-EL
He'll be fast. Virtually invulnerable.

LARA
Isolated. Alone.

JOR-EL
Goddamn it Lara. I need this right now like I need a hole in the head. What the fuck would you have me do? You've known about this for six months and you are going to pile this shit on me at T minus sixty seconds? What -- you want me to keep him here so he can die with us?

LARA
Excuse me if I am a little upset at the prospect of never seeing my son again. Oh, and needlessly dying a painful death. Maybe instead of working for months on this spaceship you could have built a lamp that emits yellow sun radiation? Could we not have taken an extended vacation to one of the millions of other planets we have visited and studied? You know. Maybe one with -- I don't know -- a yellow sun? Have you no survival sense at all?

JOR-EL
(the Krypton theme swells)
Krypton is our home.

LARA
Right. Beautiful Krypton. How could we live without all of the gorgeous mountains and forests and lakes. All the wonderous plants and animals and architecture and art. Oh yeah, I forgot. All of that is on other peoples' planets! We live on a goddamn ball of ice! Our architecture is ice. Our technology is all ice-based. Even our fucking clothing looks like ice!

JOR-EL
Perhaps, in retrospect, never colonizing other planets was a bad idea. Our overarching policy of non-interference may not have ultimately been in the best interest of our survival.

LARA
Oh you think? We have no contingency plans! We have got to be the only advanced civilization in the galaxy for whom it never occurred to them to so much as have a single outpost on another planet! Our pathetic deaths have always been a foregone conclusion! It is a wonder some other natural disaster hasn't already wiped us out! It is systemic Jor-El! I do not see you sending a little girl along with Kal-El!

JOR-EL
It is all academic now, Lara. It is too late to save Krypton, and I have given my word to the council.

LARA
Do not talk to me about your fucking council Jor-El, a bunch of short-sighted conservative authoritarians who are still masturbating over how they punished Zod. And tell me again how they believe that smirking bitch Vond-Ah instead of you. Just how stupid do you have to be to mistake the death of your star for a shift in your planet's orbit? Who is she fucking? And speaking of your friends, have you not noticed we live in a police state? No doubt they have already ordered your arrest on some bullshit charge like building something not made out of ice, or mis-use of energy. It is not like you have ever DONE anything for this shithole, am I right? And we call ourselves a technological utopia! It says something when a backward planet like Earth is only a hundred years from colonizing other planets and having free, unlimited energy, and we are figuratively sitting in our feces arresting our leading scientist for the unauthorized use of a few goddamn watts of power as our final dying act.

(exasperated)

Will this thing even work? Do not think I have forgotten what happened to Krypto. And, speaking of feces, where the hell is Beppo? I haven't seen him for days.