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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.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Love and the Gulf of Light-Years

For most of the history of the art form, comic books were written for kids, and often featured black-and-white moral conundrums, with equally simplistic solutions. In this issue of Action Comics from the early 1970s, Superman was faced with two Kryptonian survivors, an evil husband-and-wife team. In the final panel of the story, seen above, Superman offhandedly comments that he's imprisoned each criminal in a separate galaxy.

Wow. Not only is that unusually harsh, but think of the implications - Superman can fly from one galaxy to another to another, and then back again, all within a day or so, given that trillions of years haven't passed by Superman's next appearance in "The Super-Cigars of Perry White."

Beyond the silliness of the science, I find the concept of such a cruel punishment oddly compelling. Imagine being separated from your lifemate forever, galaxies apart! Who in the universe has ever known such distance from their partner? What kind of monster is Superman to exact such a punishment?

Told from the perspective of the villains, and in a different setting, this might make a pretty compelling short story.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Super HR Department

Poor Clark. Clearly, if he weren't forced to play the part of a meek, mild-mannered sort, he could pursue one heck of a lawsuit. Talk about a hostile work environment!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Words Matter; People Matter More

On Monday, I attended the U of A Press' book launch of Lois Hole Speaks: Words that Matter. The book is a collection of the speeches Lois delivered during her time as Chancellor of the University of Alberta, and as Alberta's Lieutenant Governor.

Mark Lisac has done an admirable job of editing the work, choosing the best, most representative speeches out of hundreds. And he's put them in a historical context, with an illuminating overview of the political scene in Alberta. It's interesting reading, though I suppose I'm a little biased, having served as Lois' speechwriter at the time.

I had hoped, when I was working on those speeches, that they might help make Alberta's relatively right-wing political culture a little more progressive. Judging by the last election, that hope may have been in vain; on the other hand, perhaps each speech was just another piece of a much larger puzzle, involving many more people, a path to a more compassionate society that will take some time to build.

Lisac does point out that Conservative cabinet ministers did, on several occasions, take Lois' advice seriously, and that the speeches may have resulted in government policies less reactionary than they might otherwise have been. I suppose that's progress of a sort, and if one person in need was helped by Lois' passion, obviously the effort was worth it.

It was nice to see old friends from Hole's and from the Lieutanant Governor's staff; one of them is getting ready to head back to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. I hope she'll be okay, and I hope she can make life a little better for the people of that long-suffering nation.