Pharyngula

Super-evolution

One of my Christmas presents was something just for fun: Superman: The Dailies 1939-1942(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). It’s a collection of the newspaper strips by Schuster and Siegel that were published in the earliest years of the superhero, and they’re both funny and disturbing now.

First off, Superman was always a jerk. It’s actually a bit off-putting: while he has this profound moral goal of helping the little guy, he’s also constantly treating Lois Lane like dirt — he uses his superpowers to get the big scoops at the newspaper, and Lois is always getting demoted to the “advice for the lovelorn” column. When he does let her get a story, it’s always in the most condescending way possible.

And then there’s his solution to crime: over and over, he uses his super-hearing and his super-telescopic-X-ray vision to find out who the big bad guy is, and then he kicks him around like a football for a few days worth of strips until he signs a written confession. Case solved! One begins to wonder how much of a bad influence growing up with a super-bully as a hero has had.

But what I really wanted to share was a subtly different origin story for Superman. The early Superman didn’t fly, wasn’t absolutely invulnerable to everything, and didn’t have the full suite of superpowers that would gradually be added to the canon. He was just an extremely tough guy with the “strength of a thousand men!” who was able to jump long distances; in one episode, he has to end a war in Europe (by grabbing the two leaders and kicking them around, of course), and he has to swim all the way…faster than a torpedo, of course.

But what was proposed as the source of his great strength? It wasn’t the rays of the sun, as we’d be told later. It was…evolution.

i-5de95bfd71f644ac928aecd2757da219-super_origins.jpg

That’s right. Krypton had a few million years head start on us, so everyone on the planet had super-strength, super-intelligence, and near-invulnerability, all because evolution had simply progressed farther than it had on earth.

That was the first panel of the newspaper strip. You can guess how I cringed. The story never quite got to the details of how selection worked to generate people with skin so tough that bullets bounced off.

I have to show you one other instance of unintentional humor. At one point, a wealthy bad guy puts a bounty on Superman’s head of one million dollars and recruits criminals to kill him. These new criminals have an interesting style of introducing themselves:

i-9f264f32469eb2c736c4efd4db9b165f-super_scientist.jpg

Where do you get a super-science degree, I wonder? Can I just introduce myself this way in the future? “I am P-Zed, the super-scientist. Give me a million dollars.” I am relieved to see, at least, that super-scientists are not required to wear brightly colored tights.

Carlos, by the way, doesn’t really earn the title of “super-scientist.” His scheme to kill Superman is to lure him into a room (with Lois as bait) and then open up vents that release heat into the room, while he looks through a thick heat-proof glass window and gloats. Superman strolls in, the door closes, the vents open, he starts sweating and standing there dumbfounded, while Carlos chortles over the fact that Superman will be reduced to ash in a few minutes. Superman doesn’t know what to do until he suddenly remembers, oh yeah, he can smash down walls. So he breaks down the wall to Carlos’s room, Carlos and his pals are incinerated, and Superman and Lois escape.

From this we can conclude that the entrance requirements to super-scientist school must be really, really low. I’m thinking now that maybe I don’t qualify. But maybe, just maybe, this is the Discovery Institute’s problem — they keep hiring super-scientists instead of plain old ordinary working scientists, and they keep coming up with hare-brained schemes like “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” that are so easily ripped to shreds.

Comments

  1. #1 Sastra, OM
    December 30, 2007

    Holy Tielhard de Chardin, Batman! — pop views of both evolution and scientists have a lot to account for …

    Supposedly true anecdote:

    Visitor: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
    Little boy: “A scientist!”
    Visitor: “Really? Well, that’s certainly a wonderful thing to want to be. What kind of scientist?”
    Little boy: “A MAD SCIENTIST!!!!

  2. #2 jfatz
    December 30, 2007

    Gotta love SuperDickery. :-)

  3. #3 sbotond
    December 30, 2007

    This one featuring the “evolution ray” is interesting too. :)

  4. #4 Richard Harris
    December 30, 2007

    Gee, that Carlos guy sure looks like Michael Behe! And he’s a Super-Scientist too. It must be Intelligent Design at work!

  5. #5 Zeno
    December 30, 2007

    I’m pretty sure you can get a degree in super-science from the Institute for Creation Research; that is, once the state of Texas grants accreditation to their graduate school. Or would you prefer a degree in truthology?

  6. #6 Scrofulum
    December 30, 2007

    I have a degree in truthology!

    I haven’t really . . .

  7. #7 Hank Fox
    December 30, 2007

    As to the early Superman canon, he WAS created by a couple of nerdy young guys. ALL young men like the idea of kicking around the evil-doers for a while. Nothing less feels like justice.

    On another cringe-worthy subject, I remember a scene where Superman traveled into the distant past and met up with a T-Rex. He allowed the dinosaur to pick him up and bite him, breaking its teeth, while he postured with a confident sneer. Another story had Superbaby punching a wolf. I seem to remember another story in which a lion had its teeth punched out.

    It seems the self esteem of Big Blue has evolved too. Early on, he had to blatantly project his super-ness. Today he’s a lot more humble, and is more environmentally aware as well.

  8. #8 siddharth
    December 30, 2007

    Bah, who fawns over a dumb, overgrown farmboy who’s vulnerable to LiNaSiB3O7(OH) anymore when there’s a schizophrenic, semi-autistic scientist who dwells in an underground cave? Now there’s a cool role model, kids. For all you know, he’s even invented bat-math.

  9. #9 Sastra, OM
    December 30, 2007

    That cartoon panel with “Carlos, the Super Scientist” is really an illustration from an old book detailing the early years of the JREF and its Million Dollar Challenge. My, but the Amazing Randi certainly looked different without his beard!

  10. #10 Orac
    December 30, 2007

    Come now, it’s no news at all that Superman is a dick.

  11. #11 MPW
    December 30, 2007

    I dunno – at least they mentioned evolution. I can’t help but suspect that dropping that origin story in favor of a different one was not just a creative decision.

  12. #12 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    Isn’t it plausible that for a sufficiently stable environment and the presence of arms race dynamics, the “super-evolution” idea could work?

    Wouldn’t it make sense in that context to talk about something as “more” evolved.

  13. #13 Bob L
    December 30, 2007

    How can it be Super Science if there are no Tesla Coils? Everyone knows all good Super Scientists use Tesla coils.

  14. #14 J Myers
    December 30, 2007

    The story never quite got to the details of how selection worked to generate people with skin so tough that bullets bounced off.
    Ever been to Detroit?

  15. #15 Bronze Dog
    December 30, 2007

    Don’t forget the Jacob’s Ladders, either.

  16. #16 Mike O'Risal
    December 30, 2007

    “I am P-Zed, the super-scientist. Give me a million dollars.”

    What’s wrong with that? That’s how I’m starting off my NSF grant application…

  17. #17 Sideways
    December 30, 2007

    Siddharth – your diagnosis of autism is convincing! I just took the < http://www.aspergerinfo.org/wiredaqtest.htm>Autism Spectrum Quotient Test on Batman’s behalf. He scores a 37, with 32 as the cutoff point above which autism is indicated.

    The same score I got myself, coincidentally enough. Now where did I put that utility belt…

  18. #18 David Harmon
    December 30, 2007

    I also recommend Alan Moore’s loving homage to the Superman mythos, Supreme.

  19. #19 Scote
    December 30, 2007

    No, I think the Super Evolution works, as long as you posit that Krypton also fostered Super Villains requiring ever increasing levels of adaptation by the Super Hero* types. They probably also have an economy based on the need to quickly fix damage from super fights…

    *”Super Hero” {aka “underwear perverts”} allegedly tm Marvel. Bastards…

  20. #20 Jim Kakalios
    December 30, 2007

    MPW said:
    “I dunno – at least they mentioned evolution. I can’t help but suspect that dropping that origin story in favor of a different one was not just a creative decision.”

    Nah – it was just that Supes eventually got too powerful. As PZ points out, in the early days (refered to now as the Golden Age)Superman could leap great distances, but not fly, lift a car overhead, but not a continent or even an office building (ignoring the fact that it would crumble under its own weight anyway – but at least Metropolis buildings were not attached to any city water or power, which simplified transporting them), “nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin”, and so on.

    The source of his powers was never consistently described. In the comic books, it was ascribed to Earth having a weaker gravity, and a “thinner atmosphere” than Krypton. But within a year, in the daily strops and the comic books, – it was suggested that Kal-L (the Golden Age spelling of the name) was part of a race of “supermen”, which we could look forward to becoming when evolution caught up with us.

    By the early 1960’s, it was established that his powers arose from the fact that Earth orbited a yellow sun, while Krypton orbited a red sun. Under the light of a red sun, any Kryptonian is powerless, while they would all have Supes
    abilities on Earth (or under the light of any yellow sun). Many reasons for this – his powers (flight in outer space, faster than light speed, super-ventriloquism) are hard to ascribe to gravitational variations, and if everyone on Krypton was so powerful, than why did only baby Hal-L get sent off world prior to the planet exploding? Couldn’t they have all escaped?

    Writing for what was believed to be a disposable medium, and dictates of the marketplace, and not any kowtowing to anti-evolutionists, determined Big Blue’s “evolving” origin.

    Cheers,

    Jim

  21. #21 Jim Kakalios
    December 30, 2007

    Scote:

    DC and Marvel JOINTLY hold the copyright to the word “superhero”. They selectively exercise this right (lucky for me!).

    Not only is Batman Autistic, but Grant Morrison has posited that Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is a classic example of Asperger’s Syndrome.

  22. #22 Eric
    December 30, 2007

    You (understandably) misunderstood: Carlos doesn’t have a degree in “super science,” he meant he’s a scientist whose friends think he’s a super guy. (Sadly, Carlos also misunderstood, having never grasped what everybody in Madrid meant whenever they said, “Yeah, that’s just super, Carlos, how ’bout you go away and tell someone else about that… oven room… or whatever you call it….”)

    Can we infer from what we’ve been told about Kryptonian evolution that Krypton is the most violent planet in the universe? That might also explain Superman’s propensity for kicking bad guys around–it’s an instinctive behavior. (Knowing how many notes Ma and Pa Kent got from little Clark’s school might help us further test this hypothesis, maybe?)

  23. #23 Castaa
    December 30, 2007

    Funny stuff. lol

    Your account makes the ‘Super Friends’ seem down right cerebral. :)

  24. #24 PirateHooker
    December 30, 2007

    I’ve often thought about how to create a specie with ultra hard nipples. So…… we subject everyone to a nipple hardness test and if the standard isn’t met, we just remove them from the gene pool. Over a millenia, natural selection kicks in and WA-POW!!! Rock hard nipples.

    Probably loosely frames what happened on krypton.

  25. #25 Janine
    December 30, 2007

    I admit I am going off on a tangent here but I have an excuse to use one of my favorite quotes.

    Prof. Chrome Dome: Warm, fuzzy nice-nice. What good is science if no one gets hurt?!

    Gotta love them mad (super) scientist types.

  26. #26 mikmik
    December 30, 2007

    I couldn’t wait to post this:

    Physically evolved, smarter and better technology, but still no advances in wisdom!

  27. #27 Billy
    December 30, 2007

    You know, reading these comments sounds remarkably similar to some of the posted conversations when trying to debate an ID cretinist. I guess that Intelligent Duhsign would make more sense if we just read more comic books.

    I never liked Superman. He always seemed, well, unreal to me. I liked the Walt Disney Comics and Stories, especially the ones with Donald Duck. Now THATS reality.

  28. #28 Ric
    December 30, 2007

    I was wondering if P-Zed was going to be able to tie Superman’s inanity to that of the discovery institute. Glad to see I wasn’t disappointed!

  29. #29 Calladus
    December 30, 2007

    In later Superman mythology, the fact that his costume isn’t always destroyed is answered in a couple of different ways. The earliest answer was that his costume was actually the bedding that came with the baby in the rocket. (Ma Kent turned it into a costume… somehow. Perhaps it required heavy machinery to cut the cloth?)

    In the 1988 remake, Ma Kent makes Clark’s first set of tights, remarking that she noticed that since Clark turned 12, clothes that were close to his skin never seemed to rip or get dirty. (Hm. A personal force field? Does Clark Kent just not bother, to wash his undies? How much does he save on detergent?)

    Of course, speaking as a geek with an interest in Superman, no geekery is complete without Larry Niven’s take on breeding babies from Superman and Louis Lane, in his wonderful article, Man of Steel,Woman of Kleenex

    Assume a mating between Superman and a human woman designated LL for convenience.

    Either Superman has gone completely schizo and believes himself to be Clark Kent; or he knows what he’s doing, but no longer gives a damn. Thirty-one years is a long time. For Superman it has been even longer. He has X-ray vision; he knows just what he’s missing.

    (One should not think of Superman as a Peeping Tom. A biological ability must be used. As a child Superman may never have known that things had surfaces, until he learned to suppress his X-ray vision. If millions of people tend shamelessly to wear clothing with no lead in the weave, that is hardly Superman’s fault.)

    The problem is this. Electroencephalograms taken of men and women during sexual intercourse show that orgasm resembles “a kind of pleasurable epileptic attack.” One loses control over one’s muscles.

    Superman has been known to leave his fingerprints in steel and in hardened concrete, accidentally. What would he do to the woman in his arms during what amounts to an epileptic fit?

  30. #30 Martin R
    December 30, 2007

    The funny thing about Superman is that he’s a Jewish superhero (Kal-El, Jor-El etc. is plain Hebrew), yet his name and the whole concept behind him is straight out of Nietzsche, who was of course mighty popular among the Nazis.

  31. #31 Calladus
    December 30, 2007

    Hm. The blockquote from that post should cover the entire last part of my entry.

  32. #32 jdw
    December 30, 2007

    One of my favorite movie lines (from ghostbusters): “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

  33. #33 Keith
    December 30, 2007

    Martin R.: that was the point. Siegal and Shuster after all were a couple of Jewish kids from New York, a little spooked about that Hitler fellow over in Germany.

    The story we know today about Superman, his powers coming from our Yellow sun and all the spiffy sci-fi elements were honed down to a fine and sensible if still slightly silly edge by John Byrne in the mid eighties.

    For a great distillation of this mythology, check out all-star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. It’s excelent.

    And why yes I do have a degree in comic books, why do you ask?

  34. #34 Ichthyic
    December 30, 2007

    Can I just introduce myself this way in the future? “I am P-Zed, the super-scientist. Give me a million dollars.”

    hey, if it works, let us know.

  35. #35 Jim
    December 30, 2007

    Does the first person to put up a link to a picture of PZ wearing brightly colored tights get a million bucks?

  36. #36 tim gueguen
    December 30, 2007

    If you think early Supes is bad check out Stardust as he fights villains such as “Slant Eye” and turns fifth columnists into rats and icicles.
    http://www.themysterywalk.com/Stardust-Character-Page.html

  37. #37 Krystalline Apostate
    December 30, 2007

    & where would comic books be w/o evolution?

    First off, Superman was always a jerk.

    No, not always. Gotta remember, those covers were to attract readers. Usually some wide-eyed, naive kid goggling, “Superman? That’s like, so….outta character.” Then you’d read the comic, & there was usually a subplot, which the cover caricatured.
    It’s like 1 of those MA rags: “Lama VS. Shaolin! Who will WIN THE DEATH MATCH!” & you open to the article, it’s a nice, calm comparison of the 2 styles, nobody shredded, no victor in some titanic struggle. Like that.

    This one featuring the “evolution ray” is interesting too. :)

    Remember, Bizarro Supes says everything backwards. 😉

    PZ:

    The early Superman didn’t fly, wasn’t absolutely invulnerable to everything, and didn’t have the full suite of superpowers that would gradually be added to the canon.

    For a pretty funny take on the whole Kryptonian skin cell debate:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGT71Zv2tGU

  38. #38 Timeby
    December 30, 2007

    #30 Martin R
    “…his name and the whole concept behind him is straight out of Nietzsche, who was of course mighty popular among the Nazis.”

    Methinks that you should re-read Nietzsche’s “Man and Superman”; and please do a bit more carefully this time. Nietzsche was. of course slowly going mad from the side effects of syphilis (or so I understand) but his work does have some very interesting things to say – especially to the trans-humanist crowd.

    The above aside, I remember wondering, even as a kid, just how it was that beings from some other planet happened to so similar to our species. And then there was the mating thing – if all of Superman’s muscles were so strong, then what happens when….. Poor Jane!

  39. #39 cockothnorth
    December 30, 2007

    George Orwell’s essay on Comics noted they were read almost universally by males from 12 to 18 years old , and that many of these would never read anything beyond the comics .That they were likely to be insidiously influential as they portrayed attitudes indirectly ( in his time including the view of the British Empire as a sort of charity project that would last forever , and that there was nothing wrong with laissez-faire capitalism ) .
    (Sorry to inflict my namby-pamby british leftie comments on what I take to be a mostly red blooded all-american audience , but our host/website , DOES seem to give hope to me as , it appears , the last socialist left on the face of the earth .

  40. #40 Norman Doering
    December 30, 2007

    Timeby wrote:

    … you should re-read Nietzsche’s “Man and Superman”; and please do a bit more carefully this time.

    Nietzsche’s “Man and Superman”? I thought George Bernard Shaw wrote that. Nietzsche had a concept of a superman, sort of… but it wasn’t anything like the comics.

    ….. Poor Jane!

    And LOIS LANE will be so jealous when she finds out about Jane.

  41. #41 Colugo
    December 30, 2007

    transhuman = above/beyond/over human
    ubermensch = overman

    Julian Huxley, ‘The New Divinity,’ 1964:
    “Besides what Nietzsche called the transvaluation of values, we shall need a transfiguration of thought, a new religious terminology and a reformulation of religious ideas and concepts in a new idiom.”

    Julian Huxley coined the word “transhumanism.”

    Julian Huxley, ‘Transhumanism,’ 1957:
    “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself –not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.”

    Max More, ‘Technological Self-Transformation: Expanding Personal Extropy, 1993′:
    “Our ideal self should evolve as we revise the ranking of our values, as we see come to recognize new goals as worthwhile, and as we learn new behaviors that contribute more effectively to our ideal. The Optimal Persona is Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, the higher being existing within us as potential waiting to be actualized.”

    Max More is widely regarded as the founder of the modern conception of transhumanism.

    On the other hand, Nick Bostrom has a different view, as shown in this 5/9/06 Guardian interview:

    The Guardian: “Would this enhanced human being be what Nietzscheans call “the superman”?”

    Bostrom: “Nietzsche had a different view. He envisaged a moral and cultural transcendence: a very few people endowed with strong willpower and great refinement would throw off the shackles of traditional morality and convention, and so rise above the rest of humanity. That’s a very different mission from transhumanism where, ideally, everybody should have access to enhancement technologies.”

  42. #42 usagi
    December 30, 2007

    I liked the Walt Disney Comics and Stories, especially the ones with Donald Duck. Now THATS reality. #29

    That’s Carl Barks, genius. And if you haven’t read Don Rosa’s modern take on Scrooge McDuck, I highly recommend it.

  43. #43 RamblinDude
    December 30, 2007

    In later Superman mythology, the fact that his costume isn’t always destroyed is answered in a couple of different ways. The earliest answer was that his costume was actually the bedding that came with the baby in the rocket. (Ma Kent turned it into a costume… somehow. Perhaps it required heavy machinery to cut the cloth?)

    I can answer that one. He used his heat vision to cut the threads.

    I lost interest in Superman. I was totally into Master of Kung Fu. No super powers or super evolution, just training and skill. Some of those issues were beautiful works of art.

  44. #44 Janine
    December 30, 2007

    Tim Gueguen, you frigging lout! I followed your link to Stardust and then to Stupid Comics. Now I cannot stop laughing. The legion of PC-leftist zombies here should get a kick out of Astroman.

    http://www.misterkitty.org/extras/stupidcovers/stupidcomics21.html

  45. #45 Hank Fox
    December 30, 2007

    You know, reading these comments sounds remarkably similar to some of the posted conversations when trying to debate an ID cretinist. I guess that Intelligent Duhsign would make more sense if we just read more comic books.

    I think the reverse is true, actually. One of the ideas that runs around in SF circles is that reading a lot of SF (and probably comic books) probably makes you LESS apt to fall for various fanciful tales, such as religion, etc.

    The idea makes a lot of sense. If you get used to thinking about alternate ideas in a fictional matrix, eventually nothing is beyond question. And the fact that it’s SCIENCE fiction adds an additional demand that the answers live up to some sort of reasonable standard.

    SF fandom makes you a better skeptic. You come to understand that the operative term in “willing suspension of disbelief” is WILLING. You know you made a choice to believe, and when you come back to the real world, you rescind that choice.

  46. #46 Timeby
    December 30, 2007

    #40 Norman Doering

    You are, of course, right n both counts. Thanks for correcting me. (Must be my age showing!)

    Sorry Lois, Superman didn’t do it. Honest!

    I was thinking of Nietzsche’s idea that man is the link between the subhuman and superhuman. Perhaps it was in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”(?) – its been 30 years since I read much of Nietzsche. I remember thinking that his idea that that there was an eternity before human beings came into existence, and believes that after humanity dies out, nothing significant will have changed in the great scheme of things was more likely the cause of his being associated with the Nazi’s then anything else (except, perhaps his association with Wagner, whom he fell out with in part because of Wagner’s Nazi connections.)

  47. #47 Carlie
    December 30, 2007

    Sastra (#1) – That’s totally my son. Inspired in part by the Franny K. Stein books, which every child should read, he’s decided that he’s going to be a mad scientist on Mondays and Wednesdays, an evil genius on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a regular scientist on Fridays.

    What I’d like to know is when did the mad scientist stereotype convert totally to a bald guy in a wheelchair? I was commenting to spouse just last week how all mad scientists in film these days are bald wheelchair guys, and then we watched the Doctor Who Christmas special, starring… a bald mad scientist in a wheelchair.

  48. #48 Carlie
    December 30, 2007

    I’ve often thought about how to create a species with ultra hard nipples.

    I recently saw a t-shirt that said “I make milk. What’s your superpower?” I wish those had been around a few years ago.

  49. #49 Rosie Redfield
    December 30, 2007

    Pharyngula readers might enjoy reading The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios (link). Our popular science book club liked it a lot.

  50. #50 Moses
    December 30, 2007

    I’ve NEVER liked Superman. Batman is my guy. Especially the more neurotic, haunted versions.

  51. #51 Ted Powell
    December 30, 2007

    How much does he save on detergent?
    As any Newhart fan knows, Superman sends his cleaning out.
    http://www.rhapsody.com/bobnewhart/17202271_thewindmillsareweakening
    is a page that should let you play “Superman And The Drycleaner” if you are (unlike me) in the U.S.

  52. #52 Ktesibios
    December 30, 2007

    So if you’re a superhero, you’re required to swank about in public wearing a union suit with a dye job, and if you’re a super-scientist you have to wear formal morning dress all the time.

    since I’m neither, I guess that’s OK by me.

  53. #53 GuLi
    December 30, 2007

    Superman is a jerk and a
    Darwinist.

  54. #54 Bob V
    December 30, 2007

    Change of Zeitgeist at work here. No further words are necessary really, don’t you think?

  55. #55 curious
    December 30, 2007

    Hey – to you information/system theorists, is there a defined logic for describing whether “something” is natural or designed? I ask cuz if there was that would be a quick and easy way to deep-six the concept of “irreducible complexity”.

    To take the favored ID objects for example; we know that the eye is the result of evolution and my watch (Nixon Rotolog) was designed, but we know this for different reasons. So I’m wondering if there is a test that could be applied to both the eye and the watch, irrespective of all other eyes and watches, that would indicate whether either was designed.

  56. #56 Jim Kakalios
    December 30, 2007

    Rosie Redfield:

    Hey – Thanks!

    And by the way – the transition to a yellow sun being the source of Superman’s powers happened back in the 1950’s – 60’s, in the Mort Weisenger era, way before John Byrne revamped the origin tale once again. Superman was essentially so powerful back in the 50’s – 60’s, the Silver Age , that the most pressing challenge he faced was keeping Lois from figuring out his secret identity. The fact that Krypton had a red sun kept Superman from going back in time to pre-explosion Krypton and saving everyone on the planet. (A situation he actually encountered, in a story from 1961 that presaged various aspects of modern String Theory).

    And sure he pushed people around when he first appeared in 1938. It was the height (or depth, if you will) of the Great Economic Depression. Seigel and Shuster gave voice to the frustrations felt by many of their readers. don’t forget, the very first person Superman ever roughed up in his very first adventure, in June 1938’s Action Comics # 1, was Bob Geer, the slickest lobbyist in Washington! It’s very disconcerting to see the Golden Age Superman, in Shuster’s scratchy artwork, punching a wife beater through a wall (“you’re not hitting a woman now!). A biography of Superman, from all of his manifestations from 1938 to 2008, would also be a story of America – at least the version we tell to ourselves.

    As the Man, who’s 85th birthday was this past Friday, would say:

    Excelsior!

    Jim

  57. #57 Jim Kakalios
    December 30, 2007

    By the way – I meant “disconcerting” in that, if one is used to the 1960’s Superman, who fought Brainiac and the effects of red kryptonite, to see the same character getting involved in domestic abuse cases.

    Hey – back in the day – Batman carried a gun and shot crooks!

    Jim

  58. #58 paul lurquin
    December 30, 2007

    #46, Wagner (if you mean Richard) died in 1883. Not too many Nazis running around back then.

  59. #59 eric
    December 30, 2007

    (except, perhaps his association with Wagner, whom he fell out with in part because of Wagner’s Nazi connections.)

    Nietzsche died in 1900, long before the Nazi Party existed.

  60. #60 ifeelfine72
    December 30, 2007

    Apperently the only requirement for “super scientist” school is a really bad “Jeeves” tuxedo and being from Spain.

  61. #61 Brian W.
    December 30, 2007

    why does Carlos the super-scientist look like Dick Cheney?

  62. #62 anomalous4
    December 30, 2007

    “I am P-Zed, the super-scientist. Give me a million dollars.”

    Maybe if you become a rapper…….

    [skritchy sounds of record being destroyed on turntable; “THOOM-THOOM, KCH! THOOM-THOOM, KCH!” by someone doing fake vocal “percussion”]

    “They call me P-Zed, and I’d like to get to know ya.
    I got some badass ceph’lopods I’d really love to show ya.
    Every squid and octopus is bitchin’ cool and singula’.
    You’ll find me here expressin’ my opinion on Pharyngula.
    My thang is evo-devo and I don’t believe in God,
    And I tell ya any foo’ who does is really ****in’ odd.
    This rap is awful lame and really isn’t very funny,
    So if you wanna shut me up, just show me all the money!
    YO!!!!!!!!!!”

  63. #63 Ex-drone
    December 30, 2007

    The fact that we live in a Kryptonocentric universe proves there’s a sky fairy.

  64. #64 Rey Fox
    December 30, 2007

    What I find odd about that first panel is how there appears to be an apostrophe immediately preceding “evolution”. Short for “revolution”?

  65. #65 Stegve
    December 31, 2007

    But what was proposed as the source of his great strength? It wasn’t the rays of the sun, as we’d be told later. It was…evolution.

    It wasn’t evolution at all — look carefully at the panel: it was ‘evolution — that’s a different thing entirely!

  66. #66 Epistaxis
    December 31, 2007

    The story never quite got to the details of how selection worked to generate people with skin so tough that bullets bounced off.

    You need to move somewhere more urban than Morris.

    paul lurquin, #58:

    Wagner (if you mean Richard) died in 1883. Not too many Nazis running around back then.

    eric, #59:

    Nietzsche died in 1900, long before the Nazi Party existed.

    True, but Hitler did (mis?)interpret both as kindred spirits, and to this day you can’t perform Wagner in Israel. It’s hard to know what either of them would have thought of the Nazis, but at least we can rule out #46’s assertion that the falling-out (or going-under, if you “will”) between Nietzsche and Wagner had anything to do with the Third Reich.

  67. #67 Graculus
    December 31, 2007

    And here I wasted my childhood comic money on Classics Illustrated.

    Yes, I was a child geek.

  68. #68 Flaky
    December 31, 2007

    Talking about Donald Duck: http://www.superdickery.com/oneshot/41.html
    Good God! And I though I had a twisted sense of humour. I guess we know now, what Bush and Cheney read when they were kids.

  69. #69 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    December 31, 2007

    The story never quite got to the details of how selection worked to generate people with skin so tough that bullets bounced off.

    Live in Maine without mosquito repellent…

  70. #70 Joe D
    December 31, 2007

    I am relieved to see, at least, that super-scientists are not required to wear brightly colored tights.

    You can’t see it very will in the cartoon, but those trousers are actually the same as those worn by Stephen Fry in this sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6CkltzGAxY

    Are you really releaved that they’re not brightly coloured tights?

  71. #71 Blondin
    December 31, 2007

    Bit of trivia: Joe Shuster was Canadian by birth and a cousin of the late Frank Shuster of the Canadian comedy duo “Wayne and Shuster” who had the distinction of being the most frequently appearing act on the Ed Sullivan show.

    Just thought I’d mention…

  72. #72 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 31, 2007

    it was ‘evolution

    I noticed that, too. Is it a ‘okina?

  73. #73 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 31, 2007

    it was ‘evolution

    I noticed that, too. Is it a ‘okina?

  74. #74 Doug Rozell
    December 31, 2007

    Yay! Hurray! It’s official! The last letter in the English language is pronounced ZED, not ZEE, the same way it is pronounced all over the English-speaking world, except the USA. For Prof. Myers has spoken:

    ” … I am P-Zed, the super-scientist….”

    Before I hear “argument from authority”, it’s his name, so he gets to spell and pronounce it exactly as he chooses, its very sovereign authority!

    Happy New Year everyone!

    Doug Rozell
    Beachville, Ontario, CANADA!

  75. #75 BT Murtagh
    December 31, 2007

    Re: #48

    A couple of years back on New Year’s my then-eight-year-old son was still bouncing off the walls and having a blast hours after midnight, and he asked for a soda.

    While getting it (hey, it was New Years) I remarked that probably the last thing he needed at that moment was a sugar boost, and he replied, “Actually, Daddy, I can get a sugar boost without even eating any sugar. I think that’s my superpower!”

    I acknowledged that it probably was… :)

  76. #76 Lyle G
    December 31, 2007

    An invulnerable hero is boring. That’s why Kryptonite was invented.

  77. #77 Kaleberg
    December 31, 2007

    George Orwell had a lot to say about the issue of bully worship in that era.

    From his essay on Boy’s Weeklies

    “The other thing that has emerged in the post-war [World War I] boys’ papers, though not to anything like the extent one would expect, is bully-worship and the cult of violence.

    “If one compares the Gem and Magnet with a genuinely modern paper, the thing that immediately strikes one is the absence of the leader-principle. There is no central dominating character; instead there are fifteen or twenty characters, all more or less on an equality, with whom readers of different types can identify. In the more modern papers this is not usually the case. Instead of identifying with a schoolboy of more or less his own age, the reader of the Skipper, Hotspur, etc., is led to identify with a G-man, with a Foreign Legionary, with some variant of Tarzan, with an air ace, a master spy, an explorer, a pugilist — at any rate with some single all-powerful character who dominates everyone about him and whose usual method of solving any problem is a sock on the jaw. This character is intended as a superman, and as physical strength is the form of power that boys can best understand, he is usually a sort of human gorilla; in the Tarzan type of story he is sometimes actually a giant, eight or ten feet high. At the same time the scenes of violence in nearly all these stories are remarkably harmless and unconvincing.”

    This was written in 1940, and has one of the most wonderful corrections in a footnote in the later editions. Apropos of his remark:

    “The stories in the Magnet are signed ‘Frank Richards’ and those in the Gem, ‘Martin Clifford’, but a series lasting thirty years could hardly be the work of the same person every week.(1)”

    He had to admit:

    “1) This is quite incorrect. These stories have been written throughout the whole period by ‘Frank Richards’ and ‘Martin Clifford’, who are one and the same person! See articles in Horizon, May 1940, and Summer Pie, summer 1944.”

    The late 1930s and 1940s gave us a whole new set of gods and monsters. After all, it wasn’t just Superman and Batman, but the Wolfman and the familiar Frankenstein two bolter lumbering around with his arms forward. Politics was full of larger than life figures rebuilding humanity. Consider Hitler with his 1,000 year plan and Stalin who took the name Steel. Together, they murdered tens of millions in the names of their ideologies.

    In retrospect, it is impressive that the generation raised on these stories and this imagery, in the end, produced the modern democratic socialist state as one of its most powerful legacies. As the war against Hitler revealed, it sometimes took a sock on the jaw, and not by a Superman.

  78. #78 JJR
    January 1, 2008

    PZ wrote:
    “… he uses his super-hearing and his super-telescopic-X-ray vision to find out who the big bad guy is, and then he kicks him around like a football for a few days worth of strips until he signs a written confession. Case solved!”

    Hey! Just like the original Superman television tag put it:
    “Truth, Justice and the American way” 😉
    [especially post 9-11, that is]

    “One begins to wonder how much of a bad influence growing up with a super-bully as a hero has had.”

    We get a cartoonish GWB as president. QED.

  79. #79 Rolf Marvin Be Lindgren
    January 1, 2008

    It seems to me that a super-scientist might be what is more commonly known as an engineer.

  80. #80 Rolf Marvin Be Lindgren
    January 1, 2008

    It seems to me that a super-scientist might be what is more commonly known as an engineer.

  81. #81 Jim Kakalios
    January 1, 2008

    Lyle G: “An invulnerable hero is boring. That’s why Kryptonite was invented.”

    Actually, Kryptonite was introduced not in the comic books, but first appeared on the Superman radio show. The show, 15 minutes long, three days a week, was a big hit. But Bud Collyer, the actor who played Supes/Clark Kent, wanted to take a two week vacation. How to have 6 episodes of the Adventures of Superman with Superman?

    Enter Kryptonite. Discovered by crooks, they kidnapped Superman and kept him in a weakened state, while Perry, Lois and others searched for our hero. Whenever they needed to remind listeners of the situation, a crook would give Superman another dose of K, and another actor would groan into the microphone.

    Kryptonite – the only mineral that exists so that one man could take a vacation.

    Happy and Healthy New Year to all!

    Face Front, True Believers!

    Jim

  82. #82 Sili
    January 2, 2008

    I really rather want to see P-Zed in morning dress. I think it’d become him (he might have to trim the beard to allow the ascot to come to the fore).

  83. #83 KaiYves
    January 3, 2008

    47- Because nobody would suspect a guy in a wheelchair of being up to no good?

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