Originally published May 4, 2001, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1433
There are certain rules that govern readers of superhero comics and the comics themselves. Certain things that are simply “understood” as not being something one discusses in polite company. A sort of “Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Agreement,” if you will. However, I do not now, nor have I ever claimed, to be a gentleman, so I figured I’d mention the top ten topics which we generally gloss over when reading comics:
1) The Invisible Woman is blind. Here is a character who, according to the Marvel Universe Handbook, bends light waves around herself, thus rendering her invisible to the naked eye. Here’s the problem: If light waves are being bent around her, then that means light isn’t reaching her eyes. But that’s how people see: Light reaches the eye and the images are processed by the brain. If Sue Richards is—through benefit of the cosmic rays—causing light to veer away from her, then there’s no way that she could possibly perceive the world around her. Naturally, Sue can just start shouting, “Helloooo! Where is everybody?! Where’d you all go?!” That would, unfortunately, undercut the whole “no one can see her” thing, because, y’know, if she’s hollering like that, the Super Skrull or Doc Doom or whomever will be able to take her out pretty easily.
2) Superman has a lousy sex life. This was something John Byrne touched on with an invulnerable character in the late, lamented NeXt Men, but it bears repeating. Here’s a guy who is not bothered by bullets bouncing off him. It’s not like when you wear a bulletproof vest, and the impact of bullets can knock you on your butt and even break ribs, but at least you’re alive. This is a man who doesn’t feel a thing. It causes about as much sensation as being pelted with cotton balls. So how much fun can he possibly be having with Lois? He’s the man of steel. If she kisses him, he won’t feel the warmth of her lips against him… anywhere. Foreplay? Forget it. He shouldn’t be able to detect her hands running along his skin, because he can’t even feel pellets of lead traveling at high speed. As for the actual act? Well, friction is certainly a big plus when you’re engaged in it. You think a standard issue Trojan can dull pleasure? Superman is a Trojan horse. With the amount of sensation he’s able to withstand without it tripping any sort of switches in his mind, it’d be like wearing six or seven prophylactics at one time. How worked up can one possibly get under the circumstances? He’s not feeling anything. He wouldn’t know whether he’s coming or going, so to speak. For that matter, I doubt that Kara Zor-El was anything other than frigid. Considering she’s dead, maybe she’s the lucky one.
3) The only couple in comics history with a lousier sex life than Superman and Lois were Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters. I don’t really have to spell this one out, do I?
4) Reed Richard could have just about any woman he wanted. Same with Elongated Man. Their body parts stretch, as long as they wish. I don’t think this one requires spelling out, either, except to note that—of the three main elastic guys in comics—two of them got married very early in their careers, indicating that even in the world of comics, women know a good thing when they see it and are very quick to grab it all for themselves. Plastic Man remains eligible, ladies, probably because he’s just too damned weird, but I bet even he could see plenty of action if he were so inclined.
5) Gotham City should be crime free. Metropolis, too. For that matter, so should New York City. One of the great unanswered mysteries of comics is why in God’s name any villain anywhere would ever commit any crime in a city where superheroes make their homes. Yes, of course, there are certain guys for whom it’s a given: The Joker, for example, would never think of relocating to Dayton, Ohio. He needs the Batman to give his own crimes validity. And the Flash’s rogue’s gallery made it their collective life’s ambition, not to commit crimes, but to beat the Scarlet Speedster. I’m fine with that. But why is there any such thing as petty theft? Why would anyone want to engage in any crime, from pickpocketing to bank robbery, when at any given moment they could be nailed by a spider web from overhead, or a Batarang, or Captain America’s shield? At least a cop car you can see a mile off, whereas superheroes tend to leap out at you from the shadows. What’s the point? What’s the purpose? There’s thousands of cities in this country, in the world. Why should anyone try to conduct illicit business in the heart of superhero central? When was the last time you saw petty criminals going out of their way to break into houses next door to a police station? Criminals are concerned about two things: Robbing people, and getting away with it. If they’re in a town where paranormal individuals are threatening the latter priority, then they’ll go where the crime is easier, just as they’ll bypass a car with the Club or visible alarm systems in favor of something less protected. When Spidey swings around the city looking for crimes to photograph, he should be coming up empty. The amount of work these guys have to do should be shrinking exponentially the longer they’re in action.
6) Superman’s X-Ray Vision Should be Outlawed. Here’s a guy with a power that presents a threat on several levels. Number one, he’s a walking privacy issue. Who wants a guy around who can see through your clothes? Superman should be a walking target for sexual harassment suits, just from women saying, “I didn’t like the way he was looking at me!” Number two, there are people who cannot and should not be exposed to X-Rays. What if Superman is scanning a building looking for criminals and his x-rays imperil the fetus of a pregnant woman? What if they interfere with a pacemaker? I’m surprised that, at the very least, a court order hasn’t been issued against him.
7) The Flash is Unbeatable. Think about all the times you’ve heard about people being killed on railroad tracks. You would think that it’s a method of death that would the easiest thing in the world to avoid. You don’t want to be hit by a train? Easy: Stay off the tracks when the train is coming. The problem is, more often than not, people think they can get across the track before the train gets to the crossing. They see it coming, think, “Oh, it’s not coming that fast,” and try to beat it. Except the train’s actually moving a lot faster than it looks at first glance, and it gets there sooner than expected. And the train’s only moving… what? Forty, fifty miles per hour? Sixty, maybe? Now think about the Flash: Last I heard, he can motor at over two thousand miles per hour. Two thousand. Miles. Per hour. And that’s Wally West, who’s slower than Barry Allen was. Now think about all the times a villain has said, “It’s the Flash!” and gone for a weapon. It’s absurd. Even if you’re lucky enough to see him coming (i.e., you Just So Happen to be looking in the right direction), the moment you spot him, it’s all over. For argument’s sake, let’s say he’s a mile off when you notice a red blur heading your way. The Flash is moving at thirty three miles per minute. That’s about… what? Half a mile a second? That’s twice the speed of sound (admittedly, the crook could be alerted to the Flash’s presence by the sonic boom his cruising speed would cause, but that’s not going to help him much.) From the moment the crook sees him coming to the point where he gets out the sentence, “It’s the Flash!,” that’s gotta be about two, maybe three seconds at the very least. By that point the word “It’s—” is out of the guy’s mouth, the Flash is already there. By the time he manages to say “—the—”, the Flash has already flattened him with a dozen punches. He simply can’t be beaten, because the moment a bad guy spies him, he’s finished before his brain can fully process the information. This is one of the reasons why speedster characters drive me nuts; because if you play them to their logical limit, no one can stand against them. The one exception to that is Impulse, because he’s so easily distracted, which is why I don’t mind having him in Young Justice. Other than him, though, forget it.
8 ) The Inhumans never get a good night’s sleep. If you knew that there was a guy slumbering down the hallway who could annihilate the place if he happened to talk in his sleep, would you get much shut-eye?
9) You’ll believe a man can fly. No. He can’t.
10) Dressing up like a bat just isn’t that scary. I’m sorry, it’s not. It’s just kinda weird. Criminals aren’t that superstitious or cowardly, especially when they’ve got guns in their hands. And if you’ve got a bolt of cloth hanging on your back slowing your mobility, the odds of you dodging bullets from those non-cowardly crooks are pretty darned slim.
Peter David, writer of stuff, can be written to at Second Age, Inc., P.O. Box 239, Bayport, NY 11705.