Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Best. Comic Book. Superhero. Ever.

Many years ago, when I was still working at Ohio State, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Steven Weinberg.  For those of you not familiar with his work, Weinberg is one of the towering figures of 20th century physics.  He shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for his role in the development of the unified theory of electromagnetism and the weak force, a key component of what is now known as the Standard Model of particle physics (yes, it's capitalized).

During lunch, the conversation turned, as it so often does among Nobel laureates, to the subject of comic books.  Weinberg opined that when he was young, parents wouldn't let their kids read comic books, because they were "trash," but these days most parents would be thrilled if their kids read anything at all, including comic books.

So are comic books a form of science fiction?  Of course they are, because they draw on many of the same ideas and themes as mainstream science fiction.  And of course they're not, because a science fiction snob like me will never admit that books with pictures and conversation bubbles should be placed among the pantheon of science fiction.  Yes, I know that comic book conventions regularly outdraw science fiction conventions by factors of 10 or 100 in attendance  Let's not talk about that.

When I was young, my own parents carefully rationed my own consumption of comic books because, of course, they were trash. But I did develop a particular interest in one of the DC lines:  The Legion of Superheroes. This comic book followed the adventures of a group of teenagers in the 30th century, all having very specific and limited powers. One of them could grow to colossal size, another could shrink. One had the power to make objects much heavier; another could make them lighter.  You get the picture.

But one member of the Legion stands out in my mind as the ultimate superhero:  Kid Psycho. Kid Psycho?? Can you imagine a comic book character with that name today?  I think not. Anyway, Kid Psycho had the ability to project an impenetrable force field with his mind, but each time he did it, the effort required would shorten his lifespan by one year. So terrible were these consequences for Kid Psycho that, as far as I can tell, he never actually used his power.  Not ever.  He just sat around and waited for an appropriate emergency, which never came. I want to be that guy.

Actually, much later (in the 1980s), the DC people threw Kid Psycho into combat in their apocalyptic series Crisis on Infinite Earths. Kid Psycho faced the Terrible Creature who was trying to destroy the entire universe and was summarily obliterated by said creature.  I don't want to be that guy.


Kathy said...

So this Kid Psycho was like Brett Favre's backups? He trained and practiced and never, ever got to play.

Robert Scherrer said...

Indeed. He was part of the Legion "reserves". They had a group of honorary members, a group of "reservists" and a "Legion of Substitute Heroes". Amazingly complex organization.