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The Physics of Superheroes

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the rotational-velocity-of-the-hulk dept.

201

peterwayner writes "There are few corners of the world that are more closely associated with the word "nerd" than comic books and physics. Despite the large overlap in the fan base, the two disciplines seem doomed to live forever in different corners of our minds. Superheroes don't have to obey the laws of physics and that's probably what makes them so attractive to the poor physicists who labor long and hard in the hope of making those laws work correctly. James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, has produced a book, "The Physics of Superheroes" (now in paperback). The surprise is that the two don't behave like matter and anti-matter. They don't explode on contact." Read the rest of Peter's review.

There's no reason to spoil the book. You'll have to read it if you want to know why Superman can't change history, how Magneto becomes Electro when he runs, and whether Spiderman could really do those amazing things with spider silk. Some of the chapters are devoted to celebrating the accuracy of the comic strips by working through the physical equations. Much of what the comic book writers imagined is actually pretty reasonable. These sections bring new discipline to those old debates over who's stronger, bigger or most capable.

Other sections spell out just how wrong some of the assumptions are. Even when he's deflating the hopes of those kids who wish they could fly like Superman, he uses the disconnection with reality as a chance to riff on some what-if questions. What if Superman came from a planet that had a gravitational field 15 times stronger than earth? Would he be able to leap tall buildings? And then what would happen to a planet that was 15 times denser than earth? Would it fly apart as it rotated? Could you build one by just making a bigger version of Earth? What if you put some superdense material in the center of your new Earth? These are the questions that Kakalios works through.

The core theorem or narrative device of the book (choose your point of view) is that comic book authors can't bend too many rules. In fact, they usually can't get away with breaking more one or two. Then the hero must live a conventional life in our world and that's what makes it interesting. Spiderman may have a superstrong webbing, but he's still as vulnerable to depression as the next man. Batman may have unlimited wealth, but that won't bring back his parents. To paraphrase Robert Frost, comic book authors aren't playing tennis without a net.

In this world, science and comic narrative aren't bizarro versions of each other. Stories are sort of like free-form experiments where the scientist tries to change just one thing and measure the results. From this viewpoint, there's little difference between the two disciplines. A comic book is just a shorthand version of a scientific experiment.

This link implies an interesting and perhaps dangerous notion: science is just a longhand version of comic books. Sure, the folks at the cell phone companies have been striving mightily to make real that button on James T. Kirk's chest. That's the good news. But what about the darker notions? Anyone who's dealt with the side-effects of supposedly safe drugs like Vioxx knows that the bench scientists are as constrained as the comic book authors. They've got to come up with research that satisfies their customers and provide a simple resolution before that customer loses interest. (And won't those scientists come up with an ending for the debate about the link between cell phone-brain cancer before a jury does?)

But such speculation may kill the fun in the book. It's really just an excuse to toss around some equations and ask "what if" with a bit more rigor. This book may not be a grand, unifying theorem for the big plots of comic books and the big theories of science, but it's a neat first cut. It's as fascinating as much for its nuts and bolts description of physics as its offhand way of mixing together mathematical frameworks with narrative understanding.

Bio: Peter Wayner is the author of 13 books like Translucent Databases and Disappearing Cryptography .


You can purchase The Physics of Superheroes from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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201 comments

At least spoil _something_ (4, Insightful)

Stone Rhino (532581) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084015)

I'd like to see what one of these explanations are, so I can actually evaluate his reasoning. The lack of a sample leaves this review with a big gaping hole of no examples to support its conclusions.

University of Minnesota class (1)

juxel (47764) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084261)

This professor has actually offered a seminar class (2 credits, rather informal but very fun) on this topic for the past few years. I took it a while ago and it was so much fun. The book appears to be very similar to how the class was and most likely came about because he's been teaching the class for a while.

If there's anyone at the U of M, you definitely want to check it out. He's a great prof and the class is a lot fun.

Re:At least spoil _something_ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084381)

Well, I skimmed over a few chapter and I remember one of theses anlyses.
It goes like this:
In Comic X there is a super hero how can run very fast - 1% of speed of light isn't the maximum. So we calculate his kinetic energy (and first deduce that it's E = 1/2 mv), and then find out that it's pretty much, and then we find that he has to eat a few hundred cheese burgers just to have enough energy. If we consider that our body isn't 100% effictive we find that it's twice that much.
Unfortunately J. Kakalios needs about four or five pages to say the above, so it's boring if you have some principle understanding of physics. Well, at least the chapters about mechanics. Perhaps the considerations about atoms and quantum mechanics aren't that boring, I haven't got that far until now...

Moritz
--
http://moritz.faui2k3.org/ [faui2k3.org]

Re:At least spoil _something_ (1)

surfcow (169572) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084568)

Go to Amazon.com. You can view a good chunck of the book on-line.

At a quick glance, it looks good, the author seems to have a good grasp of physics.

Re:At least spoil _something_ (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084691)

I've got the book, and it is amusing, though not so much for the advanced student. Usually it's more along the lines of taking bad physics, and explaining why it's bad.

From memory (so take with a grain of salt), I can remember an example dealing with a little known superhero named "Ant Man" who, obviously could become super small (or was always super small?), and yet had strength and inertia comperable to a full grown man...Wonder why he didn't catch on?

There was another one...I believe it was some villian trying to locate batman...The method was setting off bombs around the city, and measuring the seismic shockwaves to map the location of local caves, which of course is actually feasable, and he goes into the physics behind it.

Struck me as more of a novelty gag, but he did seem to have a solid grounding in physics (and comics =)

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (5, Funny)

Paul Rose (771894) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084030)

Always got a chuckle out of "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" by Niven. http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html [rawbw.com]

Re:Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (1)

coleblak (863392) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084468)

I remember reading that a few years ago but wouldn't the baby(were she impregnated by whatever means) be human until it was blasted by the light of the sun? Without Kal-el's body being charged by a yellow sun, he would be just as human as we are.

Re:Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084959)

Well, if we wanted to be sure, we could wrap the mother in lead or something.

As for the sex bit, if we could keep the baby from killing the mother with normal (green) kryptonite (given a small enough quantity), couldn't we do the same to Superman during sex? You don't need the gold kryptonite to do that. Kryptonite-laced condom, etc etc... It would be a tricky thing to pull off, but it could work. It might hurt, but after that long, I'm sure he'd be willing. Besides, it adds a bit of kink to it -- of course the most powerful man in the world would want to be a sub.

Re:Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (1)

Xtifr (1323) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085147)

Yup, definitely a classic, and the first thing I thought of, too. One of my favorite lines: "Meanwhile, tens of millions of sperm swarm in the air over Metropolis."

Larry Niven's mind seems to be capable of going places I would tend to avoid, at all costs! :)

Re:Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (1)

KingKiki217 (979050) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085165)

You beat me to it; that was the first thing I thought of, too.

Re:Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex (1)

Molochi (555357) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085225)

Me three.

A delightfuly twisted man, Niven. Regarding Superman having sex with LL this "modest proposal" could be summed up with the paraphrase," ...blow off the top of her head, while simulataneously gutting her like a trout."

Batman (2, Funny)

TheAmazingJambi (998707) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084032)

I'm hoping it finally explains just how Batman came to be...obviously this would have more to do with genetics, but I'd really love to see them explain a half-bat/half-man running around a poorly disguised version of 1970s NYC. ...it's a costume you say? -looks crestfallen-

Re:Batman (3, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084086)

You're obviously thinking of Man-Bat. [wikipedia.org]

</sadcomicnerd>

Re:Batman (1)

Mercano (826132) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084368)

Is it any better that I know of this character because he was in the first episode of Batman The Animated Series?

Re:Batman (2, Funny)

shawnap (959909) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084985)

Consider yourself lucky. I read this post, remebered that you were wrong (The first one had Red Claw as the villian; stealing some kind of chemical from a train or something?), and then was compelled to post about it! On Slashdot!
I'm boned.

Re:Batman (1)

Molochi (555357) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085251)

It depends on how old you were when you were watching the first episode of BTAS...

Re:Batman (1)

Rheingold (2741) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084960)

Or perhaps Bat Boy [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Batman (0, Redundant)

OakDragon (885217) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084096)

Sounds more like Man-Bat [wikipedia.org] . As a comic-reading kid, I was convinced that DC created Man-Bat in response to questions like "Why doesn't Batman have bat wings? Does Batman drink blood?" etc.

Re:Batman (1)

TheAmazingJambi (998707) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084164)

And apparently my attempt at humor is sub-par...need to work on the delivery...or maybe just have some coffee.

Re:Batman (1)

Culture (575650) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084864)

The Batman, I tell you, The Batman. You failed the nerd test!

I would like to say something my /.ers (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084035)

Today is a day for heros. Today is the day this country "found its legs" in a search for its identity. Many of us have taken to calling today Patriot Day, because it is today, the anniversary of 9/11/2000, when the true Patriots in this country stood up and said "this land is our land." People, let me say Happy Patriot Day to you and yours. God Speed.

Re:I would like to say something my /.ers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084269)

Today is the day this country "found its legs" in a search for its identity.
That is insulting to all the generations that have proceeded us to make this country what it is. I intend no disrespect towards the 9/11 survivors, but come on!

Also - 9/11/2001

Re:I would like to say something my /.ers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084432)

so it took the USers 200 years to look down? "Oh look there's me legs!"

Kirk's chest (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084040)

IIRC, Kirk didn't have a communicator on his chest, that was Picard.

Re:Kirk's chest (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084200)

That's right- James T. Kirk is far too manly for any brooch on his chest- his fierce chest hair would strangle and destroy any cheap tchotchke pinned to his mighty torso.

Bad Star Trek reference? (1, Redundant)

BigWhiteGuy_27 (804307) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084054)

Sure, the folks at the cell phone companies have been striving mightily to make real that button on James T. Kirk's chest.

Ummm...the last time I checked, Kirk used a hand-held communicator, and it was Picard who had the chest button.

It was a nerd test (5, Funny)

paranode (671698) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084115)

You passed.

In other news.... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084059)

I'm writing a book about Linux and valence electrons. It'll get slashdotted no matter how shitty it is!

Try to get the star trek references right! (0, Redundant)

noretsa (995866) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084104)

I dont think you have a chance to get away with incorrect star trek references with this crowd.

Kirk used a bulk handheld receiver, the button style communicators weren't around until TNG times.

The Physics Course (4, Informative)

Tobor The Fowl (844643) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084117)

This isn't a what if... A very good friend of mine went to the University of Minnesota and took a course with this professor with this book as the text for the class. He told me that they figure out some neat things.

They calculate the outrageous amount of food that Superman needs to eat on a daily basis. They use different examples to figure out what Spider-Man's web can and can't do and go so far as to calculate the tensile strength of a fresh web.

He told me lots of other neat examples that I can't even recall right now. I've been told that it's a great book and a great course.

Re:The Physics Course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084192)

At least link the course [umn.edu] .

Re:The Physics Course (2, Interesting)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084401)

Well, a while ago (80s?) they mentioned that Superman was essentially a large Solar battery. That he absorbed the energy from the rays of the yellow sun and stored them. When he's "running low" he's more vulnerable to cuts, has less strength, etc. Likewise his invulnerability is from an aura his body projects (powered by the solar battery).

They tried doing something similar with "The Flash," where-as he pulls power from something called the "Speed Force." This is also why he doesn't leave massive craters as he runs.

I guess it was to somehow try to explain things without everyone playing the whole gravity/physics game.

Riddle me this one, batman (1)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084125)

But what about the Physics of whether Superman could beat Darth Vader in a fight?

Re:Riddle me this one, batman (4, Funny)

TheAmazingJambi (998707) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084221)

The old badass Darth Vader or Vader Lite aka Hayden Christensen?

Re:Riddle me this one, batman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084388)

Fallacy. There is only ONE Vader. No true nerds acknowledge, Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Revenge of the Sith is still being debated. If Napoleon Dynamite can kick the crap out of you then you're not Vader.

Easy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084239)

Getting nerdy as I wait until this server reboots.

Superman has strength, speed and superdense skin*.

Darth Vader has the elements of the force but, as we see over and over, they aren't planet shifting.

Darth seems to lose up front but, perhaps he could sway the simple mind of Superman, as every encounter with Batman suggests Superman doesn't have a Superbrain.

Let's say they meet and exchange one-liners. Superman goes for the thoat of Vader but, a moment before Vader puts a death lock on his heart/throat/brain. This is the only way I could see of Vader getting the upperhand. Granted, Vader is dead and no where near Earth's galaxy but, if the two were to meet my bet is on Vader.

* Bullets bounce off him suggesting he does't feel pain, but then why does he long for the gentle touch of a woman? Perhaps his pain threshold is Super as well.

Re:Easy. (1)

dmatos (232892) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084342)

Superman can just turn back time, then use his super-speed to fly to the galaxy that is "far far away" and confront Vader. In fact, he could confront Vader when he was just whiney Anaken, smash the crap out of his pod racer, and leave his dessicated corpse on the sands of Tatooine. That would save us from the second half of episode I, and all of episodes II and III.

As for the force, though, with proper control and concentration "size matters not." I still don't think that the force can overcome temporal engineering.

Krypton, a victim of the Death Star (4, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084761)

Superman can just turn back time, then use his super-speed to fly to the galaxy that is "far far away" and confront Vader. In fact, he could confront Vader when he was just whiney Anaken, smash the crap out of his pod racer, and leave his dessicated corpse on the sands of Tatooine.

It is rather suspicious that Krypton exploded in much the same manner as Alderaan. My only guess would be that the Vader saw this move coming while Kal-El was still a baby.

Re:Riddle me this one, batman (4, Funny)

PriceIke (751512) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084414)

Why stop there? [albinoblacksheep.com]

Re:Riddle me this one, batman (1)

Guy Smiley (9219) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084950)

Mod the parent up! This is a hilarious short film.

Re:Riddle me this one, batman (1)

OakDragon (885217) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084682)

"You can run, Vader, but I'll get you! You can't hide behind that red sun forever!

"Oops..."

Comic Book Guy (2, Funny)

Corbets (169101) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084163)

Am I the only one who instinctively read this summary with a voice in my head that sounded like the Simpsons Comic Book Guy???

Re:Comic Book Guy (1)

ROMRIX (912502) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084306)

"Am I the only one who instinctively read this summary with a voice in my head that sounded like the Simpsons Comic Book Guy???"

Yes, now go back to sleep.


Re:Comic Book Guy (1)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084575)

Hm, so how does it feel to be truly "alone"?

Similarly (0)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084173)

I like the practical, "real life" methods of gaining superhero-sized muscle and strength, practically overnight, by employing the same training and diet strategies as pro bodybuilders do (no radioactive lab experiment gone awry). I've been studying and experimenting with some of these cool secrets for years. For example, try glycogen depletion and sodium manipulation followed by glycogen super-compensation. You can gain upwards of 15-20 lbs of muscle mass in 24-48 hours [zerotosuperhero.com] eating nothing but sugary, high glycemic foods (as I did) and not gain an ounce of fat (you're strength will also go through the roof). Enhanced Neural Drive [zerotosuperhero.com] , is another good example where you can trick your body into lifting much more than accustomed.

Fascinating to learn, but even better to experience for yourself.

Nice product pitch there (1)

drew_kime (303965) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084365)

Got any info on franchising?

Four years research (1)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084484)

It's my book I've been researching and writing for four years. What am I supposed to do, hide it under a rock?

The whole ketosis/glycogen super-compensation cycle is a trip-and-a-half. When properly executed, your muscles get so freakin' big it's like looking at someone else's body. After my first successful carbload, I went to the gym and I couldn't believe the strength and stamina I had. I just kept going and going with bench press and shoulder presses until I got bored. I did not get tired, and I was lifting heavier than I ever did. Call it a kodak moment. It was amazing. So what if I want to share my hard work and research?

Re:Four years research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084723)

So what if you want to make a quick buck spouting nonsense, you mean?

Re:Four years research (1)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084848)

Call it metabolic trickery or macronutrient manipulation or whatever you like, but it's definetely not nonsense. It's proven to work (in fact, a 41 year old woman from Chicago did the Leanweaver [zerotosuperhero.com] /carbload [zerotosuperhero.com] and gained 15 lbs in less than two days - and she's not even a bodybuilder!

Re:Similarly (1)

monopole (44023) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084423)

...eating nothing but sugary, high glycemic foods...
Unless caffene is a damper every nerd would be a superhero, and Beefy would dwarf superman (in strength).

Re:Similarly (5, Funny)

Lordpidey (942444) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084440)

Wait... so you are saying I spent all of this time next to this core of pure uranium for nothing? Damn.

Re:Similarly (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084521)

How the hell is spam modded up like this? Bullshit organ-damaging inducing diet, and that neural drive crap, if it works, sounds like a good way to get tendonitis. Yay lifelong crippling injuries!

Re:Similarly (1)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084796)

I've had bilateral tendonitis (golfers elbow) for 8 years now, and none of these training methods ever aggravated my symptoms. Alot of it boils down to proper form too.

Re:Similarly (1)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084560)

interesting. but how long does it last? and is the 20 pounds of muscle as strong as "real" muscle? is the effect uniform across all the muscles in your body? sorry to sound skeptical, but it really does seem too good to be good. speaking of which, wont you also have to consume insane of amounts of water for this to work. how much of this muscle mass is just water retention.

Answers (1)

rinkjustice (24156) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084748)

how long does it last?

Depends on your activity level and muscle recruitment after the carbload (aka glycogen super-compensation). Let me explain how it works: 1) you strip every last vestige of glycogen from your liver and your muscles (it's not as bad as it sounds) using a low-carb diet and exercise that induces a state of ketosis. 2) Once this is achieved and you're muscle cells are starving for glycogen, you ingest high glycemic foods to raise insulin levels and transport nourishment and glycogen back into the muscles, with the aid of insulin agonists like chromium and apple cider vinegar. Your muscle cells will absorb much more glycogen than normal, or "super-compensate", just as a famished person may over-eat to compensate for lost meals.

Is the 20 pounds of muscle as strong as "real" muscle?

I would have to say comparable, but it's hard to say. With your muscles so full after a carbload like I've described, the difference in strength is appreciable.

How much this muscle mass is just water retention?

Simply put, glycogen is ingested carbohydrates converted to a syrup that is stored in, among other places, the liver and muscle stores. And carbohydrates help retain fluid, hense the word hydrate.

Re:Similarly (1)

RosenSama (836736) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084747)

You can gain upwards of 15-20 lbs of muscle mass in 24-48 hours
Spoiler: It's really muscle mass, but not yours. You spend the 24-48 hours acting like a python and swallow a turkey whole.

MOD PARENT DOWN (1)

Raunch (191457) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085231)

blog spam

Superheroes... Physics... Tenuous Connection! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084216)

"There are few corners of the world that are more closely associated with the word "nerd" than comic books and physics"

Star Trek
Linux
Spectacles
Pocket Protectors
The front row of the classroom
{etc}

I could go on, but I just want to point out the tenuous nature of the link between superheroes and physics.

Re:Superheroes... Physics... Tenuous Connection! (5, Funny)

nizo (81281) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084443)

Combine them all and behold, we have the uber-nerd! He who is beaten up by regular nerds, and can walk through the women's locker room unseen, since he is utterly invisible to the female gender.

Physics (3, Interesting)

SamSim (630795) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084217)

I would be interested to see an actual physical simulation of Spider-Man style webslinging, to see if you could actually get around New York (or anywhere) by swinging from building to building. My theory? He should crash into walls all the time.

Re:Physics (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084294)

Perhaps if they factored in his college diet of Taco Bell into the equation, they might come to a different conclusion, if you get the thrust of my argument..

Re:Physics (1)

dmatos (232892) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084416)

I suspect that he would run out of buildings tall enough to use before he crashed into them. I can see arcing back and forth across a street as a plausible mode of transport, but really, how many blocks can you go before you're out in the 3 and 4 storey buildings?

(caveat - I've never been to New York, but in Toronto you'd be able to go about three city blocks, straight up Bay Street, and nowhere else).

Re:Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084726)

how many blocks can you go before you're out in the 3 and 4 storey buildings?

In Manhattan? A long, long, way. For example, along Park Ave./ Park Ave S., where I work, the street terminates at Union Square at 14th Street, and runs north to Grand Central at 42nd, and there's almost no buildings under, say, 12 storeys along the way, with many much higher. Between midtown and the business district to the south is where buildings would get too short, and they drop in height again way north, but there's probably a space over a hundred and twenty blocks long and 6-8 avenues wide (saving Central Park) where Spidey could do his thing. You can check it out using Google Earth -- there's a building geometry set for a lot of New York City.

Re:Physics (1)

eonlabs (921625) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085183)

I don't know about Chicago, but if you're referring to the comics then that would be the place to be. NYC on the other hand has dozens of blocks of sky scrapers, with hundreds of blocks of 3-4 story sky line. I don't see how that is an issue considering that 40+ feet of fall room still provides a decent area for swinging. (20 if you need to avoid telephone wire)

Re:Physics (2, Insightful)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084417)

Pop in Spider-man 2 for PS2 or XBox and try it out for yourself :)

2 subgroups for slashdot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084270)

I thought the subgroups were atheist and transhumanistic???

Real nerds don't read comic books! (1)

n6kuy (172098) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084317)

More like books on conjugating Latin verbs.
Comic books are way too cool for nerds. ...or are nerds cool these days?

Re:Real nerds don't read comic books! (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084909)

I thought the same thing: if nerds have been reduced to reading comic books, who's left to read real books?

(Instead W. joke here.)

Not like matter and antimatter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084335)

...more like pelicans and alka-seltzer.

Superman Returns *warning spoilers* (1)

bohemian72 (898284) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084346)

Well, spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the Superman movies.

This was one area where Superman Returns impressed me. There's a plane falling from the sky uncontrollably and Superman grabs onto the end of the wing, sure enough, the wing breaks off. Saving the plane, while not destroying it and killing everyone on board was a real mental exercise for Superman.
Contrast that to Superman III (From Office Space fame), where Superman is able to hold a sheet of ice as large around as a lake with his fingers by the edge.

More spoilers (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084979)

Well, in that same Superman Returns, he lifts a continent by his hands. I think that's just a bit less probable than the ice.

But yes, the scenes with the plane were arguably the best in the movie.

Correction... (1)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084372)

I find it hard to believe the geek cred of this reviewer when he repeatedly refers to "Spider-Man" as "Spiderman". Lonely virgins everywhere know that it is hyphenated!

[/comic book guy]

Re:Correction... (1)

Kredal (566494) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084479)

I'll add to the Comic Book Guy theme here.. James T. Kirk didn't have a button on his chest, he had to rely on the cell phone precursor... Wasn't until TNG that they had commbadges.

Re:Correction... (2, Funny)

Marko DeBeeste (761376) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084480)

Meaning they lost their hyphen


sorry, couldn't resist

superman solar power (1)

Mick D. (89018) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084378)

I always just assumed Superman had a huge field around him that slightly pulled energy from yellow light and created a teeny tiny redshift for hundreds of miles around. It explained why a yellow sun was needed and why Krypton didn't provide super powers

Save yourself $3.30 by buying the book here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084387)

Save yourself $3.30 by buying the book here: The Physics of Superheroes [amazon.com] . And if you use the "secret" A9.com discount [amazon.com] , you can save an extra 1.57%!

Superman v Doctor Who (1)

TheAmazingJambi (998707) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084412)

On a mostly unrelated note, who would win in a fight between Superman and Doctor Who?

Re:Superman v Doctor Who (1)

jnaujok (804613) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084633)

Doctor Who of course. How? I'll explain later...

Re:Superman v Doctor Who (1)

tommyatomic (924744) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084645)

Which of the Doctor vs which superman?

Re:Superman v Doctor Who (1)

Bonker (243350) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085038)

Supes would never notice the good Doctor dicking around with his history.

And the Doctor wouldn't... unless he had a good reason, but could always regenerate and go back in time to bust Jor-el's chops.

Physics has no place in comics (2, Insightful)

devilsbrigade (930153) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084459)

just like it has no place in movies that aren't documentaries about physics. This book is just as bad sounding as the website Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics [intuitor.com] . Maybe i am the minority here, but i think entertainment shouldn't be subjected to scrutinty like this. Who cares if spidermans web is not able to do what it does in the comic. Whoever referenced the superman vs darth vader is right, those are the important questions (Like who would win in a fight Neo or Gandalf) not, what are the physics of superman's flying. Its called supsension of disbelief, its what allows us to go to the movies and see Logan/wolverine and not hugh jackman just wearing gardening tools on his hands.

Re:Physics has no place in comics (1)

popeye44 (929152) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084708)

Those aren't gardening tools? Ahh man.. you ruined it for me. Knowing that Hugh Jackman is considered to know more show tunes than any other straight guy on the planet is what I get stuck on.. haha. I can't but help want him to break into a HELLO MY BABY HELLO MY DARLIN routine in the middle of a fight as wolverine.

Re:Physics has no place in comics (1)

devilsbrigade (930153) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084792)

i know. My girlfriend keeps trying to tell me he was in some other movies where he doesn't play Wolverine. I don't believe her. And just cause IMDB says it doesn't mean anything. That website has been known to be wrong before....

Who is better? (1)

B5_geek (638928) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084476)

This is a long-time debate that I have had; Who is better?

Mighty Mouse or Superman

Ofcourse it was only a one-sided debate, as I am an only child.

Re:Who is better? (2, Funny)

The Fun Guy (21791) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084538)

Boy, you don't know nothing!

Mighty Mouse is a cartoon.

Superman is a real guy. No way a cartoon could beat up a real guy.

Nothing new here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084482)

This is hardly an original idea. There are numerous [amazon.com] other [amazon.com] books [amazon.com] out there covering the same subject. I'd like the review to cover why I should pick up this book as opposed to the other earlier books.

Not New (1)

punisherawr (978021) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084490)

The National Geographic Channel had a 1-hr special about the science of superheroes...explaining from such topics as spiderman's super-strong web, superman's thrust/drag and x-ray eyes, and dr. x's mind abilities, among others which at the moment i cannot recall. I also remember them showing a special hour dedicated just to superman on the movie's release date. As they say in the TV industry, check your local listings!

Ghost World (1)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084507)

My favorite comic doesn't violate the laws of physics.

The Science of the X-Men was published in 2001 (1)

JoshDM (741866) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084602)

And it's pretty good at stating a lot that this book had already done, except that it's X-Men exclusive. Science of the X-Men [amazon.com] - I wonder if he cites it in his bibliography.

Biggest complaint about messed up superhero physic (1)

QuantumFTL (197300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084637)

For whatever reason I'm able to suspend disblief when it comes to radioactive spiders, glowing meteorites, and even some of the more ridiculous time travel (flying around the world really fast?!?!). These all deal with things that are so far outside of my daily life experience that they seem "fantastic" rather than merely inaccurate and sloppy.

The real problem I have is the "super strength" type characters, and how they interact with the rest of the physical world. I'm down with super strength, that's actually one of the lead imaginative powers, and I'll even buy that their bones and ligaments are stronger to compensate. What I can't deal with, however, is that strong characters picking up amazingly heavy objects must be exerting a tremendous force with their feet on whatever they are standing. This is compounded when they use their super strength to catch or throw said item, at which time the reaction force from their inertia is also so ridiculously huge that this should cause structural failure in most materials under their feet.

This concept extends also to the point of contact with whatever they are holding. The sheer amount of force on many of these items would be more than enough to cause very severe damage. Also, the torque generated when said hero swings/flings the object around would bend or break many of these items at structural weak points, if it did not simply tear off the part that they had grabbed onto.

I think the problem for me is that, having seen how materials act all of my life (and perhaps also having a rather useless degree in Physics) has caused these things to destroy suspension of disbelief. Yes, I also know that hitting superman with a large explosion should destroy his costume, or that no one could fail to recognize Clark Kent as Superman (especially considering they are basically never seen together), that radioactive animals don't give people superpowers (yet), and that gamma ray exposure is indefinitely more likely to cause cancer than it is to cause helpful mutation, but... these do not violate my intuition about the world the same way as horribly inaccurate structural mechanics.

And yes, I know it's all just make believe, and I still watch the movies and enjoy them... most of the time.

Re:Biggest complaint about messed up superhero phy (1)

Griim (8798) | more than 7 years ago | (#16085213)

They actually tried explaining this with the latest Superboy (who was a half-clone of Superman) by saying he has "tactile telekenisis." Basically the objects that Supes picks up are encompassed by this, and don't become susceptible to structural failure. It's lousy ret-conning, I know :) but the new Superboy actually has this ability, but a bit more enhanced. He can pick up an object, and also tear it apart/manipulate it.

Physics prerequisites? (1)

lillgud (951277) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084641)

How advanced is the physics? Can anyone follow the scientific arguments or do I need a Ph.D?

Re:Physics prerequisites? (1)

Tyfud (777617) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084768)

It's basic stuff that you'd learn first year college for the most part.

It's a good book (2, Informative)

Tyfud (777617) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084693)

I've got it and have started reading it. A friend bought it for me last Christmas. As an avid fan of both comic books and Physics, it warms my heart to read how the author approaches each situation. That's with a very science first outlook. Essentially he's using comic books and super hero's to replace the common examples of "Man throws a 12kg ball over a cliff at 12,000meters, how much force will the ball have with the ground if F=ma". Just change ball to superman, and cliff to building, and man throwing to superman leaping.

As for an example, the first one in the book's about how to determine the velocity superman needs at ground zero to be able to jump a 30 or 40 story building given the outside forces acting upon him.

The author deals mostly with silver and golden age heros (Sorry Spawn lovers).

Which superheroes? (3, Interesting)

BearRanger (945122) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084707)

Any geek who has read comics for any length of time knows that the superheroes of today are *much* less powerful than they were 40 - 50 years ago. I doubt if the laws of physics have changed. Perhaps the shift has been with writers finally understanding that they can only push the boundaries of reality so far.

A Superman who can push the Earth out of its orbit isn't fun for a writer to work with, any more than it is for reader above the age of 5 to enjoy.

A specific incident that comes to mind, probably from the late '80's. I believe it was "Legion of Superheroes" #38, where the writer (Paul Levitz?) had Mon-El deliver a white dwarf star to Earth, as part of a complex plot, to act as a power source for one of Brainiac 5's experiments. The resulting letters page a few issues later completely humbled the writer, with the readers taking him to task for violating the many laws of physics that would have resulted in the Earth's complete destruction. Some readers went into great detail about where the author went wrong, and Levitz actually apologized.

Writers have to be more careful because their readers routinely take them to task when they go too far.

This iZs 6oatsex (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16084731)

I am the Nerd King! (1)

Fysiks Wurks (949375) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084733)

If you are proud of your nerd status openly display this title in your home or office. If you are not proud of your nerdiness and haven't come out the lab jacket and bowtie filed closet keep the book hidden well - or you'll out yourself.

I don't have this book, but I proudly display my 12 tall "Beaker" figure on my desk.

I can think of one thing... (1)

dslauson (914147) | more than 7 years ago | (#16084786)

"There are few corners of the world that are more closely associated with the word "nerd" than comic books and physics."
Apparently, you haven't checked out the discussion over here [slashdot.org] .
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