Friday, 15 March 2019

The Science of Obscure Superheroes: Reading List

Recently I gave a talk for the Reading branch of the British Science Association on the subject of the science of superheroes. It's a subject that's been covered a great deal elsewhere and so I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I decided to focus on the science behind some lesser known superheroes. I chose to discuss The WhizzerChunkMatter Eater Lad, and the Red Bee. I looked at their powers and origin stories and tried to find parallels in real world science. I also created a list of  some of my favourite comics featuring these characters, alongside a list of some of my favourite, vaguely science related comics.

Here are some comics where you’ll find some of the characters from these articles:


Legion of Super-Heroes The Silver Age Vol. 1
By Various 

These 1950s tales feature Superboy’s first adventures with his teenage pals in the futuristic Legion of Superheroes. These stories are endearingly daft and charming, but most importantly this collection features the first appearance of Matter Eater Lad!

Superman and the Legion of Superheroes
By Geoff Johns and Gary Frank 

While Matter Eater Lad doesn’t appear in this comic, his pals in the Legion of Superheroes do. The lesser known heroes of the Legion of Substitute Heroes also make an appearance. Superman gets transported to the 31st Century and he must reunite his childhood friends in order to fight space Nazis!!!

Animal Man Vol. 1
Animal Man Vol. 2: Origin of the Species
Animal Man Vol. 3 Deus Ex Machina
By Grant Morrison and various artists 

During Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man in the 80s, Animal Man gave up superheroing and began to focus on animal rights activism instead. As he did so he became one of the first superheroes to realize the truth of his existence - that he is actually a comic character living in a two-dimensional world. Along the way he encounters some pretty obscure superheroes, including B’wana Beast, Merryman, and our pal the Red Bee!

Avengers Epic Collection: The Final Threat
By Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, and various artists


Marvel fun from the 1970s. The Whizzer pops up to help the Avengers fight his villainous son, Nuklo! This collection also features appearances from Doctor Doom, Ultron, and Infinity War baddie Thanos! It also features some fantastic art from comics legends George Perez, Jim Starlin, and John Byrne.

Flash (1987) #9-11
By Mike Baron, Jackson Guice, Mike Collins, and Larry Mahlstedt


The first story to feature Chunk! These comics have never been collected to my knowledge but you’re likely to find them for quite cheap on ebay or in the bargain bin of a comics shop and they’re well worth hunting around for.

Flash: Rogues
By Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins, and Doug Hazlewood


Chunk gets shot in the first story in this collection, and Flash must prevent all of Keystone City from getting sucked into his old friend. Then Flash battles a bunch of villains from his extensive rogue’s gallery, including Captain Cold, Fallout, and Gorilla Grodd!

Here are some science related comics you might like:

Concrete, Vol. 1: Depths
By Paul Chadwick


Ron Lithgow gets his brain transplanted into a giant, alien, concrete body and tries to make a life for himself as an explorer and a writer. The interesting thing about Concrete is that aside from Concrete himself and the aliens who give him his body (who are never seen again after the first issue) there are no other sci-fi aspects to this comic. The ramifications of life in a giant concrete body are explored by applying real world physics, and conveyed through some stunning art from creator Paul Chadwick.

Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
Action Comics Vol. 2: Bulletproof
Action Comics Vol. 3: At The End Of Days
By Grant Morrison and various artists


Grant Morrison combines the feel of the original 1930s Superman comics by Siegel and Shuster with his own mind bending cosmic concepts. Superman battles a menace from the fifth dimension and Morrison realizes this threat in a fascinating way. Just as a fork from our three dimensional world might “attack” a two dimensional piece of paper at several different points simultaneously, Superman is attacked at several different points in his life simultaneously by his fifth dimensional foe.

Ministry of Space
By Warren Ellis and Chris Weston


The murky, real life origins of the American space programme are used as an inspiration for this alternate history, where Britain got to all the Nazi rocket scientists after World War II instead of the Yanks.

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2: World's Most Wanted Book 1
Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3: World's Most Wanted Book 2
By Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca


Iron Man has always been one of the most science-y superheroes and this is one of his very best stories. The Green Goblin has taken over SHIELD and Tony Stark is on the run. Tony uploads a computer virus into his own brain to erase all his secrets and keep them out of the Goblin’s hands. He must evade capture until the virus has done its work. But how can he stay one step ahead while he’s gradually losing his greatest weapon – his mind?

Tom Strong: Book 1
By Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Alan Gordon


Tom Strong inhabits a fantastic world that’s more Jules Verne than Stan Lee. He isn’t a superhero, he’s “science-hero”! Raised on a remote West Indian island by his scientist father in a high gravity chamber that made him super strong, Tom Strong was educated to genius level. He now uses his mental and physical perfection to fight such science themed foes as the Modular Man, Ingrid Weiss and her flying Nazi girls, and even an invasion from a universe where the Aztec civilization survived and became Earth’s dominant culture.

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