Principia Comicbookia, Part 2

Hey, welcome back! Those of you who are back, that is…

So…shall we continue with the nonsense from the previous page?

Here we have Henry Pym, who makes pills and gases that are (somehow — but that’s the secret) attractors for Pym bosons, and he knows that organic chemistry can grab onto this energy if there’s enough of it around — if the local Pym flux is big enough. In the years to come, he’ll find out just how well organic chemistry can grab on to it, too! And along the way he’ll almost die a couple of different times, as the constant changes to his body — these are changes at the level of the atom — get harder and harder to recover from. There’s no problem with what his shrinking-and-growing technology does, of course, or he’d be dead already…

But the problem is with him. Because though the energy he’s calling on is quite fleeting, he’s calling on quite large amounts of it, and it’s not just changing his body temporarily but permanently…but then again, it’s not changing it permanently all at once. Cells in his body that were once “normal” are normal no longer, constantly grabbing flashover energy at greater and greater volumes even when it isn’t being applied to size-changing activity…he doesn’t know this yet, because he’s still using the pills, but he’s becoming a biophysical chimera, and the cells that used to be normal are actually doing fine, but all the other cells that are still normal can’t process the energy the non-normal ones are putting out. “Cosmic energy” could change him all at once, and there’d be no problem! Or if he’d been naturally born with a significant majority of non-normal cells, if he’d been like the one-in-a-billion tree or one-in-a-trillion rock that sometimes comes to life, that’d be fine too. But neither of these things are the case, and it’s messing him up. Hey, even if he hadn’t used his magic pills and gases so much, he’d be fine! But unfortunately he’s caught in the no-man’s land between all of these things: changing too fast yet not nearly fast enough.

For that matter, if he were just a rock, he’d be fine…

But he isn’t, and so his organic composition gives him both his superpowers, and his fatal flaw. But, let’s switch tracks for a moment…since Dr. Pym isn’t going anywhere…

And talk about the High Evolutionary. This is pretty time-honoured High Superhero Weirdness, here: the “Evolvo-Ray” that turns you into what you would have been, had you undergone a million years of “more evolution” or whatever. So I don’t mean to mess with it much!

It’s too awesome!

But part of why it’s awesome is because it’s weird, and part of why it’s weird is because it tries so hard to make straightforward sense (“It’s an Evolvo-Ray! It evolves you!”) that whatever sense it may make, can’t be anything like “straightforward”. Consider that the progress of evolution would provide a perfectly acceptable rationale for having human tractors or masters of magnetism…or stealers and givers of water vapour’s kinetic energy, or eyeblast-people…provided that there were many of these, and that millions of years had passed, and that OH YEAH those traits had been actually selected-for by statistical processes. Then again, it probably wouldn’t leave much room for people with ape-feet and weird intron diseases like having big fluffy wings? But “human tractors” it could accomplish. Masters of magnetism, too.

Just…

Probably not in the same population?

The mutants of Marvel seem faintly prismatic, therefore…some representing glimpses of possible biological futures that could happen, and some representing glimpses of possible biological futures that now won’t happen…yet perhaps it would be a mistake to think that we can have such a simple solution to these bizarre problems. And if you think about it, this really should be the argument that Magneto and Professor X have? One saying “it’s all just random mutation” and the other saying “no, it’s all teleogical evolution”…”we’re humans with genetic damage”…”no, we’re homo superior“…

The Evolvo-Ray doesn’t exactly clear up the question. How can it possibly know what we “would have” evolved into, and how can it make us into that thing? When individual organisms don’t evolve at all, anyhow! How can the Evolvo-Ray assume the presence of just such environmental pressures as would be necessary to make the world’s wolf population walk upright and read minds, then force them on a lone individual who lacks that ancestry anyway? Because the ancestry in question hasn’t existed, and probably never will…because does even the High Evolutionary expect that in a million years the world’s wolf population bloody well will walk upright and have the power to read minds…?!?

Not to mention the rats, and the cats, and the birds and the bees…

And yet how can the Evolvo-Ray do anything else but impose that genetic history-that-never-happened on an individual who could never own any part of it even if it were real, if the changes its radiation wreaks are so patterned as to require that this is the reason for them? And when, really, it’s just a ray-gun. It isn’t a cloud of nano-scale assemblers that intentionally rewrite the organism’s structure according to a pre-programmed plan; it’s just a big machine that emits radiation. So that there is comprehensibility here, is what makes the whole thing so maddeningly strange…the entire organism is adapted to meet environmental circumstances that though they never occurred are still definite in character, so the Evolvo-Ray’s outcomes aren’t simply arbitrary: the “accelerated evolution” respects what it judges, at least, since it privileges “more advanced” evolutionary status in the first place — the Man-Beast becomes a feral psychic Hitler, but the High Evolutionary himself becomes an omnipotent Star-Child! And for this, it seems, there’s no possible explanation except the one that’s given….because as Sherlock Holmes so famously remarked, once you’ve eliminated the impossible then I guess you’re stuck believing in whatever utter nonsense is left whether you like it or not. “More advanced” evolutionary status…now there is a piece of nonsense which is certainly not lacking for utterness! And yet somehow, in some unexplained way, the Evolvo-Ray does actually manage to do what it says on the tin, so…

Not that it needs explanation, you understand. Why would it? But on the other hand, I can’t think of a reason to avoid explanations, so long as those explanations don’t do anything to harm the general insouciance in play. After all, is the point of the game: the comics themselves are full of explanations that also serve as witty rejoinders to nonsense, or where did you think the “sliding timescale” came from in the first place? Hank McCoy’s “chemical cause of mutation”, if you recall, was what finally saved Hank and Jan Pym from the deadly size-changing “microbes” in their bloodstream…

…So why couldn’t it also save the Evolvo-Ray?

This gets a bit John W. Campbell and Rupert Sheldrake too, actually: the chemical cause of mutation, my word, now just what the hell is that when it’s at home? At first glance, it seems completely wacky and unsupportable, but if we think like postmodernists (you know that’s the only way to catch a postmodernist, is to think like one!) then I believe we can see our way to penetrating the fog of wackiness. Postmodernists mostly think Ideas and Things might as well be considered the same, you see…they’re always on about ethereal “objects” and linguistic “technology”, always looking for a new way to conceptualize old terminology. There’s a method to the madness, in other words: sometimes you have to treat “reading” as encoding rather than decoding, if you want to get past pesky definitional limits that predetermine your inability to reason on the available data. So it’s really just another way of saying “creativity” or “imagination”…and sometimes it’s the only soldier that can complete the mission, which is what everyone always gets wrong, really. The Sokal Hoax didn’t work because Sokal was so good at mimicking litcrit-talk, nor because there’s so little to it that he didn’t need to be any good at mimicking it…but it worked because the editors of Social Text(e) were good enough at their jobs to be able to encode his submission successfully, yet not quite good enough to spot the fact that the subsequent meanings weren’t worth the effort taken to encode them in the first place. I read that one myself, you know, and thought it started off promisingly…but then by the middle of it I was thinking “oh, this is just garbage, the author isn’t really trying to figure anything out.” Understand, no one really ever expects to be handed a fascinating conclusion about the world by postmodern criticism; it just doesn’t work that way. What you’re looking for instead is a way of tolerating the analysis, which although I know it doesn’t sound like much is actually a very good thing, is in postmodern terms tantamount to a “discovery”…and maybe you can’t use the discovery for anything much in the world of Things, but in the world of Ideas it’s just like having a hammer that creates nails to hit, where to all appearances there weren’t any nails before. We’ll have a tutorial on how to do this wrong in a future post — a tutorial on how to do it right would probably not be very effective — or convincing! — but for now suffice it to say that every analysis successfully tolerated makes possible a new analysis later on, the thought of which was not possible to entertain previously. And there you go, that’s basically the secret…

Pretty boring, huh?

Must be time, then, to…

Bury the lead! Since Ideas and Things are confused all the time in the Marvel Universe too, and quite fittingly so since the place isn’t real, therefore in the MU you can naturally catch more flies with vinegar than with honey, carts are usually to be found in front of horses, and “man bites dog” is not really all that much of a news story because if the man is acting like a dog who’s to say the dog isn’t acting like a man, for if the only “acting” going on in that idea is being done by the biting then shouldn’t we consider that the predicate always secretly conditions the subject…? And “mutant energy” is a thing, so therefore because it’s a thing it’s really an idea, and being an idea it has no thingness but what “being a thing” gives to it…and I am just going to propose that we can actually make it work fine if we merely suppose that although Pym Field energy can’t be stored, it can still be used

…And that “mutant energy” uses it!

Ah, but for what.

Well…

There’s a theory out there, that life is just entropy in action. Suppose you have a planet like a ball of ice, a high-albedo surface; light falls onto it, and then bounces right back off, and that’s a very orderly state of affairs. But then suppose the planet is not all ice, and there is some darker surface…an ocean, perhaps, and so while some of the light bounces away some other part of it is kept, and the ocean gets a tiny bit warmer. Suppose then you’ve got an atmosphere on this planet, that solar heat can drive around as wind…suppose you have land-masses that change the depth of the ocean in places, creating gyres and currents. All this is entropy in action: the flow of energy gets changed, and if you will its “gradient” gets changed. Energy that might’ve flowed cleanly from place to place, falling straight down upon the surface and then rising straight up off it again, begins to be smeared out horizontally, curling around the globe, turned into something else. The gradient gets less steep; perfect orderliness loses its grip to heat-equilibrium. And then a new balance is reached, and things settle down. The planet’s surface is absorbing and changing all the light from its sun that it can.

Until life comes along, and makes the planet’s surface more convoluted. More fuzzy? More fractally-interesting at the edges? Energy gets tied up in living organisms for years, and tied up in populations of organisms for billions of years. More organisms come along a couple billion years later, and tie yet more up. Organisms that use energy more intensively, organisms that support more complex behaviours…eventually, more intelligent life, that creates more energy usage still. And the gradient gets less steep all the time, as less and less solar energy returns to space…as it turns into habitats: for plants, for insects, for fish and birds, for reptiles and amphibians, for mammals…

…For us, finally, and then we build cities and farm belts and highways and rocketships, and the gradient gets as shallow as perhaps it even can, so you see entropy isn’t the enemy, right? Or if it is, then we’ve met it, and it’s us. It isn’t even that we owe our lives to it! But we are it…

And mutation in the Marvel Universe, possibly, could be understood in much the same way. Sunshine made your house, but your house isn’t made of sunshine; what the sun sends down gets converted into other stuff. The hydroelectric dam miles away runs on gravity, but your microwave and television run on the electricity produced by the dam…if the dam bursts, you can’t get them to run on gravity directly. And you can’t catch gravity, obviously…heck, you can’t even catch sunlight. But you have to wait for them to transfer part of their energy into something you can catch.

So Henry Pym’s size-changing powers run on straight sunshine, pure gravity, in this example; he’s like the ocean gyres or the rushing river, or the wind or the rain. Sauron couldn’t snack on him any more than I could take gas out of my generator and pour it on my radio and expect to get the late night jazz show. The Fantastic Four’s bodies have been physically changed to do weird things they could never do before, as has Bruce Banner’s, as has Peter Parker’s…cosmic rays or gamma radiation or souped-up spider DNA, it all took an organism that simply could not do a certain thing, and altered it radically at a stroke to make the impossible actual. As for a human population that’s been deliberately altered at the genetic level to throw off absolutely novel physiology in each individual…well, that’s the Inhumans, and I bet Sauron couldn’t snack on them either. But the mutants are clearly different: naturally-occurring, yet physiologically-patterned, and it isn’t the Pym flux that makes their cells do funny things cells usually don’t do…however, even if Cyclops’ optic blasts are powered by sunlight, and even if he has cells that make some weird compound that’s sort of like Vitamin D but which creates massive dumping of exotic particles into his optic nerve, still those cells are doing something that ordinary cells simply cannot do, and so they’ve been changed somehow at a molecular level to make them capable of it, and so what did the changing? What’s the name of the thing, that’s the product of Cyclops’ skin cells interacting with sunlight, which then finds its way to the optic nerve…and how do those skin cells do what they do? What’s the stuff in…I dunno, in Magneto’s stomach or something, that helps him turn a steak dinner into “mastery of magnetism”? It isn’t just that he can do it; it’s that he does do it that’s the weird thing. Yes, his body built itself weirdly from the beginning, coalescing around a quirk…and his every cell now contains that quirk, so the weirdness of his body is self-perpetuating, ubiquitous, “natural”…but what makes the quirk so goddamn quirky, you know? The cells gather and dump energy, changing themselves to do so, and then changing back…but what gives them the capacity to change in the first place? Why are their molecules so jazzy, while ours aren’t?

One imagines that the answer could even lie in the “quirk” itself…channelling Jack Williamson here, I imagine that maybe the weird twist in the DNA could be just unusual enough, to serve as an antenna for Pym flux all on its lonesome. These things are all chemical, molecular, physical in nature after all…maybe it is just some sort of, er, diffraction grating, of a kind, that absorbs the Pym particles, perhaps just a very little bit, but all over the body and in every cubic centimeter. This energy-absorption, then, would never go away; as a physical feature of the mutant body, no mutant inhibitor or pterodactyl vampire could stop it from having the simple nature of an object that it does. But, if the quirk could be thought of as an antenna then it could be expected to produce current…and this current would then be, we surmise, the very “mutant energy” itself, that enables cells to “emit fields”, and “shed radiation”, or flip into metallic states, or indeed absorb solar energy or turn cows into magnetism. There must be a great deal of mediation going on in the body of your average superpowered mutant, you have to figure! An ordinary human being’s body is terrifically looney in terms of the complexity of its coordinated actions, and the mutants have all that and more…so how much easier it would be to speak of it all, if there were simply an “energy” that made it all go! A global coordinating system, the broadcast of cells each to the other, about how and when to turn the magnetism-mastery on! Otherwise we would probably have to stipulate the existence of different organs, or something, a crassly material business full of egotistical assumptions of sense, instead of just giving the existing organs some interesting secondary tasks, and secondary capabilities. The idea of it being “mutation” at all, would probably fail as soon as it all starts looking so complex as to have to be evolution itself…so that the “quirk” sponsors an energetic output, on top of a difference in physiological structure, is perhaps a necessary assumption for us to make…

So that little quirk, I suppose you could call it “the X-Gene” if you really wanted to…

…But then how elusive it must be, if every mutant has the quirk in a different spot! “X-Gene” becomes a bit of postmodern twaddle, then, instead of a scientific term. Any gene could be the one that’s all X-ed up, because the only thing that matters is whether or not that kink, that quirk, can be a serviceable Pym antenna. Which is hardly to say that the X-Gene is simply, or even primarily, a “superpower-maker”…because, well, then why wouldn’t every mutant simply command “mutant energy” directly, all simply having the power of “mutant energy emission”? And besides, how much energy can we imagine there really is in “mutant energy”, before we have to wonder why Cyclops needs the Sun at all?

Remember, we are just kind of making up the idea of “mutant energy” as a Thing!

So therefore, naturally, in the fictional MU it immediately becomes provably substantial as soon as it’s mentioned. Every Idea becomes a Thing in this postmodernist’s paradise, and following from that we do end up having to wonder why Cyclops needs the Sun, and so I’d submit that when you get “mutant energy emission” as a special superpower of its own one-and-single kind, then it could very well be pretty darn weird stuff…but you won’t often get it. Sauron’s an interesting case, then, for showing how untenable a power-set centred solely on “mutant energy” is; he has to be awfully predatory to keep even something like glorified hypnosis and a big head going on for himself, you know? Making Sauron, in terms of entropy and evolution, quite the dinosaur really, if you think about it. Hmm, though I suppose if you wanted to you could capture a bunch of mutants, put them in “mutant energy siphon tanks” or something…you might be able to do something a bit more aggressive with the stuff then…

But you’d probably have to be a bit nutty to try it?

So…”X-Gene”, that’s probably not a real good name for the quirk, which after all is not a Thing either but just a kind of pattern that a thing can have…and how much study would it take, how driven or brilliant or brillant-and-driven would you have to be, to try and somehow figure out just what that pattern is? Of course once you found it you’d still be nowhere until you could figure out how it gets made, right? How does it get made, what specifically has to happen to a gene, to make it into enough of a Pym antenna to activate the energy-manipulating potential of “Kirby atoms”? In the absence of some dramatic macro-scale structure-altering blast of radiation, what actual process is it, that turns genetic damage in a parent, that doesn’t affect them noticeably at all, in any location on the DNA molecule…

…Into superpowers and “mutant energy”?

Especially since the two can be successfully peeled apart from one another. Inside a fictional universe, Analysis is King, and if you can only attain the correct level of analysis you can control the stuff you’re analyzing, as predicate conditions subject…so the weird Vitamin D is still produced by Scott Summers’ skin cells, lent by Pym flux the ability to do freaky biophysics without a licence, and it still finds its way to the optic nerve and it still is fully prepared to do that funny thing with the specific molecules there, that produces just “optic blasts” and nothing else…and nothing can really change this without completely reversing the history of Scott’s metabolism, and Sauron can’t eat “optic blasts”, so what exactly is it that occurs between them? Something must be depleted in Cyclops’ cells by Sauron, rather as it used to get depleted when he’d “use up” his optic blasts back in the 1960s…and if Ideas were Things we could imagine that what gets depleted is the context of his unique physiological structure. Chemical compounds that in decomposing to simpler compounds would normally release “optic blasts”, now decompose without releasing optic blasts, and Sauron feasts on the lost energy…but once again the question is how.

How does he get hold of the energy? How does he turn it into something he can eat, instead of just “optic blast” stuff which he can’t?

From a postmodern perspective, one way suggests itself immediately: Sauron is surrounded by a field of energy that acts as a sort of external adaptor for the physiology of other mutants — Cyclops’ metabolic processes, once inside that field, become a subordinate part of Sauron’s metabolic processes. In a way, Sauron becomes Cyclops…or, rather, makes Cyclops become him. Then again, who’s the dog and who’s the man, once the “biting” begins? Postmodernism is always trying to go “larger”, to explode existing contexts and go right around obstacles by embedding them… so “mutant energy”, without Sauron around, may well not exist at all, because he makes it by taking it! By “becoming” Cyclops, he makes himself the mutant who expresses superpowers…embeds the clause of Cyclops’ powers in the sentence of his own, embeds Cyclops’ self-sufficient point in his own larger argument of selfhood…and thus Scott’s so-interesting energetic cells return for all practical purposes to the ordinary state of our own non-Kirbyized protons and electrons and neutrons, and atoms and molecules and compounds. Inert, as their specialness — their meaning! — is depleted by the anti-evolutionary dinosaur vampire, so it can be used to fuel his own specialness/meaning instead.

Not that there isn’t any other way of looking at this, because there is…but the other ways are a bit more fanciful than this one (!), and besides it reminds me of something else in the MU that I mentioned earlier, and wanted to get back to. Because in just such a way as Sauron, only on a grander scale, is how I imagine Galactus’ little Ultimate Nullifier poison-dispensing ring working, you know? For what is the “ultimate nullification”, but suicide? Hey, that’s Eng 100, right there…

So Galactus is sustained by Cosmic Energy, and therefore can’t be killed. Possibly he could starve, but then again that’s why he feeds on planets, right? We could starve just as easily as Galactus, but for the most part we don’t, if we can possibly lay our hands on any food. And hardly any of us, in a fit of profound depression, decide to kill ourselves by starving to death. We would use a gun, we would use poison, we would throw ourselves off a cliff! But, Galactus can’t do any of these things…Galactus is too omnipotent for that. A gun won’t work, and neither will a knife. Poison won’t work.

What would work?

Reed Richards holds the Ultimate Nullifier in his hands, and Galactus exclaims that such a primitive, in possession of such a device, could wipe out an entire solar system. This sort of contradicts the What If? wherein Korvac Ascended demonstrates the UN’s power to annihilate all its wielder can fully understand…I mean, Reed is a pretty smart guy for a human but if that’s how the UN works he’d only be able to do away with most of New York, parts of the Sahara Desert, the Gulf Stream, potentially big chunks of the Moon, certain viruses, a handful of folk songs…for heaven’s sake, probably only about 50% of his own inventions would disappear, right?

So that doesn’t make sense, really…and so here’s what I propose as a correction, using Sauron as my guide. The Ultimate Nullifier is Galactus’ tiny little suicide machine, because at a low setting it will turn all the atoms in an area roughly equivalent to the area of his Taa-Ship cosmically inert…essentially, turn all the protons and neutrons and electrons that fluctuate so interestingly in the MU, into protons and electrons and neutrons that behave as they appear to behave in our own real world. And so no Cosmic Energy anymore, and so no Galactus. I suppose if the UN effect only covered the size of Galactus’ body, or of a planet, then if he hit the switch and then instantly regretted it, he could just reach over to his nightstand and grab a big lump of Cosmic Energy from his reading lamp? Or reach out further still, and draw it from his kitchen stove, or his washer-dryer down in the laundry room, or even from his car out in the driveway. Or, potentially, with the fear of death in him he could reach out farther still, yea even unto the lamppost on the street. So the lowest setting of the Ultimate Nullifier, the one the Watcher instructs Reed Richards to set it to, is probably the one that covers an area about the size of the Earth-Moon system…and Galactus is away from his Taa-Ship, only has that Expeditionary Orb of his, so that would about do it…if he were super-starving hungry that would probably do it, but he’s actually not at extremity right now so he might well survive…or he might not, but the real problem for him in this scenario is that if Reed Richards killed the Earth and he killed Galactus, then that would be no more than what Galactus was going to do to the Earth anyway, plus taking away from Galactus his own ability to use his own damn suicide-machine in his own good time…and if he killed the Earth and not Galactus, then it’d be no more than would’ve happened to the Earth anyway, except Galactus would’ve been robbed of a dinner and then really might get super-starving, and even more horrifying than that…

The Ultimate Nullifier would be stolen from him in a much more serious sense than even if it had been used to kill him, because he’d still be alive but it would be gone. Used up, in its first activation…as of course it would have to be, since the thing Galactus uses to kill himself, he’s not going to leave lying around afterwards for some kid to stumble on and think “gee, I wonder what this does…?”

And so that, Bloggers, is a neat-and-tidy three-way bind…except then also, what if Galactus tries to bluff his way through it, and then the Watcher instructs Reed Richards to move the lever up to the next setting…?

There’s a bit more to it, of course — there’s some stuff about how the device might “become” the character of cosmic energy in space and time that it apparently wipes out, and how this is the workaround that allows it to perform a technically-forbidden function — but that’s basically how I see the Ultimate Nullifier operating. In fact I bet that lever’s settings are on a logarithmic scale, eh? And to turn it all the way to the top setting is to encompass the entire universe in the UN effect, but perhaps a creature so small as Reed Richards couldn’t turn it that high anyway…perhaps Galactus imagines a situation in which he is temporarily incapacitated and wants to commit suicide, and so must get his Herald to operate the UN — that’s why its size is set, as a default, to the scale of a “normal” humanoid entity — funny how many of those there are! — but in that eventuality he would not want his Herald to accidentally wipe out the universe entire, so the UN is also an intelligence-tester, a cosmic-awareness tester, and if you’re not a Cosmic Being you are not going to be able to wipe out anything much bigger than a solar system…because that’s about as big as the Taa-Ship is, and the lamppost across the street from it too, and if you want to wipe out anything bigger you must have a bigger understanding. Therefore Galactus, who obviously was the one who created the Ultimate Nullifier in the first place, and named it too, if he imagined having to get his Herald to activate it because he was temporarily incapacitated, also perhaps thought that if he was temporaily incapacitated he would not be able to reach out any further than the lamppost on the corner, and so “solar system-size” is about right, so that’s the reason that exchange went down the way it did…

But…

Back to “mutant energy”. For all the world, it makes it look like Roy Thomas’ addition to the Kirby Blueprint was the work of a flibbertigibbet, but you see he may not have thought it through, but that doesn’t mean he got it wrong. Because he was not too far removed from the set of influences Jack Kirby drew upon in his role as Principal Author, therefore even if he missed hitting the gold he at least landed in the straw. Some elements of the influence-set were different, of course: where Jack loved Bulfinch, Roy loved Wagner, and where Jack was a near-contemporary of Superman’s, playing in that same sandbox that Superman came out of, Roy was playing in the subsequent sandbox that Superman made… and Roy had a certain nostagia for the pulps that Jack would not have precisely shared, and also Roy (I would guess) felt himself to be a near-contemporary of Marvel Comics, and playing in that sandbox…which probably to Jack didn’t really even seem like a “sandbox” at all, but just something he was working on. Actually there is something to say here, too, about the emanuenses (ha) that came after Roy Thomas too…Gerber with his L’Etranger on the bedside table, and his fellow-feeling with Sheckley and PKD…Englehart with his Zelaznyesque importation of noir to fantasy…yet Gerber’s first imaginative love was always Superman, which is probably why he blended Camus with it, and Englehart was more than happy to take Roy’s collaboration with Harlan Ellison and grab the good from it and run with it…

…In what I think we could comfortably call a “Marvel-like” direction, but though there may be much more to say about that I won’t say it here, because all I’m trying to say here is that Roy’s “mutant energy” seems absolutely mad, but as it turns out we can make it play the part of a good puzzle-piece after all…though that’s even madder, possibly, we still may do it. Because the stuff Sauron feeds on is the same stuff Claremont’s “mutant inhibitors” work on, and indeed from a Lit Crit standpoint it is the same principle at work in both cases: Claremont had no choice in his own conception, I believe, but to follow Roy as much as Englehart and Gerber did. Heck, he also reinstantiates the “physical” nature of non-physical powers that Ditko approved — and harks back to Magneto’s “astral form” in the process! — on or about the date of Uncanny #150, wherein Professor X’s telepathy is fucked with by Magneto making distortions in the Earth’s magnetic field. But, long before that…

Englehart did him one better. The “chemical cause”, remember? That mutates even a mutant, into the mutant he or she might’ve been, could’ve been, the Evolvo-Ray would say “would’ve” been…! And maybe it recalls the whole “heritable mutantness” thing, just a bit? Now there would be le vrai postmodernism, honestly, and weirder-than-weird it is all John Byrne’s fault…Magneto has two children and they each have a different superpower from each other, and a different superpower from him. If I were actually a full-on Social Text(e) guy, I would here dare to make the argument that super-speed and “hex power” and mastery of magnetism are all like the three points of a triangle, exactly as unlike one another in quality as they can possibly be without actually being unconnected from one another…more unlike one another, in fact, than any unconnected set of powers could be! But to be a really good encoder one must be absolutely paradoxical, you know, and I can’t quite summon up the energy for that. “The super-suit is the real nakedness, more naked even than nudity”, etc. etc…“what could be more unlike the manipulation of magnetic fields, that the pure amplification of athletic physique…and what could be more unlike either of them than a power called accident…” No, no…I’d rather say they had different powers because Magda was a mutant too, you know? And because when weird genetics meets weird genetics the recessives and the dominants are unknown…

Though, come to think of it, Byrne screwed that up too, didn’t he? As the child of the mutant Pietro Maximoff and the Inhuman princess Crystal Amaquelin was somehow born a baseline human? Whose various superhuman amplitudes somehow “cancelled each other out”…

WELL!

I guess it’s possible, since it happened. And actually we’ll totally return to this “cancelling-out” thing over at Nate’s place…and what is with modern Marvel writers wilfully refusing to acknowledge that the Terrigen Mists can’t possibly work as they’ve been said to? Even Gerry Conway, Mr. “The Rocket Didn’t Go Anywhere Because It Didn’t Have Anything To Push Against”, managed to get that right…

But I guess in a fictional universe, sometimes it takes a non-science guy to make the science scan plausibly. Right? Because not only are these Ideas all Things, but none of these Things are anything more than Ideas…

…And so finally Henry Pym is overwhelmed by the “microbes” in his blood, and Hank McCoy has a glimmer of an idea about a solution. It all goes back to the “chemical cause”, naturally…the quirk that Kirbifies atoms. When the Beast took this serum into his own body, it mutated him “further” into what comics fans now are pleased to call his “ape-form”…which is kinda crazy, right, because the form he had in Uncanny #1, that was clearly his “ape-form”, and it’s just what he mutated out of. Right? And to me, it seems he started out his new life in Amazing Adventures more a bit as a wolf-man — though why we think we know what those look like I don’t know — I mean, doesn’t he actually look quite a bit more like a furry gargoyle? — but whatever he seemed to look like it didn’t matter, because just like Sauron his new form made narrative and graphical sense, even if it never was anything we’ve ever seen at all…hmm, unless we saw it in the pages of the Hulk? Hank starts out roughly human and then turns grey, and then jet-black, and then bright blue…first he heals instantly from every injury in a way that would make Wolverine sweat with suppressed jealousy, then he takes a bit longer, then he doesn’t do it at all…

But it all meets up at the corner of Doctor and Moreau anyway, so it’s fine, right? The pattern is beyond the reach of the weaver, but he weaves into it anyway…the dyer doesn’t know how the cloth will take the ink, but she makes her best guess, because even if she’s mostly wrong it’s still better than taking no guess at all…

…And thus the McCoy Formula creates an abstraction of mutant chemistry as effectively as Sauron creates an abstraction of mutant energy: the super-suit more naked than nudity, eh? Like the Fantastic Four, you become more fully what you already are, and it might look weird! But the Evolvo-Ray probably thinks it looks fabulous, since “enhanced identity” is what it’s always been about — because that’s what Kirbyfied atoms do, of course: they bootstrap reactions, let the organism encode its own structure on an atomic level, and truly allow Ideas to become Things. And you don’t need special atoms to magnify identity in a superhero comic, as we can readily see by reading any Batman or Green Lantern story…but inasmuch as Marvel was a reaction to DC, all its fantastic elements come with justifications, and behind each justification lies a philosophical principle dear to the heart of its Principal Author: not just invention, but reinvention. And it isn’t that Bruce Wayne doesn’t reinvent himself, it isn’t that a critical moment doesn’t fall on Hal Jordan’s head out of a clear blue sky…but those things just sort of happen, rather than being caused, and that’s the magic ingredient.

Huh, “magic ingredient”…

It’s why we can make it make sense, you see…it’s why it’s even possible to talk about “the physics of the Marvel Universe” and keep a straight face, as I intend to do AT SOME LENGTH very soon on someone else’s blog…and it’s what makes attractive maybe-maybe-not suppositions possible, that are somehow in the spirit of the thing…

Which would be impossible if there wasn’t a “spirit of the thing”, for them to be in?

One of these suppositions is my own, and some of you may have heard this one before: that Abraham Erskine won his Nobel Prize for the invention of “synthetic cells”…and that way back in the mid-Thirties he absolutely demolished a young punk named Phineas Horton in a public debate about whether or not these cells might be capable of some peculiar energy-manipulation properties, if they were arranged in just the right way. Well! Erskine had meant them for medical research, not for some sort of degraded scientifiction you might find in the pulps!

He was affronted!

So he shut the little punk down, only later developing some regrets about that…as he realized there might just be something to the supposition after all…

But then of course he “died”…

…And then we had the original Human Torch, which should’ve saved Horton’s reputation, but then didn’t.

I don’t know, I just like to think about it sometimes. How could Horton have built the Torch? No computers, no known structure of DNA to work with…and wires are just made out of plain old metal, you know, so how could he make them “come to life”? But if he had those Erskine Cells, maybe he could’ve done something unusual (postmodern?) with them…and maybe this explains why years later Bolivar Trask, noted anthropologist, is able to build the Master Mold and the Sentinels. Because with Erskine Cells, anyone can be a cyberneticist…you just shovel a couple dozen pounds of ’em into your standard robot skull, presto there’s your scary world-dominating artificial intelligence…

Easy!

If you don’t know what you’re doing.

And that brings us back to mutants, since mutants are what Sentinels were made to protect humanity from…and, wouldn’t it be funny if the thing that made the Sentinels work, was the same sort of thing that made mutants in the first place? Even if Magneto and Professor X must argue forever about it, since neither one of them can ever be completely in the right. It is all just about humans with genetic damage, of course…yet at the same time it’s about some sort of weird implicate order expressing itself through an ever-more rapid accumulation of superpowered mutations…

Even if Magneto can’t say where he thinks the implicate order comes from, but so — aha! — we are back to the Two Hanks, where we’ll conclude. Looking at Henry Pym, you could argue that there’s an implicate order out there which is throwing recurring forms at him…”women who look like Janet Van Dyne” might be a candidate in that category…and maybe it’s because as he’s taking advantage of a 5D flexion in the universe, he’s also flexing it more?

Maybe it’s even trying to communicate with him, somehow?

But if it is trying to communicate with him, than it’s in a race against time…because from the moment he starts to use his gases and his pills, he starts to change, and so starts to die…

Until Henry McCoy comes along, with his “chemical cause”, which he tweaks and tweaks and finally gets into a condition where it might save those unlucky people named the Pyms. Or…

Maybe it isn’t a matter of getting the right tweak?

Because maybe it’s just a matter of getting the right quirk.

Well.

THAT took a long time, didn’t it? My family and friends think I’ve been hard at work on, y’know, work, but secretly I’ve been writing this ridiculously long walk for a cup of coffee instead. Meanwhile the bills are piling up, and the cupboard’s getting bare, and I’m not even finished yet, because I lied back there when I said the preamble was over, and this whole great long lumpy thing was all just set-up for the really pointless exercise, which as I believe I’ve mentioned several times now will be going on over at Nate’s place in just a little while, to be modestly entitled:

“How Would You Fix…AVENGERS FOREVER?”

So, what I’m saying is…

…Make sure to tune out for that one, you know?

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16 responses to “Principia Comicbookia, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Principia Comicbookia, Part 1 | A Trout In The Milk·

  2. Pingback: Linkblogging For 03/07/13 | Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!·

  3. If, as Byrne suggested, Pietro and Crystal’s superhuman amplitude “cancelled each other out”, then why did so-called genius geneticists like Trask, Lang, Moreau, etc. continue with the futile exercise of wasting such huge resources creating giant robot-hunting Sentinels when they could have instead applied their knowledge to the breeding of more beautiful Inhumans to seduce and marry mutants to ensure the offspring would end up baseline, at least preventing the birth of mutant children by mutant parents?

  4. Pingback: Principia Comicbookia, Part 3 | A Trout In The Milk·

  5. Ha, because you can’t breed “more beautiful” Inhumans!

    You can’t breed “more anything” Inhumans!

    It’s impossible!

      • Ah! Another dropped stitch!

        Atillanians have a sort of “normal” form, you’re suggesting? Before they go into the Terrigen Mists?

        Me, personally…I don’t believe it.

  6. Who’s Tuk the Caveboy? Are you suggesting that the “natural” state of the Inhumans is the Alpha Primitives?

    Because that would be…very interesting…

    …HOLY SHIT!

    • Not quite! Tuk the Caveboy debuted in Captain America Comics #1, March 1941 (by Kirby no less).

      The very first line of his story reads: “Ak, the last of the shaggy ones, call him Tuk, but the boy didn’t realise that ‘Tuk’ meant ‘Avenger’ and that he was destined to roam the prehistoric wilds of 50,000BC in search of ‘Attilan’, island of the gods, to reclaim a lost throne…”

      Kirby obviously intended him to be what the Inhumans evolved from (before being exposed to the Terrigen Mists). Tuk didn’t have Terrigen powers, but was stronger than normal humans and long-lived, suggesting it was his tribe the Kree experimented on who went on to make Attilan their home.

    • I know something;)

      So the Mists are only what gave them their powers, some ending up like Wildcard “Aces”, like Black Bolt and Crystal (i.e. primarily energy based with no change to physical appearance except her hair-band), and others “Jokers” with the power + alteration to their physical appearance like Medusa, Gorgon, etc.

      So see, you can breed beautiful Inhumans, provided you don’t expose them to the Mists and risk a change.

      So back to my point, beautiful Inhuman breeding programme to seduce mutants and voila, no need for Sentinel programme!

      • I know something too…

        The idea that the Mists give the Inhumans their powers and different forms, is not borne out by the publishing record!

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