Armagideon Time

Silver Age Science Saturdays #4

November 23rd, 2013

(from “School for Super-Villains!” in Adventure Comics #372, cheapest September 1968; by Jim Shooter, Curt Swan & Jack Abel)

The above panel — which a young Andrew first encountered one of DC’s digest-sized reprint collections — was the direct inspiration for this feature. It beautifully epitomizes the funnybook realm’s approach to scientific subjects in that era, where authentic science facts were hilariously extrapolated into absurd plot devices.

Yet as dodgy and misunderstood as the mechanics behind Chemical King’s little parlor trick were, that scene did pique my younger self’s curiosity enough that I cracked open my family’s set of encyclopedias to do further research on the chemical process of oxidation.

I wish I could say that this led me to a lucrative career as a respected research chemist, but no. Lab work was too messy and smelly for my tastes. Still, it is a nice reminder that sometimes bad science can fuel an interest in the real deal.

Related posts:

  1. Silver Age Science Saturdays #25
  2. Silver Age Science Saturdays #7
  3. Silver Age Science Saturdays #9

5 Responses to “Silver Age Science Saturdays #4”

  1. Prankster

    That’s funny, I myself have been reading through the big black and white reprint volumes of the Legion and came across this story just this week.

    It seems like science had a certain cachet during the post-war years that even the hackiest of genre writers wanted to tap into. I miss that; as dorky as it can be, basing a plot twist on a real-world science fact tends to be weirdly satisfying, because it can be surprising without “cheating” in the conventional narrative sense.

    The one thing I’ve seen recently that makes use of this kind of science-based storytelling is, oddly enough, Breaking Bad. The early seasons are a cavalcade of True Chemistry Facts, right up to the episode where they have to jury-rig a homemade battery to get their RV started. Maybe between that and Gravity’s (generally) real-science-based story there’s a bit of a renaissance in Silver Age pop culture science getting started?

  2. Abberation, The

    The Legion always cracks me up.

    People like to complain about the unlikely prospect of an alien being of Kal-El’s abilities coincidentally looking exactly like the midwestern white people he fell into the midst of, or mutants in the Marvel U “evolving” an array of diverse yet spectacularly individual talents (exactly one mutant transforms into “organic steel,” one mutant phases through solid objects, etc.); I tell ‘em to check out any incarnation of the LSH, wherein 90% of life throughout the universe is Caucasian humanoid regardless of whether they eat granite, or generate intense heat, or sport a bodybuilder’s six-pack despite being fleshless energy, or beat opponents with their detached arm, or influence chemical reactions over a distance–and most of them express their weird power through their fingertips. Meanwhile I gotta wear gloves when I use a bathroom cleanser.

  3. bitterandrew

    Did you know they explained that — very imperfectly — in the post-Crisis DCU?

    In the aftermath of Invasion, the Hero Formerly Known as Mon-El supposedly helped groups of metagene test subjects from Earth colonize a number of worlds. Yeah, it really doesn’t work, but they tried.

  4. damanoid

    ‘ Meanwhile I gotta wear gloves when I use a bathroom cleanser.’

    Abberation! This must be your weird power! You are ultra-sensitive to cleansing reactions! This bears further investigation: you could very well be a “chemical empath,” able to absorb and transfer the effects of mildly acidic/alkaline solutions on organic matter! With a little training, you could use your ability of pH moderation/detection to battle super-crime! And it fits in perfectly with the fingertip-power theme, too! One glove could be blue, the other red! And your costume could have a big pH meter on the front! How Caucasian do you look?

    This is so exciting! Let’s see, what does ‘pH’ stand for anyway?… hmm, ‘power of Hydrogen!’ Originally ‘potenz’ in German… so you could be… The Potentate! Or maybe ‘Litmus Lad!’ With a handy science-fact for every adventure! Did you know that potatoes contain phosphoric acid? You’ll tell the kids that, as you deduce that the potato-based technology of the invading Oreidans is powered by such batteries, and nullify them accordingly!

  5. Abberation, The

    Hee! Sadly, I think Archie Comics would probably send a C&D letter to anyone who started talking about “the pH factor.” Hey, when am me gonna get a grim and gritty reboot of Pureheart the Powerful? With an elderly Reggie “Evilheart” Mantle crushing Archie’s face with a boot while monologuing about how he wants Archie to remember Reggie’s hand at his throat?

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