Monday, December 6, 2010

Lamarck is dead.

My self-imposed mandate on this blog is clear - I post to mock. But I was reading DC Comics Presents issue 35, from July 1981, and I came across this.

DC Comics Presents was a series from the 80's which would team Superman up with assorted other DC super-heroes, a different one each issue. In a recent fit of nostalgia I downlo...uhhhhh...bought the entire run. This particular issue starred Superman and Man-Bat. Man-Bat was a Batman supporting character, a scientist named Kirk Langstrom who developed a serum to give humans bat-like sonar, because who wouldn't want bat-like sonar? He tested his experimental serum on himself, as all good comic-book scientists do, and turned into a monstrous man-bat hybrid (hence the name). He eventually gained control over his transformations and became a semi-active superhero; his wife Francine also took the serum and became She-Bat (which is a terrible name, but is slightly better than Woman-Bat and not as good as Girl-Bat). Kurt and Francine had a daughter, Rebecca, and this issue is about Kirk and Francine's attempts to cure the heightened hearing she inherited from them, which is keeping her from sleeping and will apparently soon kill her for some reason.

I love, love, love comic books, but there's not much use in denying that they are filled with the most horrible science, particularly silver-age DC comics. I recently read a collection of old Batgirl stories, and rediscovered a story in which Batman and Robin are tricked by a villain into an anti-gravity chamber, "the same sort of chamber the astronauts use to practice orbital flights in!" I read this story as a kid, and was utterly convinced that NASA had anti-gravity chambers, in which you could float around exactly as if you were in space. 

So what Superman said stuck out as unusual to me, because it's, you know, true. Acquired characteristics can't be inherited. This doesn't stop it from happening in comics all the time, though. The Flash has twins who have inherited his super-speed, even though he got his super-speed from being bathed in chemicals and lightning. The Icicle, a 1940's super-villain, had no powers at all but used a special gun to generate cold; his son somehow inherited ice-generating powers. (Neat trick - my dad worked the presses for The Boston Globe, but I have not inherited the power to shoot newspapers out of my mouth.)

Of course Kirk, in the next panel, acknowledges this, and then goes on to say something about how his serum fucked up his DNA - which is possible, I suppose, although I would think his daughter would more likely just have some horrible birth-defect because of his screwy genes, and not inherit something specifically, conveniently bat-related. Still, I thought Superman's comment was a nice nod to real world science, and it doesn't slow the story down or get in the way of all the necessary disbelief-suspending.

So good for you, Superman. Now please explain to me how the Earth's yellow sun and lighter gravity make your clothes invulnerable...

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