8 Reasons Why No One in Comic Books Should Ever Confront, Talk to, or Make Eye Contact with a University Professor in Any Way
1. They don’t react well to news about funding cuts.
Read superhero comics for a couple of years, and you can’t help but notice a few truths about certain professions. All archaeology professors, for instance, are just one dig away from finding an ancient artifact of incredible power, just as every scientist entering the radiation research field might as well wear Spandex under their lab coats to get used to the feel. Another life lesson gleaned from the comics: all university professors are, for lack of a better word, evil. As such, you definitely don’t want to mess with their department budgets. Take one Dr. Edward Lansky, a physics professor and vice-chancellor at Peter Parker’s school who was so angry about state budget cuts affecting his department that he created a special suit that made him a master of light manipulation, and then hired two other super-villains to help him kidnap the government bureaucrats who authorized the cuts. And no, in case you were wondering, it never donned on him to quit his job, patent the suit, become a millionaire and just write a damn cheque to his alma mater. We’re dealing with book smarts here, not street smarts.
2. They develop extremely unhealthy attachments to their students.
So, all those policies that real-life schools enforce to prohibit intimate relationships between students and faculty members? There’s a reason why they’re put in place. And while it’s highly unlikely these policies were specifically inspired by the actions of Prof. Miles Warren, he’s certainly a shining example of what can happen if professors are left free to fall in love with their students. In Warren’s case, it means secretly falling in love with Gwen Stacy, blaming Spider-Man for her untimely death, using an experimental cloning technique to bring her back, murdering a colleague who finds out, creating a separate persona and wearing a grotesque mask to avoid accepting responsibility for his insane actions, and then creating another clone of Spider-Man to destroy the wall-crawler. And trust me when I say that that’s the part of his involvement in Spider-Man’s career that makes sense.
3. They tend to see their students as nothing more than Guinea pigs for their nefarious research.
Dr. Jonathan Crane was a respected, if shabbily dressed, member of the academic community who turned his childhood obsession with fear into a nice gig as a professor of psychology at Gotham University. The kids may have thought he was a little intense at times, but he was one of the country’s top experts in fear research, so it’s understandable if the administration overlooked some of his eccentricities. That all changed when word got out that he was using his students in experiments that subjected them to their greatest fears… and then there was that one time he fired a gun in a lecture hall full of students simply to illustrate a point. Academic freedom aside, scaring the bejeezus out of undergrads is not the kind of thing deans tend to forgive, so it was really only a matter of time before Crane was set loose to freelance, donning his Scarecrow costume and conducting his fear experiments on Gotham’s citizenry free of interfering faculty committees.
4. They have an amazing ability to create almost anything out of stuff lying around their labs… especially evil stuff.
The majority of the examples on this list come from Spider-Man stories, and there’s a good reason for that: to date, a huge chunk of Peter Parker’s superhero career has taken place during his college years, and it only makes sense that he would tangle with super-villains that travel within the same social circles. And even when the super-villains take time off from terrorizing students, you can always count on a professor with a secret project or forbidden experiment to liven things up. The truly amazing thing about these moonlighting malefactors is that they have this inexplicable ability to create potions and contraptions of unimaginable power right under everyone’s noses, never having to answer to anyone about the lab space and equipment they commandeer for their eeeeeeee-vil schemes. Professor Warren and his ability to keep his on-campus cloning activities under wraps is just one example; another is Dr. Max Lubisch, whom Peter Parker met when assisting him on his mysterious extra-dimensional energy source project. When the machine started up, it overloaded the electrical grid and Peter’s spider-sense went off in time to push Lubisch out of the path of an incoming energy blast, only to catch the brunt of it himself. What followed was one of Spider-Man’s sillier storylines from the late ’80s (he goes super-cosmic and develops all kinds of new powers, natch), and it’s understandable that Peter was too preoccupied with his new powers to go back and ask Lubisch just how, exactly, a college professor obtains the means to get into the extra-dimensional energy source research business in the first place.
5. They have few ethical qualms about using criminal means to achieve their goals.
At times, you have to wonder if comic book writers are using their positions of power (well, “power”) to thumb their noses at the highbrow, hoity-toity types (like college professors) who tend to dismiss comics as a lesser form of literature. If so, it would certainly help explain how educated types in the comics are inevitably portrayed as pompous, authoritarian or a little too eager to enlist the criminal element in their schemes. As we learn in an issue of Marvel Team-Up from the ’80s, Professor Anthony Power started out as a teacher, historian and White House advisor, but he lost faith in the American system when his son came home catatonic from the Vietnam War. Power became convinced that American universities and political leaders were instilling apathy and cowardice in the populace, and he decided that world peace could only be achieved if one nation, led by one person, dominated the Earth. And since he didn’t see anyone else qualified to step up to the plate, Professor Power (convenient name, that) humbly nominated himself. Along the way, he started a secret society, picked up a nifty robotic exoskeleton suit and used a machine to transfer his consciousness into his son’s body… which is five ways to creepy, no matter how you try to sell that to the masses.
6. They’re, um, overly enthusiastic about their fields of study.
One thing you can count on when dealing with comic-book professors: good or evil, they’re very interested in whatever they’re studying, often to the point that they’re not quite all there. Case in point: Buck Mitty, senior entomology professor at Empire State University who turned to crime after his research funding was cut off (someone at ESU has got to do something about their hiring policies). Adopting his “Humbug” nom de plume and using insect-inspired weaponry to steal what he needed to continue his work, he surrendered to authorities when Spider-Man threatened to smash a jar full of cockroaches — an act of “insecticide” that Mitty couldn’t allow to happen. Even before his criminal career, he had a reputation among colleagues as a nutcase with crazy theories about communicating with insects. That’s life in the Marvel Universe, folks: one guy talking to bugs is a charter member of the Avengers, while another guy talking to bugs gets laughed at over coffee in the faculty lounge.
7. They have this odd tendency to turn old co-workers and ex-assistants into revenge-obsessed stalkers.
Heck, it’s not even the villainous professors you have to watch out for — even the good guys can be dangerous, in the sense that standing next to them can be hazardous to your health. Dr. Martin Stein — the cerebral half of Firestorm the Nuclear Man — was one of those scientists common in the comic-book universe, moving freely between private and academic posts as the plot allowed. Somewhere between winning a Nobel Prize and teaching a college physics class, he gained enemies in a former lab assistant who accused him of stealing his work (and went on to develop super-powers and target him for revenge) and a former student who didn’t react well when he rebuffed her romantic advances (and went on to develop super-powers and target him for revenge). And if that weren’t enough, his ex-wife (who didn’t get super powers, more’s the pity) turned out to be part of a secret cabal hellbent on ruling the U.S. by the year 2000 (insert your own “Bush/Cheney” joke here). After all that, a brain tumor and accidental exile in deep space probably felt like a vacation for the poor guy.
8. They’re just jerks.
Even when they’re not associating with criminals or building secret devices after class for nefarious purposes, professors in the comic-book universe are quite good at making life miserable for everyone else. Whether it’s adding academic pressure to a young superhero’s list of problems or shaking a fist at protesting students, you can always count on a professor to be the stifling voice of authority. But even outside class hours, they’re up to no good: take Philip Watson, father of Mary Jane Watson. As we learned in a 1987 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, the college professor and would-be novelist took his professional frustrations out on his wife and two daughters, verbally and physically abusing them to the point that a teenaged Mary Jane ran away to live with her aunt. But Phil, class act that he was, wasn’t done yet: after losing tenure and his job, he coerced his other daughter into stealing rare manuscripts from her university employer — items that he planned to sell to the highest bidder. She got caught before she could reveal where she stashed the loot, and so he asked Mary Jane to get the information from her sister; in return, he would be out of their lives forever and her sister would be set free for lack of evidence. Mary Jane agreed, but only so she could turn the tables on dear ol’ Dad and catch his confession on tape for the police. The act of turning her father in turned out to be great therapy for Miss Watson, who decided she was finally mature enough to accept Peter’s longstanding marriage proposal. So, happy news all around… unless Phillip had his hopes up about giving away the bride, because awkward.