Daily Archives: September 16, 2010

And Just Try to Find a Decent Pair of Purple Pants, Like, Anywhere

12 Reasons Why It Would Suck to Live in the Marvel Universe

1. Five thousand super-powered beings. Seven billion people. You do the math.
Superhero comics are all about wish-fulfillment, which is why stories about super-strong dudes and empowered women overcoming their enemies tend to score highly among the meeker demographic groups. But while it’s fine to occasionally imagine how your life might have been different if, say, you went to the zoo and got bitten by a radioactive ocelot, only the most foolish person would wish to live full-time in the actual Marvel universe. Why? To start with, the odds are against you. There are somewhere around 5,000 characters listed in the Marvel catalogue and about seven billion people on Earth; that’s 1 super-being for every 1.4 million people (for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to round off our numbers and assume that 5,000 figure does not include supporting cast members or heroes/villains with merely above-average talents, but represents an accurate count of all beings with some kind of superhuman ability; we’re also going to assume the human population on Marvel-Earth is the same as it is here). That means if you were magically transplanted to Marvel-Earth as you are right now, you — the normal, average, everyday you — would be more likely to die in a fireworks explosion (odds: 1 in 1,000,000) or date a supermodel (odds: 1 in 88,000) than become a super-powered individual. So yeah, even if your wish to live on Marvel-Earth could magically come true, chances are you’ll spend your time there watching TV, eating Cheetos, and reading The Daily Bugle while commuting to the same boring job you have now, with the only difference being your train has a better chance of being delayed by an unscheduled slugfest.

2. Good at math? Top-notch baton twirler? Best linebacker on the team? Good for you. Now… run for your life!
In the original New Mutants series, there was a fellow, Doug Ramsey, who happened to be a mutant with the ability to instantly translate and comprehend any human or alien language. This turned out to be a singularly stupid ability for a junior-league X-Man to have (despite later attempts to extend his powers to the ability to ‘read’ an opponent’s body language and thus prepare an effective counter-move), and he was properly dispatched during one of Marvel’s more tedious crossover events. But his existence raises an interesting point: in the Marvel universe, where it’s established that mutants are hated and feared by the general populace, where do you draw the line between “really good at deciphering languages” and “possesses the MUTANT POWER to decipher languages”? Or take a more physical talent; let’s say you’re the fastest person on your track team because you are naturally blessed with a runner’s body, but someone starts the rumor you’re actually a mutant who’s cheating to get ahead. If super powers in the Marvel universe aren’t limited to the obvious eye beams and forearm claws, then how can anyone with any kind of genius or special ability feel safe knowing they won’t get hate-crimed just for being a little better at something? Answer: they can’t. (“But I’m not a mutant because the bald man with the big brain-scan machine says I’m not!” you may protest. Oh. Well, then. That should quiet the mob outside.)

3. You think insurance is expensive now? Just wait.
Has any Marvel writer created the definitive story of how the mere existence of super-beings has put insurance companies in the Marvel universe out of business? If so, I’d like to shake his/her hand for pointing out what should only be glaringly obvious to the rest of us. Insurance is, at heart, a business built on odds; you give your money to an insurance company every month, and they in turn take care of your expenses if anything bad ever happens. They make their profits by betting that most of us won’t die in a car accident or house fire, and by being exceedingly tight-fisted with our/their money when disasters do happen. They also don’t care if you, personally, are a very safe driver with a spotless record; all they care is that drivers in your age/gender group are prone to certain behaviors and adjust your rates accordingly. It ain’t fair, but life ain’t fair. Now, let’s say you’re an average person living in downtown Manhattan… annnnd you can see where I’m going with this. If there’s a way to do it, you can trust insurance companies to lump symbiote attacks and out-of-control genetic experiments in with uninsurable “acts of God” and not pay for the damages caused, but they’ll still find a way to jack up your insurance premiums because of all the increased risks out there. Also, insurance companies that lost billions of dollars after the 9/11 attacks here in the real world responded by pushing for — and getting — a law that stuck the U.S. government (i.e., taxpayers) with most of the insurance bill for future terrorist attacks. That was one incident. And you want to move to an Earth where 9/11 is known as “every other Tuesday”…?

4. It’s a good thing they have a bunch of armed vigilantes running around, because the criminal justice system will be pretty useless.
As if finding decent insurance rates wasn’t hard enough, imagine someone in the Marvel universe looking for help from the criminal justice system. He was brutally beaten by a vigilante and left hanging from a streetlight for the cops? Case dismissed. The perp claims the jewels were planted on him by some guy in a mask and we can’t find any witnesses to refute the charges? Case dismissed. The guy was wearing a hero’s trademark costume and trying to pin his crimes on the superhero and we have only a masked person’s testimony he had nothing to do with the thefts? Case dismissed. And even if a case does make it to trial, think of all the ways a really shrewd lawyer could plant doubt in a juror’s mind: “My client couldn’t possibly be guilty because he was mind-controlled by a mutant/impersonated by a shape-shifting Skrull/replaced by his other-dimensional evil twin.” (Kurt Busiek did a great story in an issue of Astro City about a lawyer who actually tried this line of defence.) Honestly, a few years of that kind of judicial logjamming and you’ll be praying for squads of Punisher wannabes to hit the streets.

5. The peace and security of your entire world is decided by a small, non-elected cabal of superhumans who are answerable to no one. Sleep tight, now.
Iron Man. Reed Richards. Professor Xavier. Black Bolt. Namor. Doctor Strange. Separately, they are the most powerful group of people in the Marvel universe. So when Iron Man invited them (along with Black Panther, who declined to join) to form a secret group that could share information and avert future threats, it probably sounded like a good idea at the time. But Black Panther’s words of warning at that first meeting weren’t that far out off the mark; as it turns out, nobody really benefits from a self-selected cabal of conspirators manipulating world events from behind the scenes (okay, Halliburton stockholders, I’ll give you that one) because the bad stuff keeps happening anyway, often directly because of the decisions made by the group. Only now, instead of having elected leaders you can toss out for making bad decisions, you have a collection of non-elected, non-representative men — any one of whom could flatten/mind-wipe/dispatch you to the Negative Zone in an instant if you interfere with their interests — dictating the future course of humanity and forever saying to themselves, “Well, that didn’t work, so let’s try this instead.” Um, pass.

6. The funny thing about technology is that people tend to use it once it’s invented.
A few years back, during the classic “Armor Wars” storyline, Tony Stark was aghast to learn that pieces of his technology had been stolen, replicated and given to other armored adventurers on both sides of the law. Did he act like a real American and sue their asses for copyright infringement? Of course not. Instead, he took it upon himself to locate each suit of armor and place “negator packs” on them, frying the underlying circuitry. In his mind, he was justified in attacking these armored men (some of them federal government employees) because they were using his stolen technology and he didn’t want to see his life’s work used to hurt other people… but the funny thing about technology is that, once it’s out of the box, it can’t really be put back in. Are we to assume that the plans for all the other suits of armor also disappeared, along with the know-how of other engineering geniuses who built or modified their own suits of armor? After all, history is full of examples where two or more inventors come up with the same idea at the same time, and it’s whoever gets the patent first — or whoever has the better P.R. agent — that gets the glory (you can ask the ghost of Reginald Fessenden about that sometime). So the idea that Stark can reclaim technology that’s already out there, legally or no, is shaky at best. And if living in a world full of flying Iron Men sounds cool, remember it’s also a world where any bank robber can conceivably download the schematics for his own suit of armor — or just a homemade repulsor ray if he’s short on funds — or any group with a bug up its butt about something can steal plans for devices that can levitate cities, or shunt them into hostile dimensions, or  turn everyone living there into gamma-irradiated freaks.

7. Do you [heart] New York? That’ll change.
All right, this one is kind of a gimme, but it has to be said: While it may be fun to visit the Marvel universe, who in the hell would choose to live there if their only options were a condo next to the Baxter Building or a charming brownstone two doors down from Avengers Mansion? Come to think of it, is there any part of New York City that hasn’t been demolished five times over by superhero slugfests or alien invasions? Seriously, how is it that anyone living in the Marvel version of New York City is still alive? If it’s not an invasion of demonic hordes or disgruntled Atlantean warriors coming ashore or the Hulk himself turning the entire island of Manhattan into a scene from Escape from New York, it’s a giant tidal wave caused by a certain anti-hero of the sea, or some experiment of Reed Richard’s that’s out of control and sucking mailboxes and hot-dog carts into Dimension X, or whatever. (And let’s not even talk about the time the entire island was moved out to sea and held for ransom until a certain Olympian demi-god pulled it back into place.)  Okay, you say to yourself, I’ll just solve that problem by living somewhere else. Omaha, maybe. Or perhaps Sacramento. You’re adorable when you delude yourself. First off, New York may be the epicentre for Marvel-style nuttiness, but it’s not the only place on the planet that’s endangered when, say, the whole planet is in danger (“Galactus? Again?”). Second, following events in the “Civil War” storyline each U.S. state was given its own regulated superhero team to fight bad guys and assist in natural disasters, so if you’re a former New Yorker who moved to, say, Iowa to avoid airborne chunks of concrete… well, good luck with that.

8. Just say no? Yeah, right.
If there’s one universal truth about humans, it’s this: we like ingesting things that get us high. Here in the real universe, our drugs tend to be substances that chemically alter our perceptions or release certain endorphins in our bodies; maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a short-term physical rush from the drug that allows you to stay up all night or get a boost of strength in time for the big football game. Now, imagine someone in our universe has just invented a drug that can make a user immortal, or instantly turn someone into a super-soldier, or grant temporary and unpredictable mutations and/or super powers to whomever snorts it. Tell me honestly: do you think there would be a market for something like that? Well, they have drugs that do that — and a whole lot more — in the Marvel universe, and if you thought cops and social workers in this world have a problem dealing with crack or heroin addicts, then you’re in for a real treat when you cross over.

9. Got travel plans? Hope you’re not in a hurry.
We tend to think of the Marvel universe as this awesome place where epic struggles between good and evil take place on some separate plane of reality than the one where normal people live; sure, there are always plenty of civilians around when a villain needs a hostage or a hero needs adoring fans to point skyward, but for the most part we tend to not see the dots connecting the superhuman battles and the most mundane aspects of everyday life. Take air travel. In today’s world, where the worst we can expect on a plane are terrorists with box cutters or shoe bombs, every air traveller is subjected to long line-ups, humiliating searches, pointed questions about the contents of our luggage, and completely arbitrary rules about what can or can’t be taken on a plane. Suppose that tomorrow we lived in a world where there are people who can tear holes in fuselages with their bare hands, command the pilots to sleep with merely a thought, fry the plane’s guidance systems with a bolt of electricity, or even survive an explosion of their own making. Get real, now: how many of you think getting on a plane will become less of a pain once those kinds of passengers become distinct possibilities?

10. Think teens are a handful now? Try dealing with them when they can shoot lasers out of their eyes.
One of the neat things about the Marvel universe is the concept of mutation as a source of superhuman powers, the idea that a certain subsection of the general population contains the genetic potential to sprout wings, teleport, phase through walls, or what have you… but these powers don’t manifest until a person reaches his or her adolescent years (which can make life a little awkward, as the energy-sucking Rogue found out when she kissed her first boy). And while it’s tempting to think you might be one of the chosen few bestowed with awesome powers just when you’re looking for a way to impress that cutie in your English class, remember what we’re talking about here. Teenagers. With super powers. The phrase “handing a gun to a toddler” comes to mind here. And even if you happen to be a super-powered teenager who makes it to adulthood without causing major property damage or death to your loved ones (which actually happened in a really downbeat issue of Ultimate X-Men), who says you’re going to get a mutant power that’s anywhere near cool or useful… or even healthy? Some people end up with the power to control the weather; others get flippers instead of fingers. Bulk and Glow Worm were a pair of mutants that first appeared in X-Factor; their powers (strength, hurling bolts of energy) were nothing to sneeze at, but a side effect of their mutations meant they also generated toxic levels of radiation that killed everyone around them, including themselves.

11. Feeling a little green around the gills? Let’s pray you won’t literally be green around the gills, then.
So, you know how the Marvel universe is this awesome place because it’s populated with all kinds of aliens and mutated humans and genetically spliced beings? Variety is the spice of life, for sure, but it can play hell on a society’s ability to protect itself from disease (then again, having a homogenous culture, one where everyone’s genetic makeup and susceptibility to disease is the same, isn’t ideal for surviving an outbreak, either; evolution demands a happy medium between the two extremes). Remember back to your history class when you learned how entire civilizations were decimated by foreigners who unwittingly (or, in some cases, wittingly) brought new diseases to their shores? Smallpox and measles will be cookies and ice cream compared to whatever diseases humans pick up when we finally do make first contact, but over in the Marvel universe you already have Skrulls, Krees, Shi’ars, and dozens of other alien races stopping by our planet. So you’ll be dealing with whatever alien-equivalent-of-SARS they have to share with us, not to mention whatever new diseases arise from the immune systems of the mutants among us — and heck, who can forget the old-fashioned would-be world conquerors slaving away in their labs creating exciting new superbugs to thin out the human herd?

12. Congratulations. You’re even more insignificant than you were before.
Imagine a world with super-geniuses, or mutants who can lift mountains, or sorcerers who can tell you who shot JFK because their astral forms went back in time and witnessed the whole thing, or giant space beings who see you as maggots atop a planetary feast, or Nordic gods walking among us and commanding cosmic forces as easily as you or I order lunch. Humans as a rule tend to think highly of themselves, mostly because it’s easy to do that when there isn’t anyone else around reminding us of our own insignificance within the cosmos. So how well psychologically do you think we would fare in a world where every member of Homo sapiens is continually reminded of how little they really matter? I’m not even talking about the religious implications of actual gods roaming the streets of New York, or the biological/societal fallout of humans discovering aliens and mutants as sexual partners and/or fetish objects; I’m talking about real, crippling existential angst here. For starters, every alien race stopping by Earth will be yet another reminder that the majority of us Earthlings haven’t even gotten to the flippin’ moon yet… and speaking of which, remember how awed we all were when Neil Armstrong made those first steps on the moon? Remember the sense of wonder and accomplishment we all shared as a species? Now, imagine a big-headed bald guy in a robe greeting the astronauts as they step out of the spacecraft, or an entire city of mutated superhumans glancing over at the landing site and saying, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.”