I thought some of you might be amused to read Dan Slott going berserk online and proving that he has no understanding of comic art. There's more, but these are the key bits. I've since come to the conclusion that he spends his time searching CBR for insults to the integrity of his comic instead of actually, you know, scripting it.
Let me preface this by stating that I'm a third-year Bio major currently taking graduate level courses in human genetics. I took a class this afternoon on epigenetics, and a couple of the things I learned brought X-23 to mind. I confirmed my suspicions with a bit of independent research on PubMed.
You cannot, biologically, make female clones of male humans.
To cut a long paper short, X-23 has something called uniparental disomy for her maternal X chromosome (she has two copies of one of Wolverine's mother's X chromosomes, instead of a paternal and a maternal copy). For those of you who know anything about genetics, this is a very bad thing. The two copies you have of each chromosome are far from redundant. If they were, we'd have evolved monosomy long ago. In fact, you express a slightly different set of genes on each of them depending on whether you inherited it from your mother or your father. Your cells know which is which based on epigenetic modifications (addition of methyl or acetyl groups to the proteins around which your DNA is wrapped). See the problem? X-23 has two maternal X chromosomes.
Now, a funny thing about girls is that having two X chromosomes in the first place is a little iffy. We guys get along just fine with only the one. So what happens is that one of a woman's two X chromosomes is inactivated in every cell in her body, at random. If you could scan a female's X chromosomes on Cerebra, she'd come up looking like a messy jigsaw puzzle in two colours. The silencing isn't complete, but it takes care of almost all the genes on the chromosome. This happens so that girls don't end up with twice the level of protein synthesis that guys do - which would be very bad thing indeed. By now you should have figured out where I'm going with this.
Geneticists have found from case studies that neither X chromosome gets inactivated in girls with maternal X isodisomy. The cells can't tell them apart, and so both hang around transcribing gene products. And to add to the problem, the fact that both X chromosomes are genetically and epigenetically identical means that the poor girl also manifests the problems associated with having only a single X chromosome (this is called Turner syndrome, and isn't so bad in comparison; you end up with a weird-looking body, infertility, and some cognitive deficits, none of which would merit a second glance among the X-men). But having two of the same X chromosome is far worse.
To quote symptoms from the only confirmed case of functional maternal X isodisomy in the literature (the rest die as embryos, thankfully):
Extremely short stature (in the second percentile).
A tiny head and low hairline.
A short neck with "webbing"
A deformed spine.
Swelling and deformity of the hands and feet.
Inability to straighten fingers, elbows and knees.
Lack of sexual development.
Severe breathing problems.
Inability to walk.
Inability to speak.
Profound mental retardation.
Brain abnormalities causing seizures.
Extreme ugliness (all right, this is a paraphrase).
Light stripes on her skin.
Death at age 11 from cardiorespiratory and liver failure.
So, yeah. If X-23's alive, she isn't a clone of Wolverine.
I've been thinking a bit about the Green Lantern emotional spectrum and how it's constructed a bit oddly. For one thing, indigo and violet are rarely used in common parlance (and there's no scientific difference anyways), while the prime number of colours prevents the spectrum from having symmetry. Greed is more of a sociological concept, love and compassion are a little too similar, and willpower isn't an emotion by any stretch of the imagination. Yellow power rings don't even feed off of fear! Much of these difficulties are constraints of history; but if we were to start from the beginning, here's how I'd have done it.
Red - Anger (opposes serenity)
positive: courage (opposes aloofness)
negative: hatred (opposes trust)
Orange - Joy (opposes grief)
positive: hope (opposes guilt)
negative: indulgence (opposes remorse)
Yellow - Pride (opposes love)
positive: confidence (opposes envy)
negative: contempt (opposes compassion)
Green - Serenity (opposes anger)
positive: trust (opposes hatred)
negative: indifference (opposes courage)
Blue - Grief (opposes joy)
positive: remorse (opposes hedonism)
negative: guilt (opposes hope)
Purple - Love (opposes pride)
positive: compassion (opposes contempt)
negative: desire (opposes confidence)
There's a natural conflict between opposing colours, and any given corpsman would have the potential to follow the light or dark side, as it were. I think this provides a lot more flexibility and storytelling space than the current version. Thoughts? Implications? How would you have constructed it?
I've decided, quite foolishly, to write a series of blog posts examining how various comic book characters have evolved to fit mythological archetypes. It's my theory that the fundamental nature of comics books (viz. multiple authors, super-powered characters, sensationalism, continuity snarl, and complete lack of logic) is more or less the same thing that contributed to the development of myths and legends thousands of years ago. Because of that, we see the same characters coming up again and again under different conditions.
"You're a hard man, Odysseus. Your fighting spirit's stronger than ours, your stamina never fails. You must be made of iron head to foot." -Eurylochus (The Odyssey)
#1: Iron Man and Odysseus
Experts of the snooty glare. A) Rich Kid
Odysseus is king of Ithaca, as his father Laertes was before him. He is immensely wealthy, has loads of servants and is one of the most influential people in Greece. He's accustomed to a lifestyle of wine, women and song.
Tony Stark is CEO of Stark Industries, as his father Howard Stark was before him. He is immensely wealthy, has loads of employees and is one of the most influential people in the world. He's accustomed to a lifestyle of wine, women and song.
B) Brilliant Mind
Odysseus is considered the most cunning human in Greek mythology. Renowned for his wit and resourcefulness, he was one of the Greeks' foremost diplomats, advisors and commanders in the Trojan war, and probably their best fighter after Achilles. A great inventor and craftsman, he designed the Trojan Horse in which the Greeks infiltrated the Trojan defenses and won the war.
Tony Stark is a brilliant electrical engineer and shrewd businessman, as well as a cunning strategist and politician. He's a former Secretary of Defense and Director of SHIELD, as well as being one of the most powerful superheroes and one of the most intelligent scientists in the world. A great inventor and engineer, he designed the Iron Man armour in which he defeated and escaped from the Viet Cong.
C) Twisted Mind
One of Odysseus' epithets is "the cruel". The Greeks praised his cleverness because he was on their side, but everyone else considered him a dishonourable scoundrel. He's an unapologetic murderer and pirate, and generally a vicious bastard. Even his fellow soldiers resented him; he manages to antagonize Achilles, Ajax and Agamemnon (almost all the other main champions of the Greek side), over the course of the Trojan War.
Tony Stark is an arrogant jerk and egomaniac. Among other things, he's a consummate womanizer, dirty businessman, and war criminal. Personality-wise, he has borderline psychopathic tendencies. He's alienated most of his associates at one time or another, and has a strained relationship with a plurality of Marvel's heroes. Very few people continue to trust him, and with good reason.
D) Sex Machine
Odysseus, despite being married, has at least five kids on his way back from Troy to Ithaca. My history teacher once described him as "whoring his way across the Mediterranean". He's also famed for his relationships with various seductresses, including Circe and Calypso.
Tony Stark is Marvel's most famous playboy. He's had a plethora of one-night stands and as many girlfriends as the rest of the Avengers combined. He's also famed for his relationships with various femmes fatale, including Black Widow and Madame Masque.
E) War "Hero"
Odysseus goes unwillingly to war against the Trojans. Despite his ingenuity, the conflict costs him twenty years of his life and many of his friends' lives. During the war, he leads approximately half of the great heroes of the age against the other half. He's one of the main strategists for his side, and he fights dirty. He's then reduced to a wandering beggar, his position having been usurped by villainous poseurs. He kills them all and reclaims his throne as King of Ithaca.
Tony Stark is dragged into combat in Vietnam against his will. Despite his ingenuity, he sustains a serious heart injury and endures the death of a great mentor. During the Civil War, he leads approximately half of the superheroes of the age against the other half. He's one of the main strategists for his side, and he fights dirty. He's reduced to bankruptcy and homelessness, but uses his resourcefulness and fights his way back to his former wealth and influence, defeating those who usurped his role.
Iron Man is basically the Odysseus of the 20th century: the powerful, brilliant jerk who leads armies, builds war machines, sleeps around and generally causes a lot of grief for everyone around him. They're also both awesome. Agree? Disagree? Think either fits another character better? Voice your thoughts.
I'm not talking about personality or backstory here; I'm sure most people already appreciate the nuances of his being a teenage superhero with no mentor, an everyman with troubles outside of the costume, and a pretty funny guy. What I am addressing here is the specifics of his powers and abilities, and how they make him a near-perfect superhero. His gadgets lend themselves to originality. There's only a certain amount of variability one can write into a fight sequence. Generally, this depends upon the environment or the villain of the week, but at the end of the day, most of them are just going to end up pummeling the opponent into semi-consciousness. Not so with Spider-Man. Spider-Man's web shooters allow so much more individuality than the average superhero - their functionality is only limited by the author's ability to come up with uses for sticky threads. They're a single simple, intuitive gadget that allow (near) flight, mobility, shield-making, imprisonment, blinding, holding doors shut, neutralizing guns, pulling people out of danger, making trampolines, tripping people, diverting missiles, insulating oneself against Electro, clubbing people, leaving messages, catching falling girlfriends... He interacts much more with his surroundings than other superheroes. And he doesn't need a massive utility belt to pull it all off; he can perform amazing stunts on a photographer's wages. The fact that this gamut of abilities is limited by the number of canisters he has left lends them an underlying tension that prevents him from just spamming webs like a mutant. And his wall-crawling abilities grant him a much more interesting three-dimensional world than his street-bound counterparts, without making him just another flying person.
His powers allow him to logically avoid injury. If you think about it, there's something a little strange about superheroes going out to fight crime every day for fifteen years and coming home intact. If you look at the most successful superheroes, almost all of them have abilities that let them logically remain alive. Wolverine has a healing factor. Superman's practically invulnerable. Captain America has an impermeable shield. Batman's covered in Kevlar. Peter Parker's spider-sense and reflexes allow him not to be hit in the first place. In a world where people are running around with adamantium bullets and shooting laser beams out of their orifices, near-precognitive abilities prevent Spider-Man from being turned into a puddle of goo. Captain America should have been sniped a thousand times in World War II, but Spider-Man's power set contributes to an ongoing story without letting the character feel immortal. His spider-sense also fulfills a number of other useful story functions by detecting malevolence as well as incoming projectiles, and his accelerate healing rate lets him recover from severe beatings in time to be barely presentable at work.
He's strong enough to matter...and weak enough to be vulnerable. Spider-Man's raw power is considerable. Unlike most highly-trained human characters, he has the speed, strength and durability to be valuable fighting almost any class of enemy. He can tangle with anyone from the Juggernaut to a carjacker without feeling out of his element, and is a valuable addition to almost any team-up. But unlike some superheroes with a similar level of brute strength, he's always in a distinct amount of danger. Although, as I mentioned, his spider sense and reflexes justify his survival, but we never get the sense that he's just waltzing along shaking off punches like raindrops. He has to take the effort of trying to avoid every blow that comes his way, and doesn't have a phenomenal success rate. There's rarely a supervillain fight in which he isn't punched hard enough to knock Aunt May's head clean off, and - given his lack of armour - it wouldn't be at all implausible to kill him with a submachine gun. It's hard to be worried about the Thing in a fight, but Spider-Man's mix of strength and fragility lets him contribute without ever letting us take him for granted.
He's plausibly smart. Spider-Man occupies that rare niche in comics: that of being extremely clever within the bounds of normal human intelligence. Unlike many other "brilliant" heroes - Reed Richards, say, or Batman - Spider-Man's intelligence has definite limits. His accomplishments are pretty much confined to the invention of his webs and spider-tracers, neither of which are impressive compared with most of his fellow heroes' creations. What we do get from the comics is that he's very smart - certainly much smarter than the average citizen, particularly some of his enemies - but we don't get him flinging beakers around and muttering about unstable molecules and beating Doctor Doom at chess. When he uses science to defeat a supervillain, we can generally follow what's going on. There's no need for suspension of disbelief in regard to his intellectual abilities, and that makes him much easier to see as a real person.
His costume ("uniform"!) is a thing of beauty. There are a number of iconic costumes in comics, but his takes the cake. It's one of the most beloved symbols in pop culture, and you can't go outside on Halloween without seeing lots of little Spider-Men running around. It's less complex than Batman's and less campy than Superman or Wolverine's. It doesn't have unnecessary accessories, high-tech components or pouches. The primary color scheme makes it clear that he's a hero, the full-face mask actually makes it reasonable for his acquaintances not to recognize him, and the big eyes give him a sense of youth and emotion despite his hidden face. As for the innumerable little lines - well, inkers have to earn their money.
Peter Parker aside, the core design of Spider-Man is nothing less than amazing. His adaptive powers, ability to avoid injury while remaining vulnerable, raw potential power, reasonable intelligence and terrific costume have given subsequent writers the raw material for countless great stories without being constrained by plot holes like so many other well-known superheroes. As far as power sets go, I think Spider-Man's is the best.