Dennis O’Neil: Superman, Spider-Man, and the God Particle
Now the bad. (He) (she) (it)…oh dang, there are really no appropriate pronouns for a concept that transcends the very idea of gender. Let’s settle for “they” and start again: They – the god thingies – are called “Higgs bosuns,” nicknamed “god particles,” and they permeate the universe. And without them, nothing could exist, could ever have existed. (Unless, that is, there’s a kind of reality we can’t comprehend, and we’re not exactly willing to rule that out, but we’ll never know and anyhow, who cares?) Although physicists have been seeking the Higgs for a half-century because the accepted model of the universe indicated that the things had to be there, it wasn’t until July 4 that they were prepared to say, yep found it. I understand that there was some celebrating in the Land of Labs.
Me, I got my science fix when I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man at the local monsterplex and, later, caught a few minutes of Superman on the tube: the first big-budget Superman, released in 1978 and hyped with the line, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” (For the record, I didn’t.) That flick has flaws, but it’s pretty good, especially for something made when Hollywood was just beginning to learn how to make these kinds of entertainments. The only part I really dislike is the ending: the graphics, though they tell the story, are pretty crude compared to what’s preceded them. And the science…oh woe – the science. (If you want to consider this a spoiler alert, suit yourself.) Lois Lane dies in an earthquake and Superman flies counterclockwise around the Earth and thus – ready for this? – reverses time and goes back to before Lois died and happy endings all around.
Reverses time, does he? By flying counterclockwise. Uh huh.
Nothing in the Spidey flick is quite so nettlesome, but in this reinvention, the film folk chose to explain Spidey’s ability to shoot webs huge distances and make them, apparently, as strong as the occasion warrants the same way Stan Lee and Steve Ditko explained it in the first Spider-Man comic book story, way back in 1962: A teenage Spidey, who gets really good grades in science class, having acquiring amazing powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, goes home and, you know, tinkers around and comes up with a gadget that a) does the web shooting stuff and b) is compact enough to be worn like an oversize wrist watch.
So: if he commanded such technology, why didn’t he use it for much greater good than he could achieve as a costumed vigilante and, incidentally, plunk his saintly Aunt May down in some swell digs?
For the same reason that Superman didn’t use his godlike time reversal stunt to undo every single bad thing on the whole planet? (I mean saving Lois was nice and all, but…war! Famine! Disease!)
Of course, this kind of story is basically fantasy and, I guess, we all have a private setting for our willing suspension of disbelief. I complain about plot devices that violate the story’s own “reality” and haul us out of the fiction while we try figure out how we’re supposed to accept what we’ve just seen.
Since, in superhero writing, there is a long tradition of writers using whatever’s in the zeitgeist at the moment, I expect we’ll be seeing some costumed dogooder involved with Higgs bosuns pretty soon. I hope I don’t have to mangle my willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy the story, god particle or no god particle.
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases