on 13 January 2008
One doesn't need to read this book to find out that dr. Bruce Banner would not have survived the dose of gamma rays that supposedly transformed him into the incredible hulk. That is not what this book is about. Rather it is a mixed bag of scientific trivia, loosely grouped around superheroic themes.
The authors, for instance, investigate what characteristics of spiders could be useful to Spider-man or what level of gravity the planet Krypton would need to have to explain the muscly feats of Superman. Batman seems to be the most plausible chap of the lot.
Of philosophical interest are the sections that deal with the question why comic strip authors would even bother to find bogus scientific explanations for their heroes' powers. It seems they fulfill a desire of old rather than young boys, to bridge fantasy and reality.
So, 'The science of superheroes' is a good read on several levels, well written and researched, entertaining as well as insightful.
on 10 February 2005
The contents of this book really whet the appetite for a series of interesting discursive essays about the science behind comic book superheroes. Unfortunately, that's not what you get.
For example, the section on radiation as it relates to Spiderman and the Fantastic Four makes it clear that being irradiated is unlikely to do you much good. Fair enough but why ? There's no mention of ionising radiation, free radicals, DNA damage or any of the problems that radiation actually causes let alone an explanation of how. Surely almost everyone capable of reading a book like this already knows that too much radiation isn't good for you ? How about a bit more depth ?
Spiderman's wall crawling ability is briefly mentioned but is basically covered by a few phrases about small hairs similar to those of some spiders. Fine, but wouldn't this have been a perfect place to discuss Van Der Waals forces (the force that allows geckos to stick to vertical walls and smooth glass) ? What happens when he swings on his web ? How about an explanation of the forces at work on his body when landing on buildings or jumping from great heights ?
The section on the X-men is basically hijacked in order to provide a defence of evolution. Now, i'm all for defending evolution (and consider it a great shame that it even needs defending) but is this really the place ? I would have preferred to see a few 'just so' style ideas about how some of the more believable powers might work (e.g. Wolverine's accelerated healing factor). This chapter ends with the sentence 'The X-men are more than possible; they're quite probable in our future'. Really ? So despite (quite correctly) writing off Superman's ability to fly, super strength and x-ray vision they happily allow that genetic engineering will permit telekinesis, telepathy, remote manipulation of metals and energy beams blasted from a man's eyes ?
All in all, this is a better history of comics than examination of the science behind them though it's not particularly great as that either. Shallow and sloppily written. Unless you're a completist, avoid.
on 11 January 2005
I won't write a detailed review because it has already been done quite eloquently. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I was never fond of science classes! It is funny and engaging all the way through, and the science is not really that hard to understand (it is the equations that baffled me when the authors were figuring out the possibility of an alien invasion). Thumbs way up for the effort of bringing science to the public and this book really should be more popular. I would recommend this book to any teenager who wishes to pass a science exam, and to any adult who wants to help them do so.