Updated: February 20, 2010
Superman, a super hero wearing tight pants and sporting a dorky haircut. The ultimate epitomization of repressed sexuality in a world of puritanism and double standards wrapped in lackluster bubble of unimaginative depression of the early-to-mid 20th century.
But what if we forget Superman's shiny red latex (not LaTeX) and focus on the actual character. If we believe the comics books and the four (or five) rather bad movies created, Superman is meant to be our savior. However, what the publishers of the entertainment brochures and the silver screen features did not want you to know is that Superman is one big menace to modern society.
Oh, I didn't know if I could use the original Superman logo due to copyright thingamajig, although I could have probably used it under the fair use clause or something, so you'll have to do with my artistic impression of what ought to be Superman. Anyhow. Now, let's see why you should not befriend the nerdy journalist/superhero guy.
I can't take any credit for this. In his Unified Theory of Superman (PDF), Ben Tippett smartly notes the fact Superman does not dip when he catches people plummeting from the sky. Now, if we focus one moment on the basic laws of physics, including the conservation of momentum, this means that Superman is as soft and inviting to those he catches as the patch of solid asphalt that people would have hit instead of our would-be superhero.
|This is what you would look like if Superman caught you, only probably a lot less tasty! And maybe not so neatly arranged on the BBQ grille, hmmm ...|
Think about it. You're hurling at 300kph and then you brake to a miraculous standstill instantly. Your internal organs would suffer irreparable damage due to deceleration, exceeding the acceptable human limit of about 25g.
Without Superman performing a very intricate rescue, where he matches the speed of the falling victim, then slowly brakes his vertical descent, the effect on the victims would be the same as slamming head-first into a concrete wall or even worse, because while concrete is known to crack in some circumstances, Superman is not. What more, having been caught in Superman's arms also prevents you from bouncing off, which could, potentially help dissipate some of the impact energy, reducing the damage to your organs. With your body flattened against Superman's, the recoil of the impact would be contained entirely inside your anatomy, amplifying the damage. You would probably undergo resonance of some sort, which would effectively turn your internal organs into soup.
There you go, proof #1. Superman is deadly to those he rescues. You definitely do not need Superman to be there when you die. Somehow, the sight of his oily, dorky haircut makes the dying experience all the worse. At least solid concrete has no pretensions about what it is. Hitting the ground or Superman, it's pretty much the same. Only shiny latex feels more embarrassing.
Perverticles are spectacles worn by perverts. If you're wondering what the exact definition of a pervert is, it's a person who feels ashamed of his/her deeds yet is compelled to do them. Example, someone wearing sunglasses in a restaurant, so they can comfortably check out the merchandise without being noticed. Hence, the catchy phrase perverticles, which I just coined in. Feel free to use, GPL style.
Clark Kent, Superman's nerdy alter ego, is a guy wearing thick-rimmed 50's era spectacles. Sometimes, he happens to be wearing them when using his X-ray vision. Combined, you get perverticles. Most people have no idea what X-rays are, so I'll elaborate here a little.
X radiation, which is formed of so-called X rays (or particles) is a form of the electromagnetic radiation, characterized by a very short wavelength, high frequency and high energy, all of which are synonymous. To be classified as X ray, a photon has to have the wavelength of about 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to energy of about 100eV to 150KeV. For reference, visible light has a wavelength of about 500 nanometers and the energy of only about 2.5eV.
In practical terms, energy means ability to penetrate objects; the more energetic the particle is, the more deeply it can go through objects, including solid mass that is opaque to visible light. X rays are used widely in many branches of industry, including medical, military and security. For example, you have the X rays machines in hospitals used to scan patiences for fractures, CT machines used for angiography, powerful X ray scanners used for detecting fatigue and cracks in aircraft frames, and scanners used for screening baggage at airports. All of these rely on feisty photons for their hard work.
However, one thing that is in common with all these devices is that they also rely on an array of sensors, usually positioned on the other side of scanned objects, to work. Radiation that is absorbed inside the scanned objects or scattered away is deducted from the input flux, allowing complex computer algorithms to map detailed 2D and 3D imagery of scanned objects. Superman does not have any external sensors to help him with his X-ray scans, which means he uses a different method altogether. As to how dangerous it is, we will discover soon.
Superman must use his X-ray vision in highly focused pulses. To be able to see what is actually hidden behind any which layer of scanner objects, he needs to have some of his X-ray photons bounce back and be collected in his X-ray sensitive retinae. Since the radiation density is inversely proportional to the square of distance, most of Superman's photons are scattered away before reaching the desired objects, many more are scattered away by the object's geometry and even those that bounce back at Superman are partially lost traveling back to his retinae.
Without getting too technical, Superman must make a very cunning use of his eyes. First, he probably fires monochromatic pulses, starting with high-energy beams. These photons normally bounce off their target, without getting absorbed. This is similar to the new scanners used at airports, which allow you to see people skin-deep. Next, Superman must use lower-energy X-rays, which will penetrate the scanned target and illuminate what is beyond. But then, they must travel back. This means many things:
Some radiation is absorbed in the intermediate object, especially the low-energy photons. This is a known risk in CT scanners, where the low-energy absorption accounts for most damage to the patients. A kind of a paradox really. While the medical industry strives to reduce dosage, going for lower energy settings in the X-ray cannon are sometimes more detrimental to the health of the patient than using higher energies.
The portion of radiation that traverses the scanned object is much reduced in its energy. Now it bounced back off the intended target and travels back to Superman. The intermediate object experiences yet another bombardment of photons, this time composed of an ever broader spectrum of low energy photons that get absorbed inside it. In case of the human body, we have photon damage to cells and DNA, causing ionization.
Superman gets a partial image of the secondary target, so he must use even more of his vision to obtain more data and form the correct picture. Compared to X-ray scanners, which need traverse the body only once, Superman's soldiers need do that twice, at the very least. In technical terms, this means at least four times more radiation, and possibly much more, because the distances Superman uses and the unpredicted scattering are far less ideal than industry setups.
With scattering and parasitic absorption tolling 99% of all radiation used in medical appliances, Superman's efficiency is probably several orders of magnitude lower, especially if the targets are moving or located in crowded places, with multiple objects and/or humans as random obstacles.
I've done some basic calculations, assuming Superman wanted to see what's in Lois Lane's purse from about three meters away while cozily chatting in a side lane in New York city, with the concrete buildings as lovely scattering dishes, he probably irradiates her each time with the effective dose of about 20mSv, which is equivalent to at least a full Neonatal abdominal CT, or about ten years of average annual background exposure! Lois Lane, say bye bye to your Fallopian tubes. Superman just fried your ovaries. Speaking of ovaries ...
|A shooting range target after being hit by Superman's adamant DNA particles; Lois Lane stands no chance|
Again, I can't take credit. You need to read the perfect masterpiece called Men of Steel, Women of Kleenex, by Larry Niven, in which the author elaborates on Superman's lovemaking fiasco. Assuming Superman is not a hermaphrodite or completely disinterested in sex, which does not seem to be case, since he uses his perverticles to ogle Lois and irradiate her every which way, Superman has or will have attempted coitus in some way. Which would probably lead to multiple fatalities. Just read the article above.
With his frivolous misuse of physics, including the rather inane trick of spinning Earth counterclockwise or whatever in the first movie, which somehow miraculously reversed time, go figure, Superman is far more likely to cause black holes in the Solar System than LHC is.
Superman seems to be faster than anything else, which means he can probably attain the speed of light. And with mass growing as the speed of light limit is approached, Superman could very well cause cataclysmic disturbances in the fabric of the Universe. Imagine a 85kg man zooming by at 300,000kps, only he does not weight 85kg any longer but an infinity more.
Such a comet would be a living blackhole, sucking everything in its wake after it, including the better part of our Solar system. In fact, Superman would probably disrupt the entire Galaxy with any speed-of-light tricks. The reason for this is very simple: as an active, roaming black hole, he would gather so much mass that when he finally decelerated and let this mass escape his exponentially growing Schwarzschild radius, he would have delivered countless trillions of tons of stellar mass at near light-speed to a new corner of the Galaxy, disrupting its mass, angular momentum and whatnot. In fact, even a single instance of Superman going ballistic in the vicinity of our planet would cause such a powerful yet instant gravitation pull, we would be all dead instantly.
No one has answers for these, but what happens when Superman sneezes or farts? Do we have a hail of plasma-quality droplets stripping oxygen molecules from the atmosphere or just a bad case of Kryptonite phlegm? Do we see spectacular cabbage-flavored earthquakes caused by colonic-tectonic rumbles in Superman's digestion system or we just get a bit of cabbage-flavored wind?
As you can see, Superman IS a menace to our society. With his X-ray vision, Superman is likely to cause numerous, severe cases of cancer and radiation sickness with unsuspecting populace. And with his uncaring rescues, you're minced meat! Finally, he can probably destroy the entire Universe, by mistake.
Avoid Superman if you can!