The Physics of Superheroes


Excelsior Club
May 17, 2004
Just read a little snippet about this book in Wired magazine...looks pretty interesting and funny. I think I'll be picking it up...


The Physics of Superheroes (Hardcover)
by James Kakalios

Book Description
If superheroes stepped off the comic book page or silver screen and into reality, could they actually work their wonders in a world constrained by the laws of physics? How strong would Superman have to be to "leap tall buildings in a single bound"? Could Storm of the X-Men possibly control the weather? And how many cheeseburgers would the Flash need to eat to be able to run at supersonic speeds?

Face front, True Believer, and wonder no more! Because in The Physics of Superheroes acclaimed university professor James Kakalios shows that comic book heroes and villains get their physics right more often than you think.

In this scintillating scientific survey of super powers you'll learn what the physics of forces and motion can reveal about Superman's strength and the true cause of the destruction of his home planet Krypton, what villains Magneto and Electro can teach us about the nature of electricity—and finally get the definitive answer about whether it was the Green Goblin or Spider-Man's webbing that killed the Wall Crawler's girlfriend Gwen Stacy in that fateful plunge from the George Washington Bridge!

Along the way, The Physics of Superheroes explores everything from energy, to thermodynamics, to quantum mechanics, to solid state physics, and Kakalios relates the physics in comic books to such real-world applications as automobile airbags, microwave ovens, and transistors. You'll also see how comic books have often been ahead of science in explaining recent topics in quantum mechanics (with Kitty Pryde of the X-Men) and string theory (with the Crisis on Infinite Earths).

This is the book you need to read if you ever wondered how the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four can see when she turns transparent, if the Atom could travel on an electron through a phone line, or if electromagnetic theory can explain how Professor X reads minds. Fun, provocative, and packed with more superheroes and superpowers than an Avengers-Justice League crossover, The Physics of Superheroes will make both comic-book fans and physicists exclaim, "Excelsior!"

Click here to read more or to preorder

Wired had a few examples in the article...I'll post them when i get a chance.
This looks good but I'm afraid it will be too confusing for me.
I'd love to hear how Spiderman sticks to walls. In the past it's been explained as magnetic forces or tiny little sticky hairs, which both sound ridiculous. Personally, I think Spidey 2099 nailed it, what with the retractable talons on his fingers and toes.
I'm cool with the hairs. Interested in his spider sense though.Detects certain patterns in the motion of the air perhaps? Hell, it's all comic book geekery, it has to be good.

The Hulk, would it be possible to transform into the hulk and still have your teeth fit in your head and then return to normal without having half a ton of excess skin hanging off you?

Rogue is just silly.

Sandman, ain't gonna happen.

Wanda? Well, if he could even explain what her powers do the guy deserves a medal.
You don't know how Spider-MAn sticks to walls?
He uses Super quick bondong superglue, but layers on tons of dead skin on his fingers, so when he rips his hands off to move up on the wall, he doesnt harm his fingers.

Id love to read bout Dardedevil.
GMaster said:
Id love to read bout Dardedevil.

DD's pretty basic.Its speculated that when someone loses a sense, the other four get stronger to try and make up for it.So lets say optic nerve gets disconnected when he shoves the old man outta the way, then you blow the increase outta proportion, and throw in that 60's buzzword, radiation, and you've got DD faster than Wally West with the runs.
Wasn't there a couple of books like The Science of Superheroes, and a follow-up Science of Supervillains out a couple years ago?
ourchair said:
Wasn't there a couple of books like The Science of Superheroes, and a follow-up Science of Supervillains out a couple years ago?

Yes. I haven't read them and don't know anything about them but I did see them on Wonder how this book is different....
UltimateE said:
Yes. I haven't read them and don't know anything about them but I did see them on Wonder how this book is different....
I flipped through segments of those books at the bookstore, and they were a bit trite and obvious. If anything the science felt way too layman for my taste rather than being full of compelling detail that you might get from even NON-science magazines like Newsweek.

On the other hand, they do seem to make good reference if you are rather comprehensive about maintaining a comics reference library, in the same way that Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades is good reference in spite of being blatant pro-Marvel propaganda.

Still, I'm interested in what kind of new things Physics of Superheroes might contribute to the field of scientific what-if wankery.

Q. How exactly do his powers work?

A. Go ask Stan Lee, that bastard.

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