5 Weirdly Satisfying Scientific Explanations for Superpowers
According to common knowledge, superheroes are physically impossible. And, for the most part, common knowledge is correct. We can't have superheroes in the real world, because that would be terrible and dumb and also completely impossible. Fine. We all accept that, and we promise to grow up now and start doing our taxes.
... Are all the grumpy old people gone now? Good. Superheroes are totally real, you guys! Or, at least, some scientists have come up with some pretty neat explanations for how their powers would work, if they were real. Which is not at all the same thing as the thing I just said but it's close enough for me because man is this stuff cool. So just suspend your disbelief for a bit and check out how ...
We Know Why Superman Doesn't Kill People When He Catches Them
Not to state the obvious or nothin', but the logistics of Superman's super-strength have never stood up well to scrutiny. I mean, it explains how he can cause the deaths of millions of people through wanton carelessness like in Man of Steel, but what about when he "rescues" an innocent person falling to their death by giving them a supersonic mid-air spear tackle? Supes should've gone through this helicopter pilot like a finger through an over-soggy nacho.
There's also that time Kal-El (More like Kill-All eh? Eh? Yeah.) stopped an airplane by pushing on the nose -- why didn't he just puncture right through it, like a speargun through a baby dolphin's adorable, grinning face? Even if he matched the plane's speed, the entire weight of the plane is resting on a point the size of Superman's hand. No way that works. Well, it turns out that there's a scientific explanation for that, it's called "negative mass," and even though I may not totally get it (I'm very dumb) I think it's pretty freaking cool.
"Negative mass" is the theoretical physics version of "opposite day:" it's matter that behaves the exact opposite as how it should. Push it away from you, it flies toward you, and has negative weight -- which, though sounding pretty ridiculous, is actually mathematically sound, if hypothetical. You have to remember that there's still a lot we don't understand about the universe, and this hypothetical state of matter is how we explain some of those questions. Like why cooking shows are popular.
So the idea is that the sun (the source of Superman's power, remember) stimulates his ability to control negative matter the same way it stimulates our ability to get cancer. Then he spreads a web of that negative matter through the airplane, reducing the momentum without damaging the plane too much. And he could probably do the same to that helicopter pilot, right? Anyway, that's why Superman hasn't killed Falling Lois Lane 300 times over. I buy it, but you're welcome to explain what I'm missing in the comments.
We Know How Captain America's Shield Works
In a movie-universe that prominently features red-skinned demon-men using space alien technology to fight World War 2, Captain America's Shield is the only part that, by my estimation, is actually physically impossible. I mean, check out this supercut of Cap's shield-throws:
Half those throws make no sense -- where did it go? Why did it decide to bounce there, but stick there? When it does bounce, why does it always come right back to Cap's hand -- does Captain America also have super-geometry skills? And if so, what? Turns out there's a surprisingly satisfying answer that, amazingly, doesn't even rely on totally bonkers theoretical properties of matter.
According to Howard Stark, the core property of "vibranimum" is that it's "100% vibration absorbant," which is why Agent Carter's bullets fall to the floor instead of ricocheting off them when she shoots Steve four times just for getting a little Natalie Dormer lip-action, holy shit. But that's insane, because that means the shield is just perpetually absorbing energy, which can't be true -- unless the shield is a battery. And that, my friends, explains the ricochet.
Okay so bear with me: if Cap throws his shield one way (say with the right wrist-flick?) then when it strikes an object, it releases some of the energy stored inside from the bullets/punches/crash-landings, shooting the shield off in the direction Cap intended. But if he throws it another way (counter-clockwise? I dunno) then it doesn't bounce -- it absorbs the vibration and buries itself in the wall. Which explains why he can embed his shield in a steel-plated wall in one scene, and then bounce it off the tail of a jet forty minutes later.
Maybe it also explains why it causes explosions?
And as for Cap's super-geometry, well ... maybe he's got a magnet of some kind, and the vibranium's release of energy also propels it back towards that for... some ... reason? Help me out, guys. We can do this. As a team.
We Know What Batman's Training, Diet and Biology Would Be Like
Even though Batman is one of the few "normal" superheroes, in that he isn't an alien and doesn't have any radiation-induced powers, he's still clearly way more physically adept than, uh, anyone who's ever existed on Earth. Even if you take the Chris Nolan's gritty and realistic version where Batman can hack into cell-phones to give himself night vision, there's still a level of training that only a select few people on Earth could survive. And there's an entire book explaining why. And it's freaking crazy. Let's just dive right in.
That's a moment from Batman's training regimen where he'd have to smack his head against a wall, repeatedly. See, one of the ways your body develops under extreme physical training is that your bones that are under a lot of stress increase in density -- runners have thicker leg-bones, boxers have thicker arm bones, and so on. But a side-effect of that bone-densification is that your bones that don't get attention actually decrease in density, so athletes tend to have thinner, weaker, squishier skulls than couch potatoes. But Batman couldn't afford that, because he has to be able to take a punch. So he'd have to subject his skull to "body hardening" exercises, which means he'd spend a chunk of his workout smacking his face against the wall in the batcave while Alfred mumbles sarcastic encouragement in a charming Michael Caine accent.
Batman would also need to train with his weapons more than with hand to hand, since the "homunculus" in the brain (which makes maps of physical activity and provides you with what is commonly known as "muscle memory") has more trouble making "maps" that include tools. So there's twice as much batarang, bat-grappling-hook and bat-anti-shark-spray practice as traditional martial arts training (also, Batman only needs to know like 5 martial arts, not "all of them" as the comic occasionally insists). Surprisingly, Batman could get by on only 4,000-5,000 calories a day (less than half that of an olympic swimmer). But the weirdest thing that stands out to me is that Batman is constantly on the verge of passing the fuck out.
"You think darkness is your ally, but you merely adopted the dark! I was born in it. Molded by it. I didn't see the light until -- Did you just nod off? Because I'm ... I'm doing a thing here."
See, Batman is nocturnal, and the human body hates that. Anyone who's worked the night shift knows that unless you're in your teens or manage to completely trick your body by never seeing the sun, you're pretty much always tired. But Batman can't do that: He has to go out during the day sometimes to keep up his Bruce Wayne identity, and he also has to work in complete darkness, so he's constantly sleep deprived. In fact, he's so sleep deprived that the author argues that Batman has done the vast majority of his crime fighting with the equivalent of a 0.08% blood alcohol level. Which explains how many sidekicks he's gone through, I suppose.
We Know Why the Hulk Turns Green And Gets Huge
Bruce Banner is a normal super-genius scientist who just so happens to turn into a Nickelodeon-Slime colored gorilla-tank whenever he gets mad, due to radiation exposure. Now, even though you could get away with that kinda shit in the sixties because nobody had Wikipedia yet, now-a-days it's been mocked by everyone from Family Guy to Team Fortress 2 to us here at Cracked. But -- could it really happen?
Good god, no. Our legal department is insisting that I remind you no not expose yourself to radiation, because you will get an uncomfortable amount of cancer. But if, for some reason, it did give you superpowers, this is how it'd work -- according to a little known place called Stanford freaking University.
And we all know how well the Hulk gets along with Universities.
See, when you get hit by gamma radiation (which really exists? Holy nuts.) the steps in the ladder of your DNA's helix is damaged. This is called "chromothripsis" by people who can pronounce "chromothripsis." Haha, I just made you mumble "chromothripsis" to yourself. Nerd. Sorry, I'll be serious. A couple minor tears are okay, but the bigger ones will make the repairs sorta sloppy, like when your roommate promises to fix the refrigerator's ice machine and instead fills your kitchen with a gigantic malignant tumor.
But in Banner's case, and probably due to the experimental nature of the gamma radiation Banner was working with, the "deformities" imbued his DNA with "epigenetic switches" -- which are how different aspects of genes can be activated to de-activated on the fly. So when Banner starts producing hormones associated with anger, a switch gets flipped, and his body reacts by producing a massive amount of energy in a short time, expanding his muscles, toughening his skin, and making him dumb.
Of course, the explosion of muscle and energy is pretty traumatic, which explains why all his exposed skin turns dark green: he's heavily bruised. As for why his bruises are green, well, bruises already are kinda greenish sometimes, and according to Mr. Look At Me I'm a Stanford Scientist "maybe his blood is full of some sort of green Hulk-oglobin," the researcher says. "Which can carry more oxygen to the muscles than hemoglobin and gives him his strength and stamina."
Edit: As TheTownsend pointed out in the comments, Hulk also shouldn't be able to gain mass, because where could it come from? But he has an explanation: "Either he has access to a pocket dimension full of green flesh (as would any shapeshifter), or he has some kind of fat in his body that stores a truly immense amount of energy per mass (like, beyond that of rocket fuel) that allows him to very rapidly pull CO2 out of the atmosphere through his lungs and skin and convert it into hydrocarbons for muscle, and probably carbon fiber for bones. When he Banners in, all that excess mass is burned to remake the fuel."
We Know Why No One Can Lift Thor's Hammer
As much as Thor kept reminding us that "sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic," that hammer seems an awful lot like magic, right? I mean, how can it be possible for something to be different weights for different people? We even see that Hulk's attempt to pick up the hammer in the Helicarrier ends with him crushing part of the floor:
So what's going on? How could that be? Simple: Gravitons.
Gravitons are not, as I would've assumed recently, a stupid word made up to explain sci-fi nonsense, but a theoretical elementary particle that "mediates the force of gravitation" according to Wikipedia. The more gravitons an object has, the more it weighs. So, in accordance with this theory, the "uru metal" and makes up Thor's hammer Mjolnir emits exactly the correct amount of gravitons to counter-act any "unworthy" force that is acted on it, keeping it in exactly the same place. So when Hulk is trying to lift the hammer, it doesn't actually weigh any more than it did when Thor threw it, there's just a graviton force that is immediately canceling out his effort. Personally, I'm just glad Neil Degrass Tyson's "it weighs as much as 300 billion elephants" explanation is wrong, because that would've made drunk Thor the most comically dangerous person on the team.
As for how the hammer tells you if the person lifting it is worthy ... uhhhh I'm gonna have to go with magic.
JF Sargent is an editor for Cracked with a new column every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
For more from Sarge, check out 6 Ways to Impress the Idiots You Went to High School With and 5 Women Cut from Pop Culture History for Being Too Important.
Are you on reddit? Check it: We are too! Click on over to our best of Cracked subreddit.