Monday, August 07, 2006

METAPHYSICS FOR METAHUMANS (part 3)

Worlds of Wonder
by John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon, IL

URL: http://www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula/index.html


When last we left our beleaguered narrator, we'd just gotten around to asking exactly what the fundamental difference is between the Real World, and super universes.

Specifically, what one underlying metaphysical element lets people in those universes fly, benchpress Cadillacs, and talk to fish, while here, the only superhumans we have are people who bend spoons and extrude ectoplasm from their fingertips. (Ick.)

It strikes me that, at the very least, the various imaginary characters who manage to work wonders, whether building a technological device using super?science, or creating a magic object through thaumaturgy are, at the moment they do so, evincing rather god like powers. What else can we say to explain, for example, how Dr. Doom and Dr. Doom alone manages to build a functioning time machine in Marvel's 20th Century, or Dr. Ray Palmer, and Dr. Ray Palmer alone, manages to build a device out of a mysterious meteor (white dwarf material or X?Kryptonite or whatever it may be) that will allow him to pretty much modify his height and weight at will, from his normal 6'2 down to subatomic size?

Take Victor Von Doom or Ray Palmer or Henry Pym and bring them into our 'real' universe and let them work in the best lab money can buy for twenty years, and they might come up with a better VCR, but I doubt they'll create anything that transcends our normal perceptions of how the universe works.

So where does the fundamental difference lie?

I feel it lies in two interacting areas ? the nature of the fabric of super realities itself, and the nature of the people who live in them.

In our previous chapters, we've hypothesized that virtually all super powers can be defined as having a basis in either psionics, or in the transformation of the normal biological human body into weird, at least somewhat undefined, energy duplicates. If we were to peel that observation back and look for what lies under it, I'm of the opinion that we would see that the basic difference between superhero universes, and our own, is that in superhero universes, the quantum fabric of reality is still somewhat susceptible to direct manipulation by sentient beings of superior will and intellect.

In addition, I'd suggest that many sentient beings dwelling in those universes... perhaps all of them... have the potential to exert such willful manipulations on the basic matrix of reality, even if only subconsciously and in a manner limited to the cellular substance of their own individual bodies.

Those two paragraphs are key to this chapter, and in fact, this entire thesis, and we'll be coming back to them in the future, however much they may seem like a buncha barely coherent gobblediegook right this second.

One of the key elements in the origins of all superhumans except mutants (and we'll get to them in a while) is that Our Hero/Villain/Protagonist starts out as a fairly normal person and... Something Happens. Lightning hits a rack of chemicals and inundates him in electrified glop. A radioactive spider bites him. A lovestruck alien merges his life essence with that of a dying Earth woman, conferring on her some of his own superhuman powers. The gods themselves confer life on a clay statue of a young girl, making her their Earthly avatar and ambassador of peace, love, and bondage to Man's World. Hey, it doesn't have to make sense and in fact, it would probably violate the accepted traditions of the form if it did... but as we say that, let's also keep in mind that these classic origin sequences only 'don't make sense' by the standards of the "Real World". What we're out to define, here, are the standards of metarealities... superhero universes... and what their fundamental difference or differences is or are from the reality we all inhabit.

Those characters who experience origins as detailed above are... well, for lack of a better word, the 'lucky' ones. They get their transhumanity jump started by whimsical fate, and embark on careers of ultra?adventure with what we snobbish fanboys generally preferentially refer to as 'natural powers'. You know, when we're sneering about how Thor is a better character than Iron Man, because Thor's powers are 'real'.

Sometimes the origin sequence of a 'lucky one' is redolent with tragedy, as with the primary superhero origin, in which an entire planet full of nice white people in headbands gets blown into radioactive dust in one lousy panel, just so Superman can be booted over to our spatial neighborhood, where a slight difference in the radiation sequence of the local sun confers on him powers far beyond those of mortal men. Even so, Superman certainly falls into the category of one of the 'lucky' ones, to whom some strange twist of fate has occurred that has conferred on him superhuman abilities.

Then there is the other large sub?grouping of superhumans, namely, those who aren't lucky enough to get smacked by magic lightning or bitten by a glowing bug. These are those who arrive at the ability to traffick in the realm of the transhuman through their own individual efforts at creating a supernormal device, such as Iron Man's armor, or Hank Pym's and Ray Palmer's various size changing artifacts, or Victor Von Doom's vast array of near supernatural technology, includin the only working time machine to be invented in his entire space time continuum during the 20th Century. To this list I'd also add such singular Golden Age characters as Johnny Quick and the Doll Man, both of whom demonstrate the astonishing ability to evidence striking superpowers simply through an effort of concentrated will... and who, in both cases, also demonstrated an ability to teach other people to do the same thing.

Falling somewhere in between these two large categories is the second, and often imitated, superhero origin, in which a young child is so traumatized by witnessing the brutal murders of his parents that he drives himself to feats of physical and mental accomplishment so far beyond anything we would remotely consider normalcy that he, effectively, through his own indomitable will, becomes superhuman.

Is there a common element to all these origin sequences? I think there is, and I think, if we look hard, we'll find that that element is... sheer, raw, unrelenting willpower.

When Barry Allen gets hit by a rack of electrified chemicals, why doesn't he die? Nearly anyone else would. Would the excruciating agonies of the original, never to be correctly duplicated, super soldier experiment have killed most test subjects? Probably, so why didn't they kill Steve Rogers?

Remember our key paragaphs, above: The first primary difference between superhero universes, and our own, is that in superhero universes, reality can be altered, locally, or in some instances, across entire dimensional areas, by the conscious or subconscious will of its sentient inhabitants. In addition, we have a second fundamental difference between our reality and metarealities: these "super" universes, which are already more fundamentally 'malleable', on a basic quantum level, are also inhabited by sentient beings who are considerably more focused and strong willed than you and I and the other people who live in the 'real world'.

For the most part, people dwelling in fictional super realities are simpler, more cleanly defined, and more iconic. There are varying levels of realistic detail from one reality to another, but as a general rule, this is still an accurate observation. Marvel characters of the early to mid Silver Age had, perhaps, a bit more depth and complexity to them than DC characters of the same time period, but this was mostly on the surface. Underneath, you have characters who, at most, are only capable of ever doing one wrong thing in their lives, and usually that occurs during their origin sequence, and they respond to the mistake in typical exaggerated heroic or villainous fashion.

Captain America has been clearly established as quite simply never being in the ethical wrong. He just flat out never does a bad thing. Peter Parker did one bad thing in his life, and when that bad thing had tragic consequences, he devoted the rest of his existence to making up for it. Dr. Doom had one not even particularly bad thing befall him (his face was scarred in an accident) and he has devoted the rest of his life to making the entire world pay for it.

In our world, people don't behave this way. Someone as iconic as Captain America or Superman simply doesn't exist here. You can't credibly imagine the Silver Age Cap or Kal El ever really doing anything morally questionable, and racking my brains, I can't think of anyone in our reality I'd say that about. In fact, these days, I think people are not only willing to believe the worst about anyone, especially 'heroes', but are in fact eager to.

A real world Peter Parker, faced with the tragic consequences of one irresponsible action, might well have tried to redeem himself somehow... but he wouldn't do it by dedicating his life and his superpowers to having fist fights with whackos in tights. Instead, he would devote his lucrative and fulfilling show business career to the memory of his Uncle Ben, and probably found a memorial charity in Uncle Ben's name.

Victor Von Doom, in our world, might mutter and fume and post nasty messages on AOL chat boards about that bastard Reed Richards, but he'd eventually settle his lawsuit against the university for a handsome sum, get plastic surgery, write a best selling book about his murdered mother, and retire to his tiny Balkan kingdom to flog the peasants and shoot grouse.

Thus we see that not only is the fundamental fabric of existence in super realities different, but the very nature of human behavior also varies from our own norm. Things have more focus there. Good and Evil have capital letters. The laws of physics are more flexible, the interactions of human character, more rigid. Some denizens of metarealities 'get lucky' and have superpowers basically handed to them on a platter, surviving an onslaught of blind fate that would have killed someone less strong willed than they, emerging from it transformed into an entity with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

Or some scheming godlike being with an indomitable will and agenda of its own might pick some hapless idiot to be whacked with the 'super stick'. (Barry Allen is a good example of the 'blind fate' origin, while the Absorbing Man, transformed on a malevolent whim by Loki so he could kick Thor around for a while, shows us what happens to hapless mortals when the gods get bored.)

Others, however, have to do it the hard way. Through whatever mental focus they are most familiar with (magic, metallurgy, electrical engineering, biochemistry, etc) they construct some sort of device that allows them to create and reliably duplicate a particular useful effect that generally defies all known laws of nature. The interaction of the focuses, indomitable will with a more malleable, flexible fabric of fundamental, quantum reality, allows the creation of... wonders.

This may seem something of a leap, but superheroic fantasy is rife with examples of this. In fact, virtually EVERY superhuman origin can be seen to fit into this paradigm, and virtually every bizarre coincidence or apparently contrived melodramatic event in the life of any supercharacter is similarly compatible with the overall hypothesis.

However, before I get to specific examples supporting this hypothesis, I want to discuss two more general ones.

(Before I go too much further with this, I should note that I am writing this FOR FUN, folks. I am playing with ideas and spinning moonbeams, here. I do not take this seriously and neither should you. The universes of my favorite comic book characters are fictional, and the real reason why people get superpowers there and not here is that we fans want to buy superhero stories and those pros want to sell them to us. This is all sophistry. Okay? I have written the reality check, you have cashed it, now let's get back to the fun stuff:)

The superhero genre has one very famous example of a detailed, complex super universe that bears out my hypothesis in every particular ? as a negative example. This is a universe which is clearly more malleable and flexible, in its basic quantum fabric, than our own. However, it is also a universe populated with very complex, morally ambiguous, multi faceted, deeply sophisticated rather less focused than normal super-types, people. People much like you and I. And in this wonderfully realized metareality, NOBODY has superpowers. They dress up like typical four color lunatics and run around bashing on each other with mad abandon, but nobody has a superpower, and nobody has any sort of mechanical contrivance that works in defiance of the laws of nature as we know them, or that even seems significantly in advance of the admittedly, slightly more sophisticated level of everyday technology that exists there.

I'm talking about WATCHMEN, of course, and having said that, I know that the entire audience is now clamoring to point out (other than that one guy in the Todd McFarlane Wolverine t-shirt who is asleep in the back, someone give him a shake, please) that there is one character in that universe DOES have superpowers, and another character DOES invent something wildly beyond the technology of their time. However, those two examples -- the rather godlike abilities of Dr. Manhattan, and the invention of teleportation by Adrian Veidt, simply bear out my hypothesis.

Of all the characters introduced in the vast and complex cast of WATCHMEN, Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan are the closest to being 'iconic', other than perhaps the first Nite Owl, who never actually gets whacked with the 'super stick' in any particular fashion, by either being disintegrated, or gaining access to a worldwide media and merchandising empire to focus his will through.

The fact that Veidt DOES manage to create teleportation, and Manhattan DOES manage to gain more or less conscious control over the entire fabric of space time after being disintegrated and reintegrating himself, indicates that this is indeed a super reality that, at its quantum foundations, is just as flexible and capable of manipulation by beings of indomitable will as the mainstream DC or Marvel universes.

However, the laws of physics in that universe do not get manipulated and distorted in the everyday fashion we see in the Marvel and DC universes, and the reason for that is, the iconic Person of Will barely exists in the WATCHMEN universe.

In fact, there are two of them: Adrian Veidt and Dr. Manhattan. Everybody else in that world, even the heroes and villains, are fractious, squabbling, corrupt, confused, decadent, doubting, and generally weak willed, when they're not out and out sociopathic. The humanity in this universe is too much like the humanity in our own: unfocused, chaotic, mired in the muck of the mundane, easily distracted by greed and lust and fear. For the vast most part, transhumanity is as far beyond them as it is beyond us, even in a flexible continuum.

Another even more general example of what I'm talking about can be seen in the evolution of the DC Universe over the course of the Silver Age. DC's characters, at the beginning of the Silver Age, were more powerful than they had ever been before; arguably, they were more powerful than any superheroes that had ever been previously published, leaving aside truly fantastic figures like the Spectre and Kid Eternity, both of whom were given truly mind boggling abilities by no less a figure than Jehovah himself.

Looking simply at the main DC character of that time, Superman, we find the following relatively short and doubtless incomplete list of his capacities in the 60s and early 70s:

* Perceive across a full audiovisual spectrum anything he wants to, anywhere in the universe, and THROW HIS VOICE THERE, too.

* Two different translight velocity capacities in his flight: one he uses to zip to distant solar systems in a few minutes, the other he uses for time travel.

* The ability to put out suns (superbreath) and reignite them (heat vision), or perform any feat requiring any controlled temperature extreme in a range between.

* The ability to move planets out of their orbits through sheer muscle power. Said ability, naturally, includes the far lesser capacity for squeezing coal into chunks of diamond.

* Total invulnerability to EVERYTHING except magic and Kryptonite. I mean, everything. Point blank nuclear explosions, supernova, Steve Lombard's practical jokes, everything. And TOTAL invulnerability. Hit him with a hydrogen bomb and it doesn't even muss his hair. The man can lean casually on the solar gale from a supernova. TOTAL invulnerability... unless you whack him over the head with a magical fingernail paring, in which case, he cries like a little girl.

At the time Superman enjoyed this astonishing... nay, absolutely mind boggling... array of pure raw power, he was also quite literally the Icon of all Icons. He was so Good and Noble and Virtuous and Wonderful that he made Captain America look like a pederast. You simply could not creditably imagine the Man of Steel ever so much as snapping irritably at Batman over a game of Kryptonian chess, much less doing anything remotely morally ambiguous. He didn't even sleep.

As time wore on, Superman became a somewhat more complex character. I'm not talking about a Stan Lee level of complexity, now, far less the horrifying depths of emotional complexity and moral ambiguity John Byrne subjected a hapless Kal El to. I just mean that every once in a while, we might see Clark Kent showing irritation at the latest idiotic practical joke of Steve Lombard, and some whimsical satisfaction while surreptitiously using his super powers to make such jokes backfire on Steve.

The Superman of the 50s and 60s would never have considered such childishness. And as Superman became a slightly more complicated and less iconic character... his power levels dropped. Not much, but we stopped seeing the planet shifting, the super ventriloquism, the astoundingly casual split second commutes to Procyon. Lex Luthor got a suit of powered armor and started kicking the Man of Steel around a little.

Superman's level of depth and complexity gradually increased through the 70s and early 80s, leading up to the Crisis, and as it did, his power levels consistently and subtly tapered off. He became capable of rage, of tears, of emotional excesses that the stolid supericon of the 60s and early 70s would never have dreamt of. We got subtle but strong hints that Supes and Lois might actually be knocking boots once in a while, (presumably under a red sun lamp; we've all read "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", after all) and we certainly saw them making out in many panels. And as Kal El gradually became a more 'real' person, his strength dropped, and his invulnerability got a little less invulnerable.

He never (until MAN OF STEEL) lost his essential incorruptibility, that crucial element of utter heroism that was, far more than his actual superhuman powers, his fundamental defining factor. And he never (until MAN OF STEEL) lost the vast array or enormous amount of power he could call on. But... as he became just a bit closer to the strange, swirling hodgepodge of confusion and chaos that we all recognize as normal human existence, he did lose some of his sheer overwhelming super-might. I would hypothesize that his will marginally weakened, he became something less of an icon, and as he did, he lost some of his ability to directly manipulate his environment through sheer mental force.

Obviously, this happened across the spectrum in the DC Universe from the early 60s to the early 80s. The Flash got a little more human and a little slower at the same time. Green Lantern gained a bit more depth and at the same time, seemed to dwindle in heroic stature. (I'm not referring, here, to the unwarranted and completely ludicrous retroactive hackjob enacted on GL after Crisis, within the pages of the execrable EMERALD DAWN mini series, but rather, to the simple manner in which a more three dimensional and conflicted Hal Jordan ceased to employ his power ring in overwhelmingly powerful ways over the course of the 70s and early 80s.)

The Atom became so human that he destroyed his marriage in a passionate orgy of emotion and abuse, and as a result, he wound up trapped at tiny size in a microscopic jungle village for years.

Those are the general examples that immediately occur to me supporting this hypothesis. I'll now detail a few specific ones, drawn from both DC and Marvel.

It's interesting to note the various benchmarks in Hank Pym's transhuman career in the light of our 'super-universe as meta-material' hypothesis.

Pym's enormous natural will, apparently honed by his endless efforts at refining and modifying his first invention, the Pym Particle, apparently begins to manifest itself without his clear, coherent, conscious control, as more and more time goes on. That his powerful unconscious desire to marry the Wasp, and emulate her to an extent in being less inhibited, led to his breakdown and psychic transformation into Yellowjacket, is well established. However, prior to that event, his will had already brought about another tragic, and by all sane standards, impossible, event: the creation of artificial life in the form of Ultron. Recent revelations in AVENGERS have shown that in fact, Pym gave his first crude model of the robot that became Ultron his own brain patterns, and given the implacable will he himself has demonstrated, this may well be why Ultron itself has been the Avengers' most indomitable, relentless, and indestructible foe.

Pym's powerful but clearly out of control will has often manifested itself in negative ways. Terrified of his growing intimacy with the Wasp, and subconsciously desiring more raw physical power, he 'trapped' himself for a time at the height of ten feet. When he didn't 'need' to be trapped any more, he found a cure.

Later on, bewildered and stressed out by a life that had gone seemingly out of control, he trapped himself again, this time at Ant-Man height, again, for a time period that lasted exactly as long as he wanted it to, until he found a way to 'cure' himself again. These self destructive tendencies manifested themselves fully for the first time in an Avengers story arc where, blaming himself for the Wasp's near fatal injuries at the hands of the Toad, he rashly drove himself into a pointless, suicidal frenzy of out of control size change that should have resulted in his death, and doubtless would have, if Henry McCoy hadn't come up with yet another 'cure'.

Fortunately, that particular near-suicide -- his first, but not his last -- acted as a catharsis and for a long period after that, his size changing abilities, and even his mental equilibrium, stabilized. Frustrations continued to mount, however, resulting eventually in another mental breakdown, followed by a spectacularly self destructive rampage that included a brief but really nasty incident of wifebeating, an acrimonious divorce, a short period in jail, and eventually, another suicide attempt.

This time Firebird spiritually intervened, as the Beast had physically intervened before, and once more, the catharsis of his suicide attempt allowed him to function rationally for a long period. During this period, however, his out of control will caused him to 'lose' his size changing powers, although he manifested for the first time a mental control over the 'Pym particle' as it affected any other object BUT himself, and went through a period as the charming MacGyver type super-adventurer called, simply, Dr. Pym. However, when the Avengers demonstrated a need for his size changing abilities once more, he, without any explanation, 'regained' those powers, which he by then no longer needed to take gas, potions, or pills to manifest.

(Late breaking news update: current Avengers scribe Kurt Busiek, in his thoroughly professional way, has provided us with an explanation for Pym's otherwise inexplicable return to size changing way back during the Harras run on AVENGERS, which then writer Bob Harras never bothered to give us at the time: apparently, Hank decided the Avengers might need him as a size changer again, and set to work to once more modify his serums and his natural abilities. In other words, he decided he should be able to change sizes again, so now, he can. Thank you, Mr. Busiek. Sometimes I think I might actually be on to something, here.)

Most recently, the catharsis of violently murdering -- actually, crushing like an old tin can with his bare fists -- his robotic self, Ultron, (in a very real sense, yet another attempt at self murder, and this time, an apparently successful one) seems to have stabilized his out of control super-will once again... although it should be noted that foreshadowings and developments in the latest issue of AVENGERS strongly indicate that he's on the verge of yet another breakdown.

(More late breaking news: Boy, is he ever! If you're not reading AVENGERS, you are a very silly person and you're missing out on not only the best superhero comic currently being published by Marvel, but, along with Chris Priest's Black Panther, the only surviving remnant of the Silver Age still to exist in the Marvel Universe.)

Another example of the way super-reality can be warped by the formidable will of one particular character living there, this time pertaining to the DC Universe, are the events following Hal Jordan's voluntary resignation from the Green Lantern Corp, just prior to the Crisis.

How is Hal Jordan an example of this? Well, leaving aside the fact that he is arguably The Greatest Hero In The History Of The DC Universe, because he, and he alone, came to realize that a huge evil (the Crisis) had been enacted on the entire space time continuum, and he, and he alone, in the face of vociferous opposition by everyone else in the universe, had the balls to try to do something about it (and they called him crazy and eventually hounded him to his grave, too), we're still left with the example of exactly what happened after Hal voluntarily gave up his ticket on the Superhero Express and retired from the Green Lantern Corps, just so he could have a regular sex life again.

(This demonstrates that even The Greatest Hero In The Universe can be a fool for love, since Hal could have kept his power ring and started boffing any of a legion of comely humanoid alien wenches, including two drop dead gorgeous female GL hotties, both of whom at the time had huge crushes on him. For that matter, he could have used his power ring to create a Carol Ferris duplicate that, other than being bright green, would have in all other ways been indistinguishable from the original. Instead, he gave up near omnipotence to hang around with one of the most demonstrably obnoxious female characters in comics history, who, in addition to her sparkling personality, also occasionally, just for kicks, wigged out and tried to conquer the Earth with her own near omnipotent Item of Power.)

It's safe to assume that, after years -- decades, maybe -- of wielding a power ring, Hal's willpower was an astounding thing, on a level with, if not actually vastly overshadowing, other such paramount Beings Of Will as Dr. Doom, Lex Luthor, and Bruce Wayne. This being the case, you would expect, if my theory of the nature of super-universes is true, that Hal's local reality would rather quickly start to conform to his own conscious and subconscious desires.

And... boy, did it ever. Without superpowers of any sort, Hal stood up to, and very nearly defeated, an ultra loonie named the Predator in a contest of both guile and straightforward hand to hand combat skill. He somehow talked a super-evolved SHARK into teaming up with him to save the universe. (I mean, come ON, THINK about that for a minute; how evolved does a shark have to BE before it cares about the imminent death of an entire space-time continuum?)

And, in the end, through a bizarre series of coincidences too utterly incredible to be anything BUT the result of his own unconscious willpower, he wound up being Green Lantern once more... despite the fact that every Guardian then in existence had sworn blind that they'd transform themselves into glowing green gerbils and join the Legion of Superpets before they ever let Jordan into the Corps again.

There's a further and more subtle bit of evidence in support of my 'super reality as meta?material' hypothesis, as it relates to our pal Hal. A very scary one.

An argument could be made that Hal Jordan subconsciously initiated the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

It's a rather simple theory: Hal, knowing full well that nothing was going to get him reinstated in the GLC except the end of the bloody universe itself, subconsciously reached out with his near infinite will and... well... You know that big hand stirring the primal soup of creation itself....?

Hal's infinite will, knowing that only the end of the universe will get him a power ring again, reaches back to the very dawn of time and creates the Anti-Monitor, leading to the Crisis, which led to Hal's reinstatement in the Green Lantern Corps, which, of course, only came about because of Hal's big hand stirring the primal universe in the first place...

It's a theory that certainly has a certain melodramatic and symmetrical appeal to it. DC's Creation lore first appeared in an issue of GREEN LANTERN, and later on down the road, Hal himself was the only person in the rebooted DC Universe who remembered the Crisis, and made an effort to undo it.

Kind of gives you the shivers, doesn't it?

If Hal wasn't such a genuinely nice guy, I'd be terrified at the thought of living in the same universe with him... especially if he has a power ring.

Other evidence for my thesis lies in two obscure heroes many have forgotten, but that remain personal favorites of mine: Darryl Dane, the Doll Man, and Johnny Chambers, better known as Johnny Quick.

Darryl Dane, in his own diminutive way, is kind of a mind boggler. There are those, I know, who would argue that he's a mutant, or in fact, he was exposed to some weird radiation or some such without being aware of it, and that this, and not sheer, raw willpower, are the source of his bizarre shrinking powers. To them I say PUH-shaw. Oh, sure, I can ignore third person captions when it suits me (as when some well meaning but obviously clueless Legion scribe tries to tell me that Cosmic Boy 'evolved' magnetic powers in order to fight metal monsters on his native planet, I mean, puh LEEZE, Braalians don't need magnetic powers, they need phasers), but I can also embrace them like a drunk, giggling co-ed in a wet t-shirt when they support my long winded concepts of super reality, and this one does, and so, I do.

(Someone give me a medal for writing that sentence without passing out from anoxia.)

In the case of Darryl Dane, and, later, his main squeeze Martha, the change is accomplished by sheer willpower alone - a fact evidenced by a caption in the first ever DOLL MAN story I ever read, in an unfortunately long lost 100 PAGE SUPER SPECTACULAR from the 70s. Because it's long lost, I can't quote the caption verbatim, but it went something like "through an astounding burst of sheer mental effort, Darryl Dane concentrates his mass down into the six inch form of the Mighty Mite ? DOLL MAN!" I mean, is this cool or what? He doesn't need white dwarf material, shrinking gas, a space?time warp, or even the friggin Helmet of Nabu ? he just furrows the old Dane brow and BAM! Instant six inch superdude. Give this guy a power ring and evildoers better take cover, I'm telling you.

Even MORE mindboggling and far reaching in its implications though, is the fact that Darryl Dane taught his girlfriend Martha how to do it, too -- implying the out and out astounding notion that size changing is actually a skill that one can impart to another.

If so, it seems logical to assume that one can learn to be superpowered... if one lives in a super reality. I would further hypothesize that in fact, virtually ANY alteration of perceived reality is within the reach of the sufficiently strong, skilled, and disciplined mind within a super?reality, and that if Darryl Dane weren't for some reason locked in on the 'shrink' thing, he might well have become one of the more gifted sorcerors any Golden Age universe ever knew.

As mentioned, it's not just Darryl Dane who enacts fundamental changes in the laws of physics witha mere furrowing of his brow. Johnny Chambers, hot shot news photog, also gains amazing super powers through an effort of sheer mental will ? namely, he silently recites a 'speed formula' to himself, which gives him superspeed on a level with that of the Flash. And, like Darryl Dane, Johnny has on a couple of occasions managed to teach others to recite the 'speed formula', with the same brain?staggering results.

(The 'speed formula' does not work in our reality. I know. I've tried. I'm sure any of you who ever read any appearances of Johnny Quick, Golden Age or Roy Thomasized, also tried, and so you already know this.)

I could continue to support my central thesis with hundreds, if not thousands, of examples. I could mention how 'super reality as meta material' is the only plausible explanation for how Superman managed to travel back to the dawn of time, return to a changed, post Crisis, DC Earth with his full memories of everything that had occurred in the Crisis, and with his full, pre Crisis, powers intact... and then, suddenly, after someone hypnotized him into believing the preposterous events related in MAN OF STEEL, he suddenly forgot about his cousin and began to believe that he was not only an arrogant yuppie jerk, but that he was also far less powerful than he really was. So astonishing, in fact, is Kal El's super-will that, upon his falling under the evil spell of Johnny Redbeard, his local reality warped itself to the extent that Lex Luthor's IQ halved, Lois dyed her hair red and became far more agreeably affectionate towards Clark Kent, everyone forgot his embarrassing adventures as Superbaby and Superboy, and his dead parents came back to life!

I'm telling you, if The so-called Original Universe isn't as flexible as a piece of licorish, then I'm both the Professor AND Maryann.

Although it seems an ongoing disappointment, having to live in a world where our wants, no matter how impassioned, do not in any way reshape the actual fabric of space/time into a more pleasing and desirable form for our own gratification, I have to say at this point that living here is probably preferable to actually living in the Marvel or DC super realities. And it's not just the absence of maniacs with mind control satellites, recurring alien invasions, or swarms of big pink robots looking for people with albinism to stuff into glass tubes that make this an overall better, if duller, world to live in, either.

I mean, just think how much it would suck to live in a world where some disgruntled ex?space cop somewhere could basically WISH really hard and, like, reboot the history of the universe from the dawn of time onward.

After all, would YOU want to find yourself suddenly doomed to grow up to be Tommy Tomorrow?

John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, no longer dwells in Marathon, IL. In fact, no one dwells in Marathon, IL any more. It could be because the entire population was abducted by aliens, or it could be because Marathon IL was wiped from the sands of time by the Crisis and only I remember it. In hypertime, though, everything is real, so we really don't have to pick just one option, and for that, Mark Waid... we thank you.

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