Last week I went through a few science gaffes that were powerful enough to rip me out of a particularly story, and after posting that column I’ve recognized a few more. I’ve often said in these columns, and will reiterate again, that I completely accept that the narrative is king and science, if necessary at all, should serve that narrative, not the other way around. So these examples are more like mental pressure points that jab my very brain rather than actual problems with the stories themselves.
As I thought back on the gaffes I overlooked, I realized that more than a few of them center on Magneto. Magneto is one of my favorite characters, and honestly one of the most powerful people in the Marvel Universe when you get right down to it, yet he seems prone to major faux pas when it comes to getting his powers to function correctly. Which is, frankly, a bit silly, since his power is literally fundamental, as electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of the known universe. Needless to say, if I had that power the House of M would not have been an alternate reality. In this sense Magneto reminds me a lot of Dr. Light. Someone with a surficially simple power but one that is complex and staggering when examined a little more closely. I even wrote one of my first columns here at iFanboy actually dealt with the capabilities Dr. Light could possess given the right writing.
So let’s get into a few of the instances where Magneto has botched the science. First and foremost has to be Uncanny X-Men #304. In this issue Magneto “grips the blood” of the X-Men in order to essentially paralyze them into submission. Conceptually this seems kind of cool because we know that the molecule hemoglobin, which is used by red blood cells to carry oxygen, contains iron. Iron + Magnets = Badassery, right? Wrong. The flaw here is that the iron in our blood is not ferromagnetic, meaning it does not interact with magnetic fields. The iron in hemoglobin ignores magnetic fields while bonded to oxygen, and is only slightly paramagnetic when unbound. And by slightly, I mean you’d need sensitive lab equipment to even detect it. And ultimately, this is a good thing. Imagine being in an MRI (the ‘M’ there stands for magnetic) if your blood could be moved around by shifting fields. That’s not a death I’d want. Coincidentally, this is why all those magnetic remedies, bracelets and such, do absolutely nothing. Oh well, moving on.
The next big foul-up is much more recent, and I can’t believe I forgot about it last week. In A v. X #1 Magneto throws down with Iron Man. And yes, spoilers ahead. Should be a quick fight, right? It certainly was in Ultimate War back in the day. Fortunately Iron Man brought his special suit that makes him immune to blah blah blah.
That’s fine, not the point. The problem here is when Iron Man decides to play his super-secret wild card wherein he pulls from the magnetic field of Jupiter so he can pummel Magneto with his own power. Cool idea, but the problem is the distance involved in the energy transfer. Energy, even magnetic energy, is limited by the speed of light. So the arrival of Iron Man’s special surprise would not have been instantaneous. In fact, with some very basic math we can calculate how long Tony should have had to wait.
Earth is about 8.3 light minutes from the sun, i.e. at the speed of light a photon leaving the sun will arrive at earth 8.3 minutes later. This is an average because elliptical orbits being what they are, our distance from the sun shifts slightly during the course of the year. Jupiter is about 43.3 light minutes from the sun. Therefore, the field may have arrived after about 35 minutes. This is actually the quickest possible time because it presumes that earth and Jupiter are in alignment with the sun, which they rarely are. This fact is acknowledged within the pages of the comic, so the overall error is exceptionally perplexing. Sure there may have been some sort of Stark Tech Boom Tube equivalent, but if Tony had access to that why not just send Magneto to Jupiter and win the fight that way? Is this mess up really Magneto’s fault? Nah, but he should have let Tony know that what he was doing wouldn’t work. It’s only polite.
Now I realize I’m only at two foul ups but I fear I might be done. Granted, in the space of two articles I’ve chastised the Master of Magnetism 3 out of 5 times, far more than any other character. I think it’s mostly due to how much potential I see in Erik, and how often I think he falls short. I yearn for simple moments that show just how intricate and powerful Magneto is. Just once, I’d love to see a group of characters lost and to have one character wrongly assert which way north is and have Magneto pipe in to say “Nope, north is that way.”
“Well how do you know?” asks the idiot. Magneto opens his palm to review a sliver of metal acting as the pointer of a literally handmade compass. Perhaps only I would get a kick out of that, but those smaller moments could be things of scientific beauty, as opposed to the bombastic failings I’ve been forced to recount here.
So who’s your character that gets your sacred cow consistently wrong? I was surprised and delighted by the comments last week, and am hoping to keep the conversation going, so give me what you got!
Ryan Haupt was shocked very badly by a light socket one time. His first thought after coming to was to see if he had electric powers. He didn’t. Hear his other scientific laments on the podcast Science… sort of.