Science! If Dr. Light REALLY Used His Powers

Thinking hard about how to use  his powers.Since a certain show ended with the main answer to the burning questions being “light” I’ve been a bit miffed. Who would have thought that a word as simple as “light” could be ambiguous? When it comes to language, scientists are precise bunch. How can we have a meaningful discussion about a topic if we’re not thinking of a concept in the same way? Imagine you were having a debate about the Green Lantern (a light based hero, I might add) but one of you was thinking Alan Scott and the other was thinking of Kyle Rainer. You’d get it sorted out eventually but it would have saved you both some frustration if you’d bothered to establish which GL was up for discussion.

So what kind of light are we talking about now? There are two varieties: what we can see as humans vs. the whole rest of it. What humans can see actually encompasses a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Take a look at the diagram below, the visible portion of the spectrum is really kinda tiny. There's a lof of room to explore and since the visible light spectrum is only arbitrarily defined by our own eyes and minds I’d like to take into account the entire spectrum, including the visible, for the remainder of the article.

By using this definition alone we’ve already upped the ante for our key player, Dr. Light. If you’re unfamiliar with his back-story it’s a pretty typical villain route. Evil physicist steals suit that gives him control over light. Eventually he internalizes the power and doesn’t need the suit anymore. He was widely regarded as a buffoon until it was rectonnned that he’d been magically lobotomized after doing some really heinous stuff back in the day. I’m going to assume a physicist would know about light, but if he’d been made dumber maybe he forgot and needs a refresher.

Diagramed!Since Dr. Light can control light, and we’ve just modified our definition of light to a more scientific bent, we’ve just opened the door for some interesting uses of our villainous Dr.’s powers. Previous creative teams have attempted to make Dr. Light a more legitimate threat, explaining away his buffoonery with complex plots of sexual misconduct and mental manipulation, but really they may have needed nothing more than some good science advising to make Dr. Light a truly potent player. Let’s look at some of other types of light and how the not-so-good Doctor could make use of them to wreak is particular brand of havoc.

Starting on the end with the longest wavelength and lowest frequency we have radio waves. Yup, those are light. Crazy, right? I’ve had a hard time thinking of a cool way Dr. Light could use radio waves as a weapon. I suppose he could create some sort of crazy War of the Worlds style hoax and broadcast it from himself but that seems more in line with a Flash Rogue than Dr. Light. And who listens to the radio anymore these days? So a fine power, good for a gag, but maybe not much more. I suppose he could jam communications if the people chasing him were using walkie-talkies. That’d be pretty nifty!

Now we’re getting nasty with microwaves. Like all EM waves, these guys contain energy. This energy can be imparted to other things if it collides with their atoms. If you’re goal is to give another object an energy boost then these are a good type of wave to use because their long wavelength means they’re more lightly to collide with the atoms in an object while passing through it. That’s exactly what’s happening when food is placed in your home microwave oven. The screen in the microwave is effective at protecting things outside the microwave because the holes of the screen are much too small for a wave that size to fit through. The same way a keyhole doesn’t let in as much light as a large window. Now do you understand why you can’t dry your hand-towels in the microwave? It’s not a drying heat, just an energy imparter. Fun fact: The microwave is the best tool in your house for cleaning your sponges. Nothing A waste of a suit.can survive inside it, but be careful picking the thing back up, it’ll be HOT. Speaking of nothing surviving, Dr. Light could use this part of the spectrum to cook your face. I imagine this would hurt. A lot. If you find yourself in this situation, ask him to just go straight to cooking the brain, at least the brain has no pain receptors. It wouldn’t hurt as much.

Infrared isn’t quite not quite the offensive powerhouse as microwave, but maybe still pretty useful from a tactical standpoint. If you’ve played any of these new fangled modern warfare videogames you’ll know that sometimes you want to use a gun with an infrared scope to penetrate a smoke barrier or see enemies at night. So I guess Dr. Light has night vision? He could plausibly have heat vision if instead of firing a blast of infrared light out of his hands he used his eyes instead. He could give really warm hugs but with his history you probably don’t want that. I guess the closer you get to visible light the less exotic the powers seem. Oh well, moving on…

Visible light is what we’re used to seeing with Dr. Light. It’s his typical milieu. If you’re unfamiliar with how he generally uses his powers I’d suggest reading Identity Crisis and the Teen Titans story arc that followed collected in Vol. 4 The Future is Now. I enjoyed both these books a good bit, check 'em out.

Thinking thoughs of UV
UV is much like infrared: Not that exciting. The best you could really do is sterilizing some stuff, and throw a really killer rave. And confuse insects that can see in the UV spectrum. Oh man, you could make so much honey. Not really that evil though; unless you steal the honey from the bees, like some kind of bee-keeper. An evil bee-keeper.


Because it wouldn't make sense otherwise, the image to the right is an X-ray of a Bee's brain. I thought it was a nice bridge between topics.


X-Ray’s if used for evil would be pretty nasty. Not only could Dr. Light see your bones (ok, that’s not really that bad) but he could mess with your DNA, and that really is that bad. It may not seem that bad, you get X-rayed every time you go to the dentist. But I doubt Dr. Light is gonna let you wear a nice lead apron and only hit you in the jaw for a millisecond. X-Rays have this bad tendency of breaking DNA, your body is good at repairing the damageShe's nice AND pretty. but even breaks over a long enough period of time and your body might make a mistake. A mistake in a cell’s DNA can cause the cell to replicate uncontrollably, which is cancer. I bet Dr. Light is the kind of jerk who blasts the guy at the coffee shop every day when he gets his latte just to give the dude cancer in a few years.

Last up with the shortest wavelength and highest frequency are gamma rays. Basically Dr. Light should be able to create his own Hulks. ‘nuff said? Nah, let’s say more. Outside of the Marvel Universe gamma radiation is pretty potent stuff. Radiation poisoning seems right up Dr. Light’s brand of evil too. Dying this way is just awful. You’d be asking Dr. Light to finish you off with the microwave after about 12-24 hours depending on the dose he gave you. It literally gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it and I’m glad the bad Doctor has yet to figure it out.

That's all the light we have for now. I hope this look into my brain hasn’t scared you too badly. I realize I could have done the exact same article using the hero version of Dr. Light, Kimiyo Hoshi, but we all know she’d never use her powers like this even if she knew she could. If you have a hero or villain whose powers you’d like me to explore or you have an opinion of your own, let me hear it!



Ryan Haupt spends way too much time imagining life as a super-villain. His evil plan has already begun, phase 1 is a podcast called Science… sort of. The only way to stop him is to listen.


  1. Excellent article!  Science is awesome.  It’s a good thing Dr. Light is too preoccupied with raping everything in sight to unleash a massive blast of gamma radiation in downtown New York.

  2. Not that rape is ever a good thing.  Obviously.

  3. When Kyle Rayner first showed up as GL he fought Dr. Light a few times and it was awesome. For some reason Ron Marz wrote him as a credible threat and pretty smart, although kinda nuts from being trapped in a power battery. Since this was my first exposure to the character it always seemed out of character when I saw him portrayed as thuggish or dumb.

  4. I love that image of Hoshi. It’s a bummer she’s always treated as a 3rd stringer.

  5. Best. Article. Ever!

  6. You have blinded me with science.

    Well done.

  7. Maybe Dr Light’s use of visible spectrum light is limited by his environment.  One question we might ask is: How would he be able to control electromagnetic waves he is not capable of perceiving? 

    It’s no accident that human vision primarily functions between near UV and near IR because that is the spectrum containing much of the ambient electromagnetic information we’re immersed in on a daily basis.  Humans did not evolve to avoid/perceive threats in the gamma or microwave range because these threats were not present over the course of human evolution.  In other words, humans evolved to sense what they needed to survive. 

    Now, even if Dr Light was capable of perceiving electromagnetic waves beyond the visible spectrum, this might not be much more of a threat than visible light.  Obviously, the good doctor is already capable of fucking you up with ambient light.  Would manipulation of the ambient UV really be much scarier?  And yes, gamma rays, x-rays and microwaves are all more menacing than plain old 540 nanometer green light, but there just isn’t as much around to be a threat. 

    To put it another way, why doesn’t Superman carry pepper spray?  Because he doesn’t need it.   If you can control and manipulate visible light, what do you need to mess with radio waves for? 

    Now, put Dr Light in a space suit above the ionosphere, or in the outer Van Allen belt, and that could get really scary. 

    Now I hear you saying, “Maybe he can affect the frequency of electromagnetic waves, boosting visible photons up into the more hazardous X-ray domain?”  Yeah, maybe.  It’s true that in the comic book universe, the law of conservation of energy doesn’t always apply.  But, if the fundamental premise is that Dr Light has science derived powers I’m going to discard that argument. 


  8. Ryan, you killed it sir! The light spectrum was a sight to behold (see what I did there). It makes you realize how powerful someone like Dr. Light or, dare I say, Dazzler, could actually be in a capable writer’s hands. I’m loving your column each week, by the way.

  9. @Aalbatr0ss You bring some truly excellent points to bear. An earlier draft of the article had a bit on evolution of the human visual system but it didn’t seem to fit anywhere so it got cut. My answer for how he can "perceive" wavelengths outside the visible spectrum is that his suit would have to have sensors in it which allow him to visualize or at least perceive other wavelengths.

    I was also of the mind that he can create light from himself in any flavor he pleases. As you said this violates conservation of energy (unless he’s converting his own mass to energy somehow) but it seems like most super powered people need to break at least one law of physics to function so at some point you just have to let it slide.

    I actually hadn’t thought about him converting one type of light into another.

    As for him being effective enough with just visible light, then how come he always loses? 😉

  10. @ Haupt: Yeah, thats a good point.  I was thinking he can probably beat any non-powered shmoe with his light powers, but he doesn’t have the greatest track record against superheroes… 

     Thanks for the fun and thought provoking article.

  11. Most microwaves would be quite harmless to people. In fact all sorts of technology is broadcasting in microwaves all the time. The ones used in your microwave ovens are concentrated at the energy of the dipole moment of water. So they jiggle water molecules. If you don’t put water in your microwave, it will basically do nothing (of course air has a certain amount of water in it, so I wouldn’t run an empty microwave for hours for giggles.)

    Of course we people have lots of water and I’m sure our evil Dr. Light could work on getting the frequency exactly right, but microwaves are very low energy light and do not penetrate many substances very well at all. I suspect a roll of aluminum foil would defeat Dr. Microwave. If he wanted to kill, he should definitely head over the the high energy side of the spectrum.

    BTW – Heat is heat. The reason you can’t dry your towels in the microwave is not beacuse of the type of heat, but you have nothing in the microwave to remove the evaporating air out and bring new dry air in. Install a blower on the back of your microwave and it will dry things just fine… but don’t stand behind that blower.  

  12. Wow. I’m sure 60% of this whizzed over my head, but that 40% really made an impression. Dr. Light has always been treated like a douche, especially post ID Crisis. The Teen Titans stuff was pretty hardcore, and Morrison used him pretty effectively in Rock of Ages (even if his costume was downright silly). This article makes me want to read a Dr Light’s Revenge story. Using some of these methods he could really fuck up the old JLA’s day.

    Great article Ryan. Keep these comin.

  13. Along the same topic, but different character, is the Green Lantern story "Ganthet’s Tale".  

    Hal Jordon is fighting in space with enemies wielding the green lantern power, and their power is powerless to the color yellow like all lanterns at that time.  So Hal in a moment of science genius, shoots out a green energy ray while flying away from the enemies at near the speed of light – which red-shifts his green energy power so it becomes…yellow. (Downside with this attack is he ends up light years away from the battle, leaving his friends for a bit to fight on their own.)

    I could see how this might ruffle the feathers of some Green Lantern purist, but I did like the creative use of red-shift in this way.

  14. You know, I have to take one of my comments back, because I realize now it doesn’t make sense.

    When I said "Downside with this attack is he ends up light years away from the battle" doesn’t make sense when you think about it.  Hal is moving near the speed of light for a couple of seconds, perhaps at most ten.  So he would actually be at most a few Light Seconds from the battle (still a long distance), not Light Years, because he would have to be flying for…well…over a year to accomplish this by definition.