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August 2, 2002

A debate for the Silly Season
Posted by Teresa at 07:46 AM *

Over on Pigs and Fishes, Avram Grumer takes exception to Meryl Yourish’s analysis of the dating potential of various superheroes. As he says, “…[I]t92s clear from her comments about Superman that she92s never read Larry Niven92s classic (and pre-Crisis) speculative essay, ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex‘.94

Before adding my own quibbles, let me invoke Meryl’s disclaimer:

Now, this may put me down in the Internet history books as both a comic book geek and a total freak, but hey, I can’t stop my mind from goin’ where it wants to go. Just because most comic fans are guys doesn’t mean that we girls can’t make lists like this, too.

So, uh, I was thinking: What kind of dates would the various superheroes be?

Yup. If there’s a female comics fan out there who’s never once thought about this, would she please raise her hand?


First, I don’t know how Meryl feels about Lobo, but the question ought to have at least been addressed.

Second, Wolverine. Her superficial analysis:

Another bad boy. Yeah, we have that attraction to the bad boys. So what? And short? So’m I. I do have to wonder, though97would there be a snikt during the heat of passion? Could be extremely hazardous to your health. Or at least to the health of your bed. Best not use a waterbed.
Not enough. There’s got to be another reason why he’s had more girlfriends than anyone besides Iron Man. Ever consider what that healing factor means to his recovery time? On the other hand, it could just be that he knows how to dance.

Third, she entirely overlooks Beast, the only superhero who talks like the people I normally hang out with. He’s kind and polite. He pays a lot of attention to his girlfriends. He’s also cheerful, inventive, energetic, inquisitive, and a techie; and without going into a lot of detail, let me assure you that that’s a fun combination.

Fourth, she only flags a couple of ‘em as being Jewish. Doesn’t she know that unless otherwise specified, all superheroes are assumed to be Jewish? This is an insight of Paul Krassner’s. He explained once in an interview that when he was a kid, he figured all superheroes were Jewish, because where he was growing up, if your name ended in “-man”, you probably were: Feldman, Feinman, Superman, Lieberman, Aquaman, Zuckerman, Iceman, Bergman, Sandman, Goldman, Silberman, Hawkman, Wolfman, Batman, Spiderman, Schneiderman—how much more obvious can you get?

Comments on A debate for the Silly Season:
#1 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 12:08 PM:

> Feldman, Feinman, Superman, Lieberman, Aquaman,
> Zuckerman, Iceman, Bergman, Sandman, Goldman,
> Silberman, Hawkman, Wolfman, Batman, Spiderman,
: Schneiderman --

-- Attorneys at Law.

Though does this mean that Sachs is Goldman's teenage sidekick?

#2 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 12:50 PM:

Niven's speculations are beside the point, really . . . we're talking dating, here, not breeding, and any reasonably intelligent and filthy-minded human female should be able to think of three or four different ways to spend an entertaining weekend with the Man of Steel. Who is, as we all know, a gentleman, and thus presumably capable of remembering -- among other things -- to take his weight on his elbows.

And that's before we even get into the realm of Kryptonite sex toys and other interesting appliances.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 01:01 PM:

Mike, he spells it "Sacks" when he's out adventuring. He changed his science-hero name around the same time Eisenmann changed his.

Spot on, Debra. Not to mention borrowing that rope of Wonder Woman's for the weekend.

#4 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 01:58 PM:

You'd have to be a pretty confident guy to go tying up people with that rope.

#5 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 02:21 PM:

Okay, I give up -- what Crisis is "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" pre-?

And is the Eisenmann you're talking about the one who goes by the stage name of "Tony Stark"?

#6 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 03:21 PM:

David: That's a question to which there are two answers, the "lightly geekish" and the "so unbelievably geekish that you draw stares on the subway". I, of course, know both.

Lightly geekish: The reference is to Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 1985-86 DC Comics miniseries which made vast and retroactive changes to major elements of DC superhero continuity. Before the Crisis, DC had an elaborate system of alternate earths (e.g., Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-Prime) where different generations of superheroes lived. The World War II vintage Flash, Jay Garrick, lived on Earth-2, while the later Flash, Barry Allen, lived on Earth-1. However, there were also Earth-2 and Earth-1 versions of Superman; the Earth-2 version was the original Siegel & Shuster version, who was a bit less powerful than the later, Earth-1 Superman who was depicted in the Mort Weisinger/Julie Schwartz-edited comics of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The Earth-2 version was depicted as significantly older than the Earth-1 version, and was married to Lois Lane.

DC's editorial Powers That Be felt that this multiple-earth system made continuity too complex for new readers, and asked one of their star writers (Marv Wolfman) to write a story which simplified things. The Crisis swept this system away and collapsed all of the earths into a single Earth (sometimes called "Earth-DC" or, later, "Earth-Zero", but never within the comics themselves), and a lot of characters, especially duplicates, were killed, exiled, retired, or, worst of all, made to have Never Been. Also, a lot of characters underwent subtle or not-so-subtle retroactive changes.

Okay. So that's the lightly geeky answer. The supergeeky answer is: Teresa was wrong to refer to the "pre-Crisis" Superman. The Superman about whom Larry Niven wrote "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" is the Earth-1 Superman. The Earth-1 Superman survived the Crisis unchanged to become the Earth-Zero Superman.

However, a few months after Crisis, a separate mini-series, Man of Steel, retroactively redefined the powers and history of the Earth-Zero Superman. He's less powerful than the original Earth-1 Superman, and more of his powers are implicitly or explicitly psychic, so things like the super-sperm described in "Kleenex" don't work any more. Also, the various rainbow hues of kryptonite which were part and parcel of the Earth-1 Superman's mythos were retroactively defined out of existence; Niven makes reference to them, but they're no longer part of the DC Universe.

So, the Superman about which Niven wrote is significantly different from the Superman who appears in current DC comics. The new Superman is often called "the post-Crisis Superman", but the true comics pedant thinks of him as the "post-Man of Steel Superman".

Now aren't you glad you asked?

#7 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 04:03 PM:

I'm sure there was a Superman comic (it may have been just before "Crisis on Infinite Earths" which touched on the sort of problems Larry Niven imagined. I remember it as a panel which hinted at what the Comics Code Authority would probably describe as difficulties in childbirth experienced by Mrs. Superman. It was just a panel, and I think it came as a flashback in one of those "imaginary" stories that were not part of regular continuity, which DC used to do from time to time.
I might still have the issue at home, and I'll look for it tonight, but only if I'm feeling sufficiently geeky.

#8 ::: Yahmdallah ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 04:11 PM:

Thank you Kevin J. Maroney!

I worked in a bookstore (which carried all the major comics) during that multi-earth stuff, and I got so lost, I gave the heck up. It's nice to have that cleared up after all this time.

As for the topic at hand, as a very young guy, I wondered what it would be like to date/mate the "She-hulk." Would she change during sex? Would you dread PMS? (Probably.) Would she hurt you during sex when she was green? (Would her changing "during" inadvertently squash the unit?) How would she smell? How did her underwear stay on when all her clothes ripped off? Etc. But then along came Josie and the Pussycats, my cartoon crush moved on, and I stopped thinking about the problems of superpower sex. Then came Jr. High...

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 06:15 PM:


I was directly quoting Avram.

#10 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 06:22 PM:

The Niven essay has one massive flaw: It never once mentions the Bottle City of Kandor.

I once toppled Teresa with my post-Byrne update riff on "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex". I speculated that, since Supes's powers extend to cover his body (and even a small distance beyond), they might be able to function at great distance, using a detached body part as a proxy. Telekineses could even move the body part, the same way it allows him to fly. No need to chop off a finger, though; every healthy adult male comes with a ready supply of expendible, ejectable biomass. When danger threatens, all Clark Kent has to do is zip into the closet -- where he keeps his porn stash....

#11 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 07:03 PM:

Okay, guys -- don't ask me how I know about this one.

The original site seems to be down, but in the Google Cache....

#12 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 11:29 PM:

Avram, when the Niven essay first came out, darn near everyone I knew at college immediately mentioned Kandor. Shows you the kind of effete snobs we were.

Nowadays I suppose the big guy and LL would just turn up the romantic red-sun lighting in the Fortress of Solitude boudoir. (Red sky at night . . . oh, never mind.)

I don't suppose this would be a good time to mention the Nancy Reagan Manhunter? No, I didn't think so.

-- Jesuitical JMF

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2002, 12:36 AM:

Nancy Reagan is a shapeshifting alien with strange tastes in food? So much is explained.

#14 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2002, 12:51 AM:

LOL! I love the superheroes being Jewish theory!



#15 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2002, 12:56 AM:

Jim: I don't remember a pre-Crisis or pre-Man of Steel Superman story dealing with the difficulties of a human woman bearing a Kryptonian baby, but I wouldn't be surprised if Cary Bates or Elliot Maggin did one. However, there were three different "alternate near futures" featuring the post-MOS Superman as part of the Armageddon 2001 crossover in 1991, and I'm pretty sure that in at least one of them Lois died from the difficulty of carrying Clark's child.

#16 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2002, 02:06 AM:

I thought Nancy Reagan was the Joker.

#17 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2002, 10:42 AM:

Tom Lehrer was big on crypto-Kryptonian smut, too, if I recall: "Novels that pander / to my taste in Kandor / give me a pleasure sublime..." (To which I want to add, "They fight crime!")

Actually, though, I just wrote to point out one of the few really good jokes Ralph Bakshi ever made. First there was this really boring Terrytoon series he did called "The Mighty Heroes" -- a labored take-off on superdoers, with Mighty Man, Cuckoo Man, Rope Man, Baby Man and Hurricane Man.

Years later, Ralph -- helped out immeasurably by the talented John Kricfalusi -- revived Mighty Mouse for TV, and one episode featured the now-retired Heroes, who had since become accountants, and who now worked in an agency called "Man, Man, Man, Man and Man."

--Captain Kip

#18 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2002, 02:35 PM:

Thanks, Kevin. I have to admit I was hoping for a Larry Niven-related Crisis rather than a DC-related Crisis -- it would explain so much....

#19 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2002, 09:51 PM:

The Mighty Heroes are covered on the Greatest Site on the Web (Silver Age), Don Markstein's Toonopedia.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2002, 10:05 PM:

Thanks, Steve. How was the Bellagio?

#21 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2002, 10:29 PM:

Remarkably like a Hilton with gilt-framed mirrors, an in-house circus troupe, and people dropping $1500 a hand at pai gow poker. I suspect my attempt to live the life of a high-roller was stymied by staying at the cheapest room in the place.

"O" was super-faboo, and I didn't lose too much money; I generally find Las Vegas enjoyable on a couple of levels as long as I'm not there too long.

On topic, here's a Crisis page; the length of the introduction makes me thankful that I didn't start reading Batman until a few years ago, when the mother of all retcons was no longer a factor.

And, to stretch, John Ridley has written about both superheros and Las Vegas, so they're surely related! Intrinsically American icons, like Muhammad Ali and talking Parkay tubs!

#22 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2002, 01:34 AM:

"And, to stretch, John Ridley has written about both superheros and Las Vegas, so they're surely related! Intrinsically American icons, like Muhammad Ali and talking Parkay tubs!"

Hunter S. Thompason was right. Psychedelic drugs are redundant in Loas Vegas.


#23 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2002, 07:23 AM:

It's obvious that the couple with the best sex life in comics are Reed & Sue Richards. He's entirely flexible and she's able to form these invisible force fields in pretty much any shape she can visualize, and to squeeze with them. With powers like these you don't need sex toys, but it just so happens that he's the also the most brilliant man on the planet and could whip up a whole new wildly inventive batch of same before breakfast if he so chose.

There's also some evidence that Sue is a top. On the two occasions that villains have brought out her 'dark' side this has turned her into Malice, a dominatrix clad from head to toe in black leather, complete with spike-studded mask.

#24 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2002, 09:29 AM:

I dunno, Rob; if Mr. Fantastic really was, would Sue moon over Namor like that? Maybe he's just not a very good listener.

Sue and Reed's marriage is explored in a throwaway bit in Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top Ten, which is amusing but not as amusing (or horrifying) as Moore's explanation for why superheroes have teenage sidekicks.

#25 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2002, 09:38 AM:

"I dunno, Rob; if Mr. Fantastic really was, would Sue moon over Namor like that? Maybe he's just not a very good listener."

It occurs to me that Namor can hold his breath for a Really Long Time.

Another clue?

#26 ::: Elise Matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2002, 02:09 PM:

Subject: Beneath the Planet of the Incredible Luuuv Techies!

Re: "He's also cheerful, inventive, energetic, inquisitive, and a techie; and without going into a lot of detail, let me assure you that that's a fun combination."

Without going into a lot of detail in return, I just have to say that my favorite phrase from one such is, "Cool! Is that repeatable?"

Techies. Gotta love 'em.

#27 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2002, 12:04 AM:

Steve: Grant Morrison's recent Fantastic Four 1234 miniseries has a wonderful exploration of the Reed/Sue/Namor triangle. A major factor is, precisely, that Reed is, well, Reed a lot of the time.

When you refer to Alan Moore's explanation of why superheroes have teen sidekicks: Are you referring to the super-molestors? Rick Veitch did that story at greater length and less subtlety, if that's possible, in Brat Pack in the 1980s.

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