All men have limits: Batman's superpowers questioned by scientists
The caped crusader’s flight speed would likely kill him, physics students find, but Superman’s gifts make him the mightiest
Michael Keaton in the 1989 film of Batman.
A serious danger to himself and not much help to others ... Michael Keaton in the 1989 film of Batman. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar
Thursday 16 June 2016 08.24 EDT
Last modified on Thursday 16 June 2016 08.26 EDT
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Research from the University of Leicester has deemed Batman to be the “most ill-equipped” of the superheroes, claiming that the velocities Gotham City’s finest reaches when gliding through the air would be likely to kill him on landing.
In a series of papers published over the last seven years in the Journal of Physics Special Topics and Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics, students at Leicester have examined the viability of a range of superhero characters. Superman, they have determined, would be “best equipped” to prevail among the contenders they have studied, which include the Flash, Thor and Iron Man.
Looking at everything from the Man of Steel’s muscle tissue – his skin density “would have to be 296 g/cm3 to stop 50% of standard handgun bullets” – to how he reverses the polarity of the Earth’s spin (he increases his relativistic mass by 13.7m times by travelling close to the speed of light, they write), Superman is the “the number one candidate for ‘most powerful superhero’”.
He is followed by Wolverine, whose lunge at an enemy while on top of a train was calculated by the students at at least 1300N, “based on his adamantium-reinforced skeleton’s mass and density (acknowledging that osmium is the closest thing to adamantium in terms of density)”. Next is master of disguise Mystique: “ATP, TYR, MC1R, IRF4 and SLC24A4 are probably the first genes to be mutated to bring about the biggest difference in skin, hair and eyes,” write the students, speculating that “her ability to alter skin patterns may be similar to that of cuttlefish or Japanese rice fish in terms of genes involved – such as SLC2A15 and PAX7A”.
The students predict a “seemingly grim end result” for Batman, however. “Looking at the case for gliding from a fairly tall building of … 150 m, Batman can glide to a distance of about 350 m, which is reasonable; the problem with the glide lies in his velocity as he reaches ground level. The velocity rises rapidly to a maximum of a little over 110 kilometres an hour before steadying to a constant speed of around 80. At these high speeds any impact would likely be fatal if not severely damaging (consider impact with a car travelling at these speeds) … Clearly gliding using a batcape is not a safe way to travel, unless a method to rapidly slow down is used, such as a parachute.”
The university said that “this inability to perform even the simplest of superhero feats suggest Batman would struggle to get off the ground, let alone save Gotham from the likes of the Joker and Bane”.
James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and author of The Physics of Superheroes, praised the students’ “excellent research”, but said they had forgotten to consider a major aspect of Batman’s strength.
“Batman may indeed be at the bottom of the list, when one considers raw firepower, but they have not properly weighted Batman’s greatest asset – his mind. Batman always has a plan, and with enough time and resources, he has demonstrated an ability to singlehandedly take down every member of the Justice League,” said Kakalios, pointing to the Tower of Babel storyline from 2000, which he said sees the villain Ra’s al Ghul use the contingency plans developed by Batman to incapacitate superheroes including Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman.
The caped crusader demonstrates “our greatest superpower - our intelligence,” said Kakalios, which “has made us the dominant species on the planet, despite being at a competitive disadvantage in terms of strength, speed or durability compared to the animal kingdom”.
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The academic agreed with the students’ analysis of Superman, saying that his “unique combo-platter of powers places him at the top of the superhero ziggurat.
“However, they have again neglected to address Superman’s greatest power. Not flight, or super-strength or x-ray vision, but rather, super-responsibility. Able to take over the planet without breaking a sweat – do Kryptonians sweat? – Superman has never used his powers for selfish or personal reasons. In this way, he sets an example for us all. For we all have abilities and gifts, and how we choose to use them determines what type of person we are, and the world that we will make,” said Kakalios.https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/16/batmans-superpowers-questioned-by-scientific-study-superman