The Funnies Ain't So Funny Anymore
“Welcome to the future!” or “The future is now!”
It was something along those lines that heralded the age of science and technology into our lives, trying to go forward into knowledge that should only be available to us years from now… or so we thought. Today’s topic is none other than: mad scientists! Remember a while back that Sean and Jim reviewed Tomorrow Stories by Alan Moore, from the America’s Best Comics line? The stories of Jack B. Quick: Boy Inventor where the only ones that truly caught my attention there, and so today we are inspired by his escapades, taken from his entire run throughout the anthology, which is only 6 or 7 short stories…
Let’s start with the basics: what is a mad scientist? Though the actual definition of “science” is shaky at best in these scenarios, this individual is a ruthless, cold hearted person who carries out his ‘science’ with absolutely no concern of his surroundings, disregarding people around him (often his own hygiene too), and is completely driven to discover something or create a certain machine that would, more often than not, bring him personal gain or put him on top of the world. The age of mad scientists was biggest during the pulp movies era, with Dr Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll reigning, but we still see them today, albeit resurrected in the technology they use, as seen in the pages of 52 in Oolong Island. Personally, I find the questionable science they use the best part of the stories, as can be seen by the hilarity that ensues when Jack B. Quick decides to clone his cat using a strand of hair, toilet cleaner, aspirin and hemorrhoid ointment, but instead gets 50 cats for using too much ointment… It is obvious Moore was doing this in purpose, to show the absurdity of these other scientists, but why exactly do we have these character molds in the first place?
Monsters in comics are there to represent a physical embodiment to our fears of uselessness and insignificance. Superheroes represent the hopes and aspirations, what we can become. Ghosts and magicians show the unknown and uncontrollable. But what is the role of a mad scientist? I can think of 2 just off the top of my head: the first is simply a warning, what we should be careful of, presenting the abuse of science so we can learn from it, just like stories of abuse of power warn us to keep watch so it does not happen in reality. The second role, straight off my sinister mind, is a religious conspiracy, portraying scientists as insane evil maniacs hell-bent on destroying the world, and thus shed bad light on all of science, saying to stay away from it so that the slippery slope is not triggered. Whatever their origin, what are they founded on? Do we have mad scientist in the real world today? Well, perhaps not the epitome of one, but what about his/her individual characteristics?
o Cruel: This one is easy. We get plenty of activists constantly trying to shut down pharmaceutical companies for animal cruelty.
o Cold-hearted: Well, really an extension of the previous item, but with the additional consideration of doctors subjugating patients through experimental procedures regardless if they know what the results would be.
o Hell-bent on destruction: Debatable, but what really is the purpose behind the weapons industry? I could say it’s profit, but that just brings me to the next point:
o Personal gain: Is that not what most of the private sector today is? Just look at the amount of patents that get filed everyday and that will only be the tip of the iceberg.
The list goes on, but it’s clear we are surrounded by this to some degree or another. So what makes mad scientists so interesting if we are constantly reminded of them in our dally lives? Jack, after all, is a mad scientist aiming to improve society. He knows photons are breaking the speed limit, so he wants to establish order. He knows people are lonely, so he invents a robot to keep people company. Of course these gain sentience and take over the world, but that’s not his problem. Neither is the giant bee he created that is harassing the mayor, or that the citizens of town are getting killed by him bringing the civil war to their doorsteps in one of his time-travel experiments. Consequences and side effects are never important, as long as he gets his work done, and that is perhaps the underlying element: “the ends justify the means.” By identifying this, we have finally solved the mystery. It is the hero’s job to make everything sacred, to care about the smallest elements and to never loose focus of what he does in order to achieve the bigger picture, while it is the villain’s task to be so completely driven to his goal that casualties, destruction along the way or any sort of discomfort are meaningless as long as the goal is reached. Our mad scientist is simply an example of such goal-driven villain whose ends justify the means and results outweigh the path taken. This is not much different than your run-of-the-mill evil mastermind, and thereby lies the whole point. Everyone can be a scientist: we have Ray Palmer and Steel, for example. But to be a mad scientist, all you have to be is evil. It’s just like the Jedi and Sith Lords: the same exact philosophy, but aligned with different crowds. So, the next time you see a mad scientist, ask yourself, is he really the bad character he is portrayed be, or is he just in his actions, but misunderstood while at them? For all you know, he could be our little Jack, seeking to pay back the evil aliens who keep kidnapping us all the time, or simply attempting to help the mayor get rid of a bee problem. Forget about consequences, it’s intentions that make the man.
See you next week,