The Physics of Superheroes, Spectacular Second Edition
written by James Kakalios
You don’t have to be a physicist to appreciate comic-book superheroes. In fact, it helps quite a bit if you aren’t. But those who have some knowledge of and appreciation for the laws that govern us all can still find a lot of enjoyment in comics—even if they can’t always find much accuracy.
The Physics of Superheroes, written by James Kakalios, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, first appeared in 2005. Now available in a new, revised edition, it’s an expansive, broad work, and it’s by no means light, easy reading. It is, however, a lot of fun. Don’t expect to read it quickly in one sitting if you haven’t used the scientifically apt part of your brain much since high school. Instead, take it slowly and enjoy it. (Or maybe that’s just a warning for me: Even with Kakalios’s nice use of layman’s terms all-ages approach to the subject matter, I still had to take my time and reread some passages—all of which I enjoyed immensely.)
Kakalios is a true comics fan through and through. He’s done his homework in all respects, and he takes great pleasure in presenting some truly classic stories from the past several decades. This includes Golden Age favorites like Superman, the Flash, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and so many others, plus more recent juggernauts like the X-Men and even the Watchmen. He tackles all of these subjects with respect for comics while giving us the real science behind them, letting us know when creators got it right, when they got it wrong, and even such minutiae as what the gravity must have been like on Krypton before it exploded.
The book is above all a lot of fun to spend some time with. Kakalios has obviously been thinking about this stuff for a long time, and you can imagine him, as a child, starting to form the questions that would shape his career while reading a comic book that bent the rules just a little too much. And because he approaches the comics world with such respect, he makes this reference work just as enjoyable. There is magic in comics, and sometimes you have to trust the magic more than the rules of the real world. But it’s even better when both the comics world and the real world agree with each other.-- John Hogan