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31 августа 2018, 05:12

DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman Is a Superhero Textbook


Stay on target

One of the coolest hooks for a DC superhero story to me has been JLA: Tower Babel. In this comic, Ra’s Al Ghul steals Batman’s secret files containing the strengths and weakness of various Justice League members and uses this data against them. But the real drama comes the revelation that Batman even kept these files in the first place. It’s a great exploration of Batman’s harsh, human paranoid practicality while working alongside modern gods.

But the specifics of what those files would even be has also always fascinated me. How would Bruce Wayne’s scientific mind try to rationalize things like Aquaman’s amphibious nature, Martian Manhunter’s shapeshifting, and pretty much everything about Swamp Thing? Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who had this thought. DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is a new hardcover graphic novel collecting the Caped Crusader’s thoughts on what makes a dozen of his fellow crime fighters (as well as villains) tick, rendered in gorgeous artistic and literary detail.

While there are some references to recent events in continuity, the goal of writers S.D. Perry and Matthew K. Manning, along with illustrator Ming Doyle, seems to be creating a kind of first volume of a delightfully dorky superhero anatomy encyclopedia. It’s like a fantasy Origin of Species or a medical textbook in a spin-off about superhero doctors except the pages are actually real. The joke is taken to its logical extreme.

I wouldn’t really call this a joke though because puzzling out the mechanics of superhero powers has always been a serious part of both the lore itself as well as the outside fandom. This is a just a particularly beautiful take on that idea. There’s something simultaneously unnerving and incredible about Doyle’s sketchy yet classical realistic depictions of Bane’s gross venom-filled muscle fiber cross-sections or Killer Frost’s icy circulatory system. Superhero art has traditionally put a premium on dynamic depictions of the human(ish) body. Doyle’s art is an example of how compelling those pure academic studies can be even when removed from scenes and narrative.

The art is also served by pages and pages of notes written by Perry and Manning as Batman. Here the book just doubles and triples down on its already cool conceit. The first chapter features Batman racking his brain trying to explain all of Superman’s overpowered abilities. Maybe he holds solar power like a plant? Maybe his heart is perfectly symmetrical? Maybe he generates his own gravity?

The attempts to compare, say, Cheetah’s physiology to the biology of actual big cats uses scientific grounding to keep the whole thing from veering off into obnoxious fan theory. There’s something awesome about trying to equate a being as cosmic as Darkseid to science as boring as geothermic rock layers. It’s intellectual backward engineering of typical comic book nonsense we all know and love.

While a Marvel equivalent to this would also surely be interesting, I think there’s a something about the DC Universe specifically that makes Anatomy of a Metahuman so special. Because DC characters are usually so unbelievable powerful and unlimited and godlike, trying to bring them back down to Earth with real science feels especially futile. It makes you sympathize with Batman’s relatively feeble role in this actually magical universe. He even admits to himself that despite his theories it’s ridiculous for him to try and think he truly knows how Superman flies.

That tension from the gulf between our tangible real world and these heroes above it, beyond our human grasp, only serves to make them more awe-inspiring. It reminded me of the caged god story at the heart of The Shape of Water. You could maybe write a relatable, plausible scientific paper about how Spider-Man’s body works. But this book recognizes that analyzing how Wonder Woman’s Amazon blood processes oxygen more efficiently or whatever would ultimately be missing the point.

The ending of DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman teases some promising newcomers for a potential second volume. And I really hope that happens not just because of the quality of this book, but because I’m frothing at the mouth thinking about Batman’s takes on Plastic Man, Hawkgirl, Amazo, and freaking Gorilla Grodd.

For more on DC check out our thoughts on the Aquaman trailer, Batwoman in the Arrowverse, and new Flash characters. And follow all the news of the DCEU (or whatever they are calling now) right here.

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Source: https://www.geek.com/comics/dc-comics-anatomy-of-a-metahuman-is-a-superhero-textbook-1750756/?source