Boys, Toys, Electric Irons, and TVs 31: Futures End #32 and Avengers #39

Superhero comics sure are obsessed with geniuses... My instinct is to say that it’s a new fad, but it’s always been the case. Super-smart people who used their massive intellects to thwart slightly lesser smart people who are bent on destruction and domination. A conspiracy-minded writer could probably string together a nice little story about most supervillains being government agents meant to keep the super-geniuses of the world too occupied to realise that the world is a fucking mess and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Anyway... it’s all about the geniuses and how they aren’t really that smart, except at finding new ways to hit people. But not too hard, of course. I’m going to talk my way through this and, hopefully, make some sense intermittently.

The popular super-genius story (not just in superhero fiction, but SF in general) is the ‘creation gone awry’ story. Hank Pym builds an artificial intelligence, Ultron, that grows in intellect, turns evil, and is forever a thorn in the side of the Avengers and humanity, and is forever a reminder that Hank Pym’s genius was for shit. Geniuses focus on obtaining their set goal with no mind at all for the consequences of their actions, obvious or not. In Futures End #32, we meet the new Dr. Polaris, the former Dr. Yamazake, the genius obsessed with creating teleportation technology not controlled by the Justice League. His reasoning being that superhumans want to control everyone and that teleportation technology could be used to save countless lives and forever be a force for good with no possible downsides. He is driven by rage and grief, missing the fairly obvious negatives of teleporters (namely, within 20 minutes of being available, it would be used to blow up millions of people), and even skips over obvious steps in testing and perfecting his invention, resulting in an accident where one-half of Firestorm is dead, another person is trapped in Firestorm, and he is now a magnetic ghost. He follows the Dr. Doom variation of genius obsessed with a goal, oblivious to the consequences of his actions – namely, his obsession resulting in Bad Science. Bad Science means things blow up before they can ruin the world and hubris remains unscathed somehow.

Futures End’s Hank Pym is Mr. Terrific, so caught up in the idea that all technology is good that he creates and releases it without a thought to the negatives. We’ve seen his creation with Batman, Brother Eye, has taken over the world in the future and is, now, manipulating Terrific in his release of the uSphere to its own ends. We already know the end of this particular story (barring any intervention by Batman Beyond), watching Mr. Terrific go through the motions that will result in the enslavement of the world. It’s like watching Hank Pym invent Ultron having already read Age of Ultron. Why are we watching yet another brilliant character doing obviously stupid things simply because of ego? Batman cautions him, but comes off less of a forward-thinker who can foresee the potential problems, but like the entitled rich boy who fears giving too much power to his lessers. Genius either blinded by ego or so disdainful of everyone else that he would rather hold it back... Is this what we think of geniuses?

It’s somewhat surprising given the general idea that longtime superhero fans are the nerds and geeks of the world. Not necessarily the world-class geniuses, but usually labelled as the sorts to do well in school and more closely resemble the super-geniuses of these comics than anyone else. Yet, the escapist power fantasies of these comics where genius is applied solely to punching strong people in the face surely plays a part. A mixture of wish fulfillment and self-loathing? Or a general “If my intelligence can’t make my life better, neither can yours?” It doesn’t seem like an accident that the lines drawn in the Avengers comics right now have split up the super-geniuses, the super-soldiers, the next generation, and the super-smart bad guys. The first two groups have seemed ineffective and caught up in their own petty battles, while the final two have moved past them to come closer to achieving the goals of the first two. The key line of the issue seems to be Steve Rogers, asked if the Illuminati is planning a trap, mustering up all of his crotchety no-longer-super-soldier old man bitterness and spit out, “Clever boys being oh so damn clever... I know it’s a trap.” His street smarts (after all, without the super-soldier serum, does his mind function on the same tactical level as before?) trumps their book smarts and he can’t wait to hit their clever faces until they can see their cleverness staining the floor.

Meanwhile, the Illuminati have solved nothing and have devoted their considerable intelligence to remaining a few steps ahead of Rogers and SHIELD. Their role as protector of the planet from the multiverse collapse supplanted by the Cabal, which skipped past their morality to straight lateral thinking: kill every incursion Earth. The Illuminati did it once and, despite intellectually knowing that it was, currently, the only solution, refused to do it again. The smartest people on the planet don’t trust their own intelligence. It’s the reverse of the hubris displayed in Futures End, but equally dangerous. They used to save the world, now they struggle to simply not get arrested. These are the super-geniuses...

Dramatic conflict is essential, but that alone doesn’t seem to explain the never-ending parade of utterly moronic geniuses we see in superhero comics, dragged down by their egos, petty fights, or a general unwillingness to challenge the status quo. If they don’t push forward enough, it’s a bad thing; if they push forward, it’s a bad thing; if they don’t change the world, it’s a bad thing; if they change the world, it’s a bad thing. The only thing that seems to work is hitting people; thinking is useless unless it’s thinking about hitting people. God, that’s depressing...

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