A huge part of the appeal of comic book stories comes from the dazzling array of high-tech gizmos that superheroes and villains have at their disposal. Whether its Iron Man’s suit of armor, Batman’s mobile surveillance units, or anything else in-between, these futuristic contraptions have long seemed out of our reach – but are they?
As it turns out, quite a few of the comics’ most fanciful inventions have already made the leap from fiction to reality. Sure, the real-world versions might not be quite the same as their pen-and-ink counterparts, but as this list proves, they still come pretty close all the same!
10 Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio
Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio – a wristwatch with a radio transmitter/receiver built into it – is one of the most iconic gadgets in comic book history. Light years ahead of the hardware available in the strip’s 1940s setting, the 2-Way Wrist Radio allowed our hardened detective to place and receive calls while out in the field, and was later upgraded with video functionality, too.
Of course, what was cutting-edge in 1946 is all but destined to become dated in 2019 – and so it is with the 2-Way Wrist Radio, which is essentially a stripped-down smartwatch. That said, those keen to ape Tracy’s vintage style are in luck, as working replicas of our hero’s famous timepiece are now available, as well.
9 Spider Jerusalem’s Newsfeeds
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson is rightly considered one of the most prescient comic book series of the late 90s/early 2000s. Indeed, it’s downright staggering just how many technological innovations and trends this cyberpunk satire predicted.
If you need an impressive example of just how ahead of the curve Transmet was, look no further than the digital newsfeeds employed by the book’s star, maverick gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem. Here, Ellis and Robertson have forecast the shift away from traditional newspaper reporting in favour of online platforms and social media, with Spider essentially live-tweeting a breaking news story at one point.
8 Batman’s Flying Eye
Batman fans only familiar with the Dark Knight Detective’s more recent adventures won’t have encountered the Flying Eye, a remote controlled surveillance device that made its debut in 1957. Created from scratch by Batman himself (with assistance from Robin), the Flying Eye was vastly more powerful than even contemporary military-grade reconnaissance equipment.
Piloted from the safety of the Batcave, it glided around Gotham City, beaming back crystal-clear footage of its surroundings – which was unthinkable when the issue hit stands. Fast forward to the present day, though, and we’ve described an activity that pretty much any civilian drone can do with ease.
7 The Rocketeer’s Jetpack
Ok, we’ll admit it: the jetpacks currently being manufactured aren’t exactly like the one worn by Cliff Secord in The Rocketeer. For starters, don’t anticipate the same level of precision control that Secord displayed when strapping on your own jet propulsion unit in the real-world.
What’s more, don’t expect to look nearly as stylish when you’re soaring through the sky, either. Yes, you’ll be free to don a retro-cool helmet similar to what the Rocketeer sports – but your jetpack is still going to look incredibly clunky. Unfortunately, the limits of actual jetpack technology prohibit designs from being as aesthetically streamlined as their fictitious analogues. Still, a jetpack is a jetpack, and that's darn cool.
6 Iron Man’s AI Programs
In the comics, Iron Man is supported by his butler, Edwin Jarvis – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t turn to virtual assistants for support. Way back in 1993, Tony Stark developed a revolutionary AI program named H.O.M.E.R. to keep Stark Industries running smoothly whilst he’s otherwise engaged. H.O.M.E.R. was eventually superseded by J.A.R.V.I.S. (and later F.R.I.D.A.Y.) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the program’s functionality as a voice-operated synthetic sidekick remained intact.
When Iron Man landed in theatres in 2008, nobody imagined that software like this would become commonplace. But then Siri dropped three years later, paving the way for increasingly sophisticated vocal recognition-based programs like Alexa, now present in millions of homes worldwide!
5 Spider-Woman’s Flight Suit
When she first arrived on the comic book scene in 1977, Spider-Woman largely stuck to the “arachnid-based powers” brief her name implies – except for her ability to fly, that is! Not content to replicate the purely decorative webbing that Spider-Man added under the arms of his outfit, Jessica Drew took things a step further and ensured her own “web wings” would allow her to glide.
If the idea that Spider-Woman’s costume would facilitate her zipping around seemed a little fanciful over 40 years ago, it’s a whole lot less crazy now that wingsuits are a thing. True, this kit – developed for parachuting and such in the late 1990s – doesn’t really allow for the kind of aerial acrobatics displayed by our heroine, but they operate identically otherwise.
4 Forge’s Cybernetic Prosthetics
Let’s face it: cybernetic limbs are a dime a dozen in the superhero genre – so much so that (alongside superfluous pouches) they practically defined the 90s character design aesthetic. So why have we decided to focus on Forge for this entry? It’s simple: this tech-savvy X-Men player’s bionic hand and leg most closely reflect the capabilities of modern prosthetics.
Now, we’re not saying that real-world artificial limbs can fire energy blasts or hack computer databases (which is probably for the best really). But they can respond to electrical signals they receive from the wearer’s body to perform a variety of movements – just like Forge’s own inorganic extremities.
3 Iron Man’s Exoskeleton
Much like the Rocketeer’s jetpack, at present, we can safely file Iron Man’s armor under “Technically A Reality” – but not for long. Certainly, the current generation of power exoskeleton is nowhere near as sleek, versatile or just plain powerful as anything in Tony Stark’s closet.
However, innovations in exoskeleton technology are continually being made, with each successive prototype becoming appreciably less cumbersome and more capable. Heck, outside of the suits being manufactured by the military and medical industries, some intrepid inventors are trying to fashion their own Iron Man-inspired getups!
2 Spider-Man’s Spider Tracers
Spider-Man’s webshooters are his most well-known invention, but the webslinger has devised several other nifty doodads over the course of his crime-fighting career. This makes sense: after all, Peter Parker possesses a genius-level intellect, with a knack for applied sciences – so the dude was always going to be more than a one-trick pony.
One of Spidey’s slickest bits of homemade tech is the Spider Tracer: an electronic monitoring tool keyed into the same frequency as his precognitive Spider-Sense superpower, used for tracking his quarry. These days, similar technology is used in ankle monitors to keep tabs on people under house arrest and the like… although, sadly, the frequencies involved have nothing to do with superhuman abilities.
1 Batman’s Batsuit
Batman’s contraption-filled utility belt is the stuff of pop culture legend – although many of the once-advanced devices in the Dark Knight’s inventory have long since become widely available. But it’s only very recently that mimicking the protective bodysuits the Caped Crusader has traditionally sported on the big screen a possibility.
It’s hardly shocking that several fans have fabricated their own versions, with at least one homebrew get-up making up for its protective shortcomings by including a fully-functioning arsenal of Bat-gadgets!