Even though we don’t have jetpacks or real hoverboards, the technology of the modern world is still pretty marvelous. Right now, you’re probably reading this on a device that can access most of humanity’s collective knowledge, contact someone almost anywhere in the world and play the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer endlessly. While this situation might just seem like today’s facts of life, ideas like those used to be trapped in the worlds of comic books and science fiction. But as technology has evolved, those fantastic worlds of tomorrow have set a template for the real world’s future. While the outlandish worlds of some comics have remained purely fictional, other comics have predicted real world technologies with an alarming amount of accuracy.
Now, CBR is counting down some real world inventions that were predicted by comic books. In this hardly comprehensive list, we’ll be looking at how comics predicted these modern marvels, and comparing those concepts to the real world innovations that happened after they were first published. Although some outrageous comic-predicted inventions are currently being developed, we’ll be focusing on inventions that are either widely available on a consumer level or have had a major impact on modern society.
15. IRON MAN’S J.A.R.V.I.S./VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS
While they might not be the flashiest parts of Iron Man’s tech arsenal, virtual assistants like J.A.R.V.I.S. play a key role in Tony Stark’s armory. Although Stark has used artificially intelligent assistants like H.O.M.E.R. in comics and on TV for years, J.A.R.V.I.S. became the most famous voice of Stark’s systems starting in 2008’s Iron Man. Voiced by Paul Bettany, the Marvel Cinematic Universe A.I. has given Stark a natural way to verbally interact with his lab computers and battlesuit.
Just a few years after Iron Man hit theaters, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri was integrated into the iPhone 4S in 2011. Although earlier programs understood rudimentary vocal commands, Siri’s release kicked off a new wave of widely-adopted virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant. While none of them measure up to J.A.R.V.I.S., their ability to respond to “natural language” voice queries has rapidly became an everyday convenience.
14. SPIDER-MAN’S SPIDER-TRACERS/ANKLE MONITORS
While it’s played a large role over the past few years of Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker’s status as one of the most inventive heroes in the Marvel Universe was overlooked for decades. Despite that, Spider-Man’s Spider-Tracers have been one of his most useful tools since they debuted in 1964’s Amazing Spider-Man #11, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Although they’ve been tuned to emit an electronic signal that his Spider-Sense could follow, Parker also mass-produced them as one of Parker Industries’ consumer products.
While electronic monitoring devices were developed during the 1960s, a 1970s’ Spider-Man’s newspaper comic strip helped inspire one of their most notorious uses. After reading about the Kingpin’s use a tracking device on Spider-Man, Judge Jack Love was inspired to pursue electronic ankle monitors as a means to track convicts and alleged criminals. After being introduced in New Mexico in 1983, the tracking devices were adopted nationwide.
13. BATMAN’S FLYING EYE/CAMERA DRONES
As stories as diverse as Kingdom Come and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight have shown, Batman can be a little overzealous when it comes to keeping an eye on Gotham City. Even though those stories relied on cutting edge, futuristic technology, Batman turned Gotham into a surveillance state for the first time way back in 1957’s Batman #109. In that Edmond Hamilton and Dick Sprang story, Batman used his Flying Eye to track down criminals who had stolen the designs for the live-streaming camera drone.
Although remote controlled electronics like toy cars have been around for decades, a new generation of more advanced drones came to prominence in the wars of the 21st century. When less powerful drones hit the consumer market in the late 2000s, they gave anyone the ability to have their own Flying Eye by live-streaming video from their drone to their phone.
12. AVENGERS’ VIDEO TRANSCEIVER/VIDEO PHONES
For decades, video-based communication was a hallmark of futuristic science-fiction stories. While video phones appeared in countless tales, they played a major role in the Marvel Universe as the Avengers’ preferred means of communication. Since the team’s founding in the 1960s, the “video transceiver,” a large video communicator has sat near the center of the team’s meeting room in Avengers Mansion. This allowed the Avengers to stay in touch with all of its members through their Avengers ID cards, which doubled as video communicators.
In the real world, early videophones were developed throughout the 20th century, primarily for corporate use. After the releases of video chat software like Apple’s iChat in 2002 and Skype in 2003, improving webcams and Internet speeds helped bring a wider audience to computer-based video chat over the next decade. In the 2010s, a new generation of smartphones popularized video chatting with an even larger audience.
11. SPIDER-MAN’S BELT CAMERA/ACTION CAMERAS
As The Daily Bugle’s most famous editor, J. Jonah Jameson, has made abundantly clear on countless occasions, he wants pictures of Spider-Man. Since Peter Parker couldn’t web-swing with a bulky photographer’s bag, he used a small camera on his belt to capture those precious action shots. Starting in 1963’s Amazing Spider-Man #2, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man used a detachable camera to document his superheroics. While it started out as a miniature “spy” camera, Spider-Man modified the device to function completely automatically.
Today’s action cameras can take better pictures than anything Parker could’ve dreamed of in the 1960s. Starting in the mid-2000s, action cameras from GoPro and other tech companies gave consumers a way to take high-quality action shots. With their small, rugged build, they quickly became a favorite among extreme sports enthusiasts looking to capture first person views and shots of their incredible feats.
10. DICK TRACY’S WRIST RADIO/SMARTWATCHES
Starting in 1931, Chester Gould’s iconic detective Dick Tracy paved the way for comic strip heroes who didn’t wear masks. While he didn’t have a cape or a secret identity, Tracy had one of that era’s most famous gadgets, the Two-Way Wrist Radio. The watch, which added a video screen in 1964, helped prime the collective cultural imagination for how smartwatches might eventually function.
Thanks to Tracy’s wrist radio and other pop culture wrist communicators, smartwatches became a tech touchstone that seemed inevitable. While there were a handful of attempts to make smartwatches in the 1990s and 2000s, none of them really caught on until Pebble’s smartwatch debuted in 2012. Throughout 2013 and 2014, major tech companies like Sony and Apple rolled out their initial smartwatch offerings. Another company, Samsung, even included Dick Tracy’s wrist radio in an advertising campaign for its Galaxy Gear smartwatch in 2013.
9. SPIDER-WOMAN’S WEB WINGS/WINGSUITS
Since his earliest days, Spider-Man has occasionally had webs under his underarms. While some later versions of the “web-wings” gave a few later iterations of Spider-Man the ability to glide, they were mostly decorative flourishes added by artists like Steve Ditko. On the other hand, Spider-Woman’s web wings were always functional. Since she was created by Archie Goodwin and Marie Severin in 1977’s Marvel Spotlight #32, Jessica Drew has used her web-wings to glide through the air in her long-running comic book and short-lived animated series.
In the late 1990s, Patrick de Gayardon, Sammy Popov and Chuck Raggs all developed modern wingsuits that operated on similar principles. With parachute-like fabric between the legs and under the arms, these wingsuits let adventure enthusiasts glide through the air freely while skydiving or BASE jumping. Despite the sport’s inherent dangers, wingsuit wearers have enjoyed great speed and maneuverability while plummeting towards the Earth’s surface.
8. SPIDER JERUSALEM’S NEWSFEED/TWITTER
Starting in 1997, Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson created their outlandish take on America’s future in the Vertigo comics series Transmetropolitan. Through the lens of bitter gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan made an eerie number of accurate predictions as the title explored its dystopian cyber-punk world. In Transmetropolitan #3, the comic’s first story arc ended with a scene that quietly predicted the future of communication. As city streets descended into the chaos of a riot, Spider looked on and wrote a column that was beamed into “newsfeeds” around the city in real time.
In an era when most journalism happened in newspapers or on TV broadcasts, that seemed as fantastic as the comic’s alien characters. In today’s world, we’d say that Spider just live-Tweeted the event. After Twitter was founded in 2006, the social media giant became a favorite way for writers and journalists to comment on breaking news.
7. SUPERMAN BUST MACHINE/3D PRINTERS
Over the years, Superman has picked up all kinds of crazy sc-fi contraptions that have ended up gathering dust in the Fortress of Solitude after one or two uses. One of those devices appeared in 1964’s Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #51, by Kurt Schaffenberger. In a light-hearted tale, Superman used a “processing machine” to create large busts from pictures of his friends, scientist Sylvia DeWitt and the Kryptonian Van-Zee.
In the real world, the field of consumer-grade 3D printing has gone through rapid advancements over the past decade. While 3D printers need to model their prints after computer-generated 3D models or full body 3D scans, Superman’s device doesn’t look all that different from a modern 3D printer. Superman’s custom busts even predict “3D selfies,” the kinds of 3D-printed figurines that some companies like Shapeify or DOOB 3D have produced.
6. THE BAT-COMPUTER/MODERN CRIMINOLOGY
Since 1967’s Batman #189, by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff, the Bat-Computer has been one of the most valuable tools in Batman’s never-ending war on crime. While its design and function has evolved with the times, the Bat-Computer has served as Batman’s main external knowledge bank. In the pre-Internet age, Batman’s “Crime Computer” performed tasks as simple as solving anagrams or searching through the phone book on the Adam West-starring Batman. In the modern age, it can perform more complex calculations that have helped Batman figure out where his opponents might strike next.
Today, modern criminology relies on many of the functions that the Bat-Computer has preformed. From searchable databases to crime analysis, data drives a lot of today’s real-world crimefighting. In the same way that Batman has used data-based “predictive policing” to stop his villains’ future crimes, some real world police departments have reduced crime with the controversial tactic.
5. MARVEL’S MACHINES/HOME AUTOMATION
With super scientists like Reed Richards and Hank McCoy around, the Marvel Universe is full of advanced robots that take care of simple tasks while their builders go on fantastic adventures. The X-Men’s X-Mansion has a number of automated defenses and security systems. On a less violent note, the Fantastic Four’s infamous robot H.E.R.B.I.E. has served as Franklin Richards’ babysitter and performed a number of household duties around the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four’s headquarters.
Thanks to machines like those and The Jetsons‘ robot maid Rosie, home automation and domestic machines became another cultural touchstone for high-tech futures. While today’s smart appliances aren’t quite that advanced, they still off a range of functions that can be automated or remotely operated with a smartphone. Today’s domestic robots are a little less impressive, but devices like iRobot’s robo-vacuum cleaner Roomba have already found their way into millions of homes.
4. CYBORG AND FORGE/ARTIFICIAL LIMBS
Like most science fiction worlds, the Marvel and DC Universes are filled with cyborgs. After characters like Justice League‘s Cyborg and the X-Men’s Forge lost limbs, they were able to use the fantastic technology of their respective worlds to create incredibly advanced prosthetics. Since characters like those two live in superhero universes, their prosthetic limbs might naturally incorporate alien technology or give them a whole new set of super-powers.
Even though they can’t shoot energy beams or give users super-strength, modern prosthetics have come a long way from their ancient roots. Where limbs were made out of wood or iron for centuries, today’s prosthetics are made out of materials like plastic or carbon fiber. Through various kinds of myoelectric stimulation, many artificial limbs can convert electrical signals from muscles into an ever-growing range of anatomical movements.
3. CHAMELEON’S DISGUISES/PROSTHETIC MASKS
Although he’s not Spider-Man’s most famous foe, the Chameleon was the first supervillain Spider-Man faced in 1963’s Amazing Spider-Man #1, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. As one of Marvel’s masters of disguise, Dmitri Smerdyakov combined his skills as an impressionist, mimic and mask-maker to become one of Spider-Man’s most sinister foes. While he’s had shape-shifting superpowers on occasion, the Chameleon’s trademark masks have helped him pose as a countless number of heroes, villains and regular people with absolute precision for decades.
Thanks to advancements in manufacturing silicone and latex, today’s masks can completely conceal a person’s identity. Far beyond the simple Halloween masks of yesterday, top-of-the-line modern masks can create the illusion of human movement and can seem totally human at a glance. With accessories like colored contacts and further augmentation by make-up artists or special effects experts, today’s prosthetic masks can make their wearers totally unrecognizable.
2. JUDGE DREDD’S SOB STORY/CROWDFUNDING & REALITY TV
Since 1977, the iconic weekly British anthology 2000 A.D. has filled its pages with dozens of dark sci-fi futures. Thanks to its mix of brutal action and ultra-dark satire, Mega-City One, the home of the authoritarian lawman Judge Dredd, has become one of the most memorable, well-developed worlds in all of comics. Starting in 2000 A.D. #131, John Wagner and Ron Smith made a few uncommonly insightful predictions in “Sob Story.”
In that 1979 tale, contestants like the disfigured Otto Stump went on a Channel 99 reality TV show called “Sob Stories,” where they begged viewers for donations. That one story predicted the cable television and reality shows that would revolutionize TV viewing decades later. It also predicted crowdfunding, the ongoing phenomenon where individuals and businesses raised funds through numerous small donations. Like many who successfully crowdfunded projects through sites like Kickstarter, 2000 A.D.‘s Stump became a successful entrepreneur.
1. SUPERMAN’S ATOM BOMB/ATOMIC BOMBS
During World War II, a few of Superman’s adventures came perilously close to revealing the nature of the Allies’ secret weapon, the atomic bomb. In Don Cameron and Sam Citron’s story “The Battle of the Atoms,” Lex Luthor developed a “miniature atomic bomb” that he threatened to use in Metropolis. After the United States government heard about the story in 1944, government agents visited the DC Comics’ offices and ordered them to pull the story from their publishing schedule until further notice.
After the secret work of the Manhattan Project was revealed, the story finally saw publication after the war ended in 1946’s Superman #38. Some other Superman comics and comic strips from that era were delayed or altered for similar reasons. One of those stories, Jerry Siegel and Win Mortimer’s “Crime Paradise,” was finally published in 1946’s Action Comics #101, where Superman survived two atomic blasts in a row.
Keep it locked to CBR for all the latest in comics and pop culture news! Let us know what your favorite comics-predicted invention is in the comments!
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