Dr. Doom : The Madman in the Iron Mask

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Dr.Doom 2Any of you guys been to see the Fantastic Four[1]Fantastic Four bio courtesy of Marvel yet? It’s the only Marvel film so far that I haven’t seen at some point during release week. I’ve been pretty busy, I was sceptical from the original trailers and after having heard more about it following release I’ve been thoroughly put off using my time to see it at the cinema. It’s a shame really, the Fantastic Four comics were great and they’ve yet to be done justice in a film adaptation.

At some point I fully intend to cover the Fantastic Four and their exposure to cosmic rays but for the moment I’m on a little bit of a villain kick. I want to talk about Reed Richards'[2]Mr. Fantastic bio courtesy of Marvel personal nemesis and rival superscientist, Victor von Doom.[3]Dr. Doom bio courtesy of Marvel Doom was born in Latveria to a gypsy healer and a gypsy witch woman but given they both died when he was a child, he was actually raised by a friend of his father. Despite the fact he was educated by gypsies and never attended school, Victor became a scientific genius. Unfortunately, he also developed a taste for the black arts.

Fast forward in time and somehow news of his scientific genius has spread to America where he’s offered a scholarship to study at State University. Coincidentally, the same university Richards will be in attendance at. Thus Doom and Richards scientific rivalry began. The archnemesis part comes along when Doom, driven by some need to contact his dead mother, builds an interdimensional communication device to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. His design is sadly flawed and although Richards attempts to inform von Doom of his mistakes, the latter has no interest in listening resulting in the explosion of the machine and the initial scarring of his face. Unfortunately for Doom, State University frowns on machines used to communicate with the dead and he ends up expelled, as well as scarred. As far as Doom is concerned it’s all Richards fault; blaming him for sabotage and the instigation of his dismissal causing the two to become bitter enemies. [4]Fantastic Four #5, July 1962

Following this von Doom travelled to Tibet, where he came into possession of his famous body armour and mask. While Richards completed his Ph.D., von Doom chose to partake in demonic studies and achieved his goal of revenge in Latveria by overthrowing the countries tyrannical ruler and installing himself as absolute dictator. Ultimately, this gave him the diplomatic immunity he needed to become a plague on the Fantastic Four without consequences.

In the forty plus years that von Doom has been relentlessly seeking his revenge on Richards, his costume has remained unchanged. Even in the world of comic books that is a very long time to have no revamp. His outer garments consist of a green jerkin with a black belt, a matching green hood and a green cloak. His signature iron mask is a grim parody of a human face with the mouthpiece constructed into a permanent menacing grin. The armour in his outfit is the important part in all of this though. This armour is what keeps him alive in even the most nail biting of circumstances.

Body armour has been in existence since the beginning of time in some form or another. Given the leaps in the technology behind weaponry, armour has had to try and keep up throughout the years and with the introduction of more advanced guns the introduction of bulletproof vests was inevitable. A modern day bulletproof vest doesn’t consist of metal but instead high-tech fibers woven together to create what is known as soft body armour. Presumably this is what Doom wears underneath his iron-plated armour.

Now I know what you’re thinking. How can something soft stop a bullet? Well, this armour works on the principle of spreading energy at the point of impact of a bullet over a wide area. Effectively, soft body armour[5]Full explanation of how soft body armour works works like a net.

Flexible Kevlar sheet, illustrating the interlocking structure.

Flexible Kevlar sheet, illustrating the interlocking structure.

Kevlar, a lightweight fibre five times stronger than a strand of steel, is woven together to form an extremely dense interlocking pattern that it’s almost impossible for a regular bullet to penetrate. The bullet hits and much like a ball hitting the back of the goal, the energy is dispersed from the point of impact. It’s like a ripple; your stone hits the water at the epicentre and the energy of the impact is dispersed outwards in little waves. While this is the case, the momentum from a speeding bullet is generally more than powerful enough to break bones and a single layer of netting isn’t going to be enough to stop that. To this end, most bulletproof vests are made of multiple layers of Kevlar and plastic film and have pockets able to hold ceramic or metal plates. Sadly, as I said before it’s only almost impossible to penetrate. Tungsten core bullets are going to rip right through everything von Doom has. That is assuming that the guess of using soft body armour is correct.

More than once in the comics run, von Doom has been depicted performing amazing feats; he’s lifted enormous amounts of weight and survived the unsurvivable. So what if it’s not simply body armour? What if von Doom is in actual fact sporting an advanced human exoskeleton suit?

NK_Exoskeleton_BA human exoskeleton suit is a robotic device that can be strapped on or attached directly to the human body. This kind of machinery is quite common in the Marvel universe, with groups such as AIM and HYDRA equipping their mercenaries with high-tech exoskeleton suits to add muscle power.

January 2001 saw the U.S. Defence Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) award contracts to laboratories and experimental groups to take the first crack at developing exoskeleton suits for military use. The early work sponsored by DARPA involved pneumatic muscles or deformable magnets to power artificial limbs or suits that soldiers could wear[6]Pneumatic artificial muscles. As the research developed exoskeletons were created that were capable of propelling its user at speeds greater than 15 miles per hour, could lift 250 pounds as though it was nothing and even suits that gave disabled people the ability to walk again. Today, Japan have jumped to the forefront of human exoskeleton suit development with working suits in use on factory floors and in medical facilities[7]Article outlining recent human exoskeleton developments.

It’s not difficult to imagine a young von Doom pitching his pioneering exoskeleton research to the governments and big corporations of the Marvel universe and walking away with the state of the art technology that would explain his uncanny ability to withstand things no ordinary human ever could.

References   [ + ]

1. Fantastic Four bio courtesy of Marvel
2. Mr. Fantastic bio courtesy of Marvel
3. Dr. Doom bio courtesy of Marvel
4. Fantastic Four #5, July 1962
5. Full explanation of how soft body armour works
6. Pneumatic artificial muscles
7. Article outlining recent human exoskeleton developments

Poison Ivy : Toxic Love

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Poison IvyThe last few posts have focused on the heroes so let’s go for something a little different today and take a look at one of my favourite supervillainesses; Miss Pamela Lillian Isley AKA Poison Ivy[1]Poison Ivy bio.

Intelligent and dangerous, this lady is one potent femme fatale. Ivy is absolutely gorgeous and her body is to die for. Literally. The source of Ivy’s power is the fact her body manufactures killer toxins; it keeps her skin full of chlorophyll, her lips plump with venom and she secretes so many pheromones you just have to love her. As if that’s not enough when she’s not busy giving men the kiss of death she’s cooking up killer plants to do the job for her.

Ivy made her first appearance in the aptly named “Beware of Poison Ivy!”[2]Batman #181, June 1966. Our lady causes havoc at the museum by making everyone blind using her lipstick to detonate newsmen’s flash bulbs before capturing Batman’s heart using chloroform-based lipstick. The caped crusader is so hot for her he’s incapable of putting a “beautiful doll behind bars.” This doll hasn’t always been so beautiful though. Once upon a time she went by the name Pamela Lillian Isley; a mild-mannered botanist with huge nerd glasses, brown rats nest hair and frumpy clothing. Unfortunately, Pamela’s insane superior Dr.Jason Woodrue altered her body chemistry to be more plantlike as part of their peculiar hybrid project. Or if you prefer the film/TV version, there was a terrible lab accident involving toxic plant matter.

Regardless of the way it came about, Pamela was no more. In her place was the towering goddess we know as Poison Ivy. She emerged a plant-crazed nature lover who was capable of creating killer poisons, man-eating Venus flytraps and enzymes that turn humans into trees. While her body emits an abundance of plant-based perfumes and toxins that maim and kill other people, Ivy herself is immune. Which is a nice perk really.

Urushiol

Urushiol. R = C15H31, C15H29, C15H27 and C15H25

Now given her name, one would naturally assume that Ivy shares genetics with the plant commonly known as poison ivy. So let’s have a little look at that possibility. Poison ivy, or toxicodendron radicans[3]Further information on poison ivy if you want to get fancy about it, is a poisonous plant. Go figure. I’m sure everyone has had a run in with the stuff at some point or another. It causes an itchy and sometimes painful rash to erupt over the area of skin you’ve been unfortunate enough to touch it with. The cause of this delightful skin irritation is a compound found within the sap of the plant known as urushiol. Interestingly enough not everyone reacts to urushiol, around 15-30% of people take no notice of the stuff while in others it can cause anaphylaxis. If you do react to it however you’re in for an itchy and uncomfortable time known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, an incredibly fancy medical name for what is basically just a rash. All it takes is a salt grain sized amount to come into contact with your skin. To make matters worse, it will stick to virtually anything and remains potent for years, even after the plant itself has died. For those of you who won’t click the hyperlink, urushiol is a mixture of several closely related organic compounds. Each of which consists of a catechol (that’s an organic compound with a molecular formula of C6H4(OH)2) substituted with an alkyl (an alkane missing a hydrogen) chain that has 15-17 carbon atoms. Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never heard of our villainess causing a nasty rash so I think it’s suffice to say her body does not exude this particular compound. So what could she exude to cause death? Moulds and fungi have the capability of growing on human skin, causing, for example, athlete’s foot, so perhaps in Poison Ivy’s case her lips are coated with a plant substance. Not a particularly attractive thought unfortunately but a plausible one. Potentially, this substance could produce not only your standard chlorophyll and chloroplasts but also human toxins if the DNA within the cells mutated. In the case of a fungus, there wouldn’t even need to be a mutation. There are common mushroom toxins that would be capable of killing a human being[4]Mushroom poisoning and if Ivy was coated in something along those lines it would make death by a smooch a definite reality. But why stop at the lips? Who knows what sort of deadly toxic wasteland Ivy is hiding under her outfit.

That covers the killing part, but what about the attraction of victims in the first place? Obviously, she’s a pretty aesthetically alluring woman but that’s not necessarily enough to keep someone falling all over you. I suspect it would be more likely that she’s making use of her natural perfume; pheromones. That nifty little chemical substance that animals secrete to let the opposite sex of their species know it’s time to get it on. Mammal pheromone studies are still ongoing but they’re a fairly interesting area. A lot of work has been done on the vomeronasal organ[5]Further reading on the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a pheromone-sensing structure in the nasal cavities of animals. Given that the VNO is in the nasal cavity you would assume it’s wired into your sense of smell but that’s not the case. The VNO actually plays a far more important role, it doesn’t just identify perfumes and odours it also controls gender recognition[6]Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) findings on pheromones and gender recognition in mice.

That being the case it’s likely that Ivy secretes pheromones that make her utterly irresistible to men. Not only could she make herself irresistible to them, she could also probably make use of it to affect them in many other ways. Papers report that the VNO system controls genetically preprogrammed territorial, social ranking and maternal behaviours[7]Catherine Dulac report on pheromones and genetic preprogrammed behaviour. This effectively means if she chose to, she could potentially cause utter chaos and rule Gotham.

While Ivy, as a scientist, has a whole host of other tricks up her sleeve I’ll cover her creations another time. For now I think it’s fair to say that her natural charisma could definitely knock you dead.

References   [ + ]

1. Poison Ivy bio
2. Batman #181, June 1966
3. Further information on poison ivy
4. Mushroom poisoning
5. Further reading on the vomeronasal organ
6. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) findings on pheromones and gender recognition in mice
7. Catherine Dulac report on pheromones and genetic preprogrammed behaviour