Safe Sex

I stumbled across this blog post via a facebook friend:

http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/08/05/i-will-not-teach-my-kids-about-safe-sex/

It’s basically a rant in favor of abstinence only sex-education. Here are some choice passages and my responses:

“In this nation, we are concerned about the integrity of our produce and our peanut butter, so we only buy them if they have words like ‘organic’ and ‘raw’ on the packaging. But, when it comes to human sexuality, we’ll sip whatever chemicals we need in order to stave off the natural emotional and physical consequences of our behavior. Imagine the college students who have to chug 6 rum cocktails and 8 Natty Lights between them before they can anonymously copulate in someone’s dorm room. But they require more than booze; they also need pills and condoms and explanations the morning after about how this was all just for fun and it didn’t mean anything.”

What does this mean? So regular, non-drugged sex is like organic peanut butter I guess, and so sex with birth control is like processed peanut butter? In that…. it involves adding things?

“Why do we say that these people enjoy sex? The man who makes love to his wife of 20 years enjoys sex; these people only enjoy certain physical sensations. They enjoy masturbating with assistance — but sex is precisely what they’re trying desperately to avoid.”

So ‘these people’ are enjoying something, but it’s not sex, that’s only between married couples. Instead sex outside of marriage is ‘masturbating with assistance.’ I would be interested in hearing what the actual cutoff is between these two categories, but I can’t imagine someone dumb enough to think them up would have also thought them through.

“Nameless, random, uncommitted sex is never safe. Not emotionally, not spiritually, not physically. In fact, no sex is safe. Sex is not supposed to be safe. Sex isn’t supposed to be physically perilous like it often is these days — thanks, mostly, to years of ‘safe sex’ education — but it is supposed to be an act of great depth and consequence. Sex is meant to be open and exposed. It’s meant to bring out scary and mysterious feelings of desire and devotion.”

Well first let me just say thank god that I’ve just been masturbating with assistance this whole time, because that sure does sound scary. Also, how exactly is safe sex education making sex more dangerous? My only thought is this: divide sex into within-wedlock and out-of-wedlock. The out-of-wedlock category riskier than within-wedlock, but is made safer by sex-ed classes. However, if these classes convince enough people that out-of-wedlock sex is safe, we might see an increase in it compared to within-wedlock sex, thus making the average sex-act more dangerous, even as unmarried sex havers see nothing but safety improvements. Sort of like how car accident fatalities are surprisingly unchanged by safety improvements, because people just feel safer and drive more recklessly. Of course in that scenario having a giant spike coming out of the steering wheel is the reducto ad absurdum of the trend, while getting rid of the available protections is actually what this post recommends.

“This is like planting a seed in the ground and calling it a mistake when a tree begins to sprout because you thought the soil was infertile. You may have believed this, but still the seed is doing exactly what seeds are supposed to do, and you did exactly what a person is supposed to do if they want to make a tree grow. You may be a fool, but this was no accident.”

Wouldn’t just planting the seed and walking off be equivalent to unprotected sex? Let’s say planting seeds was really fun, but for some reason we didn’t want more trees to go. How about planting the seed inside a little plastic case, so it wouldn’t grow? Or just removing it right after? And plus, then if you take these precautions, you’re more justified describing any tree that grows as an accident, since you were obviously trying to avoid that eventuality. Of course some environmental groups might get mad at how you’re killing the seeds, but really even tree-huggers know the difference between a seed and tree.

“sex is an expression of love. This is the primary thing that separates human sex from sex between beasts. It is a profound good, but, like any good, it can be perverted and turned into a very dark evil.”

Animals feel love don’t they? Their minds are simpler of course, but I’d say what a mother bear feels towards its cubs or what two mated-for-life swans feel for each other is pretty analogous to love. Or maybe not! Either way, it’s an interesting question that shouldn’t have on answer glibly passed on as supposed wisdom.

“The abstinence-before-marriage plan paints an affirmative and uplifting picture. It says, “this is something so good and so important and so joyful that you should leave it be until you grow up and find one special person to share it with.””

Of course it’s been proven over and over again that abstinence only sex education does not lead to a decrease in sexual activity, but does manage to stop people from using as much protection, leading to increases in the teen pregnancy rate, leading to increases in both the teen birth rate and the abortion rate. It’s so uplifting!

“By the way, though it is just a recreational activity, like Parcheesi or air hockey, it can also lead to broken hearts, chlamydia, pregnancy, and AIDS. So, in that sense, it’s a little different from a board game. Hey, let’s look at some super-magnified images of genital warts!””

Confession – an experience much like this is why I no longer play Parcheesi. Though I still break out the genital warts slides now and then! Well, at least we learned that if something people want to do is dangerous, the worst thing we can do is try to make that thing safer.

“You don’t want your kid to drink and drive, but if he did, you’d prefer he wear a seatbelt, right? Well, would you ever say to him: “junior, I know you’re going to drink and drive. You shouldn’t, but everyone does. So just wear your seatbelt”?

Why not?

Because that statement seriously dilutes your anti-drunk driving message, lends a tacit endorsement to the behavior, and assumes the worst in your son before he even has a chance to make his own choices?”

This is why anti-drunk driving organizations advocate banning seatbelts. The only way to stop drunk driving is to make it as dangerous as possible! That’s the only way they’ll learn!

“Also, for how long have the majority of parents been using the “well, my kids are going to have sex anyway” logic? Decades, maybe? And has sex among unmarried people become generally more or less prevalent during that time? More, right? So do we, perhaps, have here a case of a self-fulfilling prophesy?”

Because it sure would be ridiculous if the causality worked the other way, from teenagers having sex to parents… noticing their teenagers are having sex.

“Also, do you, in any other situation, elect to forgo teaching your kid to do what is right and instead prepare him to do the next best thing? Do you ever tell your child to shoot for a ‘C’ in math class? Do you ever tell her to make sure she only engages in reasonable levels of bullying and gossip? Do you ever tell your son to only vandalize abandoned properties? Do you ever tell your daughter to only lie to you once a week? Do you ever tell your son to only forge your signature on his report card if he’s really sure it looks super accurate?”

Good thing the author emphasized how sex-positive he was earlier, or this comparison of sex to a list of crimes, sins, and failures might seem a little suspicious. Really that’s what this ultimately comes down to. Is sex a reasonable thing for people to want to do, just for the joy of it? Or is it morally equivalent to petty crime? And what that comes down to is whether you think sex outside of marriage is sinful. If you do, you can write whole blog posts trying to come up with reasons to support your position, but all it comes down to is that we should be avoiding extra-marital sex as much as possible, because it’s BAD. On the other hand if you don’t believe sex is sinful, you can just look at it as a public health problem like any other, and do what the data says will save the most lives and give people the most control over their own bodies: real sex education that doesn’t judge people regardless of what level of sex they’re interested in having, but just gives them the tools they need to be healthy no matter what choices they make.

Law School: Three Scenarios

I’m vaguely considering applying for law school, and had an idea for a personal statement. The gist / basic outline is below.

I can see our society going in three basic directions:

1) Reform: This is probably the best case scenario. We gradually fix our problems, capitalism survives but in a tamer form, we beat climate change, etc.

As a lawyer I’d be in a decent position as such things go to push for this scenario and help the various reforms along.

2) Reaction: This on the other hand is probably the worst case scenario. Things just go to shit, the divide between the rich and poor widens, growth slows, automation makes mass unemployment the order of the day.

In this scenario it’s good to be a lawyer because if I’m successful it can at least buy me a spot on the lifeboat.

3) Revolution: Starts out looking like scenario #2, but the forces of law and order don’t manage to keep things together, so rather than a slow descent into dystopia, we get some kind of sudden, radical change.

Robespierre was a lawyer.

Jaden Smith Drinking Game

Get ready, I am about to improve your life:

First, let me present the twitter account of Jaden Smith. You may know him as the untalented son of Will Smith who Will is trying to turn into a movie star. However, if that’s all you know about him, you are missing out. He is also one of the greatest tweeters alive, producing such gems as

“You Can Discover Everything You Need To Know About Everything By Looking At Your Hands”

and

“Either I Lie To You Or We Cry Together”

But that’s just the beginning. In response to the glory that is @officialJaden some noble genius has created this account: @TweetLikeJaden

Take a moment to read a few – but don’t read too many yet, because the funnest step is yet to come.

Invite some friends over, open a few beers, and get ready to play the Jaden Smith drinking game. It’s a simple game: the game master opens both twitter accounts, and starts reading tweets. After each tweet, the players have to guess whether it’s an @officialJaden tweet, or an @tweetlikeJaden tweet. If you guess wrong you drink. If no one guesses wrong, the game master drinks. Continue until you’re smashed or you run out of @tweetlikejaden tweets (there are only 53 at the time of this posting).

I only encountered either of these yesterday, and have not played the game yet. Once I do I will update with how it went. If anybody beats me to the punch, please share.

Justice X

In 1953, three young post-graduate students met for the first time in Oxford. Over the course of their lives they would be friends, rivals, and at times enemies, but their relationships would define not only their own lives, but much of the history of the coming century.

The first student was Charles Xavier. Charles, like so many of those who became super-heroes, was an orphan. No one is quite sure where he came from, and he isn’t telling. The image he presented to the world was of an heir to a moderately wealthy American family, come to England to enjoy himself and pursue his studies. The money and social know-how needed to maintain this illusion were never an issue for Charles. Powerful psychics are rarely short of cash, not that they generally need to pay for anything, and find it rather easy to fake their way through most social situations. Xavier was fascinated by his own abilities and what they taught him about the human mind, and even without his telepathy was brilliant enough to be already surpassing his professors in his understanding of the human brain.

Charles Xavier: 1953
Charles Xavier: 1953

The next student to attend this little meeting was Eric Ivo. Charles may have had a troubled youth, but he had nothing on Eric. A Holocaust survivor, Eric had attempted to rebuild his life after the death of his entire family in the Nazi’s attempt at human sacrifice on a massive scale. While in the camps Eric discovered he had a mutant ability – the power to manipulate and control magnetism. His ability helped him survive, but at the cost of being experimented upon for the duration of his stay. After his camp was liberated, Eric had found love in a beautiful Roma girl named Magda – a fellow survivor. They had twin children, named Pietro and Zatanna, and seemed on track to rebuild their lives. Eric was even taking classes at his local university in engineering and the burgeoning field of computer science, at which both his abilities and his native genius allowed him to excel. He even corresponded with Alan Turing, who he would eventually meet in England shortly before Turing’s death (Turing’s treatment at the hands of those for whom he had done so much did little to ameliorate Ivo’s growing disgust with humanity). However it was not to be, and tragedy struck when the locals in their town discovered Eric’s ability, which he was using as part of his job as a mechanic, and attacked the Ivo family. Eric managed to fight them off and save his children, but Magda was killed in the confusion. Fleeing with his infant children to England, Eric managed to enroll in Oxford, and moved forward with the new plans his tragedies had inspired.

Eric Ivo: 1945
Eric Ivo: 1945

The final member of the trio introduced herself as Moira MacTaggert, claiming that her Scottish father and Chinese mother had moved the family to Scotland when the situation in China got too dangerous. Of course this was all a lie. Her father was a man of many names (Zhang Tong, Ra’s Al Ghul, Tem Borjigin, and Fu Manchu being but a few), accumulating them as one does when faking your own death becomes a lifestyle of its own. The one title he kept through the decades, tying his many identities together, was the Mandarin. He was still in China, competing for power in the chaos of the Chinese civil war and what followed. He had sent his daughter, Talia, to England, where she would be safe and where she could gain knowledge that would ultimately benefit her father. Ever the suspicious man, her father had trained her from childhood in not only physical self-defense, but in the creation of a series of mental blocks that would prevent any psychics from sussing out her true identity. They would not hold up to a concerted attack, but any casual glance would reveal her to be nothing but what she claimed. She was a brilliant biologist, and was fascinated by the new advances being made in the west, and how they complemented her father’s ancient knowledge.

Moira / Talia: 1952
Moira / Talia: 1952

The topic that brought these three together was a lecture on the possibilities of technological immortality, and the transcendence of the human condition. The lecture was sparsely attended, and the lecturer something of a quack, but none of these three could keep themselves away. Xavier was fascinated by any attempt to cheat death. His mental abilities had convinced him that the human mind was nothing but a product of the brain, and that there was no soul to be saved, no afterlife to go to. Every death he encountered caused him incredible psychic agony, as the mind was torn apart, leaving nothing in its place. Ivo had a similar fascination, though originating from a more selfish place. He had seen his family die at the hands of fearful, ordinary men. He desperately wanted to preserve himself and his children from that fate, and to separate himself from the pathetic, fearful humanity he so despised. Moira claimed to simply be interested in the topic for its own sake, though in reality she had more personal reasons to investigate the science of longevity.

After the lecture the three talked for hours, and became close friends for the remainder of their time in Oxford. Their three fields, neuroscience, biology, and computer science, dovetailed nicely in their explorations of how to surpass the limits of humanity. After all three had finished their studies, Charles proposed that they continue their research in New York, where an old acquaintance of his, Anthony Wayne, was willing to fund their endeavors. Wayne, who by this point was spending most of his time either at Wayne Industries HQ in Manhattan, or in his nearby apartments and bases, invited the three young scientists, and Eric’s young children, to stay at his Westchester mansion where his adopted son Warren spent most of is time. It was there that Talia and Anthony first met, forming another relationship that would have significant ramifications.

While the group remained fascinated by immortality and technological means of improving themselves, they found themselves increasingly drawn to the pressing issue of the growing mutant populations. Charles and Eric had long since shared their abilities with Moira, Anthony, and each other, and it was becoming clear that Eric’s children possessed mutant abilities as well. Pietro was cable of great speeds, prompting a number of Westchester residents to ask about the mysterious silver flash they sometimes saw zooming down the street. Zatanna was able to manipulate probabilities in a way that verged on the magical. They began to search for others who possessed abilities beyond those of ordinary humans, with a particular focus on young people who might be in need of their guidance. They reached out to the rest of the growing American super-hero community and soon the small community in the house began to grow, adding Garfield McCoy (a brilliant young man able to transform into any animal he chose, but also gradually losing his ability to keep his human form), Scott Kent (a flawed clone of Super-Spider, not as strong as the original, permanently locked in one human form, and unable to control his heat vision) Megan Grey (a young White Martian living on Earth for reasons of her own), and Tim Drake (a young orphan with the power to control ice, who Anthony took a particular liking to).

The original Justice X: 1963
The original Justice X: 1963

All was not well however. While Xavier spent most of his time tracking down new mutants and acting as a combination father figure and schoolmaster to his charges, Ivo was concerned that they were abandoning their quest for immortality. Any other objectives, to his way of thinking, come could second, once they had all the time in the world. He believed that the best way to truly ensure immortality was to transfer a human mind into a machine. Not only would this provide an unaging body, but it would in theory also allow the mind to be copied and stored, so that even a disaster that destroyed the invincible mechanical body could be survived. To this end he began constructing a variety of robotic servants, both as helpers, and as potential bodies into which he could escape death. The most impressive of these androids was dubbed Red Tornado, for its ability to create and manipulate gale force winds. While his friends disapproved of Eric’s anti-social new hobby, they did not find it all that worrying, and simply encouraged him to use some of his technical know-how to help with Anthony’s constant upgrading of his equipment, or perhaps with same Wayne Industries research projects.

Red Tornado Prototype: 1956
Red Tornado Prototype: 1956

The next phase of Eric’s plan was not so harmless. Having created the prospective host for an uploaded consciousness, he now needed to test the process, and for that he needed test subjects. After all, performing experiments on yourself is no way to live forever. Using Red Tornado as his assistant, Eric began his experiments. He secured a small lab away from the mansion, and began abducting people who no one would miss, and fleshing out the process of transferring a human mind into a machine. Charles’ psychic abilities would likely have been helpful at this stage, but as much as Eric felt his own actions were justified, something told him Charles wouldn’t see it the same way. Time passed, and while Eric hadn’t yet managed a successful transference, he could tell he was making progress. Most of his test subjects even survived, if not with their minds completely intact.

The catalyst for the discovery of Eric’s extracurricular activities was Talia being called home by her father, who had secured his position in the Chinese Communist regime, and was ready for her to rejoin the family business, so to speak. While Eric had not taken Moira into his confidence, she had suspected he was engaging in some sort of research he didn’t want Charles and Anthony to discover, and did what she could to conceal his activities out of interest in what he might turn up. Once she made her excuses and left the country, Eric’s web of lies began to unravel.

Red Tornado with two test subjects in Ivo's lab: 1957
Red Tornado with two test subjects in Ivo’s lab: 1957

The situation came to a head after Charles heard one too many excuses about Eric constantly disappeared off to, and decided to follow him to his lab. Upon seeing what Eric had been doing, the horrified Charles confronted him, and demanded and explanation. Terrified of being put under his friend’s mental power (effective anti-psychic defenses not yet existing – though that would be Eric’s next project), and knowing he had only moments to act before Charles saw what he was thinking, Eric attacked. Only meaning to incapacitate Charles, in his haste Eric miscalculated and dealt him a fatal blow. Shocked by his own actions, Eric left Red Tornado to pack up his laboratory and rushed to the mansion to collect his children.

Unbeknownst to Eric, Charles was not dead – at least not yet. He was failing fast and knew that he didn’t have long. The one thing that saved him was Eric’s rush to leave. He had been in the middle of an experiment, with the Red Tornado still connected to the uploading machinery. As his body failed him, Xavier desperately reached out to the machine, and began to transfer his mind into the Red Tornado’s waiting systems. The process was delicate, and Xavier was forced to use his abilities to bypass some areas where Eric’s technology was not sufficient, but it was ultimately successful, ironically achieving Eric’s great goal. By the time Eric returned to his lab, Pietro and Zatanna in tow, he found his equipment removed or destroyed, and both Red Tornado and Xavier’s body gone. Not knowing what to think he used his powers to collapse the building and fled, first from the city, then the country. The world had not heard the last of Dr. Eric Ivo.

Xavier, still in shock about Eric’s betrayal and his own near death experience, returned to the mansion with Eric’s equipment and contacted his allies. Over the coming months he would begin to adjust to his new situation, but before he could get too comfortable he found his problems were far from over. The primitive late 1950′s computing technology in the Red Tornado body was simply not enough to contain a human mind for long. With his mind beginning to deteriorate Xavier enlisted his student Garfield McCoy and friend Anthony Wayne in helping him to construct a replacement device within which to store his mind. Without Eric’s singular genius for the subject their replacement was necessarily crude, and could not be made to fit within a single android. Instead, a vast computer mainframe they aptly called Cerebro was built in the bowels of the mansion, and Xavier’s mind transferred into it. In this new environment, which was constantly upgraded and expanded as technology advanced, both Xavier’s intelligence and his telepathic abilities were greatly enhanced, but he was trapped in the mansion. He was still able to use the Red Tornado body as an avatar through which to physically interact with the world, but it could only stray a few dozen miles from the mansion before the connection to Cerebro grew too weak.

Cerebro mainframe: 1960
Cerebro mainframe: 1960

Though devastated by his no circumstances, Xavier held up as well as could be expected, and continued the search for new young people (and people-ish things) in need of his help and guidance. For now he not only had something to offer them, but also needed something in return. Eric Ivo was still out there building strength, and while Xavier did not know when his thirst for power would next threaten the rest of humanity, he knew that he would be ready to stand in his old friend’s way when it did.

American Wonder

To close out what might be called the holy trinity of modern American super-heroes, we come to American Wonder.

An ancient depiction of the Amazons
An ancient depiction of the Amazons

Since the times of the ancient Greeks there have been stories of the Amazons: a race of mysterious warrior women who lived apart from the rest of civilization. For most of that great span of time these stories were thought to be just that: stories. Only the the 20th century did the SS Special Projects Division, which eventually became known as Hydra, begin to explore the truth behind such legends to see if something useful could be extracted. The main force behind Hydra, Heinrich von Helsingard, explored dozens of false leads over the course of the 1930′s, before finally stumbling across something of true value. The ancient Amazons’ spectacular success on the battlefield was due not only to their warrior training, but also to a gift from the gods (what we would now call Martians). This gift came in the form of a device, that would transform an ordinary human into a super-(wo)man – bringing the Amazons to the very peak of human capability, and sometimes beyond. After years of searching, Helsingard stumbled across one such device, and brought it in for study. Initial tests were not promising. The subjects tested invariably experienced horrific side effects. Some side effects were physical, in the form of cancers, disfiguration, or simply being ripped apart by their newly powerful muscles. Others were mental, including a disturbing propensity for paranoia, schizophrenia, and even complete catatonia among the test subjects. Helsingard was undeterred – after all, there were always more test subjects and there was so much to learn. One lesson learned was that individuals of great mental discipline could more effectively weather not only the mental effects, but the physical as well. With this knowledge in mind, Helsingard ultimately chose to test the device upon himself. The test was the most successful to date, in that while it left Helsingard horrifically disfigured, with his face resembling a skinless blood red skull, his mind was largely intact, and he gained the impressive abilities the device offered.

Heinrich von Helsingard after his encounter with the device: 1944
Heinrich von Helsingard after his encounter with the device: 1944

As was common for test subjects, Helsingard was virtually comatose for several days after the initial test. During this period, his chief scientist, one Dr. Erskine, decided to act. While Helsingard was unfazed by the brutality of Hydra’s experiments, Erskine was horrified at what he had taken part in. Realizing that he could not allow Hydra to successfully build it’s army of super-soldiers, he stole the device and fled. With the help of famed archaeologist and explorer Henry ‘Indiana’ Challenger, Erskine made his way to America. With him he took the one essential idea that would change everything about how the device was used. The Amazons were a race of warrior women after all, so why not test the device on a woman? Helsingard, in his single-minded quest for self-glorification, had overlooked or ignored the idea of using women as his perfect soldiers, and Erskine, neither wanting to help the project if he was right nor add innocent women to the victims of the device if he was wrong, had kept quiet once in Germany. Now in America, he revealed all he knew and set to work creating a super-soldier for the United States.

Now finally the woman who would become American Wonder enters the story. Diana Rogers was from a long line of American patriots who had willingly put their lives on the line for their country. As a female only child, she was desperate to carry on the tradition, but given her era, was unable to join the military as anything other than a nurse. Fortunately for her ambitions, her frequent demands to get closer to the front lines had drawn her superiors’ notice, and when a list of female test subjects for the Amazon device was drawn up, her name came to the front immediately.

Diana Rogers at her first interview with Doctor Erskine: 1942
Diana Rogers at her first interview with Doctor Erskine: 1942

After a series of interviews with Dr. Erskine, ensuring the Diana was of sufficient moral caliber to both survive the process and use the power it granted wisely, she was allowed to use the device. Though the process was strenuous, she survived, and gained all of the super-human abilities advertised. Unfortunately, the German saboteur monitoring the American super-soldier program took this as his cue to act. His orders were to glean as much information on the American program as possible, prepare to help steal the device back for its rightful owners, and if the Americans seemed about to succeed in creating a super-soldier, to destroy the device and as much else as he could, before returning with his notes to Germany. Unfortunately for the saboteur he was unable to get everything into place before the day of the test. While his bomb succeeded in destroying the device and most of the project notes, as well as killing Dr. Erskine and his assistants, Diana survived the blast and hunted him down before he could make it out of the country. He destroyed his own notes on the project to prevent them from falling into American hands, but was apprehended before he could take the cyanide capsule he had been issued (either that or he chickened out, history is unclear).

A better preserved part of the super-soldier program facility: 1942
A better preserved part of the super-soldier program facility: 1942

Now both Germany and the United States were back to square one. The device was gone, nearly all the research on it was gone, and there was little hope in putting anything together in time to be useful. Each side had a single superhuman, who was urgently needed on the front lines. American Wonder burst into prominence. She gained her code name, rather than the initial Captain Rogers, when British personnel contrasted her with the various German wonder weapons being deployed against them, saying that they had at least one American Wonder on their side as well. She was armed with the one other Amazon relic the United States (again thanks to Henry Challenger) had managed to track down: a nigh indestructible shield, which had a number of interesting and unique properties, but was nonetheless painted with the stars and stripes and put into service.

American Wonder reporting for duty: 1942
American Wonder reporting for duty: 1942

Of course no account of American Wonder’s exploits is complete without mentioning her friend, side-kick, and some say lover, Steven ‘Bucky’ Barnes. Barnes was a friend of Diana’s from their shared childhood in Brooklyn, and was always encouraging of her tomboyish eccentricity. He had joined the Army Air Force in the late 1930′s, and was already an accomplished fighter pilot when the war began. Once Diana began the America Wonder and accompanied Diana through thick and thin, both to assist her and to report on her abilities and accomplishments to what was left of the American super-soldier program.

Steve Barnes on an undercover assignment: 1943
Steve Barnes on an undercover assignment: 1943

Through WWII American Wonder clashed with Helsingard, increasingly known as the Red Skull by allies and enemies alike, many times, along with a host of other German super-weapons. She befriended Super-Spider, Iron-Bat, and many of the other great heroes of the day. By 1945 though, the war was drawing to a close. Diana and Steve had begun to think of what they would do after the war was over, but Hydra had one more trick up its sleeve. Frustrated by the American co-option of his greatest accomplishment, the Red Skull had obsessively searched for more information about the Amazons for years. Now he had finally found it.

The island of Themyscira had been hidden from the world of men for thousands of years. The Amazons had finally tired of war, and one last gift from their benefactors allowed them to withdraw permanently to a paradisaical island of their own. The island existed in a pocket dimension, mostly separate from the universe at large. They had control over the connection to our universe, able to draw closer to facilitate contact, or pull away to isolate themselves. They wiled away the centuries in their private utopia, reproducing without having to involve men using still more ancient technological gifts. Now however, the Red Skull had found a way to break into this impenetrable fortress.

Using a few minor Amazon artifacts they had hoarded, Hydra scientists were able to built a device that could call forth Themyscira into our world, whether the locals wanted it to be or not. Helsingard envisioned breaking into the island to loot it’s treasures, and using them to turn the tide against the Allies. While the Americans thought it unlikely that even the wonders that could be found on the island could turn the tide of the war at such a late date, they could certainly lengthen the conflict, and kill a whole lot of G.I.’s in the process. American Wonder and Bucky were dispatched on an emergency mission to stop Hydra’s assault on Themyscira. They arrived almost too late. As Bucky’s small plane drew towards the coordinates they’d been given, they saw that the island was there, existing in our universe for the first time in centuries. A whole fleet of German ships that had been waiting outside the radius of the dimensional transference was steaming towards the island, and a small advance team had already landed, and were calibrating the second stage of their device, attached the the Amazonian control system, which would lock Themsyscira permanently into our universe. With barely time for a word American Wonder bailed out of the plane to attack the advance team, while Bucky wheeled around to delay the approaching ships.

American Wonder rapidly dispatched the advance team, before turning to see the Bucky shot down by the approaching German ships, which then proceeded to level their weapons at the island. If they couldn’t have it, no one would. Grieving and unable to see any other option, American Wonder smashed the control system, severing the link between dimensions and escaping from the approaching ships, but stranding her far from home. As far as the outside world knew, both American Wonder and Steve Barnes had died heroically. The war, and life, went on.

On Themyscira, Diana tentatively made contact with the locals. They retained the warrior traditions of their ancestors (who they were not as removed from as one would expect, the Amazons being a long-lived people), but they had been at peace for so long that guards were no longer posted at even their most sensitive areas, allowing them to be briefly overwhelmed by the sudden violence of Hydra’s attack. They recognized what Diana had done for them, and in gratitude their queen, Hippolyta VII, formally adopted her into the royal family. Diana was as impressed by the Amazons as they were by her. Having wished to take an equal role as a woman for her whole life she had often wondered about the ancient matriarchal society to which she owed her powers. Now she was among them. Over the ensuing years Diana taught the Amazons about the outside world, and they taught her about their feminine warrior philosophy. The Amazons also worked to repair the damage that had been done to the dimensional controls, realizing that the men’s world would eventually develop the technology to resume contact, and that it was better to do so on their own terms.

By 1962 they had succeeded, and Themyscira could once again join the rest of the world, if it so chose. Diana lobbied for a resumption of contact, claiming that the United States had surely won the war and ushered in a more peaceful era, where no one would mean the Amazons any harm. Hippolyta was more suspicious, but knew something needed to be done. Ultimately, she appointed Diana as Themyscira’s ambassador to the outside world. She would venture out, armed with her shield and some additional Amazon goodies (an unbreakable lasso that could catch not only the body, but the mind of those wrapped in its cords, and a stealth plane so she could come and go from the island undetected). In 1963 Diana went forth and landed her plane on the nearest airstrip.

The world reacted in shock and delight to find that this WWII hero, thought dead, had returned. Diana quickly made contact with the American government and informed them of Themyscira’s peaceful intentions, though for all their pleading she would not reveal how to return to the island. For now Diana would be the only contact between the two worlds where she had made her home. She soon returned to super-heroics, fighting criminals and monsters, with a particular focus on those that would threaten women. However, unlike some heroes she had an additional calling. American Wonder was already an icon of the burgeoning feminist movement, and her return as a representative of a utopian all-female culture only reinforced that role. She took it upon herself to not just defend the world, but to turn it into a sufficiently peaceful and egalitarian place that she would be proud to show to her adopted family.

Poster attracting tourists to Themsyscira: 1994
Poster attracting tourists to Themsyscira: 1994

Iron-Bat

If any hero rivals the Super-Spider in fame and impact in the world stage, it is the Iron-Bat. Much like his colleague, there is more to the story of the Iron-Bat than meets the eye. As the main financial backer of the League of Avengers he is critical to the team’s functioning, and even beyond his super-hero status, his technological innovations, particularly Wayne International’s exploitation of the Lazarus pits, make the Iron-Bat one of the most important figures of the last century.

Anthony Wayne was born in 1916 to Howard and Martha Wayne, a wealthy couple living in Westchester New York. Howard was a brilliant scientist, who used his scientific know how to turn the modest Wayne family fortune into a gigantic global enterprise. Weapons technology, biology, aviation, no field was off-limits to Howard’s genius, and thus no field was off-limits to Wayne Industries (now Wayne International). By the time Anthony was 13 years old his father was one of the richest men in America, and it was already becoming apparent that the precocious Anthony would follow in his footsteps. A charmed life seemed to lie ahead for young Anthony, when tragedy struck. A disgruntled recently laid-off employee of Wayne Industries (even geniuses get hit by the Great Depression) named Joe Stane murdered both Howard and Martha right in front of Anthony, before running off into the night clutching Martha’s pearls, horrified at having let his robbery and payback get so out of hand.

Anthony Wayne at the scene of his parents' death: 1929
Anthony Wayne at the scene of his parents’ death: 1929

Anthony’s life was transformed. He spent the rest of his childhood mostly under the care of the family butler, Alfred Jarvis. Despite Alfred’s best efforts Anthony was an unhappy young man. Despite all the wild parties at the Wayne mansion, he never really accepted his parent’s death, and left home at the age of 17 to travel the world. Anthony wandered the planet, drowning his sadness in women, drink, and a constant tendency to tinker with any technology he found around him that won him both friends and enemies, depending on whether what he built turned into a revolutionary improvement in productivity or blew up in everyone’s faces (more common when he’d been drinking). Anthony might have continued this socialite existence indefinitely, but fate had other plans.

In 1937 the winds blew Anthony to Spain. Several of his more socially active friends had volunteered to fight for the Spanish Republic, so Anthony and a few similarly rootless young friends traveled to Barcelona to see what all the fuss was about. At first bored, and disgusted by the city and the conflict, Anthony happened to run into Eric Blair, who was recovering there from injuries sustained on the front line. Fascinated by Blair’s stories of life on the front, Anthony left his more cautious friends to get a closer look. Upon nearing the front lines Anthony was ambushed by a fascist patrol, who had been told to look out for the young American by their spies in the Barcelona. Anthony was severely injured, and was barely kept alive by the ministrations of a friendly medic, and a primitive pacemaker of his own design to keep his damaged heart going. The local nationalist commander had heard of the Wayne family’s great wealth, as well as it’s technological genius. A number of the fascist soldiers were using Wayne Industries weapons, and while they discussed how best to collect a ransom they set Anthony to work repairing what they had and building new weapons from what scraps they had.

Unfortunately for the fascists, Wayne was not content to sit and wait for ransom or death. He had some combat training from his old butler (a British special forces veteran), and had gained a little more in one of many temporary passions during his travels. Still, one man could not expect to defeat a whole armed camp alone. Instead, Anthony was forced to put his technological genius to work as he never had before. Beneath the noses of his captors he built a suit of armor thick enough to withstand bullets, and with servos allowing him to not only move with it on, but to increase his strength many-fold. On a quiet evening the fascist base was blasted by an improvised explosive, and then confronted by a vision in black iron. The soldiers who did not immediately run terrified into the forest found their weapons ineffective and were mowed down by the advancing creature. Later they would describe it as ‘a great iron bat,’ a description that was only strengthened when the beast rocketed into the air and deployed what seemed to be enormous wings, before strafing the camp one last time and flying into the night. Later they would find pieces of the creature lying all over the camp (the hang glider wouldn’t work for long if it had to carry all that weight after all), but no sign of their erstwhile prisoner.

The original Iron-Bat armor: 1937
The original Iron-Bat armor: 1937

Anthony made his way back to Barcelona, and quickly out of Spain altogether as the Republic collapsed, reinvigorated and full of purpose. Using his genius to fight the The Force of Evil (TM) had felt amazing. He returned to New York for the first time in years, and began to make plans. Within months he had a variety of suits of armor – from what was essentially just stiff leather and a toolbelt for operations requiring a bit of stealth, to full fledged war machines. Amused by the reactions of his first enemies he adopted the bat as his symbol, and soon the criminals of New York had something to fear when they went out at night.

Meanwhile, in his public persona, Anthony Wayne began to involve himself in the military’s preparations for potential American involvement with the wars that were just starting to sweep the globe. He was aided in his management of Wayne Industries by Lucius “Rhodie” Rhodes, an African-American employee of Wayne Industries who had been a favorite of the liberal Howard Wayne, but whose career had stalled after Howard’s death. Lucius proved too competent to fire, but was languishing in an obscure R&D division when Howard found him and elevated him to be his second in command at Wayne Industries, who essentially ran the company for much of the time when Anthony was at what they called ‘his other job.’

Lucius Rhodes at his promotion party: 1938
Lucius Rhodes at his promotion party: 1938

Once America entered the war, these efforts would be redoubled. Anthony, and Wayne Industries, would make substantial contributions to the creation of American Wonder, the Manhattan Project, and the secret war against the Nazi Wunderwaffen being produced by Hydra. Using his high level of clearance and the need to examine Nazi technologies firsthand as an excuse to travel the world, the Iron-Bat played a devastating if secretive part in the Allied war effort. The Iron-Bat also met Super-Spider in this period, and while they were suspicious of each other in their first encounters – with Super-Spider as the ostensibly All-American guy with no secrets and the Iron-Bat operating in the shadows, they ultimately formed a strong working relationship, that over the ensuing decades would turn into an enduring friendship.

In 1945, soon after the end of the war in Europe, Anthony began another of his most important relationships. While touring a captured Hydra base, he came upon records of a family known as “The Flying Graysons.” They had been a part of a circus touring Europe for many years, and apparently had a unique act. The extended Grayson family would begin a seemingly normal trapeze act, but midway through they would seem to stop using the ropes at all, instead unfolding wings and flying around the circus tent. Circus-goers were amused by the illusion, but the agents of Hydra assigned to finding potential soldiers and research subjects with mutant abilities discovered that the Graysons were not mere illusionists. The family had a mutant gene that manifested as angelic wings growing from their shoulder blades, giving them the ability to fly. The Hydra operatives had captured the family, and when none had been willing to collaborate with the Nazis, they were ‘tested to destruction,’ with the sole exception of a single small child, Warren, who was to be raised by an adoptive family to be loyal to the Third Reich. Anthony, knowing that few families would be interested in raising an obvious mutant, adopted the child himself, and Warren Grayson-Wayne came to America. In a move controversial with his fellow super-heroes, Anthony began allowing Warren to join him in his adventures at the age of 12, under the code-name Angel. A few years later Warren would become one of the founding members of Justice X. Some say the traumas of these too early adventures were reflected in Warren’s involvement with the Apocalypse cult later in life, but Anthony always maintained that the only thing that would have been worse for Warren than letting him help fight against the kind of forces that killed his parents would have been not letting him do so.

Warren Grayson-Wayne as an infant: 1945
Warren Grayson-Wayne as an infant: 1945

After the war Anthony remained a study in contrasts. His roles as a grim guardian of the night, loving father to Warren, visionary futurist, and carefree socialite seemed impossible to connect, and yet even those closest to him couldn’t say which, if any, was the mask, and which was the true man.

Iron-Bat in Medium Comabt Armor Mark VII: 1969
Iron-Bat in Medium Comabt Armor Mark VII: 1969

Super-Spider

Considered by many to be the greatest hero on Earth, the Super-Spider has a more complex history than the average man on the street is aware of. First, the story as most people know it: SS is not a native of this planet. Instead, he originated on a distant world, most commonly translated as Krypton. The Kryptonians were an ancient and scientifically advanced race, who had used their technology to improve themselves to a peak of physical and mental perfection far above anything seen on Earth. Every Kryptonian is ageless, brilliant, and nearly impossible to kill, and as they age are able to develop an incredible variety of superhuman abilities. Humans are naturally most familiar with the particular abilities possessed by the Super-Spider – flight, incredible strength and speed, able to produce the nearly indestructible ‘webs’ that first gave Super-Spider his name, able to survive without food, water, or air nearly indefinitely, and more. Tragically, this world was destroyed centuries ago through the machinations of the Galactiac Entity. Before the destruction of their world, a Kryptonian scientist placed his infant son in a spacecraft of his own design, and launched it towards Earth, where the Super-Spider grew up and became the hero known today. Despite initial suspicion about this masked vigilante, Super-Spider went on to earn the planet’s trust, particularly after dramatically unmasking himself, revealing his real name (Kal-Par) and volunteering for service in WWII in early 1942. Since that time he has served as a steadfast protector and served a significant role in global politics, perhaps most prominently as the leader of the League of Avengers and his role in the end of the Luthor administration and in the Omega Red Crisis at the end of the Cold War.

Super-Spider's ship leaves Krypton: 1692
Super-Spider’s ship leaves Krypton: 1692

Now we enter into the area of Super-Spider’s life that is not public knowledge. When he arrived on Earth in 1923 his spacecraft crashed outside the town of Smallville in upstate New York, on a farm owned by Ben and May Kent. The couple approached the smoking crater in their field and investigated what lay within. As they approached the ship’s hatch opened, and they looked inside to find an enormous egg, containing what looked at first glance to be a spider the size of a small dog. The enterprising Ben Kent reached out to touch the egg, and as soon as his hand made contact with it’s translucent outer shell the creature within began to change, within moments transforming from an alien monstrosity to a quite ordinary human being. With this transformation complete, the egg’s shell melted away, and the entire structure melted away, leaving a baby boy who fell to the hard floor of the ship and began to cry. The horrified couple looked on, and began a tense discussion of their options (which ranged from running for Ben’s shotgun, to calling the national guard). Before they could make up their minds, a voice emanated from the ship, identifying itself as a recording from Jor-Par of the planet Krypton, and begging them to be kind to his child, who he assured them would eventually come to benefit their world in ways they could scarcely imagine. After some continued discussion, the Kent’s opted to adopt the baby, who they named Peter.

Super-Spider's ship soon after it's arrival on Earth: 1923
Super-Spider’s ship soon after it’s arrival on Earth: 1923

Peter Kent’s early life in Smallville was fairly idyllic. As he aged he discovered he was able to change between his natural Kryptonian form and his human form at will, and that in both forms he possessed incredible powers. These allowed him to easily succeed in school, become the star player in his team’s every sporting event, and keep his adopted parent’s farm afloat through the worst of the great depression. At the age of 15 he decided to further make use of his power by competing against a wrestler traveling with a local circus. After easily defeating the wrestler, Peter was ripped off by the corrupt circus master, and subsequently allowed a gang of robbers to empty the circus’s safe rather than using his powers to quietly and easily subdue them as the good hearted young man would usually have done. After a brief period of sulking, the young man returned home to find that the robbers had fled town and holed up in his farmhouse during a confrontation with the police, which had ended with half the robbers dead, and half still on the run, Peter’s adopted father Ben dead, and the house and farm in ruins. Peter easily caught up with and apprehended the remaining robbers, but remained wracked with guilt at his decision to let them leave the circus in the first place. With the farm devastated and full of painful memories, Peter and May sold the place and moved to New York City (Queens to be precise).

Peter finds a dying Ben Kent: 1938
Peter finds a dying Ben Kent: 1938

Once in the city Peter resolved to create a new identity for himself, and use his powers not for his personal benefit as he had done in the past, but to benefit his fellow man (so to speak). He created a full body costume to hide his appearance, and began targeting criminals in depression wracked New York. To allay any suspicions he hid his physical talents, taking on the role of a clumsy, nearsighted, and anti-social boy from the country – though he could not bring himself to hide his still brilliant intellect. This role had the consequence of bringing Peter into contact with his similarly brilliant classmate Harry Luthor, as well as his wealthy father Norman Luthor. The ultimate result of the relationship between Peter Kent and the Luthor family is a story for another time.

Super-Spider in an early version of his costume: 1939
Super-Spider in an early version of his costume: 1939

Unable to use his physical gifts to make money for his family as he had on the farm, Peter began work as a photographer at the New York Bugle (known to modern readers as the Planet Bugle after it’s name change in an attempt to attract a more global audience in the 1970′s). His best shots were of course of the battle’s between his own alter-ego and the criminals and eventually super-villains he fought in the streets of New York. Peter would continue to work off and on at the Bugle for much of his life, transitioning from photography to full time reporting, and eventually marrying his fellow reporter Mary Lane.

As the 1930′s drew to a close and the 1940′s began Peter was increasingly worried about events overseas. He felt compelled to fight against Nazi Germany, but felt that his participation in a war as a private individual would only increase the fear and suspicion with which he was held in the city and around the world (particularly by his boss and mentor James Jonah White – or J.J.). While early in his career he had given an interview revealing his alien origins, if not his true appearance or identity, people continued to believe he must have something to hide so long as he wore a mask. Luckily, by late 1941 he had a solution. Peter’s powers had been gradually increasing over the course of his life. He had been felt his senses grow more powerful, and become gradually stronger, smarter, and faster throughout his life. In addition to these gradual improvement, he would occasionally find himself blessed with a new power altogether (most famously when he found himself able to fly in 1943). Always able to transform back and forth between his human and Kryptonian forms, in 1941 Peter discovered he was able to alter his appearance as a human as well. So in January of 1942 when the Super-Spider unmasked himself at a press conference, the world did not see Peter Kent, but a new man, several inches taller, hair color changed from brown to black, eyes from green to blue, altered bone structure, more muscular, and generally impossible to confuse with Peter’s secret identity.

Super-Spider unmasks himself, showing off his new costume (and face) at a press conference: 1942
Super-Spider unmasks himself, showing off his new costume (and face) at a press conference: 1942

Private Kal-Par was soon shipped out as America’s first super-soldier to fight the enemies of freedom, to be joined eventually by luminaries such as Roboboy, American Wonder, Iron-Bat, and Namor the Aquaman. At this point in his career Super-Spider was certainly powerful enough to make his presence felt in the war, but more in a tossing tanks around on the battlefield way than in the ‘show up at Berlin and end this war right now way’ he could have pulled off decades later. While effectively immune to small arms fire, being hit by a tank shell could be compared to being hit by a fastball, and a lucky shot from a Japanese battleship managed to put him out of commission for several days in 1943.

With the end of WWII Super-Spider returned to New York in essentially his modern form. Peter would return home pleased with a job well done, but sickened by the killing he had seen and participated in. Super-Spider would never participate in one of America’s wars again, and began to hold himself to the strict ‘no killing’ policy that eventually became the modus operandi for many of the world’s superheroes in their attempt to walk the line between ‘savior’ and ‘dangerous vigilante.’ Beloved by freedom loving people the world over, and an inspiration to future heroes, the most powerful man on Earth would continue to shoulder the burden of being Earth’s protector, in memory of the dead world he could not remember, and the dead father he couldn’t forget.

Knockoff Super-Spider action figure: 1986
Knockoff Super-Spider action figure: 1986