Thursday, November 26, 2015

When the Bucket is Recognized

After obtaining an advanced engineering degree and accumulating over two decades of experience designing, testing and analyzing risk on medical devices, it was fulfilling to learn that my friends value my knowledge and opinions, and do not hesitate to ask for them in times of need.

Because I try to live up to their respect, I always perform research into the key details before answering.

In that spirit, I present the full answer to a question I was tagged in on-line recently.

“OK guys. Serious question here…

I ask Jeff McGinley to give some input…

Will a Jedi lightsaber cut Captain America's shield?”

Hey, I was “Captain Continuity” long before I touched any medical device.

In order to answer this highly critical question properly, we need to establish initial conditions. That is- identify which versions we are discussing.

For the most accurate assessment, the focus will be on the “real” versions of the characters. The Star Wars films as lightsaber references.
The Marvel comics for source material on the Mighty Shield.

Let’s start with Captain America’s shield.  It is made of one of the “indestructible” materials In the Marvel Universe. In fact it was attempts to recreate its accidentally formed vibranium steel alloy that led to the invention of Marvel’s most famous indestructible material- Adamantium. (*snikt!*)

However, like most comic book absolutes (such as “dead” or “uncancellable”) the shield has been broken before.  I am a reliable first hand witness to two of these events. 
(Translation- I own these comic books.)

The first took place in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars issue 11 from March 1985, written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Mike Zeck.

The super heroes voted to oppose Doctor Doom who was currently in possession of the power of the Beyonder, a being who was – at the time, and occasionally at other times depending on who’s writing - an entire universe incarnate that could wield matter, energy and reality warping powers on a galactic scale, and assembled the planet the whole story took place on my mentally willing bits and pieces from other worlds to merge together around a sun of his own making.

In other words, not a cream puff.

Post vote, and ending the issue on a substantial cliff hanger, Doom sent Bolt from the heavens that obliterated most of the heroes’ headquarters and killed them all.   They got better, thanks to Doom’s runaway imagination coupled to his less than stellar emotional control of his new abilities, in the  next issue.  (Because…comics!)  But the force of the blast shredded Captain America’s shield.

The second witnessed damage took place in Avengers (volume 3)  Issue 63, in March of 2003 written by Geoff Johns and drawn by personal favorite Alan Davis.   Normally (and I’m using the word extremely loosely here) Mjolnir bounces harmlessly off of Cap’s shield.  However, in this tale when Odin died (again) Thor took his birthright for a change and inherited the Throne of Asgard along with the Allfather’s power: the Odin Force.  This supercharged his normal godliness with the extra energies that come from being head of a pantheon.  Under these conditions, Thor dented the shield with his mighty hammer in a fit of rage …
And then “banged the dent out” in the next issue. (Because…comics!)

There are a handful of other times, when faced with similar level reality shapers (Molecule Man) or divine leaders (Thanos, Odin’s Brother) that the star spangled manhole cover has been through the ringer, but it always required that level of force or energy.

On the other hand, let’s look at what the shield can withstand, by returning to Batteworld.

In Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars issue 8 from December 1984 Cap and the Human Torch were facing off with the Adamantium Android (and current star of the silver screen) Ultron.

In order to stop the evil robot, Johnny followed the First Avenger’s instructions to go “Nova Flame.”  For those who have a less bucket like mind than myself, or don’t own several versions of OHOTMU, here’s a definition from Comicvine:

“Special attacks include the Nova Flame, a multi-directional attack capable of over 1,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the Nova Heat, an offensive beam of heat rivaling the heat of a normal star."

The flamesplosion is enough to knock out Ultron (though not melt him) and vaporize the entire room. Our Hero, Captain America, hid behind his shield during the stellar level conflagration and emerged untouched and comfy.

The vibranium steel alloy of the shield works because it absorbs and dampens ALL vibrations. Heat is the increase of molecular movement - hence vibrations.  Lightsabers are shown to melt or burn through what they cut, but since they don't approach god like levels of power, a hit from one may scorch the paint of the shield, but it won’t cut it.

It is excessively tough

The counter point to this conclusion is, inevitably:

“But lightsabers can cut through anything - Duh!”

As a refutation of this highly complex argument, I would like to point readers to the directed by Irvin Kershner Empire Strikes Back released on May 21, 1980.

Does everyone remember the scene in that one where Luke cleaved Darth Vader from shoulder to hip like something out of a Robert E. Howard Conan tale?

I didn’t think so.

In the climactic duel, right before the former Anakin Skywalker lays down what may be the strongest “tough love” in cinematic history; his son lands a blow with his lightsaber on one of Vader’s shoulder pads…

And it bounces off in a shower of sparks.

Vader yells, more in rage than pain, and continues to beat his child like a womp rat.

Now that Disney owns them both, this battle has entered much closer to the realm of possibility. Both universes guested awesomely on Phineas and Ferb.

Heck, they’ve both already been in Disneyland at the same time.

(Here’s hoping some deal can be cut with Universal before I head back to Florida for the same crossover goodness.)

I suppose Vader’s armor could be retconned into a form of Adamantium, but it definitely wasn’t at the time Luke’s weapon twanged off of it.

My point - and Captain America’s shield - stands unbroken.

As confirmation I did consult with some other expert on this.

Translation: I brought the question up during my New Comics Day visit to Funnybooks.  Both experts (the guy who owns the comic shop and another customer) agreed that the shield holds as well.

I’d provide documentation of the conversation, but it veered off pretty quickly to what effects would Jedi have on Superman, given his vulnerability to magic?

Because we geeks are nearly unstoppable once we get going on fictional hypotheticals.

In case anyone is still paying attention.

Using force to throw things as Superman: No effect. If Doctor Fate uses a spell to throw a rock at Superman, even though it’s projected by magic, it’s still a rock, and bounces off.

Lightsabers:  Energy projected and folded (Because…Star Wars!) by a crystal, not magic.  Jedi force stuff is used to enhance reflexes, not create the beam.  It may singe Superman a little since high energy attacks have done that.

Force Lightning:  The trickiest one.  Consensus was, given the nature of the Star Wars universe, force lighting is still energy not magic, and therefore would not affect Superman since his normal reaction to lightning is laughter.

Although then one of the guys brought up how Dark Knight Batman stunned him with Gotham’s power grid.

And someone else responded with how the effect truly seemed minimal.

We really can’t control ourselves…please help.

Disclaimer:  The fact that there's a new Star Wars movie next month, and it's also Captain America's 75th anniversary had no bearing on the timing of this post...

This crap is in my head all the time no matter what.


longbow said...

That all sounds about right. Plus, in Phantom Menance (which is, like it or not, cannon) Qui-Jon and Obi take quite a bit of time to cut/melt thru some kind of bulkhead.

Jeff McGinley said...

Remember, I liked Episode 1 better than the other prequels. I thought about pointing out that scene, but I went with some more direct references.

Thanx for adding a vote to the list. A little more than a week's wait left!