Thursday, March 30, 2017

H.G. Wells: The Long Reach of the Unseen Hand

The inventive British novelist H.G. Wells contributed several conventions that have become mainstays in superhero comics — among them time travel, interplanetary warfare and, oh joy of joys, invisibility.
The concept of human invisibility is a wish fulfillment fantasy that probably predates recorded history. We can trace it as far back as the Ring of Gyges in Plato’s Republic (which was undoubtedly the model for Tolkien’s One Ring). Plato used the magic ring as a metaphor to explore the question of whether an intelligent person would remain moral if he did not have to fear capture and punishment.
Wells’ answer was a firm “no.” In the novella, originally serialized in Pearson's Weekly in 1897, Wells’ optical scientist Griffin decides to use his power of invisibility to become a national terrorist. Felled by an angry mob, the dying Griffin slowly turns visible again.
In 1977, writer Doug Moench and artists Dino Castrillo and Rudy Messina adapted the story for Marvel Classics Comics. My late friend Roger Slifer was editor.
For an entertaining parlor game, ask your friends which super power they would prefer: invisibility or personal flight? The results will be telling, and generally spark an interesting discussion about expediency, ethics and life goals.
In the This American Life radio program, writer John Hodgman asked a number of people that question. “He finds that how you answer tells a lot about what kind of person you are,” host Ira Glass noted. “And also, no matter which power people choose, they never use it to fight crime.”

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