Recently Neil deGrasse Tyson helped Superman find his home planet, Krypton. Seeing a superhero team up with a superscientist was great, but it got us thinking - what other scientists would make a good sidekick? To many of us, scientists are already superheroes, so pairing them up with comic superheroes isn't combining two concepts so much as it's a long-delayed team-up. The fact that so many scientists have personalities that could make them deliciously interesting fictional characters as well is a bonus. But before we consider how a superhero and a scientist would get along, maybe we should see which scientists and superheroes should be getting together for purely practical reasons.
The Research Teams
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Superman were a natural match because of the astronomy connection. Not only should Tyson be helping Supes, but Superman and Supergirl by all rights should be returning the favor. Just think of all the things that Superman could be doing that space agencies would love – placing or fixing satellites, taking samples from distant asteroids. Depending on what universe he was in, probing Mars for life might be a mistake, but he would be an incredible help to studying the universe. A lot of space-faring superheroes should make scientific contacts. (Although the Green Lantern Corps would also do well to bring scientific consults, they would probably have more use for the discipline of anthropology.) And of course, I'd hook up Martian Manhunter with Jill Tarter from SETI, and have them work on communicating with aliens together- though not white Martians or Brainiac.
Possibly the greatest loss to science was the fact that Barry Allen and Albert Einstein never teamed up. Both were trained to a certain degree in chemistry, but both made their greatest splash in physics. As physicists invest huge amounts of money to get particles up to near-light speed, and as theorists wonder about the consequences of high speed combined with time, the Speedsters are zipping up to blinding speeds, popping in and out of different times and dimensions, and otherwise doing things that would make scientists curl in on themselves with envy. Combine Einstein with a couple of speedsters, and our concepts of space, time, and dimension would be even weirder by now.
Biological sciences also lose out when superheroes and scientists are kept apart by little things like reality. Think of what Rebecca Cann, who found the mitochondrial Eve, and Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, might do if they got hold of Spider-Man's DNA, or had some time with the Hulk. Imagine Charles Darwin's delight when he got to study Atlantean or Kryptonian evolution. (It might also be a job for Nathalie Cabrol at SETI, who studies how life might evolve in extreme environments.) Two entire species, which evolved separately from humans but look exactly like them. The implications in terms of parallel evolution, and evolution under extreme pressure or a red sun, are profound.
Reality almost seems cruel for not allowing these legends to get together. The loss to scientific research and human happiness is immeasurable. If these people had only gotten together, we'd be running at light speed, stepping into other times, shooting lasers out of our eyes and breathing through fish gills by now. What a world it would be.
Comedy Gold Team-Ups
Not all scientists and superheroes have to get together to collaborate professionally. Some would just make for a fun evening out. Iron Man doesn't do great in team-ups because he's a monster of egoism and permanently rides the line between bon vivant and pathologically insane. Still, I'd love to see him out on the town with Tycho Brahe, the astronomer who disputed the Aristotelian view of the heavens as unchanging - and who lost his nose in a duel, drank like crazy, and kept a pet elk. (I would say that Tycho's prosthetic nose of silver and copper might have given him more in common with Cyborg or Steel, who are both a combination of metal and man. Then again, they might prefer the company of Ambroise Paré, who made a working prosthetic hand in the 16th century.) I wouldn't have to always focus on the more raucous parts of Tony Stark's personality. I'd love to see a conversation between him and Marie Curie regarding love, publicity, and personal lives. Marie lost her husband Paul early in the marriage, when he was killed by a runaway horse. She became a national celebrity and was regarded somewhat as a secular saint soon afterwards. On the few occasions during which she did seek out other male companionship, she weathered heavy criticism. Though Tony Stark and Marie Curie were from vastly different eras, and had different personality types, they would have had some interesting common ground.
Meawhile, I think that Sue Storm might find a lot in common with Emmy Noether. One of the foremost mathematicians of all time, Noether contributed the mathematical proofs that allowed e=mc^2 to become an established physical fact. She became a professor, and helped a lot of students with their dissertations - earning the unofficial title of "dissertation mother." Sue Storm in regular continuity was Reed's wife and a surrogate mother to her younger brother, but in the Ultimate universe she was also a talented biochemist. I think the two would have a good talk about balancing science with team support.
For a wilder time, we'd look in on Barbara Gordon, the hacker and vigilante of the DC universe, meeting up with Ada Lovelace, the math whiz and writer of the first algorithm ever made for a proto-computer. Ada Lovelace lived in buttoned-up time, but she was the child of the poet Lord Byron, and liked to take risks. She attempted to use her math skills to form a gambling syndicate, but lost big. I think both women would enjoy talking about life in computers and life on the edge.
Damian Wayne and Irène Curie are another unlikely duo I think would get along. They both have a legacy to live up to. They both have the reputation of being a little bit bratty. And, since his mom was a supervillain and hers was Marie Curie, they both have a masters degree in mommy issues. They'd bond instantly.
If there's anyone that's a difficult fit, personality-wise, it's Batman. Who actually gets alone with that guy? In the end I'd have to say, Lise Meitner. She was working in Germany, leading a team of scientists, many of whom got the Nobel for discovering the principles of fission. Did she win the Nobel? No. Because she had Jewish ancestors, she had to flee the country and help the research along from the sidelines. But she was there, following her passion, and working from the shadows. Sound like anyone we know? (I would love to hear her "I am vengeance," speech.)
The Perfect Mismatches
Friendship and true understanding between human beings warms the heart, but it's not always fun to watch. Often, the whole point of team-ups is to make the two members as miserable as possible in as amusing a way as possible. The first dysfunctional team-up I'd love is the two most straight-arrow flag-wearing superheroes in comics, Captain America and Wonder Woman, having to wander around America with Richard Feynman. Feynman was a famous iconoclast, who, while working on nuclear bombs at the top secret Los Alamos base, used to pick locks and sneak out of the compound for the sheer fun of it. He came up with diagrams that described the movement and interactions of subatomic particles and played the bongos at a strip club. This could even have been a period piece, since Cap and Feynman were contemporaries, and Wonder Woman made her debut around the same time. Who knows how they would work out their differences? Either they would have been a hilarious combination, or Feynman would have died young.
The scientist doesn't always have to be the free-spirit to the superhero's stick-in-the-mud. If I could have my pick of scientists from any time in their life, I would love to see teen Spider-Man team up with teen Isaac Newton. Peter Parker, for all his angst, is a goofy soul. Isaac Newton, not yet come to shine the way we now know he would, was a sullen, withdrawn, prissy and neurotic teen who kept an obsessive journal of all his sins and alienated all his classmates. Seeing the two of them sniping at each other, lusting after Mary-Jane (with Newton confessing his lust in his sin journal later) would be great. Watching Newton's inevitable slide towards supervillainy would be even greater.
But the best team-ups are not just about personality conflicts. They're about entire philosophical codes. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and spirited defender of evolutionary theory. He began his career with books like The Selfish Gene, which explained the mechanisms by which genes drive evolution, and more recently has written books like The God Delusion, which explicitly refutes the idea of any form of the supernatural. Zauriel is a DC comics character, a sometimes member of the Justice League, and a literally-from-the-Bible angel. I'm not usually a fan of debate, or bickering, or long-drawn-out scenes, but I would pay almost any amount of money to see these two spend a long car trip together. I think we all would.