Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cool Story Bro: The origin of Captain Cold

Brrrrr. It’s cold here in Cali. I have a fire going in my hearth and I can still see my breath. A few hours ago I began writing up a post about the many, many cold-themed villains in comics in order to kill my time before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which, by the way, was excellent) started. Turns out I’d screwed up the dates and the film started an hour earlier than expected, so I ditched the post (though I may complete it someday, maybe for Christmas) after an hour or so and went to see the film. That said, I did finish re-reading the debut of Captain Cold from Showcase #8 and I noticed some odd things about it, one of which was both surprisingly educational and kind of an eerie coincidence.
 Like Dr. Alchemy, one of the things I like about the icy Flash villain is how practical he is, well, mostly. This guy doesn’t waste his time trying to kill superheroes so he can commit crimes (which is always a method of guaranteeing both defeat and more serious charges like attempted murder), or run headfirst into committing crimes without preparing for superheroes, he plans ahead. Len Snart was a crook who, realizing that he himself was no match for the Scarlet Speedster, decided to scour any scientific magazines he could get his hands on to see if he had a chance of defeating the hero. He’s lucky; a newspaper mentions that a scientific magazine has prepared an essay on the Flash. Lenny then does what any sensible person would do: He breaks into the office of the magazine so he can read the article. Uhhh, he could just buy the magazine, but…..hey, I said he was mostly practical.
 The article theorizes that the energy from a cyclotron could slow the Flash down, so Len breaks into a power plant with what is apparently a toy ray-gun. What does this have to do with cyclotrons? Errr, nothing. Len presses a bunch of random buttons and ends up zapping the toy gun full of radiation.

 Yeah, I have no idea how even by comic-book logic zapping a toy ray gun with radiation makes it shoot out ice. That said, I like how they make a point that Len didn’t intend to shoot the guard, instead accidentally pressing the trigger. Many years later, Captain Cold’s establishing trait became that he had a sense of honor and nobility and tried to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. Nice to see that the concept had its roots in his first appearance. Anyway, he’s all set for the super villain business.
 In another strangely humanizing moment, he then struggles to come up with an appropriate alias. Now I want to see a story where he and Flash are forced to team up to fight a new group of villains who use those names. Lenny then tries to see what would happen if he filled the gun with liquid helium, and this happens:
 His explanation?
  I first read this in a reprint when I was a kid, and even then I called bullshit. Len practices with creating illusions, until finally he forces Flash to confront these Seuss meets Harryhausen-style monstrosities:
 Flash quickly deduces what they are and apprehends Len.
 But Flash doesn’t want to see such a simple-minded, likeable man go to jail, and he knows the police hunting for him won’t be so merciful. Flash then tells him to look yonder while he secretly pulls out a gun, and then tells Len to think about the farm they’ll someday own together. They’ll have cows, some chickens, and some rabbits. And Len will get to tend the rabbits!
 Okay, not really. Still, it was a very fun story with an oddly likeable villain. However, I was curious if intense cold actually could create mirages. Apparently, it can, according to Wikipedia. A search on Google Books also turned up this information from a book called Snow by Ruth Kirk. Fascinating. Without cold mirages, America might not have been discovered.

 Cold mirages are also responsible for the phenomenon known as Fata Morgana. Eerily enough, one of Wikipedia’s go-to images for Fata Morgana is of Moss Landing, a place I’ve visited many times (one of my best friends lives there, and they have an awesome annual flea-market). It’s always covered in fog, but next time I go there I’ll be sure to keep an eye out!
 Leave it to the comics to teach me something like that. I know that John Broome often put educational facts into some of his comics, especially Flash, but I had no idea cold mirages would be one of them. Even funnier, I did an image search for the term “Cold mirages” and guess what the first result was?

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