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Comic Book Legends Revealed #438

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COMIC LEGEND: Cyclops’ eye beams come from another dimension.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

Reader Frank W. wrote in to ask me what the deal was with Cyclops’ powers, namely, what’s up with the idea that his powers come from a different dimension.

The confusion, Frank, began with the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe in 1983. The idea of the series was to have a specific guideline for every character in the Marvel Universe. How their power worked, what the limits of their powers were, etc. However, in a few instances, the handbook also took some liberties.

For instance, in X-Men #43, Roy Thomas and Werner Roth had already explained how Cyclops’ powers worked…

By the way, I love that story for the way that it dealt with one of the ultimate nit-picking thing, all of the panels where Cyclops blasts someone without touching his visor…

cyclopspowers3

Classic.

So that’s pretty clear, right?

But in the Handbook, it says that Cyclops’ eyes are:

interdimensional apertures between this universe and another, non -Einsteinian universe, where physical laws as we know them do not pertain. This non-Einsteinaian universe is filled with particles which resemble photons, yet they interact with this universe’s particles by transferring kinetic energy in the form of gravitons. These particles generate great, directional concussive forces when they interact with the objects of this universe.

Woah, nelly!

That’s almost as good as the handbook’s explanation for how Spider-Man sticks to walls!

Yikes!

Anyhow, in the updated version of the Handbook that ran in 1986, they corrected the previous edition, stating instead:

Cyclops apparently somehow metabolizes sunlight, and presumably starlight as well, in the process of generating the force bams. It has been argued that Cyclops could therefore prevent himself from generating the force beams by confing himself to places sealed off from sunlight. However, for unknonw reasons, deprivation of sunlight for extended periods sets up a dangerous physiological imbalance of unknown nature in Cyclops’ body.” The exactu means by which Cyclops stores the solar energy his body absorbs, and by which he stores the unknown energy of his optic beams, also remains unknown

That more or less settled it, except when fans read the original Handbook and presumed that it was the official stance of Marvel, which would make sense, since it said “Official Handbook” on it. In fact, the entry from the original Handbook was added to Marvel’s own website at one point or another and it even made it into an X-Men Handbook in 2004…

xmen2004

Cyclops possesses the mutant ability to project a beam of heatless, ruby-colored concussive force from his eyes, which act as interdimensional apertures between this universe and another. Cyclops’ body constanty absorbs ambient energy, such as sunlight, from his environment into his body’s cells, which allows him to open the apertures. Cyclops’ mind generates a psionic field that is attuned to the forces that maintain the apertures

That’s just repeating the original mistake.

While don’t get me wrong, Brian Michael Bendis can decide tomorrow “Oh yeah, Cyclops gets his powers from another dimension” and write it into an issue of X-Men and it WILL be true, at this exact moment it is not true.

Thanks for helping me open a big ol’ can of convoluted worms, Frank!
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Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: What’s the mysterious origin of Scooby Doo? What classic TV sitcom was it based on?
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Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

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See you all next week!

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64 Comments

Bob from Accounting

September 27, 2013 at 9:48 am

What is it with Dave Cockrum and that bloody outfit?

John Chidley-Hill

September 27, 2013 at 9:57 am

Scott McCloud’s name isn’t misspelled… he changed it from McLeod to McCloud sometime after that Boston Symphony Orchestra comic was published.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_McCloud

My understanding of the “interdimensional aperture” business was that it was intended to answer why, when Cyclops blasts, say, a brick wall, the force of his concussive blast hitting the wall doesn’t snap his head back. The idea being that the resultant force is shunted into that dimension (similarly, that same or a similar dimension is the place, according to the Handbook, that Hank Pyms mass goes to/comes from when he changes size). It’s basically meant to be an answer to one of those nitpicky things like having a button in his glove to raise his visor when his hands are tied.

Not that any of that changes Brian’s point, of course. Though it does beg the question, if Cyclops’ eyes AREN’T dimensional apertures, where does the reactive force of his blast go? ;)

I’ve never understood the need some fans have to explain super-hero powers down to the molecule like they were members of CERN or something. That’s one reason I never got into the Official Handbooks or Who’s Who for either company. Super-heroes aren’t exactly hard science fiction, they’re more for the story, the characters, the adventure, etc.

You go too deep and then you have to start asking questions like how Wolverine heals without having to constantly eat and drink or how Aquaman and Namor live at the bottom of the ocean but they look like normal dudes instead of angler fish.

Yes, having eyes that open into other dimensions makes so much more sense than force-blasts that don’t snap back. It’s not like firing a rifle bullet, there’s no reason to assume the energy has a recoil element (not to mention that the MU certainly doesn’t follow the laws of physics as we know it either)
Not that I mind pseudo-scientific explanations (I do, after all, read comics) but the Official Handbook was really bad at them. Why, for example is “Blackout taps into a dark dimension” somehow more logical than him manifesting dark energy? Generally the default explanation for everything was “taps another dimension.”

“Where does the reactive force of Cyclops’ blast go?”

I’m guessing: it’s going nowhere since there is none, his eyes are PROJECTING the eye beam, just like a flashlight does.
That’s how I’ve always figured it works anyway.

Red Comet, i do have the handbook, mostly because I’m more a DC guy and so it can fill me in on character histories when I want them. But otherwise, yes, I agree. I did like Who’s Who, though –it wasn’t as obsessive about calculating the exact tonnage that characters can bench press.

I am SO relying on that Symphony comic if I ever need a Robin/Human Torch connection for “Comic Book Six Degrees.”

To be accurate, I didn’t convince Marvel and DC of anything.

Artist Chris Bing was the guy who pulled the project together creatively, in part because his mother was on the BSO’s Junior Committee (which runs or promotes or in some way is involved in the Pops opening night fundraiser.

Chris talked his mom into pitching the idea of a comics-themed opening night, and the BSO got Marvel and DC to agree to let us do our strange promo comic.

The BSO has also, more recently, agreed to let us reprint the comic, and we’d been talking to the CBLDF about doing it as a benefit for them. Marvel and DC agreed at least in principle, but then Paul Levitz left DC and I got sick, and I haven’t yet had the energy to tackle the project again.

But at some point, I hope we’ll be able to do a new edition, so people can see the second-ever (I think) officially sanctioned Marvel-DC crossover, and can see just how bad we were when we started out. We all did go on the much greater success, though, so we had something going on…!

kdb

The problem with Cyclops’ blasts is the produce no heat, meaning they’d just be translucent, or not perceptible by sight. So the ‘Non Einsteinium’ dimension explains how they can be colored yet not produce heat.

So does “It’s a comic book”.

Cyclops obviously has two super-powers deriving from his mutation:

(1) Force beams from his eyes

(2) Exceptionally strong neck muscles!

Extra dimensions? That’s for crazy people (and Strong Theorists – but I repeat myself!).

Your Friendly Neighborhood Physics Professor,

Jim Kakalios

FWIW, I personally prefer the notion that these characters are able to pull energy (or mass, or push energy/mass) from other dimensions rather than to suggest that they somehow store all of this tremendous amount of energy within their own bodies.

I kinda like giving this stuff some thought, as have fans for years and years. I mean, if Cyclops is storing that energy in his body, then shouldn’t it leak out or something if he was to get shot or stabbed?

What exactly what the bodily organ look like that would store all of the electrical energy that we see Electro giving off? Etc.

Glad to see Jim Kakalios, author of “The Physics of the Marvel Universe” (sorry if that title’s not quite right), put in his tuppence-worth!

Whenever I see a strategically placed obstruction like in that symphony comic, I think, “Uh-oh, Spidey forgot to wear pants again.”

Let’s not bring Bendis into this.

Hi Pete Woodhouse. Thanks for the comment.

I read Comic Book Legends every week – usually just lurk.

By the way – it’s THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES now in its Spectacular Second Edition (it’s official
title), Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of Shameless Plugs?!

(Point being I give equal time to DC characters as well).

Dr. K (the ‘K’ stands for Action!)

Several of the Claremont / Cockrum issues leading up to Uncanny X-Men #150 showed the discovery, by Cyclops and Lee Forrester, of a mysterious island in the Bermuda Triangle with statues of elder gods and sea life, in that same motif as Silkie. I suspect this was all leading to the introduction of Silkie and her back story. The island was later revisited, I believe, by Claremont and PMSmith as a headquarters for Magneto, although its origin was never explained.

http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/scans8/UX148_Cthulu.jpg

My absolute favorite thing about Marvel in the Silver Age was its effort to create vaguely plausible explanations for things like Optic Blasts. I loved the schematic diagrams and the science-y sounding explanations. However, having Cyclops pulling energy from another dimension through his eyes is obviously the point at which a good thing turned bad.

The Handbook’s claim that Spider-Man uses electrostatic charge to stick to walls was stated explicitly in the second Sin-Eater story by Peter David in Spectacular Spider-Man. Electro discovered he could remove Spidey’s wall-crawling ability by absorbing all the static in the area. I don’t know if any other writer ever made use of this, though.

What’s amusing is that when confronted with the task of explaining spider-sense, the handbook writers throw up their hands and admit they’ve got bupkiss.

You really can’t apply actual physics and real world ideas to comics. It never works. For example, super speed characters would still be limited in ways writers never imagine or bother to put on the page (an example is a Flash comic where Wally takes a shower in a few seconds; even at superspeed it’s impossible because of things like the amount of water available in a few seconds out of the faucet to wash an entire body let alone that the water would be ice cold). And physical injuries are impossible to explain, healing factors or not.

By the way, I love that story for the way that it dealt with one of the ultimate nit-picking thing, all of the panels where Cyclops blasts someone without touching his visor…

I laughed at this because although I’m usually opposed to fanwank stories that address nitpicks, especially those written by Roy Thomas, I’m one of those fans that really used to be really bothered by Scott not touching his visor to shoot, so I may a hypocritical exception for this specific story.

I remember the Handbook about Cyclops’ eyes being interdimensional portals. I kept waiting for them to say that he used the Crimson Beams of Cyttorak.

I always liked the Dimensional Aperture explanation for Cyclops’ power. It makes more sense than converting solar energy into mountain shattering blasts and Cyclops would hardly be the first mutant whose power depends on opening a dimensional hole.

[...] Comic Book Legends Revealed #438 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) [...]

Thanks for the information, Kurt, I’ll make the corrections!

And thanks, John, for the Scott McCloud head’s up!

What is it with Dave Cockrum and that bloody outfit?M

I kind of know what you mean. Even before I clicked the link, I had a pretty strong idea what it was going to look like. The only difference is I expected thigh high boots as well.

Yeah, I too like the dimensional aperture explanation for Cyclops, Giant-Man, et cetera. It’s a fairly elegant catch-all handwave for pretty much everything. Of course not everybody *needs* an explanation beyond “they’re comics”, but those of us who like having some kind of sci-fi explanations, it’s nice to have something like that.

I think it was (assistant?) editor Elliot Brown who was tasked with (or just compusively suited to) explaining all those nuts-and-bolts figures of how things worked in the early-eighties Marvel U, whatever happened to him? He was there at a great creative time for Marvel – I really liked the Shooter years’ output. I remember a gag panel somewhere of him getting measurements on the X-Men’s Blackbird (or was it a Quinjet?) while characters were trying to do repairs or maintenance, complaining of his interference.

The “otherdimensional portal” explanation was also used to explain Colossus’ transformation into Osmium Steel, as I think it was called, like somewhere there was a whole universe of this substance that he could shunt into or entirely replace his biody with, and still have it function.

I actually kinda like the static electricity explanation for Spidey’s adhesion, it works about as well as the “tiny fingerhooks” explanation from the first film.

And no explanation for Cyke explains all those times someone showed him melting steel (writing Jean’s name in a block) or setting off fires with his eyebeams. They seem to do whatever is called for.

I remember reading about Silkie at the time and then wondering whatever happened to her.

And then of course I quickly forgot about it, because I was 10 at the time.

BTW, Dave Cockrum could not have left X-Men the first time because it was going to go monthly. Cockrum’s last issue was #107, Byrne’s first was #108, and the book went monthly with #113, 6 bi-monthly issues after Cockrum left, or a year later. Claremont and Byrne were also working on Marvel Team Up at the same time and they managed to pump up X-Men sales by putting Havok in MTU and showing the Beast heading off to X-Men #111, boosting their sales and four months later they were monthly.

I’m guessing that the “snap-back” force caused by the eye-beams is absorbed by the psionic field that keeps Scott’s eyelids from blowing off when he closes his eyes.

fraser, the Darkforce gets his powers from the same dimension as Shroud was Roger Stern’s idea, not something that just appeared in the Handbooks. And the fact that Blackout lied about how his powers worked helped to demonstrate that Blackout was a delusional psychopath and not the sympathetic victim that he appeared to be in his Nova appearance.

While John Byrne took over X-Men with #108, it was still bi-monthly and way behind schedule, according to Byrne himself. Issue #110 was even a fill-in by Tony DeZuniga and… was it Cockrum himself the penciller? and Byrne insists that all throughout his run, the book was almost cancelled several times because it wasn’t breaking the 25,000 copies in sales! Go figger.

Small correction: Bing won a Caldecott Honor. The medal that year went to David Small.

According to Byrne, there was worry from editorial about Cockrum keeping up with the oncoming monthly status of the X-Men. Byrne was penciling Iron Fist at the time and the X-Men guest starred in an issue, which was essentially his try-out for taking the X-Men gig. Plus, he and Claremont were also working on Marvel Team-Up, so Byrne got the nod to take over as penciler on X-Men.

Several misspelled words in the 1986 OHOTMU excerpt, ‘unknonw’ ‘exactu’

Most if not all of those typos were corrected when the series went to trade paperback. Sometimes the art was even updated/changed to reflect current costumes.

When you consider the vast amount of words in every issue, and that most offices had only rudimentary computers, it was really an impressive series.

I second the question, whatever happened to Eliot R. Brown?

Jim Kakalios, author of The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics? Good to see you here–your book was recommended to me this week in a display of synchronicity, and I ordered a copy.

ParanoidObsessive

September 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I remember a gag panel somewhere of him getting measurements on the X-Men’s Blackbird (or was it a Quinjet?) while characters were trying to do repairs or maintenance, complaining of his interference.

It was the Blackbird. During the notorious Assistant Editors’ Month back in the 80′s, the only contribution from Uncanny X-Men was a short mini-comic at the end of the issue showing Elliot hanging out at the X-Mansion measuring the Blackbird and taking it all apart to get the details right, until Professor X throws him out.

It was a reference to the fact that he was the one doing all the technical schematics for the Marvel Universe Handbooks that were coming out around that time.

I believe he was actually working on the original Handbook at the time – not sure if he also worked on the “Deluxe Edition” that came out a year or two later.

My friends and I used to joke that, if the “another dimension” explanation for Cyclops’s powers were the case, then it sure was lucky for him that his mutation didn’t instead turn his eyes into portals to a dimension filled with, say, puppies. We even named our team at a comic trivia night after the obvious solution: “Puppy Quartz Visor.”

Who was it that used the joke about a character having punches from the punch dimension? I’m pretty sure they had to be riffing on this explanation of Cyclops’ powers.

Oh, it’s going to bug me all day trying to figure out where I just recently read about that BSO crossover comic. Scott’s website? Something of Busiek’s? argh!

It’ll drive me nuts until I forget about it, then it’ll pop into my head at random sometime.

Was it in the first issue of the new Comic Book Creator, with Busiek? That’s gotta be it. I’ll have to check the mag.

Isn’t the “another dimension” thing used to explain where Hulk’s extra mass comes from, and other things of that sort? Those handbooks can be dense reads, but fun sometimes.

Hmm, got a possible legend in mind…

@Jason: Eliot is still around. He has his own website where he writes and displays work from his long tenure at Marvel during the Handbook era. Google “eliotrbrown.com” and he’ll be the first result to show up.

My favourite Marvel Handbook explanation was the character Shamrock from Contest of Champions (she was Lebanese. Joking — she was Irish. Love the 1980s…) Shamrock was a non-superpowered character whose only gift was that she was often spectacularly lucky. The Handbook went at length to describe show she generated a “probability field” and back it up with pseudoscience. I remember reading it as a teenager and thinking. “Why can’t she be, you know, just lucky?”

I’m assuming Silkie was inspired by the similarly named legendary aquatic creature of Scottish folklore, the Selkie.

And, Cockrum really liked that costume design, didn’t he.

@IAM FeAR
“I’m guessing: it’s going nowhere since there is none, his eyes are PROJECTING the eye beam, just like a flashlight does.”

A flashlight does has a reactive force backwards. It’s just very small, since the amount of energy a flashlight emits is very small (if I’ve done the calculations correctly using a flashlight for an hour is roughly the same as throwing a baseball, except that it’s spread out among an hour rather than instantaneous).

Alabaster Alligator

September 28, 2013 at 7:56 am

The Cyclops explanation reminded me of an interview with John Byrne, before he took over Superman, in which he insisted that Superman must have psionic powers. The evidence was in all those times when he picked up some large, very heavy object at one end, and the object did not break in half or bend downwards–obviously, Superman was holding up the other end through telekinesis. Byrne geuninely seemed to consider this idea realistic.

Scientifically speaking, that would make sense, as an immensely heavy objects own weight would force it to crumble under its own weight or at least break apart.

It’s best not to think too hard over stuff like that and just go with the entertainment value.

Byrne’s psionic abilities thing turned out to be good. It gave us Superboy’s tactile telekinesis.

@Graeme: Later on in Guardians of the Galaxy, it was explained that Shamrock’s luck powers come from the spirits of the dead that possess her, and they manifest briefly in order to cause good luck for her and bad luck for her opponents.

And, Cockrum really liked that costume design, didn’t he.

Hey, I will take a typical Dave Cockrum design over anything that contains an excess number of pouches, straps, and spikes on it!

Seriously, considering just what an amazingly prolific character & costume designer Cockum was (probably one of the few artists to come close to Jack Kirby in that area) it is not too surprising that from time to time he would utilize similar elements.

I’m with Red Comet. I don’t see the need to explain characters like Cyclops abilities to that level. He’s a mutant and his power is to generate an energy force from his eyes. Not only does it not need to be explained how, but that could just be the total explanation. His mutant power generates an energy beam from his eyes. Some powers kind of need to be explained somewhat, but not that. Frankly I never like the idea that a mutant power, a mutation would somehow allow you to access other dimensional energies anyway. To me it seems like by the concept of mutant powers, the mutation should really only affect the character’s body in some way, but not affect the world around them. So I never liked it when they said that Scarlet Witch’s mutation gave her powers of chaos magic. I can buy (in a comic book fantasy style explanation) that a mutation would allow her body and/or her mind to cause some kind of probability altering power, but not that a mutation could make her magic (nitpicking I know). Just my opinion.

You really don’t want to hang out in the dimension where the Hulk’s muscle mass lives when he’s not using it. It’s kind of disgusting.

@Graeme- that Shamrock explanation originated in Marvel Comics Presents.

Umm…if everyone’s powers come from another dimension (Colossus’ steel, Cyke’s beams, Hulk’s mass, etc.), then wouldn’t that make all of their abilities accessible by anyone who has the right key to the lock (since we’re not talking singular abilities anymore but powers stored up in a dimension like vault)?

Suddenly envisioning an extremely bad crossover with some 90′s named villain called Ragescream or something accessing said powers and going on a rampage…sort of like Midnight Massacre…but without the awful dialogue.

@Alabaster: I think that was Byrne’s explanation for how Gladiator could pick up the Baxter Building in an issue of Fantastic Four.

I like the scientific explanation behind superhero powers. It makes the characters and their powers seem less random, as though they were part of a universe with somewhat different yet still consistent physical principles.

@Goliath:
It could also be a reference to A.E. Van Vogt’s 1969 novel, The Silkie, which was , admittedly, inspired by the selkie legends.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Silkie_%28novel%29

Logan, technically the Scarlet Witch’s magic didn’t come from her mutation–they came from being born on Wundragore and getting tainted by Cthon who was imprisoned there. Otherwise her powers would be closer to her father’s.
Though of course that may not be the official explanation now.

[...] them.  The 1986 Handbook corrected this, but the idea resurfaced in the 2004 Handbook.  Still, as Comic Book Legends Revealed observes, this Handbook – for all it has the word ‘official’ in the title – is still a [...]

Punches from the Punch Dimension

October 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I always figured Cyclops metabolised sunlight which fueled special cells or something in his eyes which opened portals to the Punch Dimension, thus mixing the two explanations. Yeah, the Handbook explanation is ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous enough that I love it.

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