Behind every hero or villain there is tech support
This article is part of our new series, Currents, which examines how rapid advances in technology are transforming our lives.
Technology has always played a major role in superhero comics. Sometimes technology makes the hero, like the oft-improved armor worn by Iron Man. Other times it may benefit a team of benefactors, such as the rings used by the Legion of superheroes which give its members, whose adventures take place in the future, the possibility of flying.
While most of the tech in comics is of the fantasy type, there are examples that exist in the real world or are extensions of real world inventions. DC’s hero Mr. Terrific uses drone-like devices he calls T-Spheres that aid him in his adventures with aerial reconnaissance (they can also deploy lasers, holograms, and more).
Iron Man uses an artificial intelligence system that is light years ahead of Alexa or Siri. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he had JARVIS, but he was replaced by a virtual assistant named FRIDAY, who is also featured in the comics. These days, he uses an AI named BOSS, which alerts him to threats, monitors his power levels, and, when he first appeared in a comic book, managed his investments while battling an alien threat.
But the real heroes behind the hero, you might say, are those keyboard surfers who furiously typing at a terminal and providing critical information to those they help out in the field. This special kind of tech support falls under the trope known as “The guy in the chair,” but they are not always men and do not always help the good guys. Here are a few examples, both righteous and wicked.
Charles Francis Xavier, or Professor X as he is popularly called, is the founder of the X-Men, Marvel’s mutant heroes who are often feared and wary in society. Professor X often used a wheelchair and drove the X-Men from afar, keeping an eye on the team in the field with his telepathic abilities. He provided the team with tremendous innovations. The Danger Room, the facility where heroes train in the use of their powers, began with relatively weak technology: an obstacle course with rams and flamethrowers. Later, thanks to an infusion of alien technology, he was inflated with holograms that simulated the extreme terrains the X-Men often encountered. Another invention, Cerebro, was like a DNA test combined with Apple’s Find My iPhone app: it can locate mutants and alert them to emerging new ones.
David Linus Lieberman is the aide-de-camp of the Punisher, the Marvel anti-hero. Lieberman, aka Microchip, provides all kinds of illicit services: money laundering, gun buying and hacking. In his origin story, Lieberman’s initial crime is to change the grades of a fellow college student whose scholarship is in jeopardy. After mingling with a bank connected to the crowd, he begins a life on the run. From there, he slowly evolves into an underground hacker who also creates computer viruses. He meets an untimely end when he attempts to replace the Punisher, who becomes increasingly violent and unstable.
Black Panther’s brilliant little sister, Shuri, caused a sensation in the 2018 movie “Black Panther” with her technological magic – Q to her brother’s James Bond. In the comics, Shuri is equally gifted, but also more ambitious: she intends to become Black Panther, a ceremonial title of power and leadership in the advanced African nation of Wakanda. Shuri serves as the Black Panther when his brother is incapacitated and later sacrifices his life to save him. But don’t worry: he finds a way to bring her back, and they fight side by side today. Shuri is very active in the comic book business, and she is responsible for creating a range of gadgets and equipment, including a spacecraft and nanotechnology wings (which she boasts, “My latest hit! Emergency theft in a box! I’m awesome! “).
When Barbara Gordon becomes paralyzed after being shot by the Joker, her crime-fighting career as Batgirl could come to an end. Instead, Barbara trades her cape, motorbike, and grappling hooks for a keyboard, multiple monitors, and Wi-Fi to become Oracle, a genius hacker and information broker for the heroes of DC Comics. After undergoing experimental surgery that implants a microchip into her spine to restore her mobility, she becomes Batgirl again but later decides she has a wider reach as an Oracle. In a recent issue, her father, former Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, confirms that he knows Barbara’s other identities. After a heart-to-heart conversation, she fitted him with a special satellite phone in his latest quest to apprehend the Joker. The phone is linked to Batman’s communications system and is set to self-destruct if it doesn’t check in daily.
Noah Kuttler, a DC villain known as the Calculator, was originally a costumed crook with a gadget: he wore a numeric keypad on his chest and said things like, “I think you have less left over. ‘a minute to live.’ Despite his confidence, he never reached the top rung of villains. That changes after Kuttler hears whispers about Oracle. Kuttler abandons his costume and sets up a similar operation – this time for the supervillains for a substantial fee: $ 1,000 per question answered and even more for other services. As well as providing information to villains, it also provides a measure of protection – it playfully thwarts a heroes wiretapping setup to only hear speeches from Vice President Adlai Stevenson.
“The Wall” is an apt nickname for the will-steel Amanda Waller. She made her mark in the DC Universe as the head of the government Task Force X program, also known as the Suicide Squad. Waller hires supervillains for dangerous missions in exchange for commuted prison terms – if they survive. One of his favorite technologies is explosive devices, often in metal collars and sometimes implanted under the skin, which encourage bad guys to stick to mission parameters. Waller witnesses many victims in her profession but a strike particularly near her home: Flo Crawley, the mission coordinator of Task Force X, wishes to participate in missions. Waller’s response: “If I let you do this, your mom would shoot me and I would give her the gun.” But Flo defies orders and takes part in an operation that results in her death.
Invincible, the main character of the recent Amazon Prime animated series, is often assisted by Cecil Stedman, the head of the Global Defense Agency, who was vigilant of threats that might require the attention of superheroes. Stedman is a huge fan of the gadgets he gets from his job in government. Very early on he used a teleportation device, which he said, “It costs taxpayers $ 5 million every time we use it, but I just had to try it.” It also equips Invincible with an earpiece that serves as a direct line to the hero when needed. Stedman may be a little arrogant – he once said, “I’m so high up in the US government that I don’t even have a rank” – but his heart is usually in the right place. When Invincible’s family faces a crisis, Stedman swings into action: his machinations help provide the family with a stable income, and he holds funerals with holograms to help keep identities secret.