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June 19, 2024 18 mins

In this special omnibus episode of STBYM’s The Monstrefact, Robert discusses Swarm, Puff Adder, Man-Thing and Colossus from the Marvel Comics universe…

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:08):
Hi, my name is Robert Lamb, and this is the
Monster Fact, a short form series from Stuff to Blow
Your Mind focusing on mythical creatures, ideas, and monsters in time.
This is going to be another special Omnibus episode, this
time collecting the four most recent Marvel Comics creatures, monsters

(00:29):
characters that I've profiled here on the show. So buckle
in because first up, we're going to consider Swarm. I'd
like to briefly return to the world of Marvel Comics
to discuss a rather unique supervillain, Swarm, as described in

(00:50):
the book Monsters Creatures of the Marvel Universe, explored by
Kelly Knox. Swarm is just your average former Nazi scientist
and acupuncturists consume owned by a swarm of radioactive bees
at a meteorite crash, transforming him into a sentient swarm
of bees. He manifests as a man shaped swarm with

(01:11):
stylish purple gloves and a ragged purple cape. The character
dates back to nineteen seventy seven, created by Bill Mantillo
and John Byrne in the pages of the Champions and
I think it's safe to assume that this one was
inspired by the old suit of bees stunt as well
as the curious properties of you social bees, because that's

(01:34):
the really interesting thing about the whole proposition here. The
former Fritz von Meyer, again now known as Swarm, is
said to exert control over the bees, and his consciousness
is shared among the thousands of bees that make up
his bee bod. It's a fantastic concept, but it also
touches on the fact that bees do exert a form
of emergence intelligence and are often discussed as a super

(01:57):
organism and as a cognitive entity. Swarms exhibit properties that
are not shared by the individual organism, but are rather
exhibited by the larger group, such as the ability of
a beehive to thermoregulate. Is pointed out by a Cadame
at All in of Biofilms and Beehives, published in the
journal Biofilm in twenty twenty two. When temperatures drop, bees

(02:19):
move in closer to better share their heat with adult
bees on the outside, shivering to reduce additional heat, and
then moving into the interior of the mass to warm
younger bees that lack the ability. As the title of
the paper implies the authors compare bee swarms to biofilms,
multicellular communities of bacteria or fungi. Marvel Swarm kind of

(02:42):
stands as an attempt to take the inhuman intelligence of
bees and put it in a human wrapping, something that
is fantastic and certainly fun, but in a strange way
a little easier to fathom. While it's impossible to truly
know what it is to be another organism, much less
a honey bee or a swarm of honey bees, fantastic

(03:03):
treatments such as swarm allow us to imagine our way
a little bit closer to the reality. All right, Next
on the list, puff Adder. I recently picked up a
kind of ragged copy of the Official Handbook of the
Marvel Universe, Master Edition from I believe nineteen ninety, though

(03:27):
this also might have been a reprint from years later.
I'm not entirely certain, but it's filled with various Marvel characters,
from the famous to the obscure, each with profile data
and standardized character illustrations in this kind of glorious retro style.
Amid all the capes and tights, and there are a
lot of tights, there are some gloriously weird entries in

(03:50):
the book. There's the spiky faced skeleton man terror Ink,
with his ability to steal limbs and attach them to
his own body. I was also fascinated by Quasu Modo
or Quasi Motivational destruct Organism. He is a super powered
cyborg hunchback, and presumably he's quite motivational. But in this episode,

(04:10):
I want to focus in on the villain puff Adder
real name Gordo Freeley and apparently a native of Atlanta. Physically,
he appears to be a very large, muscular man in
a snake costume. He is a mutant in the Marvel comics,
with the ability to engorge his entire epidermis with blood,
thus making himself appear more powerful and menacing. Now, he's

(04:34):
already a very capable fighter with enhanced strength, but it's
curious that his mutant ability doesn't seem to actually boost
his fighting power in the way that many other mutant
powers do. Instead, it just allows him to better bluff
and better intimidate. Oh and he also has another weapon,
a noxious gas canister in the mouth like cowl of

(04:56):
his snake mask. His namesake is, of course, the puff
At or Snake consisting of several species native to Africa
in parts of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. The snake in
question is able to puff itself up to look larger
as a predator deterrent, and it does this by inflating
its body with air and then hissing loudly. And like

(05:17):
the Marvel character, the snake can also back up that threat.
It packs a powerful venomous bite, and the force of
its strikes alone is enough to kill small prey. Various
natural world creatures make themselves look bigger as a defensive
or mating display. Some the imposturing or the manipulation of
fur or feathers, while others actually inflate tissues with air, water,

(05:40):
or blood. These actions also frequently enhance the colors or
patterns of such a display as well. While Gordo's mutant
ability may appear at first to buck the general theme
we see in comic book Superpowers, it's certainly in keeping
with actual real world involved adaptations. There is a survival
advance in not actually having to fight a predator or competitor,

(06:04):
and the same holds true with not having to fight
every X man or avenger you encounter. On the pages
of Marvel Comics. All right, it's ted time, because next
we have man Thing. Let us return to the pages

(06:28):
of Marvel Comics to consider a true monster. Man Thing.
It's not to be confused with DC's swamp Thing, but
he stands as something of his spiritual twin sibling. So
both man Thing and swamp Thing are hybrid swamp based
humanoids created through an explosive collision of humanity, mad science,

(06:51):
and swamp water. Both characters hit the comics for the
first time in nineteen seventy one. However, most commentators see
to see it merely as coincidence and point to various
differences in the characters. Plus Marvel's walking swamp creature The
Heap predates both of them, dating back to the early

(07:11):
nineteen forties, as does the muck monster It from Street
and Smith Comics. Still, these various swamp beings become linked.
They have a kinship, and you'll even find a panel
in Alan Moore's swamp Thing run visually suggesting kinship between
swamp Thing, man Thing, the Heap, and others. But I've

(07:32):
already talked about swamp Thing on the Monster Fact, so
let's get serious about man Thing. As pointed out by
Kelly Knox in the book Monsters Creatures of the Marvel Universe.
Man Thing started off with a human scientist named Ted Sallas. Now,
like a lot of Marvel comic books, scientists, Ted worked
on super soldier serums, at least until enemies tried to

(07:55):
take it from him. Ted then injected himself with the
serum and acidentally wrecked his car in the Everglades and
was also exposed to extra dimensional forces in the process.
So what emerged from the swamp was neither man nor Thing,
but Manthing, a humanoid swamp creature that would become the
guardian of the Nexus of Reality, where science and magic converge.

(08:19):
Man Thing boasts incredible strength and can throw down with
the toughest of physical opponents, but some of his most
impressive powers are due to his empathy. Man Thing is
so empathic that negative emotions in others can cause him
physical pain and distress, especially when he senses fear. This
will also cause him to lash out violently at individuals

(08:41):
in the throes of fear and lay his burning hands
upon them. Man Thing's burning hands are a fascinating superpower,
brought to life most wonderfully in the twenty twenty two
MCU Werewolf by Night Special, which captures it as a
kind of holy fire that in sinnenerates Ted's victims. On

(09:02):
one level, this seems to be just another version of
various magical tales in which creatures feed off of fear
or sense fear in others, as if it is an
actual energy or a quantifiable substance. Man Thing's abilities, however,
are frequently explained in terms of chemistry. NOx attributes his
burning touch to chemicals in man Thing's body and sumeric

(09:25):
and wallace in marvel anatomy. The authors here presume that
this chemical secretion is something akin to sulphuric acid, that
it's excreted through man Thing's pores. I suppose we might
compare this ability to these self defensive secretions of various
natural world organisms, and given man Things plant based physiology,

(09:46):
we have to acknowledge that certain plants do secrete acidic
substances through their roots, in some cases to dissolve rocky
soil and in other cases to eradicate competition. But what
about this notion that a monster like man Thing, or
even ant natural world organism can quote sense fear. It's
a common trope but is there anything to it. Certainly

(10:07):
there is no true sixth sense for fear in which
humans or other animals can tap into an otherwise invisible
video game fear meter. Fear, like other human defined emotional states,
is hard to quantify in animals and subject to human
testing bias, as Ralph Adolf's discussed in the twenty thirteen

(10:29):
Current Biology article The Biology of Fear. Some argue that
fear is a mere psychological construct and something we can't
apply to animals as we cannot truly know their minds.
On the other hand, neuroimaging and rodents would seem to
reveal a clear fear network in their brains at all.

(10:49):
Stressed a distinction to be made between the conscious human
feeling of being afraid and fear as a functional state
of an organism. This state exists in relation to fear
inducing stimuli, which for humans releast can be in the
present past or in imagined future, and induces fearful behavior.

(11:10):
Fear in both cognition and behavior is largely adaptive, and
it's because fear can help us survive, though of course
all of this can become maladaptive as well. Now. Man
Thing's relation to fear is interesting in light of all this.
He acutely fears the effects of another organism's fear, but
the source of his own emotional distress in this scenario

(11:33):
is not the fear inducing stimuli that caused the original distress,
but the distressed organism itself, which he may then incinerate
with his burning hands due to a fear response chemical
secretion in his own body. So there's a lot to
unpact there. But hey, still a pretty great swamp monster
and I'm always down for a cool swamp monster. Finally,

(11:59):
let us explore the curious skin of Colossus. I've been
plowing through old episodes of The X Men, the animated
series from the nineties with my son in anticipation of
eventually diving into the X Men ninety seven series. This

(12:19):
show is a lot of fun, packs a lot of
nostalgia for me, and leads to some interesting conversations with
my son about the various themes. Some of our favorite
characters include Rogue and Wolverine, but Colossus is always a
treat as well. If you're not familiar with this particular mutant,
we're talking about Russian X Men Peter resputant An already

(12:42):
intimidatingly muscular man who is able at will to assume
an impenetrable steel form. Sometimes, as in his Marvel dot
Com profile, Colossus's transformation is said to convert his entire
body into an organic steel like substance. The transformation is
interpreted as something that occurs only at the dermal level,

(13:05):
so only at the skin level. Either way, the transformation
generally looks as if a segmented stainless steel coating flows
over his entire body. We're going to approach it here
as a dermal transformation because the idea of a full
body transformation leaves us less room to wonder over the
scientific details of the feet. But just the idea alone

(13:29):
has always been a captivating one, because here is Peter Resputen,
a powerful but peaceful man who would far rather pursue
art than conflict, but who for the greater good can
literally grow the thickest, most impenetrable skin imaginable to throw
down against adversity. For Colossus, this might mean the grasping

(13:50):
tentacles of Omega Red, always a favorite of mine, or
the machinations of the Shadow King. Once the threat is
dealt with, Peter reverts to his normal form and continues
on in his peaceful creative pursuits. Lynn Ween and Dave
Cockrum created Colosses back in nineteen seventy five, and he
remains a popular character to this day. So how might

(14:14):
we think about Colossus from a scientific and biological standpoint?
Turning once more to marvel anatomy by Mark Sumerac and
Daniel Wallace, the authors here discuss his ability in terms
of a transmutation of his dermal layers or skin, into
an organic steel, with his underlying body retaining its flesh
and blood form. Their explanation details a process by which

(14:38):
each individual's skin cell draws on metallic extra dimensional mass
to become an activated organic steel cell. So, in other words,
each cell of Colossus's dermal layer coats itself in biological
metallic material, and this translates into the transformation of the

(14:59):
entire epiderma, but at the cellular level. Thus, his mobility
is not compromised, and his already incredible baseline strength no
doubt helps out as well. Now, by this explanation, we
may not be dealing exactly with something like steel shutters
from nowhere flowing over his entire body, but that metallic
cellular coding has to come from somewhere if we're to

(15:21):
adhere to the law of conservation of mass, and the
answer they provide is that the ability draws on another
spatial dimension. That's where the metal comes from. And okay,
that works for me. Now. I also ran across an
excellent twenty eighteen paper in the journal Advances in Physiology
Education titled the Physiology of Impenetrable Skin Colossus of the

(15:45):
x Men by Barry W. Fitzgerald. His whole point is
the Colossus is a great example of how a fictional
character can promote multidisciplinary scientific discussion in a classroom. Now,
I'm not going to summarize everything Atzgerald has to say,
but he makes some great points about Colossus and thermoregulation. Basically,

(16:07):
we have to think about what human skin does for
the body and how that might be impacted by a
shift into a steel form. One key area of concern
is thermoregulation of body temperature, which the skin plays a
role in via such responses as vasodilation, vassal constriction, and

(16:27):
of course sweating. Can Colossus his steel skin do any
of this well? The author here contends that his body's
ability to thermo regulate would be severely impacted via this
steel or organic steel, or otherwise metal coating, and specifically,
during a heated battle, he would simply overheat. He wouldn't

(16:49):
be much good battling the Juggernaut if he passes out
from overheating just a few minutes into the struggle. Fitzgerald
isn't here to yuck everyone's young, though, with science he
presents a possible path forward. Perhaps he says Colossus's organic
steel skin is actually graphene due to its protective capability

(17:09):
and its biocompatibility. It's carbon after all, like we are,
and it's super thin, consisting of a single layer of
atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice nanostructure. This biographene honeycomb
lattice layer hypothesis would therefore solve a number of the
key problems with Peter's mutant power, from thermoregulation to mass conservation.

(17:32):
The layer would swiftly form via protein folding and self assembly,
and bam, Colossus is ready for action. I highly recommend
checking out Fitzgerald's paper here of the topic interest you
in or out of the classroom, because hey, presumably Colossus
is headed back into theaters and back into action this
summer in the next Deadpool movie. So it's a perfect

(17:54):
time to embrace both science and mutant powers. All right, everyone,
thanks for tuning in to this omnibus episode of The
Monster Fact. Monster Fact or the Artifact or an Amalia Stupendium,
publishes each week a short form episode from Stuff to
Blow Your Mind. If you have any suggestions for future

(18:17):
episodes of the Monster Fact, including other possibilities for Marvel
comics or other comic lines, just write in I'd love
to hear from you. As always, you can email us
at contact at stuff to Blow your Mind dot com.

Speaker 1 (18:39):
Stuff to Blow Your Mind is production of iHeartRadio. For
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