Sunday, April 19, 2020


Most superheroes (the male ones, anyway) have a body-covering uniform. Most superheroes also physically exert themselves to the maximum as a matter of routine. Some of these superheroes are mere mortal humans, and others are either outright aliens, like Superman, or mutants with either a close or a tenuous link to humanity. Still, they're all just human enough to pant when exerting, and they all (or almost all) possess sweat glands through which pass various sebaceous, hormonal, and other secretions. Result: odor.

So when someone like the Batman engages in a hard night of crimefighting, you have to think that the man stinks inside his armored supersuit. Even scantily clad Wonder Woman, with her armored torso and vambraced arms, has to produce some sort of musk, especially toward the end of her daily shift. Superman might be an alien product of parallel evolution, but he has to be ripe after a day of moving mountains and bench-pressing cruise ships.

Why do the authors of comic-book stories avoid the olfactory dimension of superheroic work? Is it for the same reason that comic artists never draw superheroes on the toilet? (God help the building in which Superman takes a shit.) Comic artists and authors seem increasingly comfortable with depicting their heroes' sex lives, which means they're one step away from focusing on naughty fluid exchanges, with all the attendant sweating, grunting, moaning, and gasping. Why is this gritty, luscious aspect of superheroic reality a kosher topic for hero stories, but general malodorousness is not?

I suspect that laziness is the prime culprit. A superhero story that realistically depicted how the stink factor affected crimefighting would be a far cry from the stories we know and love. Writers would have to factor in how easy it would be to track a superhero by scent. The role of police dogs (and other dogs) in pursuing superheroes would be emphasized, as would the fact that criminals would be able to identify a given superhero by his or her unique aromatic signature. In a modern world of CSI-level technology, adding scent to the equation would deeply complicate superhero storylines. Writers, being lazy and averse to such complications, would naturally avoid the issue of smell.

Imagine the Batman accosting a white-collar criminal at 2 a.m. The criminal works at Wayne Enterprises, and when the baddie is working out in the building's well-appointed gym two days later, he finds himself at an exercise station next to one where Bruce Wayne is grunting his way through some impressive shoulder presses. As the criminal sits down to do his own sets and reps, he catches a whiff of something familiar... and with dawning horror, he realizes that he's working out next to the very Batman who had accosted him two nights ago.

Personally, I think including the olfactory factor would add a realistic gloss to these stories. Yes, they'd be more complicated, and superheroes would have to be shown figuring out ways of dealing with body odor so as to be undetectable by dogs and gifted humans, but the new complexity would be worth the reader's while.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

You had me at superhero sex lives. Maybe Marvel should do a porn sideline? That would give a whole new meaning to "man of steel".

Sorry. Maybe I've been on lockdown too long.