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Comic-Con mixes wonder with thought-provoking ideas



When you arrive at Comic-Con San Diego, and you immerse yourself in a world of wonder, it’s hard not to get blown away by the intricate costumes.

I found families dressed as the Avengers and the Incredibles, and a plethora of Wonder Women and Iron Men.

But the costumes ran the gamut, crossing over to anything related to pop culture. I saw Austin Powers and the Fembots, Doc Brown from Back to the Future and a flabbergasting version of Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, worn by a professional cosplayer from Guadalajara, Mexico, Jose Davalos.

“It took me about three months to create," said Davalos. “Two and a half hours to apply all the makeup.”

But behind the flamboyant costumes, there’s a much deeper layer to the world of Comic-Con.

The discussion panel called Comics and Healing took on such issues as how heroes and villains could help heal survivors of childhood sexual abuse and help young children cope with stress.


Comic fans in costumes.

I spoke to school psychologist Dr. Mara Wood, who was on that panel and is the author of Wonder Woman Psychology. She told me how she uses comic books for a technique called bibliotherapy.

“Bibliotherapy is the idea of reading a story or viewing a story or watching a story and connecting with the characters and learning from their situations,” said Wood. “So if you are looking at Wonder Woman, it’s identifying with her as a character and kind of getting that catharsis through her activities and things like that. And then pausing at that moment and thinking how am I like that? How do I use what she did in my own life?”

Other "heroes" help highlight philosophical issues.

Professor Mark D. White is a philosophy professor at the College of Staten Island.

He’s also the author of The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero and will soon be releasing a new book on Batman and ethics.


Comic fans in costumes.

“Captain America has this solid moral integrity. His moral code is consistent, said White. “Batman on the other hand, he’s a hero, he’s a good man. He does good, but he’s not very consistent in a lot of his moral actions, the most famous one being that he refuses to kill. Refusing to kill is great. But also he wants to save as many lives as he can. But those two come in conflict when you’ve got someone like the Joker or Ra’s al Ghul or Zsasz that wants to kill a lot of people.”

While psychology and philosophy can be used to dissect the world of comics, another academic discipline is arguably even more intertwined – science.

I listened to a lecture from the MIT Media lab, where five accomplished MIT graduates, including NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman talked about the intersection of comics and technology.

Many of them were inspired by the stories of Iron Man, Aquaman and the pioneering “real-life” actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Star Trek character Uhura.


Comic fans in costumes.

While the numerous hi-tech and robotics projects at the MIT Media Lab resemble something out of Iron Man’s Stark Industries, Professor E. Paul Zehr from the University of Victoria has been looking into when humans will be able to attain superhuman powers.

He wrote the book Chasing Captain America: How Advances in Science, Engineering, and Biotechnology Will Produce a Superhuman.

“We will produce a superhuman. That is happening now,” said Zehr. “If you think about the timeline for things to get to the place of really something like the stuff you see with Captain America we are talking probably 20 or 30 years still. But within the next five years we see lots of advances in terms of implantable technologies, brain stimulators, things like this that are going to amplify people’s performance that give them additional features that you find in a superhuman or superhero.”

So according to Zehr, someday we will see a superhero on earth. Could that be you?


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