Thursday, August 11, 2005

Short people

This post at 2blowhards discusses some of the troubling implications of research that strongly suggests that many genetic predispositions are the key, neccessary-but-not-sufficient component of many great athletes' greatness. For instance:

One of the most remarkable physical specimens in the world is the great bicyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong's heart is 20% larger than a normal person's, and his body produces one-third less lactic acid than do the bodies of other top cyclists. It's thought that each one of these physical attributes exists in only a few hundred people on earth. Walker quotes one doctor, who says of Armstrong that, in terms of his physical capabilities, "He's probably one in a billion."

Of course, reading this made me think of Batman.

You see, at one point while I was watching Batman Begins I thought to myself, "One of the great things about being Bruce Wayne would be being able to afford masterfully tailored everything" (an insight I probably would not have had before I was a starving grad student; my Amazon wish list lives here, if my plight moves you). A second later, I thought, "It would sure help to have Christian Bale's build, of course."

Which got me thinking: Has anyone explored how much of Batman's success lies in his remarkable genetic luck? Sure, it was witnessing his parents' murder at the hands of a street thug that gave 8-year-old Bruce Wayne the impetus to become Batman. But he was very fortunate indeed that, as he embarked on his training, that he grew into an athletically-framed, six-foot-something guy with a lantern jaw instead of a five-foot-nothing guy with a weak chin and a tendency toward having a beer gut.

There was an Elseworlds Batman story a few years ago that took as its premise "What if Bruce Wayne was a poor immigrant in the 1930s?" Couldn't it be just as interesting a springboard to ask "What if Bruce Wayne was short and scrawny or in chronically poor health?" The closest thing I can think of to anything along these lines would be Rorshach wearing a full-face mask and lifts in his shoes in Watchmen, but that was really just an incidental detail to the main plot. The original Atom was 5'0", but had a wrestler's build and eventually got super-powers. But how would a Bruce Wayne, or similarly motivated would-be hero, whose genetic predispositions didn't help him wage a war on crime work around, or with, his limitations?

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