Exploring the comic book-cancer connection
For some reason, the physicians I’ve visited over the years have all been reluctant to answer many of my questions about cancer.
Well, perhaps reluctant isn’t the right word. What they’ve been is more like impatient, annoyed or disgusted.
Upon hearing my queries about the Big C, the politest of my doctors usually heaved deep sighs while leaving the room. But most of the sawbones suggested – not always in the kindest terms – that I find another health care provider, preferably one that matriculated from an online medical college based in some country that regularly grants asylum to sadistic third-world dictators with penchants for experimenting on living human specimens.
Don’t think I haven’t been looking.
But back to my unanswered questions. As a kid raised on the glories of superhero comic books and monster movies, I couldn’t help but notice some unusual parallels between many of those stories and cancer treatment.
Take radiation, for example. The bite of a radioactive spider turned puny Peter Parker into the Amazing Spider-Man. A blast of gamma rays transformed skinny scientist Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. Atomic bomb blasts revived Godzilla and morphed all manner of crabs, ants, praying mantises and other insects into enormous threats to civilization.
Then there’s hazardous waste. Poisonous chemicals reacted on a geeky loser remaking him into the Toxic Avenger. A bath in a rack of laboratory fluids churned up by a lightning bolt created the Flash. A puny schlub gets injected with secret serum and the next thing he knows, he’s Captain America.
So, how come cancer patients getting chemo and radiation don’t grow big, strong and green? Why can’t they climb walls, outrun bullets or shoot death rays from their reptilian mouths? I’m not asking for standard medical equipment to consistently do the job of a blast of cosmic rays, but is it too much to expect an occasional Human Torch or Invisible Woman?
As we all know, many cancer treatments make the recipients bald. But do any of them turn into super-geniuses like chrome-domed Lex Luthor or scaly-headed Dr. Doom? Side effects of medical care can include skin problems, but nothing that compares with the Thing or any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who wouldn’t be happier with those rashes and sores if they could smash through walls or perform magical kung fu feats?
Speaking of mutants, how is it that we’re not seeing cancer survivors with the powers of the X-Men? My knowledge of genetics may be a little sketchy, but all that nuclear stuff must have twisted somebody’s DNA so they can read minds, walk through walls, or heal instantly and live for hundreds of years. If we had more of the latter, we wouldn’t even need the Affordable Care Act.
And if we installed adamantium knives in their knuckles, they’d save a bundle on silverware.
Of course, it could also go horribly wrong, and we could end up with a bunch of “Village of the Damned” types, intent on replacing the human race with a superior species, far more intelligent than homo sapiens. Still, that seems a small price to pay for knowing there’d never be another “Jackass” movie.
But whether we get evolutionarily advanced humanoids or tentacle-covered abominations drooling slime and lusting after our more attractive citizens, the real question remains: How come after decades of cancer treatments more technologically complicated than anything a comic book artist or B-movie producer could conceive of have we failed to produce a single super-powered weirdo?
By the time I get around to asking that, my doctors have usually long since departed. So my heartfelt query just hangs in the air. Or it gets brushed aside by burly security personnel escorting me from the building.
Come to think of it, those guys look like they’ve got muscles that weren’t developed using conventional techniques. They could just be steroid freaks or consumers of excessive amounts of human growth hormones. But that doesn’t explain the antennas on their foreheads or the way they can blast holes through walls with rays from their eyes.
That, plus the reticence of physicians to discuss the important questions I’ve raised here, leads me to one inevitable – and terrifying – conclusion. Which is:
The medical establishment is assembling an army of transformed cancer patients imbued with astonishing powers. When the time is right, oncologists will unleash them on an unsuspecting public, subjugating us to their wills. Helpless before the chemically and radioactively altered creatures, we’ll be forced to give up smoking, drinking, hot dogs, exposure to sunshine and building houses on granite ledges full of radon.
Against our will, we’ll become a cancer-free society.
If you value your bacon (literally and metaphorically), you better start stockpiling kryptonite.
Al Diamon writes the weekly column Politics & Other Mistakes for several Maine newspapers and websites. He’s also the media critic for The Bollard magazine. Rumors that he is preparing for the super-hero apocalypse by stockpiling beer and bacon cannot be confirmed, but he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.